Naples and Campania, Day Eleven 23 May 2008

| May 23, 2008
Mia Reinoso Genoni
(Photo by Peter Goltra.)

We started our last day with a huge bite of 18th-century Campanian architecture: the palace at Caserta. It was begun in 1752 for Charles of Bourbon, who wanted his own Versailles, despite the fact that at this point the idiom of the great French palace was out-of-date. He asked Luigi Vanvitelli specifically to imitate it. Among other quotations, we also see traces of the Royal Palace of Madrid and the Palazzo Farnese in Caparola; Charles was the son of King Philip V of Spain and Elizabeth Farnese.

(Photo by Marilyn Schmitt.)

The spectacular grand staircase is the most inventive element of the palace, though it too is reminiscent of the Royal Palace of Madrid.

(Photo by Peter Goltra.)

The garden complex is also based on Versailles. The grand scale is a clear symbol of power and authority – only the wealthy and powerful can afford to use land gratuitously, as opposed to productively, and to maintain it.

(Photo by Peter Goltra.)

On the other end of the spectrum is San Leucio, located about 35 km northwest of Caserta. This complex was conceived of as a grand utopian experiment, another of my favorite topics. In his Enlightenment-tinged vision, Charles’ son Ferdinand IV imagined a silk factory with a commune for workers, in which everyone would have their own home with a loom and a courtyard and everyone would also receive an education. In keeping a typical and wonderful utopian conceit, the area was to be called “Ferdinandopolis.” Some of his vision was completed; the ideal plan was begun by Francesco Collecini in 1789, and the factory and some of the housing were built.

Now on site is a silk production museum, which delighted and amused us greatly.

(Photo by Peter Goltra.)

However, we had to cut our visit short because we were racing against the clock to get to Sant’Angelo in Formis before a scheduled afternoon wedding. We just made it, as the presence of the flower girl in the doorway suggests. The Romanesque church made our haste worthwhile, however. Built on the ruins of the Temple of Diana Tifatina, it was given to the Benedictines of Montecassino, who rebuilt it in 1072-86/7.

Part of the fame of the building is its narthex, with its early pointed arches. The actual date of the structure is currently a matter of great debate. Here you can also see some of narthex frescoes with scenes from the lives of Anthony and Paul the Hermit.

The frescoes are clearly related to Montecassino. It is assumed that Desiderius created the program; the artists are likely among those he brought back from Constantinople to work on the great monastery.

(Photo by Peter Goltra.)

Although the left apse cycle is lost, the right one remains: the Virgin Mary with Christ Child and Two Angels over Martyred Female Saints. In the foreground the wedding band is setting up – a wonderful vision of the continued use of the church throughout the millennium.

(Photo by Helen and Fraser Muirhead.)

That night we toasted Naples and Campania from La Fenestella, looking out over the Bay of Naples at Vesuvius. She kindly did not erupt during our visit, which probably means I should get to work on an SAH guglia. Ciao, Napoli e Campania! Mille grazie SAH e Scott Opler!

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