Christoph Heinrich KNIEP

(Hildesheim 1755 - Naples 1825)

View of Cava dei Tirreni, circa 1788

Pen and brush with brown ink
600 x 850 mm.

Rome, private collection                                                   



The drawing examined in this paper, showing a view of the town of Cava dei Tirreni and its surrounding countryside, was produced by an artist called Christoph Heinrich Kniep, who began his artistic career as a portraitist in Hamburg in 1778.  He travelled to Berlin in 1780, where he became acquainted with the prince bishop, a writer and art lover by the name of Ignacy Krasicki (1735-1801) who paid for him to travel to Rome, which he reached in 1781.  It was at that moment (at the very latest) that Kniep started to specialise in landscape painting.  While in Rome, he struck up a friendship with Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein (1751-1829) who introduced him to the painters Johann Georg Schütz (1755-1813) and Friedrich Bury (1763-1823).  His circle of acquaintances also included Jakob Philipp Hackert (1737-1807), the most famous landscape artist of the day.  When Krasicki's funds dried up shortly after Kniep's arrival in Rome, the artist was forced to start earning his living with his art.

Kniep left Rome in October 1785 and moved to Naples, where he was to remain for the rest of his life.  It marked a major breakthrough for him when Tischbein introduced him to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) in 1787.  Goethe, who had arrived in Rome in 1786 and found lodgings in Tischein's apartments at number 18, Via del Corso, accompanied Tischbein to Naples in 1787.

Kniep and Goethe's trip to Sicily lasted from 29 March to 15 May 1787 and led to a decided improvement in the artist's situation:  Goethe purchased all of the drawings Kniep made while the two men were travelling, and he went on to procure several major commissions for him after his return to Weimar. 

Kniep died, after a serious illness, in July 1825, and was buried in the Protestant cemetery of San Carlo all'Arena in Naples.

The drawing examined in this paper depicts the town of Cava dei Tirreni, situated a short distance from Salerno and surrounded on all sides by mountains.  The view Kniep offers us is taken from the south, with the towering twin-peaked Monte Finestra (1,145 mt.) looming on the horizon.  In front of the mountain we can see the roofs of the houses and the bell tower of the church of San Francesco on the right, while to the left we can see the arches of the tall viaduct leading to Vietri sul Mare. 1

Following a trip to the area of Cava dei Tirreni to gather new material for his drawings, Kniep wrote to Goethe on 23 December 1788:  "Herewith, my dear friend, a list of all my drawings, both old and new, drawn during my trip to Cava […].  The large [drawings]:  […] the view of Cava with its mountains and the great bridge carrying the road to Paestum.  -  Another near Cava with mountains and farmhouses.  -  The mountain close to Vietri.  Vietri, the sea shore […]…  -  A valley not far from Cava with the Monte Liberatore […]."2

On the basis of this letter it is reasonable to assume that Kniep's trip to Cava dei Tirreni took place in the summer of 1788 and that our drawing was produced either during or after that trip, because the subject matter may be identified with the first drawing the artist mentions in his list, namely the "view of Cava with its mountains and the great bridge".

The drawing examined in this paper may be associated with another drawing currently in Berlin showing the same view, but with slightly different details (see ill. 2)3.

Given that the Berlin drawing bears the date of 1789 and that, in his letter to his friend Goethe mentioned above, Kniep talks about a view of Cava dei Tirreni with the bridge which he drew either during or immediately after the summer 1788, I would like to venture the suggestion that that view should be identified with the drawing examined in this paper – in which case it should be dated to between the summer of 1788 and 23 December of that same year, when the artist wrote his letter to Goethe in Weimar.

Christoph Heinrich Kniep was without doubt one of the most accomplished landscape draughtsmen of the late 18th century, and the drawing examined in this paper may be considered to be one of his masterpieces.

                                                                                                       Dr. Claudia Nordhoff


General Bibliography on Kniep:  Georg Striehl, Der Zeichner Christoph Heinrich Kniep (1755-1825). Landschaftsauffassung und Antikenrezeption. Hildesheim/Zurich/New York 1998. – Paesaggi italiani dell‘epoca di Goethe. Disegni e serie di acqueforti della Casa di Goethe. Catalogue by Claudia Nordhoff, Rome 2007, 74-93.


1For other depictions of Cava dei Tirreni in the late 18th and 19th centuries, see Lucio Fino, La costa d’Amalfi e il Golfo di Salerno (da Scafati a Cava da Amalfi a Vietri da Salerno a Paestum). Disegni acquerelli stampe e ricordi di viaggio di tre secoli. Naples 1995.


2Letter in the Goethe-und-Schiller Archiv in Weimar, mentioned by Striehl 1998, 299:  "Hir haben Sie, mein Lieber, ein Verzeichnis von allen meinen Zeugnungen, sowohl alte als neu gezeugnete auf der Reise nach la Cava: Ganz Große – Die Aussicht von Cava mit seinen Bergen und der großen Brücke über die man geht nach Pestum – Eine andre nahe bey Cava mit Bergen und Land-Häusern – Das Gebirge bei Vietri. Vetri dicht unten am Meer, das Gebirge ist […] - Ein Tahl nicht weit von Cava mit dem Monte Liberatore […]".

3Christoph Heinrich Kniep, "View of Cava dei Tirreni".  Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett.  Pen and brush with brown ink, 637 x 912 mm.  The drawing is signed and inscribed C. H. Kniep. fec: Neapel 1789.  For the drawing, see Striehl 1998, 327, entry 5.