Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

Last addition, Jan. 7, 2019, (the last section on the Capodimonte Museum).
This page is largely finished, but you never know.

A Short History of Neapolitan Painting
This was originally a page on painters of the Neapolitan Baroque. It is still, but that section is now in the middle. I have added some material before and after. There is a short intro (directly below), then sections on the 1300s, 1400s and 1500sMannerism, then the 1600s-the Baroque. Then there are separate sections on the 1700sthe 1800s and the Posillipo School,   Turn of the century - late 1800s to early1900s,   the 1900s,    Now,   and the Neapolitan Gallery.
Additionally, there is a general Art Portal here. 


This one doesn't come until the 1600s.
Be patient  or scroll down and look for
Salvator Rosa.

Neapolitan Painting - This term as used in this brief overview refers to painting in and of the city of Naples and how that influenced the rest of southern Italy. Naples is one of the main European cities of art although we don't find the same kind of continuous "school" over time as we find elsewhere in Europe until about the 1600s when names such as Caravaggio, Luca Giordano, Massimo Stanzione, Ribera, Preti and others begin to define a style that you could really call "Neapolitan". Before that we have to say that Naples was a place where painters were hired to come and work and that their cumulative influence then came to a head in around 1600. (What was the original entry on Neapolitan painters of the Baroque is a bit father down this page.)

To do justice to "before that" the earlier centuries of influence, we should take a look at the 1300s, 1400s, and 1500s. Note that I'm not talking about antiquity that is, not Roman art or Pompeii, where new discoveries continue to amaze, nor to Greek art before that. We are talking about painting in Naples once it became the Kingdom of Naples some centuries after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Nor do we care much about even that period in the first few dynasties. Yes, there was Norman art and art under Frederick II, but what we really want is the Angevin dynasty. It was a time when the cosmopolitan nature of Naples brought the city a great amount of artistic exchange with and influence from elsewhere, first from Siena and from what is today the region of Emilia Romagna. In that period, Naples had the good fortune of having an enlightened monarch, Robert of Anjou.

the 1300s       

Cavallini's The Annunciation — in the            
Basilica of S.M. in Trastevere in Rome          

Robert ascended the throne of the Kingdom in 1309 and began to acquire the services of artists from the illustrious Flemish school (image), such as Pietro Cavallini who left his mark between 1308 and 1317 in the churches of San Domenico Maggiore and that of Santa Maria Donnaregina. Then, Simone Martini was called to the court in 1317 to paint San Louis of Tolouse Crowning his Brother, Robert of Anjou, particularly important because it was the first painting of a person who was still alive. That painting is shown here on the left. (It is held in the Naples Gallery of the  National Museum of Capodimonte in Naples.) Martini (Siena, 1284 - Avigon, 1344) was a master of the Italian school of miniature painting and considered a worthy rival of Giotto, who was also active Naples.

Eleven years later, still under Robert the Wise (as he had become known), Giotto (1267 – 1337) was called upon, and his studio provided art work at the Angevin Fortress (Maschio Angoino) and within the basilica of Santa Chiara. Very little of his work has remained to us, yet the arrival of Giotto from Tuscany was an important step in that it set in motion the first school of master plus disciples, primary of whom was Roberto d'Oderisio, that would lead to local tradition.

Then, under René of Anjou, who ruled from 1435-42 and was the last Angevin to rule the kingdom, Naples became the main center of Flemish painting in Italy and in southern Europe. That had important consequences in that it introduced new painting techniques from throughout Italy. The most important was Colantonio, who was one of the so-called Flemish Primitives. One of Colantonio students was Antonello da Messina from Sicily. He studied in Naples under Colantonio and his works show influence of and commitment to the Early Netherlandish style of painting. He has the distinction of being a Sicilian whose work influenced painters in northern Italy, especially in Venice. My favorite tour guide, Laura, tells me that

"the great revolution which Antonello brings to painting is his use of oils... The medium of tempera was static as was fresco and mosaic... Oils come down from the Netherlands and Antonello lights a fire which allows the colorito contingent in Venice to break the bonds of Florentine finesse and swirl into a frenzy of unbridled bursts of color - thus thumbing their noses at the snooty Michelangelo who said they couldn't draw. I have also been told that they secretly ground glass into their oils to create a shimmer which is only visible when the proper lighting is applied. 

Yes, she really said all that.
[see the blue box farther down called Beyond Chronology for an explanation of the term colorito.]

(Image, above right, by Antonello da Messina. See the above link to Flemish Primitives.)

the 1400s and 1500s - the Aragonese in Naples                         top

Under Alfonso V of Aragon this flow from the preceding century of painters from abroad into the city and kingdom of Naples came to an abrupt end. This happened when Naples was taken from the Angevins by the Aragonese dynasty. The symbol of this conquest became the Arch of Triumph over the entrance to Maschio Angioino (shown, right). Sculpture and paintings on and within the architecture are symbols of that period. Naples had become a Spanish vice-realm and during that vice-realm painting was secondary. This had to do with Spain's military ventures on the larger European stage. What's more, the city was in the midst of urban turmoil that greatly affected the work of artists.

F. Santafede's, Christ in the
House of Martha and Mary,
preserved in
the Pio Monte della
Misericordia building in Naples

Nevertheless, there were some noteworthy painters, primarily from Tuscany, who kept on coming. We note Giorgio Vasari and Marco da Siena. The former worked in Naples in 1544 and 1545, leaving samples of his work on the premises of the Monteoliveto  complex with other canvases now held in the church of San Giovanni a Carbonara, such as The Crucifixion. The latter worked primarily at the church of Saints Severino and Sossio. The first of the painters who would carry over into the following century and the great artistic wave that was to come was Fabrizio Santafede (1525-1626). He was called the "Neapolitan Raphael" and his style (termed Mannerism or Late Renaissance) marks the transition to the Baroque. He was so respected that they say that during the sack of Naples in 1647 by insurgents under Masaniello, two houses in which Santafede had painted frescoes were spared out of respect for the artist. He was the mentor of many younger painters and his presence marks the prelude to the Golden Age of Neapolitan painting.

Mannerism -

Right before the Baroque
that is, right before Caravaggio explodes onto the scene, some mention should be made of Mannerism (also called Late Renaissance), a style that overlaps with the later Baroque to a certain extent, in that many of the same names occur. That is, they were doing one thing, along comes Caravaggio and they changed (they may or may not have changed back once they got Caravaggio out of their system). The most spectacular Mannerist work of art within the  city — is the magnificent 46-panel gilded fresco on the ceiling (image shown) of the church of Santa Maria la Nova. The fresco dates back to 1600 and is the collective work of a number of artists, including Luca Giordano. Various magnifying mirrors are set up at ground level within the church to enable visitors to view the ceiling more easily. The style may be said to have run from around 1530 to the end of the century in Naples. It is stylistically influenced by the harmonious ideals associated with artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and early Michelangelo. Although the reference to classical High Renaissance art is clear, High Renaissance art emphasizes proportion, balance, and ideal beauty, but Mannerism exaggerates such qualities, often resulting in compositions that are asymmetrical or "unnaturally elegant." Mannerism is known for its elongated proportions, highly stylized poses, and lack of clear perspective. The style is said to be artificial as opposed to naturalistic.

The individual Mannerist who stands out in Naples is Marco Pino or Marco da Siena (1521–1583). He worked in Siena, Rome and, primarily, Naples (from 1557 until his death). His work clearly shows the graces of the Renaissance and also the colorful excesses of Mannerism. His works are found at a great number of Neapolitan sites, as well as near Naples: the churches of Sant'Angelo a Nilo (which holds the work shown here on the right: San Michele Arcangelo, oil on Canvas 325x237 cm (c.11x8 ft) (1573), San Domenico Maggiore, Gesù Vecchio, and San Lorenzo Maggio, among  others, as well as in galleries in Caserta and Salerno. He was an extremely active painter in Naples during the Counter-Reformation. Friend Selene Salvi wonders about the influence of Marco Pino on Caravaggio himself. There is no doubt that Caravaggio "brought the darkness" of tenebrism but he did paint some of the same subjects as Pino and there are similarities. Selena wonders tantalizingly if we might not have to take another look at Caravaggio's time in Naples. Maybe he was here earlier than art historians think.

Beyond Chronology...       (completed Dec. 14, 2018)

Other than just a succession of periods in art history such as High Renaissance, Baroque, etc., we note that there are overarching issues in art that have affected different ages of painting over long periods of time. One of those issues that art historians say "raged" for centuries (it has raged itself out, apparently) starts with the question, Exactly what is a painting? Do you draw (sketch) it first and then paint over the sketch? That is, are you essentially filling in a sketch with color? Or is there another way? Can you just go at it with no sketch at all? Just slap on the color and let color form itself into the figure. You get different answers to that question at different times and in different places in the history of all figurative Italian art (that is, before the beginnings of abstraction in the late 19th century). The debate was said to be between the relative importance of colorito  (Coloring) versus disegno (Drawing or Sketching). This has particular importance when it comes to  the person of Caravaggio, as we shall see .

The division in Italy was early on between Florence and Venice, the former being the artistic home of the great masters of the High Renaissance such as Leonardo and Michelangelo; the latter, Venice, was the home of color, where it was customary to invent new pigments (my dear friend and painter, Selene, has just ordered a batch of Veronese Green. "Looks like emeralds," she says. It is also named for Paolo Caliari  (alias the Veronese, 1528-1588) -- O he of the gigantic canvasses -- if you think I'm kidding, the image (above right) is the tiniest detail of his gigantic painting The Wedding Feast at Cana. Look at this Wikipedia link. Don't bother if you're reading this on a small screen. Go buy a large, flat-screen. It's worth it. Or go to Paris; it's in the Louvre. The height of the canvas is 660 cm (21.6 ft); the width: 990 cm (c. 31 ft) There are 130 persons in the painting, each one exquisitely detailed!) Selene adds, "You'd need the patience of a monk to do something like that!" Veronese painted himself into the  group of musicians in the center directly beneath the table where Christ is seated. I don't know if Veronese was also a musician. Maybe he thought he was. The instrument he is playing is rightly called a Venetian viola da gamba, but rather than being held upright in front like a modern violincello, it was held like a guitar (both have 6 strings) and is bowed from the top. If that sounds like a combination of a guitar and a violin, and you want to call it a "gitfiddle," welcome to Country & Northern music!

High Renaissance Florentine art was generally carefully planned and probably sketched beforehand, while Venetian painting of the same period (the mid- and late 1500s) was generally not sketched but just painted directly onto the canvas letting the all-important colors take over. So, if the question is, Did the importance of color influence Neapolitan painting? the answer is yes -- in the person of Caravaggio (image, right, by Ottavio Leone, from c.1621.)

Caravaggio and many others were influenced by the painting of the Venice Renaissance. Some of these painters actually visited Venice itself. It is not clear if Caravaggio, himself, did, but he lived near enough at the time (in Milan) to have done so. In addition to reading the separate entry on him (below this box, in the section after Luca Giordano), one does well to remember that his innovation was truly radical, a naturalism that combines close physical observation with a dramatic use of chiaroscuro that came to be known as tenebrism (from the Italian word for "darkness"), the shift from light to dark with little or even no intermediate value, in which the stark difference between darkness and light brought out the colors dramatically, whether or not he actually used special Venetian pigments. He didn't sketch first, but painted rapidly and directly from the subjects, also a Venetian characteristic, with no lengthy preparations as in the classical idealism of the High Renaissance. Thus, his technique was controversial, and his subject matter especially so -- very violent. But all painters of his day had to confront it, take a stand on it: for or against. Some adopted it quickly (and possibly gave it up later). Some stayed with it. Through all of this, one should remember that Caravaggio was more than an angry man, he was an anguished one.

With that:

original Baroque entry (2006)
       Some Painters of the Neapolitan Baroque

Salvator Rosa: self-portrait. The sign says,  
"If you have nothing to say, be quiet." More
on Sal just below.
Luca Giordano (see below) once said, “Anyone who really tries can draw. Not everyone can paint. I would rather be Luca Giordano, the painter, than all the sketch artists in the world.” Since I am known among my artsy friends as “Phil E. Stein,” I am now happy to have ammunition to support my idea that you start out drawing and when you grow up and get really good you learn how to paint. On the other hand, Luca and I have to contend with reams of art criticism declaring that the great painters of the Neapolitan Baroque couldn’t draw very well at all! I was blissfully unaware of that criticism until I stumbled across a book called I Disegni dei Maestri; il barocco a napoli e nell’italia meridionale by Walter Vitzhum (pub. Fratelli Fabbri editori, 1970 Milan). The author dismisses the art-critics by simply showing some of the drawings of the painters of the Neapolitan Baroque and by pointing out the ambiguity of the Italian word disegno; it can mean anything from “design” in the precise blue-print sense of the word, to “drawing” as a finished work but also a “sketch” or “rough draft.” Since many of the painters in the following list were using their disegni as rough drafts for painting and not as finished sketches, the judgment of their drawing as inadequate misses the point. Here is a chronological list (in order of date of birth) of some important painters of the Neapolitan baroque:

Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio) (1571 - 1610) His last self-portrait of himself as the severed head of Goliath. (separate entry here)

Giovanni Battista Caracciolo (also called Battistello) (1578 – 1635), was an important Neapolitan follower of Caravaggio and only a few years younger. Like Caravaggio, he adopted a style of tenebrism, in which dramatic tension is carried by startling uses of shadow and light. He has many works in Naples, including on the premises of San Martino and Santa Maria la Nova.

Massimo Stanzione (c. 1586 - c. 1656) was born in Orta di Atella, in the modern province of Caserta. He was another of the Caravaggisti and possibly a student of Battistello (above), but he moved away from darker and contrasted painting to a softer style. He painted frescoes in the chapel of San Mauro and chapel of Saint John the Baptist in the Certosa di San Martino.

Giuseppe de Ribera (1591 - 1652) was a Spanish tenebrist painter and print maker also known by his Spanish name José de Ribera. He was also called Lo Spagnoletto, or "the Little Spaniard". Ribera was a leading painter of the Spanish school, although his mature work was all done in Italy. In the 1620s he was regarded as the leading painter in Naples. His work can be found at San Martino, for example. Interestingly, he never returned to Spain, but more than one Spanish nobleman returning home from the vice-realm of Naples took works by de Ribera with them, works that subsequently had an influence on Spanish art. (Also see The Bearded Lady.)

Gentileschi, Artemisia (1593 -1653) (1) spent much of her life in Naples; (2) her paintings (one of which,
Judith Beheading Holofernes a scene also painted by Caravaggio) is shown here, left) were not what her contemporaries expected of a woman; (3) she showed great courage in the face of outrageous treatment by the society she lived in; (4) she is the subject of books, films and essays on feminist theory. She is legendary. (See this separate entry on her.) She is also not the only woman painter of the Baroque. (See the link directly above.)

Andrea Vaccaro (c. 1600–1670) was another tenebrist. He was from a family of painters that included Domenico Antonio Vaccaro, the creator of the spectacular majolica-tile courtyard of Santa Chiara. Although Andrea painted copies of Caravaggio, his own tenebrism is less harsh. Vaccaro was patronized by the Spanish viceroy, Gaspar de Bracamonte.

Aniello Falcone (1600-1665) was noted for his paintings of battle scenes. Falcone was accustomed to arms and was an excellent swordsman. One story says that during Masaniello’s Revolt of 1647, Falcone resolved to avenge the death of a nephew at the hands of Spanish troops; thus, he formed an armed band named the Compagnia della Morte, or Company of Death. They fought in the streets by day; at night they were painters again.

Spadaro's "Eruption of Vesuvius" (1631)

Domenico Gargiulo (1609/10 - c.1675) was mainly known for his landscapes. He was commonly called Micco Spadaro because his father was a maker of swords (spade). He is well remembered for his paintings of Masaniello’s Revolt and of the plague of 1656.

Mattia Preti (1613 - 1699) was born in Calabria. His studied with G. B.Caracciolo (above) and maintained a life-long fascination for Caravaggio. He was active in Naples in the 1650s. One of his masterpieces were a series of votive frescoes after the plague, painted on seven city gates; most of them have been lost to time. (The one on the Porta San Gennaro has been restored.) He also designed the nave and transept of San Pietro a Maiella. He moved to Malta in 1659 and spent the remainder of his life there. He had a considerable artistic output in his long life. In art history, Preti is one of "survivor artists of Naples," that is, one of the group that made it through the great plague of 1656 and lived to talk and paint about it.

Salvator Rosa (1615 -1673) was a painter, poet and print maker,
known for his landscape paintings, but also worked in the sphere of mythology, witchcraft, portraits, and satire. He is described by those who knew and loved him (not the same persons!) as unorthodox, extravagant, a “rebel” a proto-Romantic and "an ornery cuss." He was among the first to paint "romantic" landscapes of rugged scenes peopled with shepherds, brigands, seamen, and soldiers. He painted the work at the very top of this page (at the INTRO), called Allegory of Fortune, an oil painting on canvas that was done around 1658 or 1659. It caused an uproar when exhibited publicly and almost got him jailed and probably worse. He patiently explained to the dolts that "Just because someone chose to call this an Allegory of Fortune and Fortune is supposed to be blindfolded but here she (no, it's not the pope, you morons!) is looking down at pigs no. they're not his political lackeys! and dumping wealth on their undeserving stupid, my where do you get such ideas!?" It measures 200.7 by 133 centimeters (79.0 by 52.4 in). The painting is in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, California, and I want it back! We need him.   

Bernardo Cavallino (1616–1656) was born in Naples and likely died there during the plague of 1656. His paintings are some of the most expressive works by Neapolitan artists of the day, described in sources as “sweet tenebrism”. His works are on display not just in Milan, Florence and Naples, but are held in museums around the world. His works are good examples -- as opposed to the Venetian approach of pure color -- of  “disegno” become painting. He sketched and then painted. Some of his sketches survive. (The painting shown here, right, is his The Adoration of the Magi and is currently held in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.)

Carlo Coppola
(1620?- 1672) was born in Naples and was a pupil of Aniello Falcone (above). Like Falcone, he specialized in battle scenes. Coppola is said to have enjoyed himself during the day and painted at night by candle-light, losing his eye-sight as a result.

Luca Giordano (1632—1705) is the one who agrees with me! There is a separate item on him, here.

Francesco Solimena (separate item, here) (self-portrait, left) (1657-1747) was perhaps with Luca Giordano, the best-known painter of the Neapolitan Baroque. Among his works to be found in Naples are Cacciata di Eliodoro in the church of Gesù Nuovo and various frescoes in the churches of San Paolo Maggiore and San Domenico Maggiore. Solimena was active during the short Austrian vicerealm in the first decades of the 1700s. A relevant entry about that period is "Naples Under the Double Eagle".

Sebastiano Conca (1680 - 1764) was born in Gaeta and apprenticed in Naples under Solimena. In 1706 he settled at Rome, where he painted Jeremiah for the church of St. John Lateran on commission of Pope Clement XI. Conca was knighted by the pope and elected to the Accademia di San Luca, becoming director in 1729-1731 and 1739-1741. He returned to Naples in 1752, and enjoyed the royal patronage of Charles III. In Naples he painted frescoes for the Church of Santa Chiara (1752-1754), five canvases for the Chapel in the Caserta Palace (subsequently lost), as well as many other works.

Corrado Giaquinto (1703-1775) was very late Baroque, thus known as a Rococo painter. He trained from 1719-23 in the Neapolitan studio of Solimena is viewed as the beginning of neo-Classicism in Naples. Throughout his life, Giaquinto wandered between Naples, Rome, Turin, and Madrid and worked extensively in those cities, enjoying patronage and acclaim.

note: Quite coincidentally with this short history, as of Dec. 5 and running into January of 2019, a very large Baroque exhibit  will run at Palazzo Zevallos-Stigliano, the prominent art gallery at the beginning of via Toledo (alias via Roma) (the Miscellaneous link to the announcement is at this link). Their published promotional blurb makes a point of stressing that in the Golden Age of the Baroque in Naples (the 1600s), this particular building and the family connected with the building were the southern end of a long chain of art merchants and galleries that connected the south with the ultimate northern end, the Van den Ende family, prominent art merchants in Antwerp and Amsterdam, creating a lively inter-European axis of art. Thexhibit is billed as a "coming home" for  many of the works on display because this is where many of the works hung 300 years ago before the collection was dispersed by time and turmoil.   
                              image above: Rubens,  (detail from) Herod's Banquet.


the 1700s - the beginning of neo-Classicism

In this century, Neapolitan painting is dominated by artists who pick up where Luca Giordano left off, using as models some of Giordano's great works such as the frescoes at San Martino and at the Escorial museum in Spain. It was the high point of religious art in Naples, well represented by Fedele Fischetti (1732 - 1792), whose works of religious and mythological allegory start to adorn not just churches but secular buildings, such as the Caserta Palace, the Royal Palace and a number of private residences. (The image, right, is a sample of his fresco painting in the Summer Hall of the Caserta Palace.)

There is a nucleus of painters who lead from the late 1600s to the early and mid-1700s, perhaps not as memorable as Giodano or Ribera, but certainly significant: Paolo De Matteis (see that link for a discussion of his Triumph of Religion over Heresy) and Domenico Antonio Vaccaro (separate entry at that link. Others were just getting started in the early 1700s: Corrado Giaquinto and Sebastiano Conca are both mentioned directly above, as is Francesco Solimena.  One of Solimena's most prolific students was Francesco De Mura (1696-1782). He acquired his own reputation and is well represented in Italian churches and museums. In the mid-1700s he was the most sought-artist in Naples and was offered the position of official painter at the court of Madrid, a position her turned down. Solimena and De Mura are perhaps the two most important painters of the early and mid-1700s in terms of the influence they had on others.


There is also an interesting trend of secularization starting to happen. That is, although religious art continues, as is evident from the works cited in the above two paragraphs, the beginnings of cityscape and landscape painting,art that depicts the lives of real people in their real environment, start to appear in the hands of such painters as:

Gasparo Vanvitelli (1652–1736) (separate entry here) (in the Italianized version of his name) was the father of the great Neapolitan architect Luigi Vanvitelli. Van Wittel was born in Amersfoort in The Netherlands and trained there; he then moved to Rome, where he spent most of his life. He was in Naples in 1700 and 1701. Generally, he is known for those topographical views that came to be known as vedute (views). (There is a separate entry on him here.)

Antonio Joli (1700 - 1777) Antonio Joli's paintings of Naples are like having a photographer from the mid-1700s around (image, left, is of his rendering of the square of the Spirito Santo, so-called for the name of the church of that name out of the picture on the left well before that city gate was removed.) His work is accurate and precise to a degree that it serves as a document of the life of that period. (There is a separate entry on him here.) and others. The "separate entry" links (directly above) will take you to additional names that have entries of their own, including Thomas Jones, Charles Caryl Coleman, and Oswald Achenbach, a German landscape painters of the 1800s. He was born in Düsseldorf in 1827 and died there in 1910. He made trips to Italy, particularly to southern Italy, and most particularly to the area of Naples; his most representative work is of scenes in and near Naples, depicting not just landscape but the way of life of the people. All of these represent the move away from religious painting that started in the 1700s throughout Europe and, in Naples, toward the landscape painting of the Poisillipo school.

the 1800s and the Posillipo School

  the Egg Castle, Antonio Pitloo             

The Academy of Fine Arts was founded in 1752 at the behest of Charles III of Bourbon. It was important in the sheer number of artists who had the chance to receive formal training. Later, in the 1800s, and after the turmoil of the Napoleonic wars had faded, they contributed to schools of painting in the 1800s such as the Posillipo School, that was in the forefront of landscape painting. Neapolitan painting was transformed completely in this century. There is almost nothing left of the earlier late-Baroque or Caravaggio and local art moves into the vaster field of landscape painting, much of it Romantic. The Posillipo Schoo was active between 1820 and 1850.l It has its roots in the landscape art of the of the 1600s of Micco Spadaro (above) and Salvator Rosa (above) and has much in common with the 19th century Romantic landscapes of English painters, John Constable and William Turner whose work filtered into Naples with all the post-Napoleonic crows on the Grand Tour of Italy. From that, as well, sprung up the tiny scenic paintings sites such as Vesuvius, Pompeii, Capri, etc. aimed specifically at tourism -- small enough to pack in your bags to take home. Then someone discovered postcards.

           Amalfi, Giacinto Gigante

Foremost in this landscape painting was Antonio Pitloo, a young man from Holland who arrived in Naples in 1815. He introduced into Naples the techniques of what is called painting en plein air ("in the open air") leaving a number of very colorful oil canvasses of the rich Neapolitan landscapes at his disposal. Similarly, Giacinto Gigante, Pitloo's student, but originally a printer, tried his hand at it and turned out a series of small paintings, most of them watercolors of the Grand Tour sites of Capri, Amalfi, Caserta, Vesuvius, etc. He was known for his photographic accuracy. The landscapes of the Posillpo School had run their course by 1860. It was replaced by such as Domenico Morelli, who started out at the Academy as a student, then an instructor there, and finally the dean. He painted spectacular theater sets and scenery in the style termed late-Romantic verismo (realism).

Turn of the century - late 1800s to early 1900s   - Impressionism

Neapolitan painting of the turn of this period borrows from French impressionism. It was a school that experimented with dazzling effects of light, movement and with broad brush strokes, giving the effect of "splashed" onto canvas. Probably the best-known Neapolitan scene (Certainly, Neapolitan painting of the turn of the century borrows from French impressionism and post-impressionism, Vesuvius and the Bay, shown, right) is by the French artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). He travelled in Italy between 1881 and 1883. In Naples he visited the National Museum and the ruins of Pompeii, later making mention of his admiration for the frescoes there. Another well-known French impressionist, Edgar Degas (1834 – 1917) was a French artist famous for his paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings.
He is regarded as one of the founders of Impressionism, although he didn't like that term, preferring to be called a "realist" painter and urged artists to paint real people in real situations. He is especially known for his accurate depiction of movement, particularly of dancers. He stayed in Naples from 1856 through 1858, primarily to make copes of great Renaissance master such as
Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian. I am not aware that he "splashed" any light or broad brush strokes onto landscapes or seascapes in Naples. In fact, he claimed to work indoors with models all the time and even mocked the earlier plein air artists. "I am not spontaneous. I live inside, and know nothing of the great outdoors."

The Neapolitan artist who comes closest to that is Oscar Ricciardi (1864 – 1935). He generally worked in small format painting of everyday people plying their trade or, in an urban context,  just going about their business. (Seen here on the left, in a detail of a slightly broader view, are fishermen and sailboats backed by the Egg Castle and mountains of the Sorretine peninsula.) He is considered by many to be the foremost of Neapolitan impressionist painters.


The Neapolitan artist, however who stands out the most in terms of artistic temperament from that period is Vincenzo Gemito (1852 -1929). He was a sculptor and painter of almost Dickensian origins, having been abandoned as an infant at the famous Annunziata orphanage. He was later adopted, worked as an apprentice painter and sculptor, and then enrolled in the Naples Academy of Fine Arts at the age of 12. He sculpted the statue of Charles V on the facade of the royal palace and is well known for his terracotta pieces. He displayed successfully in Paris, then returned to Naples and opened his own foundry to revive the Renaissance art of the wax process for bronze casting. He spent many years in a mental hospital, but later returned to his work. He was called the "Neapolitan Rodin". (Separate entry on him here.) He was one of the sculptors involved with the statuary on the large national monument to Victor Emanuel II in Rome. Both images shown here (right) are of his wife Anna Cutolo. They are almost painful to look at. Other painters of the period include Carlo Brancaccio, Vincenzo Caprile, Giuseppe Carelli, Clementina Carrelli, and Angela Carugati,

the 1900s 


There was no single label or even group of labels for art of the 1900s, either in Naples or Italy as a whole. Naples dealt with the issues of modernism, post-modernism, post-post modernism, abstraction, a strong return to figurative art, installation art, etc. Perhaps the most explosive period had to do with Futurism because of it political ideology. It was an avant-garde artistic and social movement that originated in Italy in the early 20th century. It included painting, sculpture, graphic and industrial design, theater, and film. The emphasis was on technology, youth, speed, violence, suddenness, and the industrial objects of the early 20th century, such as the car and airplane (There is a separate entry on Futurism here).

In the 1930s, Neapolitan artists were very active. Among them was Mario Cortirello  (1907-1981)(called the Neapolitan Chagall). He exhibited at the Venice Biennale numerous times in the 1930s. In 2006 his works (image, right, is his Summer on the slopes of Vesuvius) were included in a marvelous traveling exhibit of the 100 most important Italian painters of the century. The exhibit was il Treno dell'Arte - The Art Train, boxcars of displays, dozens of stops, top to bottom in Italy. Take art to the people. It was run by the government railway service!)

The "return to figurative art" mentioned above is part of what has been termed the Transavantgarde or Transavangardia, a term coined by Italian art critic Achille Bonita Oliva in 1980. In English, it is also termed Neo-expressionism and may be seen as an attempt to take painting back from the "conceptualism" of the mid-1900s, meaning that if you leave a canvas white and call it Confusion  or Happiness, that is Conceptualism you are painting a concept. Whatever else it is, it is not an image. The grand rediscovery of imagery! what the Romans called the genius loci, the protective spirit of places and, here, of the art of painting, what painting is really about.  Among the import artists of the 1980s and 90s mentioned by the critic, three are southern Italians: Mimmo Paladino, Nicola De Maria, and Francesco Clemente.

Installation art, Performance art

To the extent that painters and sculptors are often involved with Installation art and Performance art, outgrowths of Dada and the "anti-art" movements of the early 1900s, we note that for years Naples had yearly displays of such exhibits. The displays combined painting, sculpture, music and some were even site-specific; that is, they cannot be displayed anywhere but in Naples or they would be out of artistic context.  In any event that type of exhibit seems to have faded to a great extent in the last few years. (There is an separate entry on installation art here.)


If you ask, What is happening now and what is on the horizon. That's a tough call. I said up at the top of this entry that "I'm not talking about antiquity." That requires some clarification. There is at the moment in Naples a renewed interest in the mythology of the city expressed in figurative art. That is, in a way, "antiquity". Specifically, Opus Continuum, is a new artists' collective for the purpose of breathing new life into figurative art. They stress that this is not a reaction against abstract art but, quite the opposite, a simple expression that artists should be free to paint what they want in the way they want without having to cater to the commercial whims of critics and gallery owners. The organization is run by artists, for artists. It is self-governing and has established a physical presence in an exhibit hall and museum. They say, "We are not living in the past. It is not our aim to “repeat”. We shall continue to innovate. We hold only that in order to be truly “original” and to have an eye consciously on the future, it is important to know where we came from." (Image, left, "Nymph of Lake Averno") is by Opus Continuum member Fulvio De Marinis. On the right, above, "Cassandra" by member Selene Salvi. )

The one thing that is evident in all painting in Naples is that the city has always been receptive to foreigners. That eventually informed the great century of the 1600s. I don't see another explosion like that caused by Caravaggio, nor do I see another European-wide fixation such as the Baroque, which is not to say that I think that religious art in dead. It's not. Nor do I see a narrow re-entrenchment towards themes and techniques of the past. So, if Naples is true to form, it will continue to welcome those from abroad. (See the film entitled "Come to Naples and Live".) It is the only city in Italy that says "welcome" to foreigners and it is the closest city in Italy to an inclusive, multi-ethnic society. If some of those foreigner are artists, then something will happen. It has to and it might surprise us.

The Neapolitan Gallery

The best single place in Naples to see a thorough overview of Neapolitan painting is at the Galleria Napoletana (Neapolitan Gallery) in the National Museum of Capodichino (image, right), now essentially the National Art Gallery of Naples.  The gallery is on the second floor and comprises 44 rooms of paintings, sculptures and tapestries, either by Neapolitan artists or by those who greatly influenced local artists. The first part of the displays run from the 1200s through the 1700s.  The second part continues to the present. The collection was begun at the beginning of the 1800s when monasteries were abolished under Napoleonic French rule and the vast artistic holdings within them were removed and relocated either to royal Bourbon palaces or to local churches, which remained open. Some of the acquisitions are also recent, having been added even in the early 2000's either though private donations or removal from closed churches. It is not all religious art. There are significant works of mythololgy, still lifes, everyday secular urban scenes as well as pastoral landscapes of Neapolitan realism.

The Gallery starts at Hall 61. The displays are ordered chronologically, century by century, to show the artistic manifestations that accompany the many dynastic changes in the history of Naples, as well as those after the unification of Italy (1861). Along the way there are displays of early folding panel paintings (called tryptichs), the techniques of art restoration, a hall of etchings and prints, drafts of frescoes, some halls dedicated to single artists such as Luca Giordano and Domenico Solimena, and some even to single paintings such a Caravaggio's The Flagellation of Christ. As well, you will find great works from other artistic schools that influenced Naples, such as The Annunciation by Titian (from Venice).

Needless to say, you will not finish all this in one day unless you don't really care about painting, but then you wouldn't be there in the first place. What can I say? Run.

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