Naples and Campania, Day Eight 20 May 2008

| May 20, 2008
Mia Reinoso Genoni

 Moving away from the via dei Tribunali toward the waterfront of Naples, we began the day with a trip to Sant’Eligio. Founded in 1270, it was designed for French nationals who had been injured during Charles of Anjou’s 1266 and 1268 battles of conquest. The church eventually also served as hospital and cemetery. The portal is well known as being perhaps the “purest” example of what is known as “French Gothic” in Naples, with its slender colonnettes topped with crockets.

(Left photo by Peter Goltra.)

Because the interior underwent many renovations and was heavily damaged in World War II, its character is less coherent or definable, but the space retains a feeling of sanctuary.

(Photo by Peter Goltra.)

Near to Sant’Eligio is Santa Maria del Carmine, whose origin is also linked to Charles’ conquest. It was erected on the site where Conrad Hohenstaufen was beheaded after losing the 1268 battle, built in this location in part to commemorate the victory and in part to purify the land. Very little of the original Angevin decoration and articulation remains; the facade seen here is 18th century.

(Left photo by Peter Goltra.)

A Carmelite church, it is also famous for its so-called Brown Madonna, housed in the center of the apse behind the altar. The Carmelites were an Eastern order, and the icon Byzantine, leading to its moniker.

(Photo by Peter Goltra.)

Moving across town, we visited Santa Maria della Concezione a Montecalvario, the only church on the tour that dates wholly to the 17th and 18th centuries. Reconstructed completely by Domenico Antonio Vaccaro, the church typifies the Neapolitan Barochetto style: fluid, light, and playful, in some ways a mix of the earlier Baroque and what would be Rococo. The design is a circle with a Greek cross within it, making it octagonal and allowing for eight chapels.

This view of the dome gives an excellent sense both of the beauty, lightness, and gaiety of the space, as well as of its structure.

(Photo by Peter Goltra.)

Continuing along the via Toledo, we came to San Giacomo degli Spagnoli, the church founded in 1540 by Peter of Toledo, known as the “Urban Viceroy” for his many projects in the city. Of particular interest is the tomb of Peter and his wife Maria, pictured here. It was created by Giovanni da Nola, starting in 1539, with full assembly in 1570. The front features the couple in prayer along with a triumphal frieze depicting Holy Roman Emperor Charles V’s entrance into Naples.

(Photo by Peter Goltra.)

Heading southeast from via Toledo we went to the Castel Nuovo, one of the highlights. Of all the sites on tour, it is the one with which I was most familiar beforehand, and it was sheer joy to visit it again. The Castel Nuovo was founded by Charles of Anjou in 1279 and then rebuilt by Alfonso I (the Magnanimous) of Aragon in the mid-15th century. It earned its name because there were already two royal castles, but Charles felt that the Castel d’Ovo was too isolated along the shore and the Castel Capuano was too far from the shore. Alfonso I increased the fortifications, and built the fantastic classicizing entryway, the so-called “Aragonese Arch.”

Its majesty cannot be captured in a picture this size. Alfonso I was adopted by the last Angevin queen, Joan II Anjou Durazzo, during a power struggle. He was a lover of Antiquity and already knew many of Naples’ humanists before he came to power. Credited with working on the arch are a gamut of sculptors, including: the Milanese Pietro di Martino, the Dalmatian Francesco Laurana, the Roman Pietro Taccone, Isaia da Pisa, the Lombard Domenico Gagini, Andrea dell’Aquila, Antonio di Chelino, and the Catalan Pere Johan.

The most fascinating element for me has always been the brilliant incorporation of the triumphant arch motif: the Aragonese Arch harkens to classical arches (the Arch of Trajan in Beneveto and the Arch of the Sergii in Pula), the medieval Gate of Frederick II in Capua, and to the new humanism of the Italian Renaissance, all in one fell swoop.
New to me was the Room of the Barons, so-called because the feudal lords who had conspired against Ferrante I were arrested in it. Here we have a view of the spectacular vaulting of the octagonal dome.
We ended our waterfront day at the Castel del’Ovo, seen here in romantically stormy circumstances. The fortification dates back to an Early Christian hermitage, and the building underwent a series of additions and renovations, including under Angevin and Aragonese rule. The legend of this “Castle of the Egg” is that Virgil, who was believed to have powers with which he could protect the city, hid a magic egg in a secret dungeon. This local myth remained so powerful that when one of the arches crumbled during the reign of poor beleaguered Joan II, she had to announce that she had personally cared for the egg in order to ensure the safety of the castle and maintain order.

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