Sir William Hamilton, British envoy to the court of Naples from 1764 to 1800, wanted a painting of the panoramic view of the Bay of Naples from his apartment window. He sought out the Italian artist Giovanni Battista Lusieri, whose detailed drawings and watercolors of views of Naples and other Italian sites were popular with Grand Tourists in the 1780s and 1790s.
Lusieri produced this sweeping view on six sheets of watercolor paper. Its clarity, purity of color, and accuracy of detail led many people to believe that Lusieri used a telescope or camera obscura to record the intricacies, proportion, and perspective of his settings. He was a slow and painstaking draftsman; this drawing is one of his few important, completely finished works. He proceeded slowly, first drawing the entire scene in outline down to the smallest detail with a faint but hard pencil and then finishing and coloring the work on location, rather than in a studio. An English tourist wrote of Lusieri: "As an artist he was always slow in deliberation; but it was the tardiness of the most scrupulous accuracy; for he frequently laid on even his colours on the spot..."