Naples and Campania, Day Ten 22 May 2008

| May 22, 2008
Mia Reinoso Genoni

On our final day in the city of Naples, we returned to the via Tribunali area, with a first stop at the Cappella Pontano. As I have a great fondness for small, harmonious, classicizing chapels, I found this building to be utterly enthralling. It is a sepulchral chapel commissioned by the Neapolitan humanist and soldier-politician Giovanni Pontano, built in 1490-2. Such a monument actually commissioned by the humanist himself is unusual, and Pontano put his knowledge to great use. In his own work Pontano wrote that the best way to celebrate during one’s life is through a triumphal arch motif, the use of which is apparent here. Also evident is that the structure follows Vitruvius’ prescriptions for small temples: it is rectangular, erected on a podium, and features a facade punctuated by pilasters, seen also in the following detail:

In many ways we can think of the chapel itself as a built treatise, a concept of particular interest to me. The exterior also features a series of classical epigraphs…

while the interior has epitaphs both classical and of his own composition; the latter primarily express his sorrow over the death of his wife, their sons, and his friends. The altar also features Madonna and the Two Saint Johns, a fresco by Francesco Cicino da Caiazzo.

We moved on to San Domenico Maggiore, a building that, like the Cathedral of Naples, truly deserves the name “complex.” The main church was built by Charles II in 1238-1324. The Angevin structure incorporated San Michele Archangelo a Morfisa, and continued to grow with the addition of a vast theological complex. Such was its renown that scholars such as Thomas Aquinas and Giordano Bruno came to lecture.

(Photo by Peter Goltra.)

As seen here, the interior is of a scale and structure most commonly found in cathedrals. The interior went through a Baroque renovation, and the “restoration” by Federico Travaglini, of 1850-3, stripped down the decor and replaced it with the Neo-Gothic creation seen in this image. The only Baroque elements that remain are the floor, the ceiling of the nave, and the balustrades of the chapel. In its original Angevin incarnation, the interior would have resembled that of San Pietro a Maiella (see entry for 19 May/Day Seven).

The Dominican church also became home to numerous funerary monuments, dating from the 14th to the 19th centuries, including tombs of Angevin and Aragonese rulers. Depicted here is the Tomb of Diomede Carafa, in the Chapel of the Crucifix. It dates to 1470-1, and is often cited as the first “completely” humanist tomb in Naples. It deviates from the Angevin model, replacing the baldachin motif with a Romanizing round arch with pilasters, a la Andrea Bretagno. The chapel received its name because it houses the crucifix through which God is believed to have spoken to Thomas Aquinas, saying “You have written well of me Thomas.”

(Photo by Peter Goltra.)

The Sacristy contains an amazing 10 tombs of Aragonese and Spanish rulers and 35 dignitaries, all around the walkway. Included among these are Ferrante d’Aragona and Giovanna II of Aragon. In addition, the floor holds the 19th-century funerary slab of the first Catholic Bishop of New York, Richard L. Concanen, who died in Naples shortly after his consecration, while waiting for his transportation to arrive. Neapolitan drivers are clearly hell-bent on no such occurrence ever happening again, to which anyone who has navigated amongst the maniacally speedy citizens can attest.

(Photo by Peter Goltra.)

Similarly to the Cathedral complex, in the Piazza San Domenico we find the Guglia di San Domenico, begun in 1656 in thanks for deliverance from the plague of that year. It was designed by Cosimo Fanzago, and finished in 1727 under the first Bourban king, Charles III. Saint Dominic himself crowns the spire.

Continuing with our Neapolitan Day of the Dead, we visited Sant’Angelo a Nilo, home to to the serene and powerful Tomb of Cardinal Rinaldo Brancacci. It was built in Pisa by Donatello and Michelozzo in 1426-8, and shipped to Naples. I was ecstatic to visit this work, as I have studied it extensively but had not yet had the chance to see it. The tomb is very similar to that of (Antipope) John XXIII in the Florence Baptistery, also built by Donatello and Michelozzo. At the same time, the tomb exists in a dialogue with Neapolitan monuments – which is very clear when one has the chance to examine all of them in person. As with the Tomb of John XXIII, we see a lunette above a sarcophagus with three figures below.

(Photo by Peter Goltra.)

That said, the floor-standing baldachin type is also very typically Angevin. Unlike either Angevin monuments or that of John XXIII, the baldachin takes the form of a round arch; this arch appears again in the Tomb of Diomede Carafa in San Domenico, but without the baldachin.

(Photo by Peter Goltra.)

Likewise, the three figures of the lower register are found throughout Angevin funerary monuments and in the Tomb of John XXIII, but here we see a trabeated-like structure with caryatids, akin to the one in the Monument to Ladislao in San Giovanni a Carbonara. I’ve always loved the pillows given to the caryatids to aid them in their support of the heavy burden of the tomb.

(Photo by Peter Goltra.)

Gesu Nuovo is across the street from Santa Chiara – a great study in contrasts. Built by the Jesuits in 1584-97, it incorporated the late-quattrocento Palazzo Sanseverino di Salerno. The Renaissance portal is still visible.

(Photo by Peter Goltra.)

The interior features a buoyant use of triumphant arches, clearly indebted to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
The power and joy of this motif is evident throughout the church – including the ceiling.

(Photo by Peter Goltra.)

We ended our day at the Cappella Sansevero. It was founded in 1590 as the family chapel of the Sangro, and was renovated completely by Prince Raimondo di Sangro di Sansevero from 1749-71. The interior is filled with a intricate iconographic program of Raimondo’s devising that is related to family imagery and lore. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures inside, but once again we can turn to youtube to remedy the situation:

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