Very little is known about the biography of this painter who it is assumed came to Naples from Rome slightly before the mid-18th century, since there are works of his dated from 1751 to 1788 which are often set in the Parthenopean city and its surroundings. Bonavía was characterised by his land and seascapes, which were nearly always spectacular, a mixture of fantasy and reality.

The painting under discussion is characteristic on account of the appearance of great storm clouds that are unleashing a downpour and provoking a tempestuous sea with huge waves that have shipwrecked a vessel and smashed it against the rocks, while a bigger ship and a boat are still lurching at some distance from the cliffs. In this picture, while some men strive to recover the vessel or rescue some barrels and others are helping one of the shipwrecked sailors, some curious spectators are watching the tragedy from the towering fortress.

Contrasts are a prime element in Bonavia’s production. In this painting, the grey undulating clouds are contrasted as much with the straight lines that define the rain as with the white foam of the waves; notwithstanding the storm, a pure blue sky is glimpsed at the left. The cliffs are crowned with man-made fortresses, while further away, on solid land, a town with sundry groups of houses can be discerned. Bonavia resorted to composition in a strong diagonal, from the high ground at the left of the scene to the open sea at the right, as with the variation of lights and colours that accentuate the almost pre-romantic effects.


  • Title: Shipwreck in a Rocky Inlet
  • Date Created: 1575
  • Place Part Of: Spain
  • Physical Dimensions: w2050 x h1250 mm (Complete)
  • Painter: Carlo Bonavia
  • Exhibition: Madrid, Spain
  • Credit Line: Signed and dated on a barrel at the bottom left, “C. BONAVIA/ 1757”
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Fundación Banco Santander, www.fundacionbancosantander.com
  • External Link: Fundación Banco Santander
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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