For my Baroque Art History Class, we went to Napoli (Naples) for two days.
Only since 1861 has Italy existed as a unified country. Before that, what we know as Italy was a collection of small city-states ruled by different people. They were like different countries. During the Baroque, Naples was ruled by a Spanish viceroy. The art scene was cut-throat.
One such commission was the chapel of San Gennaro in the Cathedral of Naples. San Gennaro is the patron Saint of Naples (though the Roman Catholic Church does not recognize him as a saint there isn’t enough proof that he existed). The Neapolitans firmly believe in their patron saint. San Gennaro was born in 250 AD. He was martyred just outside of Naples. First, he was thrown into an arena with lions and bears, but the animals did not attack him. Then he was thrown into a wood burning oven, but he walked out of the oven unharmed. Finnally, San Gennaro was decapitated. His head and two viles of blood were taken to the Cathedral in Naples, where they are kept in the treasury as the prized relics of Naples.
The viles of blood had dried solid shortly after San Gennaro’s death. When they reached the Cathedral though, the blood liquefied again. This miracle happens three times a year. On the day the relics arrived (the first Saturday in May), Sept 19th (the anniversary of the execution), and Dec 6th (the day San Gennaro flew across the sky with an outstretched arm to stop the threatened eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1631), the relics are taken out of the treasury behind the alter and shaken for the crowds to see. The superstition is that if the solid material in the viles does not liquefy, the city will have a year of bad luck. Neapolitans will shout and spit on the viles until the material inside turns to liquid. Of course, the priests shake the viles until the material liquefies.
Recently, scientists from the rival city of Milan created an experiment where they demonstrated how certain minerals from the soil of Naples could settle with water in the viles in such a way that would turn from a solid to a liquid with agitation. The material in the viles has the color of chocolate milk. The Neapolitans are very against having the relics tested by scientists in any way. The belief in San Gennaro is such a part of their local culture. San Gennaro helps people win the lottery, protects from the constant threat of Mount Vesuvius, and the miracle of the liquefaction of the blood is a symbol of the doomed city that always rises again. Many Neapolitans name their sons Gennaro.
In the Baroque, the Cathedral was decorating the chapel of San Gennaro with the best art they could get. Many foreign artists went to Napoli for the competition. Dominicino was one such artist. He was rivals with the local Neapolitan artist Ribera, who was part of a gang of local artists. When Dominicino first arrived in Naples in the Baroque, his assistant was murdered, and Dominicino fled for his life. He returned some years after to work on the altarpieces for the chapel of San Gennaro. He didn’t finish two of the oil paintings because he was poisoned in 1641; he was probably poisoned by the local Neapolitan artist gang. Ribera then got the opportunity to paint that last altarpiece, which in this video is the final painting I filmed, showing San Gennaro walking out of the furnace. It’s strange to think that this religious painting was completed by the artist due to a murder that artist had a hand in. The treasury depicted in this video is one of the richest church treasuries in the world. All the busts of saints you see are made of pure silver and each hold a relic of the saint they depict.
Naples is a rough city. Under the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, the city lives in constant threat of doom. The streets are more narrow and crowded than Rome. The city has an unemployment rate of 40%. The majority of these unemployed live with their parents, but many live on the streets. There are stray dogs everywhere, and many homeless walk around the city with a personal pack of dogs that follow them and sleep with them. Theft is a large problem in Naples because of this high unemployment rate. The local mafia doesn’t help matters with their shoot-outs in back alleys. Many Neapolitan churches gave their famous paintings by such artists as Caravaggio to museums, to protect the paintings from theft.
While Naples has poor living conditions, it does have amazing food. Legend has it that pizza was invented in Naples, and they take their pizza seriously. The highest quality mozzarella cheese is made from the milk of water buffaloes, and must be eaten on the day it’s made for the best flavor and texture. The local seafood is also fresh and rich. There is no way I could possibly explain how good the food tasted here in this blog. Playing cards / Tarot cards originated in Naples during the Renaissance. Naples is known for it’s folk music and songs. Local symbols include the red horn of fertility which also protects from the evil eye of envy, and Pulcinella.
Pulcinella represents the spirit of Naples. He is a clown dressed in white with a black mask. Pulcinella is a rascal and a trickster. He is clever and manipulative, but also melancholic and philosophical. Pulcinella lives a tough life, but he gets by with his wit. He also has a sense of humor. “He will eat lunch with a friend, but get his friend excited and talking so that Pulcinella can sneakily eat his friend’s pasta”. Pulcinella symbolizes the city, and warns that you always have to be careful and aware of what’s happening around you.
|I did not take this image. I found it through Google.|
This is a video of what it was like to walk around the streets of Naples with my class.
I found this Race for the Cure event. Instead of biking through the city, the participants are “spinning” and being coached onward by some very fit Italians.
Naples has a very different feel from Rome. It is not a tourist city like Rome is. Naples was exciting for sure. I only touched on a small part of the trip. There was so much more and so many experiences, I wouldn’t be able to write about them all.