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main index   © Jeff Matthews   entry Feb 2006


Cosimo Fanzago (1591-1678)


"Hello, my name is Cosimo.  I'm a buildaholic."
"Hello, Cosimo."
"Say, did you fellows know that I built this very church we're meeting in right now?"

     Spire of San Gennaro
Welcome to the busy world of Cosimo Fanzago. One often speaks of the great Spanish influence in Naples—music, language, and, most obviously, architecture. Even today it is impossible not to run into examples of prominent Spanish buildings in Naples—indeed, entire sections of the town (hence, the "Spanish Quarter" in Naples, off of via Toledo (aka via Roma)—that don't bear the stamp of the Spanish vice-realm of Naples in the 1600s. It is also impossible not to run into the work of this greatest of all architects of the Neapolitan Baroque.


Fanzago was born in Bergamo into a family of bronze-casters and architects and moved to Naples in 1608, where he trained as a sculptor and mason, after which he opened his own workshop. Man, did he ever open a workshop.

His works in Naples include:

  Santa Maria degli Angeli alle croci  
—the Giuglia di San Gennaro (photo, above left), a votive spire in honor of the patron saint of Naples. It was in imitation of the large portable structures common in religious processions and was the model for the two other larger spires in Naples, which he helped plan (at Piazza del Gesù Nuovo and Piazza San Domenico Maggiore). It was a so-called "plague column"; that is, a spire built in thanks for having been spared from the recent epidemic;


extensive work on the monastery of San Martino, including the spectacular central
courtyard (1623–43) with its large portals and busts of Carthusian saints;


         Santa Teresa a Chiaia
the facades or facade details of countless churches, chapels, and civic buildings, including Santa Maria degli Angeli alle croci (photo, above, right, near the Botanical Gardens), anonymous works within the Cathedral of Naples, the entire church of Ascensione a Chiaia; the bronze gate of the chapel of the royal treasury; the original design for the church of San Francesco Saverio (now San Ferdinando (bottom photo), across the square from the Royal Palace); and the church with the interesting double facade, San Giuseppe delle Scalze;

altars within churches, such as in Santa Maria la Nova, Saints Severino and Sossio, Santa Maria di Costantinopoli, and the church of San Pietro a Maiella (the site of the music conservatory);

grand public fountains, including the ''Gigante'' near Santa Lucia and the Sebeto fountain at Mergellina;

The list really does go on and on, and it includes, somewhat surprisingly to me, the building that everyone notices on the road up the Posillipo coast, the Palazzo Donn'Anna, built in the early 1640s. Actually, Fanzago just rebuilt that one. It sits on the site of another building with a storied history of murder, sex orgies, and other items that made the Middle Ages so worthwhile.


San Ferdinando              
Apparently, Fanzago was involved in Masaniello's revolt—or at least he was guilty of thinking revolutionary thoughts (perhaps on the order of, "How come these deadbeat kings and dukes never pay up front?! It's always,'Hey, Coz, how about whipping me up one of those 10-year churches of yours—uh, get back to me when you're done'. Right. Let's hear it for the revolution!"  He was sentenced to death and had to flee to Rome where he worked for a decade, adding to the already impressive array of architecture in that city. Fanzago returned to Naples after the astute Spanish rulers figured out that if they killed Cosimo, who was going to do all that building? He then designed the church of Santa Maria Egiziaca a Pizzofalcone and Santa Teresa a Chiaia (photo, above left) . His last great church was Santa Maria Maggiore built between 1653 and 1675.

Cosimo was also the best-selling author of that Baroque classic, How to Turn those Wasted Hours of Sleep into a Double-Lancet Acroterion, (Pants Press, Naples, 1664).




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