In the summer of 1840 Aivazovsky returned to St Petersburg before setting off on his scholarship journey. By September he was already in Rome. Here, as in Petersburg, he made the acquaintance of some of the outstanding men of the time. He became friendly with Nikolai Gogol and was on good terms with Alexander Ivanov and other Russian artists living in Rome. Not for the first time friendship with some of his most gifted contemporaries had a beneficial effect on Aivazovsky and his work.
Meanwhile he continued to paint prolifically. His pictures appeared regularly in Italian exhibitions, bringing him unusual renown. News of this got back to St Petersburg and The Art Gazette published a big article on his success in Italy:
"Aivazovsky's pictures in Rome are judged the best in the exhibition. Bay of Naples, Kind on the Venetian lagoon, Moonlight night to Capri and Chaos. Creation of the world have caused such a sensation in the capital of the fine arts that the palaces of noblemen and society venues are all astir with the fame of the landscape painter from southern Russia: the newspapers have sung his praises loudly and all are unanimous that only Aivazovsky is able to depict light, air and water so truly and convincingly. Pope Gregory XVI has purchased his picture Chaos and had it hung in the Vatican, where only the pictures of the world's greatest artists are considered worthy of a place. His Chaos is generally held to be quite unlike anything seen before; it is said to be a miracle of artistry."
The leading artists of the day recognized Aivazovsky's mastery and talent. During a trip to Italy in 1842 the famous English marine painter, Joseph Mallord William Turner was so struck by the picture The Bay of Naples by Moonlight that he dedicated a rhymed eulogy in Italian to Aivazovsky:
In this your picture
I see the moon, all gold and silver.
Reflected in the sea below...
And on the surface of the sea
There plays a breeze which leaves a trail
Of trembling ripples, like a shower
Of fiery sparks or else the gleaming headdress
Of a mighty king!
Forgive me if I err, great artist,
Your picture has entranced me so,
Reality and art are one,
And I am all amazement.
So noble, powerful is the art
That only genius could inspire!
While major artists praised Aivazovsky, others began to deliberately imitate him. In Italy, where previously there had been none, seascapes began to appear in large numbers in art shops and stalls.
How was it that Aivazovsky entranced connoisseurs and ordinary art-lovers alike? Turner partially answered this question in his poem: it was Aivazovsky's unusual true-ness to nature which amazed his contemporaries when they looked at his pictures; it was his ability to convey the effect of moving water and of reflected sun- and moonlight. In short it was his accurate, but at the same time highly-charged and dramatic depiction of the sea. However, Aivazovsky took some time to discover the secret of creating such impressive images. All his student years and the beginning of his foreign scholarship had been devoted to pursuit of his technique.