Royal Palace at Capodimonte was begun in 1738 during the
reign of Charles III of Bourbon.
Eventually it would be one of four such palaces used by
the Bourbons during their rule of the Kingdom of Naples.
(The others are: the Palace at
Caserta, another on the slopes of Vesuvius in
Portici near Herculaneum,
and, of course, the Royal Palace
in the heart of the city, itself.) The palace and
grounds at Capodimonte were spread over 300 acres of
farmland, converting the land from agricultural use into
a vast hunting reserve for the royal family(see box
below). The original wish of Charles III of Bourbon was
for a “royal pleasure haunt” at Capodimonte—a
hunting ground with a lodge. The grounds were thus
turned into a botanical marvel, with brushwood,
evergreen oak, chestnut, elm, fig trees, wild olives and
myrtle groves, all designed to foster the various types
of game introduced into the wood. The original design
for the whole area, both palace and hunting grounds, was
probably by Antonio Canevari (also the architect for the
palace at Portici); Ferdinando Fuga
laid out the entrance courtyard with four radiating
avenues and the central drive.
Ferdinando Sanfelice designed the Royal Porcelain
Works on the grounds as well as the nearby church of San
Gennaro, ordered built by Charles as the house of
worship for workers involved in the construction and
maintenance of palace and grounds.
Part of the grounds
was turned into a well-husbanded ‘English Garden’ in the
1820s. Much of the grounds, however, was kept in a wild
and natural state until the middle of the nineteenth
century when broad footpaths were laid, radiating out
from the palace, itself, such as to give the grounds
more the effect of a garden for strolling rather than
hunting. Over the years, a number of secondary buildings
were constructed, some of them self-perpetuating in the
sense that they provided agricultural services to
maintain the grounds, themselves.
site was one of the 22 Royal Bourbon properties
in the Kingdom of Naples. They range from the
large Royal palaces to smaller residences and
hunting lodges. This is the complete list with
links to entries:
Demanio di Calvi
Today, the palace
houses a number of significant displays, among which are
the Historical Apartment, the Armory, the Porcelain
Room, and, of course, the items in the collection of the
National Art Gallery (see separate section, immediately
below). The former Royal Wood is a public park, well
frequented by Neapolitans.
add National Art Gallery &
Sergio Ortolani June 2016
The Pinacoteca nazionale di Napoli / National Art Gallery of Naples
The current collection of the Capodimonte National Art Gallery of Naples comprises some 1700 paintings and other objects of arts, including works by Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Raphael, Caravaggio, and Botticelli. As noted above, the premises started life as one of the four Bourbon Royal Palaces. It was a royal residence, but one particularly well stocked with art since the first Bourbon monarch, Charles III, inherited a vast collection from his mother Elisabeth Farnese. (That collection, in turn, had been assembled from various Farnese estates in Parma and Piacenza and the Palazzo Farnese in Rome, and that latter collection had been started by Alessandro Farnese (later Pope Paul III - 1468-1549). Some portions of the inherited Farnese collection are elsewhere in Naples at the Archaeological museum.) The Farnese collection plus later additions under the Bourbons are the nucleus of the gallery. During the period of French rule under Murat (1806-1815) the entire collection was moved to the premises of what was then the Frederick II university (now the National Archaeological Museum). At the unification of Italy in 1861, Bourbon properties, including the Capodimonte palace, "defaulted" to the new dynastic rulers of united Italy, the House of Savoy, who donated it all (premises plus works of art contained therein) to the state in 1920. The museum houses, as well, many items not part of the original core collections, such as Egyptian, early Italic, works moved from other Bourbon palaces (such as the palace at Portici), donated private collections, a number of religious items from churches in southern Italy and Sicily, modern works of art (such as Andy Warhol's "Vesuvius") as well as a significant number of works of the so-called Neapolitan School of the 19th century. There are also sections for armor, gold- and silverwork, and examples of other decorative arts, including Capodimonte porcelain. Structurally, the building is enormous (image at top of page), with dozens of exhibition spaces and mezzanines spread over three floors.
The Influence of Sergio Ortolani (1896-1949)
Cursory sources simply say that Capodimonte opened as the National Art Gallery in 1957. That is true, but it is hard to see how that might have happened without the lifelong dedication of Sergio Ortolani, one of the most active Italian art historians of the 20th century. It is hard to overstate his importance as somewhat the father of modern museology (or museography or—in plain language—how museums should be set up and run) in Naples. His main interests were art history, art restoration, and—importantly—organizing the vast amount of visual art on Italian territory, his own specialty being southern Italy and, in particular, the Campania region, particularly the Capodimonte palace. He started actively publishing monographs in art history in the 1920s in Florence and Rome and was appointed inspector for the administration of Antiquites and Fine Arts, specifically within the Royal Supertendency for Medieval and Modern Art of Campania, at which point he moved definitively to Naples from Florence, where he had studied and been active. In 1937 he finished the reordering of the art gallery and published the results in the Bollettino d’arte (“Il riordinamento della Pinacoteca del Museo nazionale di Napoli", s. 3, XXXI [1937-38], pp. 44-46). It took years, was a stunning undertaking but largely unheralded, not the least reason for which was that Ortolani never joined the Fascist party, remaining life-long friends with liberal critic of the government, Benedetto Croce. During the years of WWII, he did his part and helped set up the art exhibits at the Fascist showcase Overseas Fair Grounds, but was otherwise passed over because of politics. To his credit, he was very active in efforts to protect art from wartime damage from bombs, vandalism, theft, etc. He also began a photo archive of works of art in southern Italy and set up a department for art restoration in Naples, seeking the latest technical innovations such as the use of x-rays, etc. He did not live to see the definitive opening of the Capodimonte museum. It was completed in 1957, overseen by art historian, Bruno Molajoli.
source: I have relied on information in the
entry for ORTOLANI, Sergio by Federica De
Rosa in the Treccani Dizionario Biografico
[Also this entry on the Porcelain factory at