Luigi Vanvitelli, born Lodewijk van Wittel, was an Italian painter and architect of Dutch origin. Son of the famous vedutist Gaspar van Wittel, who moved to Italy from the Netherlands in 1694, he was born in Naples, where his father had been called the year before by the Viceroy Duke of Medinaceli, who was his godfather. Luigi began his activity as a painter, and then dedicated himself to architecture and became one of the most important Italian architects of the period between the Baroque and Neoclassicism.
Vanvitelli was inspired by the work of some great architects of the Baroque, such as Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Francesco Borromini, Carlo Fontana, Filippo Juvarra and studied thoroughly the treatises and works of architects of antiquity and the Renaissance. During the years of training he held a lasting friendship and collaboration with Nicola Salvi and enrolled in the Academy of Arcadia.
In 1732 he participated in the competition for the façade of San Giovanni in Laterano and the one for the Fontana di Trevi, competitions that would mark the artistic renaissance of the Papal States under the enlightened government of Pope Clement XII; the Vanvitellian projects, which met the new neoclassical trends, were much appreciated in the most cultured environments, but the jury considered it appropriate to reward projects that supported the baroque taste, in Rome still fully dominant. In these competitions he did not succeed, but he was able to signal himself and obtain the following year an important assignment in the Papal State: that of the port and of the lazaretto of Ancona.
After participating in the Roman competitions, the name of Vanvitelli had become known and appreciated and this earned the architect his first important assignment, obtained directly from Pope Clement XII: to redesign the port of Ancona to make it suitable to perform the function of Roman port to the east.
In the context of the Ancona projects, we remember especially the Lazzaretto (1733 - 1738), built on a large artificial island in the shape of a pentagon, built inside the port by Vanvitelli himself who, as a good Dutchman, knew how to tear away sea. The regular geometric shape of the building with concentric pentagons, the small temple of San Rocco in the center of the courtyard, the ingenious construction technique, the harmonious composition of the various functions, the little ravelin pointing towards the open sea make the real hospital a true masterpiece.
In addition to the Lazzaretto, in Ancona Vanvitelli also created the Nuovo Molo, its monumental entrance (the Clementine Arch) and the Chiesa del Gesù, which with its concave façade high above the sea, summarizes the curvature of the entire port arch. With these works our artist redesigned and reinterpreted the shape of the port and the city that overlooks it. He thus gave an advance of his great skill as a landscape painter, the same that he later developed in the famous Royal Palace of Caserta. In Ancona he also worked at the Duomo (where he designed the shrine of the Queen of all the saints) and at Palazzo Ferretti.
In the thirties and forties of the eighteenth century the artist worked in all the Marches: he designed the characteristic bell tower for the Basilica of the Holy House in Loreto, the façade and the interior of the church of the Madonna della Misericordia di Macerata, the Maddalena church in Pesaro .
Moreover, during his stay in Ancona for the harbor works, he was asked by the Municipality of Ascoli Piceno for an opinion on the project for the new theater hall to be realized in the Palazzo Arringo; although he judged the wooden structure of a bibi - nian character conceived by the Ascoli carver Giuseppe Gualtieri, well suited to the large room intended for the purpose in the palace, Vanvitelli blamed the rather widespread fashion of imitating the bizarre showrooms of the Bibiena.
The presence of Vanvitelli and his many works of Marche influenced deeply the architecture of Ancona and the region, where he left a bevy of followers.
In Rome he obtained the position of architect of the Basilica of San Pietro in the Vatican, which he maintained throughout his life. His works of accommodation, in view of the Jubilee of 1750, in the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli and the Martyrs, created by Michelangelo Buonarroti in the Baths of Diocletian. In 1911 the façade built before the Vanvitellian interventions was demolished, but the interior is still the one designed by Vanvitelli.
In 1750 the king of Naples, Carlo di Borbone, asked Vanvitelli for the project of a new palace he had planned for the city of Caserta, easily reachable from the capital, but far from it, as was Versailles from Paris. The palace, which should have stood near a new city (which was later built in a chaotic way and without taking into account the ideas of Vanvitelli), was supplied with water by the monumental Carolino Aqueduct, designed by Vanvitelli on the model of the hydraulic works of ancient Rome.
The Royal Palace of Caserta, defined as the last great achievement of the Italian Baroque , is certainly its most important work. Carefully detailed and articulated on four monumental courtyards, the building is faced by a scenic park, which exploits the natural slope of the ground to articulate in a gigantic artificial waterfall, punctuated by a series of fountains with marble statues. The most scenic parts are the atrium and the monumental staircase of honor and the chapel. Remarkable is the court theater, whose rather rounded horseshoe-shaped hall is rendered solemn by the giant order of columns, which conceals the typical gracious wooden structure with pallets. Without the four corner towers and the central dome, which would have to move its bulk, the palace is a sort of very original synthesis between the Palace of Versailles and the Escorial.
After his death, the work at the palace was continued by his son Carlo (Naples, 1739-1821).