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©   Jeff Matthews       entry Apr 2007   add 2 in March 2017


1. The Naples Academy of Fine Arts       2. Society to Promote Fine Arts in Naples (1861)

The Naples Academy of Fine Arts is among the oldest academies in Europe. It was founded in 1752 at the behest of Charles III of Bourbon and was situated on the premises of the church of  San Carlo alle Mortelle, the site of a pre-existing sculpture workshop. In 1780 the academy was relocated to the premises of the university (now the National Archaeological Museum) and moved again in 1864 (just after the Kingdom of Naples became part of united Italy) to the current premises, the ex-convent complex of S. Giovanni delle Monache. The nucleus of that convent goes back to 1593. The monastery was closed under the reign of Murat in the early 1800s, but later reopened. In the 1850s, a massive restructuring of this ancient area (adjacent to the submerged Greek walls of the city) included the demolition of a nearby city gate and the laying of a new street that divided the convent church from the convent itself. The convent was then closed by the new Italy and restored to become the new art academy by Errico Alvino (1809-1876),* a professor at the academy and the architect in charge of the general rebuilding of the entire area.

The academy is near the Bellini Theater, the National Archaeological Museum and the music conservatory. The entrance is marked by two bronze lions, the works of Tommaso Solari (1829-1897), a prominent Neapolitan sculpture of the day. The entrance fronts on a pedestrian mall with the sidewalk cafes typical of many such places in Europe where young artists and musicians gather. Inside, there is a monumental double stairway (guarded by a replica of Michelangelo's David—photo, above) that leads up to a small theater, lecture halls, workshops, library, and art gallery on the two floors above and around the central courtyard; the stairway is the work of Giuseppe Maria Pisani (1826-1923).*2 The art gallery holds a large collection, mostly of works by artists connected in some way with the academy itself.

Currently, the curriculum is structured around courses of study of two years and three years in six departments: decoration, graphic design, painting, art restoration, stage and set design, and sculpture. The department of art restoration provides an additional two-year graduate program specializing in modern and contemporary art.

*Alvino was from Rome but was particularly active in Naples. His architectural output was prodigious. Besides the Art Academy, his other works in the city include designing the façade of the church of S. Maria di Piedigrotta [1853]; laying out (with others) what was effectively the first tangenziale in the city, the long east-west road, Corso Maria Teresa (today called Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, completed in 1870); planning the restoration of the façade of the Naples cathedral; redesigning (with others) the seaside park, the Villa Comunale, and adjacent area; and designing the main train station (1866), (eventually replaced in 1960).


*2 Pisani studied under Alvino at the art academy. When Alvino died in 1876, Pisani took over his position. He worked to finish his teacher’s projects; on his own, he designed primarily religious architecture in Naples and elsewhere in southern Italy. He had a reputation as a very creative architect and, above all, a humble person. He  gave away his possessions towards the end of his life and retired to a single small room. His tomb at the Poggioreale cemetery was designed by one of his students, Silvio Castrucci.


added March 19 2017

2.  Society to Promote Fine Arts in Naples (1861)      

This is a comment on—and introduction to—an article by Selene Salvi that appears on her Facebook page in Italian as well as in my English translation (also found here below, following this introduction). An intro is necessary for two reasons: (1) it adds historical context for those who may not be too familiar with the artistic history of 19th-century Italy, in general, and Naples, in particular; and (2) it helps answer the question “Why are artists always whining about being poor and starving? I mean, they get paid for their work, don't they?”

Historically, much of the 1800s in Italy is taken up by the movement known as the risorgimento, the movement to form a united Italian state from the various bits and pieces that existed on the peninsula. There are many entries in these pages dedicated to those events. Start here and here. If you want it in a nutshell, the unity of the nation was, essentially, brought about by an invasion of the south by the north, with the very important caveat that many persons in the south favored national unity when it was declared in 1861. Conqueror Garibaldi was welcomed festively in Naples. It is also true, however, that there were those who continued to resist. The war was not over for another 10 years when the last remnant of the Vatican States, Rome, itself, fell in 1871. There, that's the nutshell.

The question to take away from that is, “What happens to the cultural and scientific institutions and associations in the case of a state such as the Kingdom of Naples (roughly half the peninsula) when the state, itself, ceases to exist. In many cases, the administrators, government officials and members of the military are out of work until they are absorbed into the workings of the new nation, as they usually are: that is, the administrators and government officials thrive in the new bureaucracy just as they did in the old (but with new bosses), and the military keeps on soldiering (but in different uniforms).

Culturally, that can happen as well. The orchestra and cast members of the San Carlo theater showed up and played for the new Italy before the fighting farther to the north in Gaeta had even ceased. Publishers stayed open and Neapolitan writers continued to work for newspapers and to write their plays and stories, hoping to get them published. Even the geologists and astronomers went right back to work without even changing the name on the door. If it was “Royal Observatory” before (meaning Francis II of Bourbon) it stayed “Royal Observatory” (but now meaning Victor Emanuel II of Savoy, new monarch of the new nation).

Back to the starving artists. If you were a painter or sculptor there were very few steady jobs equivalent to playing in an orchestra or writing columns and stories for a newspaper. If it was your passion to paint or sculpt what you saw and then stand on the corner and try to sell your art to passers-by, you really did starve. But there was another way. Paint or sculpt for commission! That goes back many centuries in Europe. They come to you! Lorenzo Bernini did not first chisel his massive Tuscan columns for St. Peter's and then stand on the corner waiting for the pope to walk by so he could offer His Holiness a real deal on all the columns he had stashed in his studio. Yours for a song! Everything must go!

Thus there were three traditional ways for them to come to you: from the church, from the king, or from the aristocracy. Some of the commissions were quite good, I imagine. But you pretty much gave them what they wanted in the style of the times, themes to glorify the state, God, or the aristocratic family.

Lacking commissions, there really was nothing but the occasional art exhibit where you tried to wangle an invitation to display and maybe sell your stuff. You were inevitably at the mercy of the event organizers, usually academics who could talk about art but who couldn't paint their own toenails. The idea of societies composed of working artists, themselves
with as little bureaucratic interference as possible—banding together to promote and sell their own works, is a Neapolitan idea, from 1861. (It sounds almost Marxist: “The means of production in the hands of the workers” — except in color! Neapolitans in 1861 founded the National Italian Mutual Aid Society of Scientists, Authors and Artists and then the Society to Promote Fine Arts in Naples. The first Parthenopean [Neapolitan] Art Exposition then became a yearly affair until 1897. It was run by the Society, meaning artists; it sold shares in the Society and received considerable support from private philanthropy.

It is clear why Selene chose the image (below) to highlight her essay:
(1) It is iconic of the plight of the poor artist, and (2) it represents the determination of local artists to do something about the situation. The work is utterly Realist and fits in with the new artistic and literary current of the times, changing even as the century progressed. The year 1897 may mark the end of the Society to Promote Fine Arts in Napoli, but only by that name; it changed names to become the Salvator Rosa Society to Promote Fine Arts and continued to exhibit, remaining staunch in support of the cause of the new united Italy.*

*A note on the images (above): After unification, the large seaside park, the Villa Comunale, became a showcase of modern statuary displaying prominent figures in the new Italy. (These, in addition to the earlier statuary of classical mythology. (That 6-part series is here. There are about 15 of these. I have displayed four; top to bottom they are

1. bust, Errico Alvino by G.B. Amendola, installed, 1881.  
2. bust, Giovanni Bovio by Enrico Mussuti, installed 1915.
3. bust, Giosuè Carducci by Saverio Gatto, installed 1915. 
4. bust, Francesco De Santics by A. D'Orso, installed 1893.

On to Selene's essay:


                    IDEALS OF THE SOCIETY TO PROMOTE FINE ARTS IN NAPLES -by Selene Salvi

This beautiful etching is by Saro Cucinotta. He was born in Messina in 1830 and was executed by firing squad in Paris in 1871. As Fusco writes, we have no way of knowing if he was an active participant in the Communard movement, or perhaps only a Red Cross volunteer (such as Netti). The engraving is from a painting by Giovanni Del Re (Naples, 1829–1915) and was presented at the first exhibition of the Society to Promote Fine Arts in Naples. That was in 1862, scarcely one year after a group of artists signed the statutes of the Society, stating as their primary intention, as we read in the first two articles:

...to promote the growth and prestige of the Arts of Design (…) opening to artists a continuous forum in which to advance their art, whether they are already established with reputations or whether they are still too young to have as yet had the good fortune of success.
What made these artists associate themselves with such a movement? Let's take another step back into the past. Francesco Netti wrote this on May 8, 1860:
 ...I shall now try to concern myself with, if possible selling this, my first work. That will help, in particular,  to get me some attention and to motivate me. I'd just like to know what in the world an artist in the country is supposed to do! No exhibits, or maybe once every 5 years, no encouragement and, even worse, no access to education in the arts. I do what I can and maybe the Lord God will take care of the rest. Maybe it's all in vain.
The time period was critical; there was no real market for arts and there were only a few artists who could avail themselves of traditional religious or aristocratic commissions. Many risked poverty, and the youngest, with no financial means at all, had given up all hope. A lot of time was spent in lengthy discussions about how to overcome the crisis, how to help those who had been left behind, how to open the way for new potential, for a new way of “doing” art. And then Annibale Rossi proclaimed that the only true help for artists lay not in meetings and discussions but in finding a practical and efficient way to help them sell their paintings and statues. That was what gave birth to the famous Parthenopean Exposition. Among the promoters of the exposition, we find (besides, obviously, Rossi) Morelli, Smargiassi, Cucinotta, Molinaro, Solari and many others. Naples was to know another golden age of art. Artists put aside their egos and hostilities, they came out of the solitude of their studios, they worked together for a common good and produced results.

Let's return to our etching. As noted, at the first exhibition by the Society, Giovanni del Re displayed a small painting entitled Dopo morto [after/in death]
… that shows a painter who died in misery. He lies spread motionless on his tiny bed that takes up a corner of his small studio; a small cross lies on his breast; beside the bed you can barely see the fading shadow of a woman's figure the Madonna, come for the pure soul of the artist. In the background on the wall hangs a canvas draped with a garland of withered flowers; the painting is of a young woman, no doubt the love of his life. Scattered about are canvasses, palettes of colors, brushes and other sundry items. A priest with a book under his arm leaves across the threshold; he has finished the rites. Through the pane of a window there are some birds, heralds of death...” (E. Giannelli, Artisti napoletani viventi..., 1916).
This small painting had enormous success. They must have imagined that it would have had that success; the painting was the right choice to represent the exhibition and certainly in the spirit of the announced intent of the Society to Promote Fine Arts, that is, to provide a fund to support poor artists or “those who, through no fault of their own, can no longer practice their art or live from it.” (art. 4 and 54) And so, as provided by article 52 of the Statute, the work was chosen and etched by Saro Cucinotto and given to members of the Society to commemorate the exhibition.


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