Collection online


  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Crater of Vesuvius; a near view of the crater of the volcano, three men looking over the edge of it at left, and another at right. 1778 Watercolour

  • Producer name

  • School/style

  • Date

    • 1778
  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 166 millimetres
    • Width: 243 millimetres
  • Inscriptions

      • Inscription Content

        Inscribed on a separate label: "Crater of Mount Vesuvius, in 1778."
  • Curator's comments

    This work is part of a group of ten watercolours by John ‘Warwick’ Smith donated by Walter Calverley Trevelyan in 1871 (1871,1111.1-10). He was the son of Sir John Trevelyan of Wallington Hall in Northumberland, patron of Warwick Smith, who went to Italy in 1781. Six further watercolours came to the collection of the Museum after the death of the youngerTrevelyan in 1879 (1879. 0712.292-297). As he noted in a letter sent to the Museum on 23rd April 1871 (P&D Letters book), some of these watercolours are related to the plates of the “Select Views in Italy”, two illustrated volumes with engravings of drawings by Smith between 1792 and 1799 (see text from Jenkins and Sloan, below). The volumes were published for Smith and the engravers, William Byrne and John Edwards.

    This watercolour of the crater of Vesuvius is connected to plate 60 of the volume and it is dated 1778, when according to the Memoirs of Thomas Jones, Smith was in Naples. There is another version of the same subject in the Tate Gallery (TO8511), which is one of a number of views of Naples and the vicinity from the Oppé collection once mounted in an album (‘Album of Views in Italy’) (see Anne Lyles, Robin Hamlyn, British Watercolours from the Oppé Collection, Tate Gallery, 1997 p. 140 n. 52.)

    For the Trevelyan family, see Anne French, Art Treasures in the North, 2009, p. 124-128

    [The curatorial comments on the watercolours by John 'Warwick' Smith in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum were written by Elania Pieragostini on an Erasmus Volunteer Traineeship, summer 2015. There are further research notes in the department dossier, which can be seen by appointment.]

    The following text is taken from Ian Jenkins and Kim Sloan, 'Vases and Volcanoes: Sir William Hamilton and his Collection', BM 1996, cat.45:

    From April until September 1778 Sir William Hamilton paid 'John Smith of Rome' a total of £100 on behalf of the Earl of Warwick for Smith's maintenance and for drawings he had in hand for the Earl (British Library, Add. MS 40714, ff. 160, 163, 169, 178). It was not the only occasion Hamilton was asked to provide this service for artists working for Lord Warwick: in the 1790s, he found himself waiting years for the repayment of £500 he had paid on Warwick's behalf to George Wallis (1993,1211.6).

    Smith stayed in Naples until July the following year, sharing lodgings with Thomas Jones in December and January, before the latter returned to Rome. Smith and Jones and some of the best eighteenth-century British watercolourists - William Pars, Francis Towne and John Robert Cozens - all worked in the Naples area over the next two years. They all met Hamilton, even making views of and from his villas, but, as noted in the entries on John Robert Cozens's watercolours (Jenkins & Sloan 1996, cat. 20-21), Sir William Hamilton did not list watercolours by any of them in his manuscript list of paintings, nor do they appear in the sale catalogues. In October and November 1774 Joseph Wright of Derby had also visited Naples and met Hamilton, returning to Rome with views of Vesuvius in eruption, 'the most wonderful sight in nature', which he turned into some of his most spectacular paintings (Fraser, pp.11-12). Hamilton does not appear to have commissioned any views of Vesuvius from Wright, but this is probably because he already owned several by Volaire, Vernet and Hackert and he was currently bearing the cost of a large group of bodycolour paintings of the Campi Phlegraei by Fabris.

    John 'Warwick' Smith's views of the area around Naples included the present watercolour, a previously unrecorded view of the Villa Emma, and a view of Naples from Sir William Hamilton's villa at Portici (watercolour versions in Birmingham City Art Gallery and private collection, London). They were published with an accompanying text between 1792 and 1798 as 'Select Views in Italy' (pls 56, 58, 60). In print form they are particularly reminiscent in composition and style of Fabris's views in the Campi Phlegraei. The Earl of Warwick, obviously inspired by the plates in this magnificent publication, commissioned these views shortly after its appearance in 1776. Smith's later, less expensive collection of topographical prints found a ready market and J. M. W. Turner copied every plate in a sketchbook when he was preparing for his own trip to Italy in 1819.

    The text in Smith's 'Select Views in Italy' which accompanied the engraving of this watercolour (pl. 60) gives a graphic description of the difficulties of ascending the volcano, as well as explaining the shape, size and colour of the crater at the top:

    'The ascent up that part of the mountain called the 'Cone of Vesuvius' is extremely fatiguing and laborious; it can only be accomplished on foot, and with the assistance of a guide, who fastens a girdle around his body, by means of which the adventurer is helped forwards; the difficulty arises from this part of the mountain being exceeding steep, and entirely covered with loose cinders and ashes, so that on ascending every step sinks to the knee, and generally one half is lost by sliding backwards ... The top of the mountain which is here represented was about a quarter of a mile in diameter, and was broken and irregular on the surface; in many places it was cracked; and rent in large fissures, through which issued small volumes of sulphurous vapours and smoke. Near the middle there was another small mountain in the form of a sugar-loaf, in height about 50 yards, & wholly composed of ashes and small cinders, intermixed with large cakes of sulphur of many different hues, of orange, red, yellow, etc. On the top of the small cone is the crater or opening of the mountain. Its form is circular about 100 yards in diameter, perpendicular on its sides and about 100 yards in depth. The bottom was entirely covered with cinders that seemed to be cemented into one cake by heat; at intervals this covering heaved up, and as the rarefied air underneath got vent, it all at once, or by degrees subsided".

    Literature: D. Fraser, "Joseph Wright of Derby in Italy", exh. cat. Gainsborough's House, Sudbury, 1981, pp. 11-12, no. 31; L. Stainton, entries in "Shadow of Vesuvius", p. 132.


  • Bibliography

    • Jenkins & Sloan 1996 45 bibliographic details
    • Binyon 1898-1907 9 bibliographic details
  • Location

    Not on display (British Roy PIV)

  • Exhibition history

    1988 Oct-Dec, Manchester, Whitworth AG, 'Travels in Italy', no. 116 1996 Mar-July, BM, Vases and Volcanoes, no.45 1999/2000 Nov-Feb, Newcastle, Laing AG, Art Treasures of North

  • Subjects

  • Associated places

  • Associated titles

    • Associated Title: Select Views in Italy (1792-1799)
  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Prints & Drawings

  • Registration number


Crater of Vesuvius; a near view of the crater of the volcano, three men looking over the edge of it at l, and another at r. 1778 Watercolour

Crater of Vesuvius; a near view of the crater of the volcano, three men looking over the edge of it at l, and another at r. 1778 Watercolour

Image description



If you’ve noticed a mistake or have any further information about this object, please email: 

View open data for this object with SPARQL endpoint

Object reference number: PDB7385

British Museum collection data is also available in the W3C open data standard, RDF, allowing it to join and relate to a growing body of linked data published by organisations around the world.

View this object

Support the Museum:
donate online

The Museum makes its collection database available to be used by scholars around the world. Donations will help support curatorial, documentation and digitisation projects.

About the database

The British Museum collection database is a work in progress. New records, updates and images are added every week.

More about the database 


Work on this database is supported by a range of sponsors, donors and volunteers.

More about supporters and how you
can help