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WW2 Damage to Art and Monuments in Naples


Even today, there is significant visible physical damage from WWII air-raids in Naples. Most of it is in the eastern part of the city, the industrial section, not far from the port. Some of it looks as if it had been hit yesterday. There seem to be no plans to tear down many structures that are beyond repair, though, strangely, in many cases newer buildings have sprung up next to them

The damage to the cultural heritage of the city was not as bad, but was significant. The most famous example was the destruction of the church of Santa Chiara (photo, right). As I look at the relatively short list of damaged cultural sites in the passage below, it seems to me that most of them have been restored. The passage is an excerpt from an article by Rensselaer W. Lee published in the January, 1945 issue of College Art Journal (Vol. 4, number 2, pp. 82-83, published by the College Art Association; ISSN: 15436322). The name of the article is “The Effect of the War on the Renaissance and Baroque Art in Italy.”

…Like Palermo, Naples was severely damaged by air attacks and, once more, Baroque churches with their broad naves and large domes were heavy sufferers. Here, as elsewhere, first aid was given as soon as possible by our Monuments officers who were assiduous in supervising the reinforcing of walls, the shoring up of arches and ceilings as well as the removal of rubble and its careful sifting for fragments of painting or sculpture that it might contain. About forty churches or 10% of the total in Naples were damaged; but in less than one month after the Allied occupation six projects of rehabilitation and restoration were under way and not many months later twenty-six projects had been started, with twelve more approved.

Among Baroque churches S. Paolo Maggiore, the Gerolomini, the Annunziata, built over an earlier foundation in 1760 by Vanvitelli, and S. Pietro Martire all suffered severe damage when high explosives pierced roofs or domes; S. Chiara's roof collapsed and the rich Baroque interior, which covered a Gothic under structure, has been badly injured.

For the history of Renaissance art the most interesting building in Naples is the church of Mont' Oliveto which suffered through concussions and explosions incident to the German aerial attack of March 15, 1944. The sculptured altar- piece by Benedetto da Maiano fell to the ground but all the fragments are reported to be in a good state of preservation so that restoration will be possible. Antonio Rossellino's famous relief of the Nativity in the same church is presumably safe; his grave monument of Maria of Aragon on an adjacent wall has been broken into fragments, but these have been carefully gathered together by Monuments officers and the fractures are so clean that reconstruction is assured.

The tomb of Cardinal Brancaccio at S. Angelo a Nilo with Donatello's exquisite relief of the Assumption has not been reported damaged and although an Italian source reports the Castel Nuovo hit, no damage apparently was suffered by the quattrocento sculptures of the arch celebrating the triumph of Alfonso I in 1443. In  the notorious burning of the University, Baroque painting suffered a loss when three pictures by Solimena perished along with 50,000 volumes. North of Naples a great Baroque masterpiece of the 18th  century, Vanvitelli's Royal Palace at Caserta with its wonderful garden, in spite of some damage to the main building, has suffered no irreparable harm…

 

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