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main index © Jeff Matthews entry Aug. 2003
Luca Giordano (& the Church of Santa Brigida)
The church of Santa Brigida (photo) started out in the early 1600s to be a home, a shelter for young women (called a "conservatory" in those days). It evolved into a church named for the Swedish Saint, Brigida, said to have visited Naples in the days of Joan I (the mid-1300s).
There are two remarkable things about the church. The first is that it is still standing. It is on via Santa Brigida, the rest of the length of which constitutes the entire east flank of the mammoth Galleria Umberto. A number of buildings were razed in the late 1880s when the Gallery was put up, but Santa Brigida was spared. They simply built the new gallery around and over the smaller church, causing some damage to it but essentially managing to save a piece of history. History and art, that is—for the art in the church is the second remarkable thing about Santa Brigida and, no doubt, what saved it from the wrecking crews. The church contains a number of works by—and also the tomb of—Luca Giordano (1632—1705), the great painter of the Neapolitan Baroque.
Giordano was, by most accounts, a child prodigy pushed along by his father, also a painter. Giordano spent his formative years acquiring a reputation for great speed and the uncanny ability to copy the works of masters such as Raphael and Michelangelo. As a result, he picked up amusing nicknames such as "Hurry-up Luca", "Lightning" and "Proteus". He worked throughout Italy for commission, including anonymous ones that had him painting those ornate borders of mirrors and pieces of crystal. In 1687 he was invited to Spain by Charles II of Spain (known as "The Little King" in Neapolitan lore), the last king of the once mighty Spanish Empire. In 1687, of course, Naples was part of that empire and was ruled from Madrid by a viceroy.
Giordano returned to
Naples in 1700, having become a very popular and
very wealthy painter in Spain. He spent the last
five years of life helping struggling artists in
Naples. He was well liked and, artistically, he is
still highly regarded. He left many works throughout
Italy and in Spain, but a great number are in
Naples. Besides the ones in Santa Brigida, his Christ
Expelling the Money Changers from the Temple
is in the church of the Girolamini
(across the street from the Naples cathedral) and
the monastery (now museum) of San
Martino has some frescoes, including The Triumph of Judith.
(Also see "Baroque Painters.")