Still keen for a change from the multitude of ancient Greek and Roman theatres and religious sights of amazing cathedral and church after amazing cathedral and church, we were delighted to find Naples has a wealth of art museums. As if we needed another reminder that our two year trip is nearing two years and we’ll soon be home in England, the weather turned decidedly British so we headed for cover!
Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte
Located in the grand Palace of Capodimonte, the National Museum of the same name hosts special exhibitions as well as an extensive permanent collection displayed in exquisitely decorated rooms, which reminded us of the style, if not the scope, of the Hermitage in St Petersberg.
Started in 1738 by King Charles VII, then King of Naples and Sicily, initial plans for a hunting lodge were extended in favour of a larger Royal Palace to house his growing entourage and also somewhere to put the recently inherited Farnese Art Collection after the death of his mother, Elisabetta Farnese. We saw some of the large marble statues of the same Farnese Art Collection when we visited the the Archeological Museum.
Pio Monte della Misericordia
The Pio Monte della Misericordia, loosely translated as the “Pious Mount of Mercy”, is a charitable brotherhood founded in August 1601 by seven young nobles, who met every Friday at the Hospital for Incurables and ministered to the sick. Through their own donations of time, money and encouragement, they built a reputation and with a little help established an institution and commissioned a small church.
Today the small circular church and attached museum is famous for the altarpiece that was commissioned for it entitled “The Seven Works of Mercy” by Caravaggio. We’d picked up Caravaggio’s trail in Malta where he’d fled after an altercation in Italy, and so we felt like we were retracing his steps as he returned to Italy through Sicily.
An interesting part of the museum’s collection is a room filled with an artists example’s of compositional elements such as depictions of saints in various postures. It hadn’t really occurred to us that when commissioning artworks the painter might have such a ‘catalogue’ to call upon to help the commissioner decide. The museum’s information also explained that the artist would often produce rough sketches of the overall composition before starting work on the final painting.
Originally built in 1590 as a family chapel and later converted to a burial chapel, the Cappella Sansevero or Chapel of Sansevero was given its final elaborate decor by the 7th Prince of San Severo, Raimondo di Sangro who asked his ancestors not to alter it in his will.
Known as an inventor, soldier, writer, scientist, alchemist and freemason, Raimondo was a prolific experimenter and re-designed the family chapel adorning it with astounding works of art such as the sculptures of his mother and father that take pride of place either side of the alter.
However, the most famous piece he commissioned is by Giuseppe Sanmartino called The Veiled Christ. A masterpiece of marble sculpture that depicts the body of Christ under a fine veil..
Besides the amazing works of sculpture, another marble marvel caught our imagination. The original floor of the chapel consisted of a repeating geometric pattern with a dividing white marble line that was apparently unbroken. Said to represent the path to enlightenment, it was sadly broken beyond repair by an earthquake and only fragments of the floor remain.
Via San Gregorio Armeno – “Nativity Street”
Not a museum as such, the street near Cappella Sansevero has long been home to workshops that make models primarily for elaborate nativity scenes. The street has a long history of modelling, as it was home to a statue of Ceres in the Classic era which was worshipped by leaving small clay figures that were produced in the vicinity.
Today, most of the models are still made of clay and it was a nice change from the traditional arts of sculptures and paintings to see a sort of living art on display.
Museo d’Arte contemporanea DonnaREgina (MADRE)
We’ve visited quite a few modern art museums on our travels thus far, and we thought the Museo MADRE would be a nice change from the wonderful old architecture and baroque masterpieces. That is if we could find it! Our tourist map showed it on the main Via Foria and we saw the banners but couldn’t find the entrance anywhere nearby, so we stopped to ask someone who read the address on said banners and gestured that it was the parallel street south of Via Foria!
Gallerie d’Italia, Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano
The Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano is 1 of 3 Gallerie d’Italia operated by the Cultural Project of the banking group Intesa Sanpaolo, the 2nd largest banking group in Italy. The beautiful baroque palace on via Toledo, the main shopping high street in Naples, is home to a small but important art collection that includes another of Caravaggio’s works..
Thought to be his last work, The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula depicts the moment Ursula, having refused the Hun king’s marriage request is dispatched by an arrow from his bow.
Other highlights of this small but well-laid out museum where the Judith beheads Holophernes by Louis Finson, one of the first flemish Caravaggisti (to paint in the style of Caravaggio), and a small exhibition of Vincenzo Gemito whose work we saw in a special exhibition at the Capodimonte – the first museum we visited in Naples!