This view of Valetta’s grand harbor in Malta—the painting is a pendant to HC.P.1934.72—depicts the harbor from the north-east with the Castel Sant’ Angelo and the Senglea peninsula seen to the left and the city of Valetta at the right. Valletta is the capital of Malta and is located in the central-eastern portion of the island. The grand harbor of Malta was well fortified, especially on the southern side of the port where two peninsulas, each possessing strong defenses, jutted into the harbor. The western peninsula, called Senglea, was completely encircled by the walls of Fort St. Michael. The eastern peninsula, Birgu, had the Castel Sant'Angelo at its tip while its approaches were walled off by the bastion of the Post of Castile. The fortified village of Birgu lay in between. Across the harbor juts another peninsula, Sciberras. It is the northern boundary of Grand Harbor and the southern boundary of Malta’s “double harbor,” Marsamuscetto. At the tip of Sciberras, protecting the entrances to both harbors, was Fort St. Elmo.
Alexandre-Jean Nöel (1752-1834) was a student of Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714-1789), the leading landscape and marine painter of France in the 1760s to the 1780s. Vernet, a native of Avignon, had been sent to Rome in 1734 by a wealthy patron. In the next decade he established himself in Italy as a painter of real and imaginary landscapes of the Roman campaigns and the seacoast. He advised his students, including Noël, to paint from nature out of doors, advice that was to have important consequences for French landscape painting in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. His renderings of cityscapes--he also recorded, for example, the architectural monuments of Paris and Rouen--are carefully and accurately drawn. However, as was typical of most scenic painters of the eighteenth century (see, for example, the paintings of Hubert Robert, HC.P.1922.02-05), he populated the foreground of these paintings with small human figures busy with their daily activities. Noël specialized in marine subjects, including seaports, naval battles, storms at sea, and shipwrecks. He also traveled to Spain and Portugal, where he painted their harbors.
Purchased from P. Jackson Higgs, Inc., New York, New York, by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, 8/2/1934.
Collection of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, Washington, D.C., 8/2/1934-11/29/1940.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, House Collection, Washington, D.C.