23 Oct - Traditional Date for the Famous Eruption of Vesuvius is Wrong!
When you think that most scholars now agree that Christ was born approximately 4 years B.C. (before Christ) you see just how tricky it can be to calculate ancient dates. Another example is seen in the image (right) accompanied by this text in a number of sources last week:to previous misc. page (71) To next miscellany page (73) to top of this page
"A charcoal inscription discovered on a wall of the archaeological ruins of Pompeii Tuesday suggests that the ancient Roman city was buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in October of 79 AD, not August, as previously believed."
Archeologists, historians, and theologians may have different opinions as to the relative value of these two examples. Various local ministers of Culture, however, have no doubt! Your mileage may differ, but the news about Vesuvius and Pompeii is at least interesting. So what's going on?
The Last Day of PompeiiI, Karl Bryullov (1799 - 1852)
We have most of our knowledge of the eruption that destroyed Pompeii from two letters written by Pliny the Younger (61-113 AD) to the historian Tacitus (56-120 AD), 25 years after the fact(!), in response to the latter's request for information on the event from one who had actually been there. (The young Pliny was 18 at the time of the eruption and stayed on the other side of the bay while his uncle, Pliny the Elder, sailed over to see the fireworks. He died in the process.) In those two letters, there is but one reference to the date and, of course, it's not as simple as the English version would have it: "My uncle was stationed at Misenum, where he was in active command of the fleet, with full powers. On the 24th of August ...". What young Pliny wrote in Latin was this:
Erat Miseni classemque imperio praesens regebat. Nonum Kal. Septembres hora fere septima mater mea indicat ei apparere nubem inusitata et magnitudine et specie...The Romans expressed dates in reference to future fixed points in a month, the Kalends, the Nones, and the Ides. The Kalends was the first day of the month; thus, Pliney says in Nonum Kal. Septembres... "It was on the ninth day before the beginning of September...". That works out to August 24th in our modern Gregorian calendar. The newly-found charcoal inscription that now has everyone excited is this:
XVI (ante) K(alendas) Nov(embres) in[d]ulsitIt's very tight, synthetic. (The parentheses contain extrapolations): "16 (days before) K (alendas) Nov (embres) I had too much to eat". It's a Kilroy-was-here type of graffiti, a scrawled admission of having eaten too much on the 16th day before the beginning of November, in other words, the middle of October. So how could Pompeii have been destroyed in August if he is still feeding his face in October? Good question. (The discovery was in a section of Pompeii now being uncovered for the first time in 2000 years. The eruption presumably occurred shortly after that inscription was put there and covered it completely or else the elements would have destroyed it. It's just charcoal.)
pro masumis esurit[ioni].
The black cloud represents the general distributionThe enthusiasm over the discovery skirts the issue of what might have gone wrong, somewhere along the line, to have passed along a mistaken date. One of the curators says it was probably due to an "error of transcription." How could that have happened? Assume that Pliny accurately remembered the date 25 years later (precocious kid, maybe he took notes!). Assume that he wrote the days in good faith. How is it that we even have that letter given the intervening two thousand years of war and natural disaster that have destroyed countless cities (and their scrolls, books and entire libraries)? Luck has a lot to do with it. We managed to get a fragment, something left over from among the vast treasures that are now gone. Pliny's letters did not surface until the mid-1400s, fortunately winding up in the hands of scholars such as Giovanni Giocondo (c.1433 – 1515) an Italian friar, architect, antiquary, archaeologist, and classical scholar, one of the great minds of the Italian Renaissance. He also copied and published ancient manuscripts. In 1498 in Bologna he published Pliny's Epistles. The epistles went through other editions at around the same time. They were published in the original Latin and were handled by countless printers and editors. Is that where an "error of transcription" might have crept in. That is plausible. It's also 500 years ago and I know of no source that says "We have the original page." (There are very few of those left.)
of ash and cinder. Modern coast lines are shown.
credit: MapMaster, Wikipedia.
I was curious about the year. Charcoal scribblers (early Facebook!) didn't put in the year, but Pliny was answering a request from a friend and one of Rome's great historians, Tacitus. Young Pliny was, by that time, a wealthy man from having inherited his uncle's fortune. He loved villas and was no doubt sitting in one of them and writing a solid scroll that Tacitus would then read and answer. (Pliny answered back, as well.) ( Pliny wrote hundreds of letters. We have 247 of them. You can read both the Latin and English at this external website.) It might have been useful to cite the "regnal year" by naming the current emperor (something like Christian usage would say "In the Year of our Lord... ", but it was not common to do so. We know from other sources (see Cassius Dio, below) that the princeps senatus, first consul, of the senate at the time of the eruption was Titus of the Flavian dynasty. There is, in fact, a gold coin with the head of Titus and the inscription: IMP TITVS CAES VESPASIAN AVG PM [Imperator Titus Caesar Vespasianus Augustus Pontifex Maximus]. (Yes, it does say emperor, but originally that meant almost any military commander. The important thing in the early empire was being the princeps senatus.) Or he might have used the "from the founding of Rome" system, anno urbis conditae (Latin: "in the year of the founded city" -- abbreviated AUC where "city" meant Rome. (It is often incorrectly stated that AUC stands for ab urbe condita, which is really the title of Livy's history of Rome.) Even the person we call Augustus Caesar referred to himself as princeps senatus. So when Vesuvius went off, the princeps senatus was Titus. He ruled briefly, from late June 79 AD to mid-Sept. 81 AD. That's not very long but long enough to have to deal with the eruption and the problem of handling Pompeii. In History of Rome, the historian Cassius Dio (c.155 - c. 235) writes that Titus appointed two ex-consuls to organize the relief effort, donated money from the imperial treasury to aid survivors and that he actually visited Pompeii once after the eruption and again the following year. (That makes his History of Rome a source other than Pliny for at least an approximate time-frame for the eruption. It had to be 79, 80, or 81 AD.) I don't see why it had to be 79. If you know, please tell me. If it involves complicated astronomy, please go slowly. Wait ... wait... save your breath. Now I know why Bede was so Venerable. The Anno Domimi system (BC-AD) was actually invented by Dionysius Exiguus in 525, but it became widely used by the Venerable Bede in his De Temporum Ratione in 725 in his work on computus, the science of calculating calendar dates. (Both persons were primarily interested in calculating the date for Easter.) There is no year zero. It goes from 1 BC to 1 AD. The point at which that happens was, however, an approximation. So, 79 it is. Give or take.
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24 Oct - Zeus Back Home
In general, I am grateful for good museums the same way I am grateful for good translators -- if it weren't for them, I wouldn't know anything about the past or about other cultures. At the same time, I hate the idea of outright art theft and am also thankful when a stolen object finds its way home again This statue of Zeus is only 75 cm high (about 30 inches) and has been dated to the first century BC. When it was stolen from Baia (whenever that was), it might have been from the museum in the large Baia castle or even right from the garden of underwater statues that dot the submarine landscape right in front of it. Just takes some scuba gear and a rotten heart. Plenty of both of those to go around.
The lead in the article was "The statue of 'Zeus Enthroned' will return on October 27 to Baia, near Naples, after being exhibited at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles from 1992 until 2017." Hmmm. Think about that for second. The dates are accurate. But... right. Indeed, art theft is big business.
One wonders what the administrators in the Getty Museum in Malibu, California, must have thought when they acquired it from two goons in scuba gear back in 1992. ("Hmmm, someone just lost it in your swimming pool, huh? Gee, people should be more careful. Sure, put it right over there.") The statue spent the next 25 years "exhibited" in the museum in La-La Land by the Pacific until stolen art tracker-downers pegged it as one that had gone missing from Baia through the analysis of a marble fragment found in Bacoli that showed it to be part of the throne that this Zeus sits on. Of course, that was last year! For one year it has been in the hands of the National Archeological Museum in downtown Naples. I don't know why it took a whole year to bring it the rest of the way home. Zeus will be returning home Saturday and for the occasion the Archaeological Park of Campi Flegrei will host the exhibit The visible, the invisible and the sea with previously unseen sculptures from the archaeological park and from the villas that are part of Baia's ancient heritage. Overall, eleven statues will surround Zeus.
(thanks to Jeff Miller for bringing this to my attention)
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Downtown Paestum Saturday Night
-- or Meet me where they play the primary colors
26 Oct - Among the very impressive museums run by La Sapienza University in Rome is one called the Museum of Origins. The have a collection of pre-historic musical instruments: replicas of flutes, bone whistles and drums, some of which were discovered near Paestum -- but about 2500 years before there was a Paestum. Make that around 3000 BC. These things are so primitive that scholars had to debate what they were looking at ("Looks like a cheese strainer to me. Are you sure?" "Yeah, that's a solid B-flat.") If the dating is correct, such items would be the products of what is now called the Gaudo culture. (See that link for more.) It was a neolithic culture in the region of Campania, active at the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC. It was discovered late in September of 1943, during the Allied invasion on the Salerno plain. The Gaudo culture seems to have begun in Campania and then spread south to Lucania and Calabria. Gaudo relics are at the museums of both Paestum and Naples. Some of the instruments are claimed to be the oldest found anywhere in Italy. The Museum of Origins has actually put on concerts of what pre-historic music might have sounded like on such instruments, though you can't really know without a time-machine.
There is some form of music in all human culture, from the not-yet Paestum of 3000 BC to 600 BC when the Greeks got there and built the real Paestum. Not only is there active archaeology still going on in Paestum, but they have jam sessions! There is currently a gentleman, Walter Maioli (image), described as a specialist in sounds of nature, archaic cultural sounds and archeoacoustics, and as a composer and performer of ancient music, who performs and holds workshops in ancient music at the archaeological site at Paestum in conjunction with the National Archaeological Museum of Paestum. He lives in nearby Capaccio, just a stone-age's throw from the site._ _ _ _ _
27 Oct - A Good Exhibit
"Futurism - the 1910s and 20s" is the art exhibit now running at the Cappella Palatina of the Maschio Angioino (the large fortress at the port of Naples). The exhibit runs through 17 February 2019._ _ _ _ _
Once upon a time I just called it all "modern art", "modern music", "modern architecture" and "modern whatever". I wasn't really aware that it had been something as weighty as a "movement." But it was. Futurism was the influential avant-garde artistic and social movement that originated in Italy in the early 20th century. It included painting, sculpture, graphic and industrial design, theater, and film. The emphasis was on technology, youth, speed, violence, suddenness, and the industrial objects of the early 20th century, such as the car and airplane. The whole point was to shed the dreary weight of the past as abruptly as possible. Just like that. Nothing gradual about it.
The founder of the movement and author of the Futurist Manfesto, published in 1909, was Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876 - 1944). Generally, he said that a vibrant nation needs vibrant art, but also that "war [is] a necessity for the health of human spirit, a purification that allows and benefits idealism." (And you can see where that is going.) Among his many less obnoxious traits (I suggest the non-violent word, quaint!) was his concept of Futurist food. Pasta was bad, Italian-grown rice good. Interestingly, both he and Mussolini agreed that art was individual expression and refused to buy into the Nazi view of "degenerate art." (As late as 1937, Louis Armstrong was welcomed to Italy and enjoyed a very successful tour.) The movement had experimental musical, literary, and architectural counterparts, as well. Somewhere around 1960, post-Modernism wandered in, and then post-post-Modernism (which may-may or not-not be the same as "neo-Futurism", but I'll have to think about that one). Futurism had an obvious social side, including its association with the militarism of the Italian Fascist regime. Some think that since Mussolini is dead, so is Futurism. It's not. Look around you. The 1910s are 20s are alive and well.
painting above left: Umberto Boccioni, (1882-1916 , Elasticity (Elasticità) (1912) , oil on canvas, 100 x 100 cm, Museum of the Twentieth Century (in Milan).
28 Oct - And Another One!
A large exhibit on the life and work of M. C. Escher (Maurits Cornelius, 1898-1972) (image, left) will start on 1 Nov at the PAN (Palazzo delle Arti Napoli) on via dei Mille near the Piazza Amedeo Metro station in the Chiaia section of town. The exhibit will feature 200 of Escher's works with a section about his influence on later artists. It's fair to say that this Dutch graphic artist, known for his mathematically-inspired woodcuts, hyperbolic objects, and tesselations is better known now than he was during his lifetime. He became famous in popular culture partially because he was one of the inspirations of Douglas Hofstadter's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1979 book Gödel, Escher, Bach. Multiple viewpoints and impossible stairs: Relativity, 1953
Hyperbolic tessellation: Cicle Limit III, 1959
The exhibit should be of particular interest here because of the very close relationship Escher had with Italy and particularly southern Italy. He travelled widely in Spain and Italy as a young man, drawn to the intricacies of Moorish architecture in Spain and to the Italian countryside. While travelling along the Amalfi coast he met Jetta Umiker, a Swiss woman, in Ravello. They married and settled in Rome in 1923 and lived there until 1935, raising a family. From that base he visited the Abruzzi, Calabria, the Gargano spur, Sicily, and the Amalfi coast, where he was fascinated by the "natural mathematics" of the jagged peaks of the coastline as they recede to the south, one after another, poised to plunge into the sea. If you are here, don't miss this exhibit.
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'Tis the Season to Use Moly
29 Oct - There are no kitsch plastic global and totally non-Italian or local Neapolitan Halloween decorations out in shops yet, and that is unusual. It may just be the gloomy wet and windwhistling weather -- the worst in years. This may mean -- I hope, I hope -- no kids at the door. Just in case, in addition to moly (aka the snowdrop or Galanthus rivalis, shown), the magical herb in Book 10 of The Odyssey, used to protect from sorcery, I fully intend to switch on the electrified fence and set out the killer robo-dogs. Here is an entry on the original traditions of older Italian rituals at this time of year. They are getting harder and harder to find. Here is a link to a related entry called The Witches of Benevento.
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29 Oct - A Special Day (Una giornata particolare) - film, 1977.
Italian-Canadian production; directed by Ettore Scola; produced by Carlo Ponti.
In 2008, this film was put on the list of 100 Italian films to be saved (100 film italiani da salvare), created to note "100 films that changed the collective memory of the nation between 1942 and 1978". The project was established at the 65th Venice International Film Festival in 2008. I don't know why they chose 1978 as the cut-off point. They might have thought it was the year they could stop talking about post-war Italy. Maybe. The film revolves around a real event, the one-week visit by Adolf Hitler to Italy in the week of May 3- 9, 1938. (There is an entry on that event here.) The particular "special" day is May 8, when Hitler was in Rome and everyone goes off to see the festivities except the two main players in the story, Marcello Mastroianni (Gabriele) and Sophia Loren (Antonietta). They have, for their own reasons, stayed home. The film tells you what their lives are about and, at the same time, what life in Fascist Italy was like in the late 1930s.
There are a few things that stand out. First, it looks like a film of Italian Neo-Realism. That can't be because those films ended in the early 1950s. But the film tricks you into thinking it was made in 1938. Even the color looks black & white. And it stars two of the most popular Italian film stars of any period. One critic said their celebrity presence spoiled the film. He must have seen a different film. Both stars play so against type that it doesn't matter who they are. They are both perfect. There is nothing glamorous about her and nothing of the Latin Lover about him. He is a middle-aged homosexual who has lost his job because of that and is about to be exiled to Sardinia to a camp for "those people". He is, in fact, waiting for the police to come and take him away. She is the desperately bored, sentimental and overworked homemaker, who stays at home doing her chores -- her entire life is a chore -- while her super-Fascist husband, Emanuele, and their spoiled brats take to the streets to follow the parade. The two live in the same complex and their paths cross and that is the story. He wants release (even through suicide) and she wants respite even knowing it will be brief.
If you say the film is about gender roles, Fascism, and the persecution of homosexuals under the Mussolini regime, you would be correct, but you would overlook a lot. I watched a 1983 Italian TV production of a panel discussion. Mastrioanni was on the panel and the topics included homosexuality, gender roles (and what they still mean -- or meant in 1983), anti-Semitism, fear of "the Other", and "are we Italians as tolerant as we like to think." That was in 1983. Now, 35 years later, you could still have the same discussion.
On the special day, Gabriele and Antonietta are in the building complex alone, cross-courtyard neighbors, and so they meet. She flirts a bit, not knowing his sexual orientation. They warm to -- and confide in -- each other. They each see that the other is a victim of social conditioning. In an intense, desperate scene, she pleads with him to be with her just this once, man with woman. They make love, but for different reasons. He admits the experience was good "but it changes nothing." He knows he is going to jail and she has her respite. She watches her lover being led away and goes back to domestic monotony, to bed where her husband is waiting for her in order to make another bonus baby for Benito. If it is a boy, he will be named Adolfo. It is a stark and bleak film, one that offers little redemption. (There are lighter moments and, at the end, she is seen reading the book he has given her.) One question for the person in charge of the music: Why does the incessant use of the notorious Nazi march The Horst Wessel Song (even while she pleads with him for love!) have to include minimalist Satie-like piano noodlings of that same melody in the intro? I'll give you the benefit of the doubt -- maybe it's nostalgic irony. This is what we wanted, but look what we got. We get it. We know who was in town.
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Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow (Ieri, oggi, domani) (1963)
produced by Carlo Ponti distrib. by Embassy Pictures Corporation
1 Nov - One of the most remarkable aspects of Italian film-making was the transition from Neo-Realism to comedy, such that the same person, Vittorio De Sica, who directed perhaps the most depressing film ever made, Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves) (1948) 15 years later comes up with Ieri, oggi, domani (the English title is usually Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow) (original movie poster, image, right). So, the comedy is an "anthology" film, in three parts, all starring Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, paired in each segment, but as different characters. (If you can't figure out who is who from the poster, maybe you should go read something else!) The setting moves from Naples to Milan to Rome. The first one is named "Adelina of Naples." She (Loren) supports her unemployed husband Carmine (Mastroianni)) and child by selling black market cigarettes. The second one, "Anna of Milan," is the shortest and least known. Anna is spoiled rotten, very rich, and very well-dressed in genuine Christian Dioreware/wear who is having trouble deciding between her lover (guess who!) and her Rolls -Royce. In number three, "Mara of Rome," Mara works as a prostitute from her apartment, servicing a variety of high class clients including Augusto (again, guess who!). This segment contains the best strip-tease ever filmed (shown below, left). Or so I have heard. The film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 1965 Academy Awards and the 1964 Golden Globe Awards. (OK, spoiler alert: Mastroianni is at the lower left in the poster.)- - - - - - - - - -
From episode 3. That's all you're getting.
Returning to episode 1 in Naples (the longest one), Adelina and Carmine have serious problems. She has been fined for her black market activities. She can't pay the fine and now faces jail-time. A friendly lawyer, however, informs her that Italian law says that women cannot be imprisoned when pregnant or within six months after a pregnancy. So Adelina schemes to purposely stay pregnant. The neighborhood is on her side of course and one of the scenes of solidarity is a long string of kids from the 'hood marching along the seaside chanting her praises: "Ten-a-panz /ten-a-panz/ten-a-panz cha-cha-cha!" ("She's got the belly, got the belly, got the belly, cha-cha-cha!)
After eight years of constant pregnant freedom and seven kids, husband Carmine is flat-out pooped and Adelina has to choose between proxy pregnancy via a mutual friend Pasquale -- clearly a noble guy, willing to make the sacrifice -- or go to jail. She chooses jail but the neighborhood gathers around her and petitions for her freedom. It comes through and they all live happily ever after. The script is by the great Neapolitan playwright Eduardo De Filippo and -- no kidding! -- it is based on the true story of Concetta Muccardi, who went through 19 pregnancies, seven of which resulted in live childbirth. She continued her black market cigarette selling career until November 21, 2001 when she passed away at the age of 78. She became well-known as the "real Adelina", the one who had inspired De Sica. She appeared on TV a few times, where she told her story and then actually sued De Sica and the film company for some money. She won. They paid her a reasonable sum of money with no hard feelings apparently. (De Sica mentions it all in his film journals, published as Letters from the Set by Laterza, Rome, second edition 2014.) She was happy and the filmmakers didn't wind up looking like a bunch of cheapskates. That's a good ending, too.
Venice. MOSE a flop?
Nov 3 - The terrible weather in Naples this week -- flooding, falling trees, countless small boats splintered on the rocks -- has reminded me of our neighbor to the north, also a port city with problems, Venice. Yes, overcrowding is one of them. The monster ships get bigger and bigger and the crowds ever more intense. But all that is really secondary; the real problem, always there, always lurking, came to the forefront a few days ago when disastrous flooding hit the Venice lagoon and the main city. The sea keeps rising and the general concern of coastal flooding is well-founded.
There is an older general article on Venice at this link.
Venice hatched a plan some years ago to fix the problem, a plan to close off the lagoon when there was a threat of flooding. The project was called MOSE (MOdulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico) (Experimental electro-mechanical module). There would be rows of mobile gates (image, left), 78 in all, installed at the three major inlets -- Lido, Malamocco, and Chioggia. (In the image, right, Lido is the top yellow circle. The entrance is the widest of the three; it is 900 meters / 1000 yds wide and leads directly into the Venice, the floating jewel of a city that everyone wants to see.) Together with other things such as coastal reinforcement along the outer beach, itself a barrier, and the raising of quaysides MOSE would protect Venice and the lagoon from tides of up to 3 meters (almost 10 ft). Construction began simultaneously in 2003 at all three lagoon inlets. The original optimistic prediction was that MOSE would be finished in 2018. Then they said 2022. Now, after years of massive corruption scandals and cost overruns (the project has already cost 5 times more than predicted, there is talk of scrapping the system. Many of the mobile gates (designed in the 1980s) already in place are corroded or affected by mold and humble sea creatures such as mussels -- or they just plain don't work. It will cost another fortune to fix and finish and even under the best of circumstances, this "jewel of national engineering" was designed to close off the lagoon only against exceptionally high tides, from 110 centimeters to three meters but not "medium to high waters", between 80 and 100 centimeters. Those now occur more and more frequently because of the general rise in sea level and they cause great damage to the vast cultural heritage of the city. If this project fails -- and some say it already has -- the consequences are unthinkable. We stand to lose this stunning city, la Serenissima, Her Most Serene Highness, a queen of European culture, one of the great architectural and cultural achievements in human history. That must not be allowed to happen.
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The Great Posillipo Chainsaw Massacre
Nov 5 - When I was much younger and things were much funnier, we joked about the heavily wooded park at the end of Posillipo, a high scenic cliff overlooking points spoken of by Homer and Virgil, of true derring-do and intense history (shown, right, red pointer). For us, it was just Lover's Lane. The Italian name was Parco della Rimembranza (remembrance), nicknamed Parco della Gravidanza (pregnancy). That was so funny (and so long ago), we thought it was the Pterodacyl's pajamas.
The park goes back to 1931 (image, bottom right), designed by the great Italian landscape architect Pietro Porcinai, creator of a thousand other bits of paradise throughout the world. This one took a severe beating in and after WWII (as did other places in Italy), when residents chopped down trees for firewood. It came back, however, but then came the overbuilding of the Italian "economic miracle" and the park was no longer out in the countryside but a nice place on the outskirts. And then the inskirts. It was closed in 1997, declared whole again by 2002, and reopened -- 92.000 m² (c. 22 acres) at 150 meters (c. 450 feet) above sea-level (image, above). They put in an athletic track and replanted everything. Still looked pretty good. Lovers could no longer drive into the park, but they had the side-streets and business went on as usual. Still funny.
I once wrote a piece about Driving in Naples (the whole thing is here), part of which contained golden advice that one should learn how to make love (coitus contortius) in a Fiat 500. Even better, learn how to sit on the back of a fast motorcycle preferably driven by Steve McQueen and lob water balloons into parked passionmobiles through the sun–roofs, which young lovers always left open. Then I hung my head for I knew I was catering to "sophomoric droolers." Little did I know. When the city chainsaws went to work, lo and behold, they found lodged in the jungle of trees on the other side of the street a make-shift gallery of divans and platforms put there over the years by the local foresters, gardeners and other sundry voyeurs and droolers, a place where they could sit and relax, open a cool one, and watch the action. Cheaper than cable.
the main entrance, facing north-east WAY BEFORE
Selene wrote the other day, "It's so sad. The Parco is unrecognizable." I immediately thought of the trees and the devastation wrought by the storm. Yes, some trees went down, especially the smaller ones, as well as untold amounts of bushes and shrubbery. But the photo you see of the main street of Pregnacy Park (shown, left) -- well, wind doesn't do that. Chainsaws do that. The city had actually started to cut those trees down a few days before the storm. After the storm they had to send crews up to clear away the tons of wind-driven vegetation, so they took the occasion to do what they eventually would have to do anyway -- finish off the trees (100 so far) that had to be removed because they were infected by wood-boring parasitic scale insects. A local agronomist said "Every tree up here will dead in 3 years. We'll have to replant the whole quarter." Maybe it's back to square one. They have done that before, too -- in 1931 (image, above right). The park is supposed to host the 2019 Universiade World University Games in July of next year.
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The Physics of Baking Good Pizza
Nov 8 - This is from the abstract of an article published as:
The Physics of baking good PizzaWhen they say "The physics of," they're not kidding. First the abstract:
Andrey Varlamov, Andreas Glatz, Sergio Grasso
CNR-SPIN, Viale del Politecnico 1, Rome, Italy
Materials Science Division, Argonne National Laboratory, Illinois, USA
Department of Physics, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois, USA
Physical principles are involved in almost any aspect of cooking. Here we analyze the specific process of baking pizzas, deriving in simple terms the baking times for two different situations: For a brick oven in a pizzeria and a modern metallic oven at home. Our study is based on basic thermodynamic principles relevant to the cooking process and is accessible to undergraduate students.Maybe. They do start with a good historical background, however, abridged here below.
There is more -- a lot more history --before the article gets into physics, but sooner or later you wind up at this:Italians are trusted as the inventors of this humble, delicious and “universal” flatbread, but there are precursors of pizza: the Neolithic unleavened flatbreads baked on fire-heated rocks and made from coarse grains and developed autonomously in several areas from China to the Americas. The Italian word “pizza” first appeared on a Latin parchment (Codex Diplomaticus Cajtanus) reporting a list of donations due to the bishop of Gaeta, near Naples). The document dated 997 AD fixes a supply of duodecim pizze ("twelve pizzas") every Christmas Day and Easter Sunday. By the time of Greek colonies in southern Italy (600 BC) a flat, baked, grain-based sourdough covered with oil, garlic, onion, herbs, minced meat and even small fishes was being produced. Plato mentions “cakes” made from barley flour, kneaded and cooked with olives and cheese. Greeks familiarized the whole Mediterranean with Egyptian leavening and kneading of the dough to get a more digestible bread, and the use of cupola-roof-ovens instead of open fires.
and you see that you can bake a real Neapolitan pizza even without a wood oven if you know what you're doing -- and if you are Enrico Fermi. I started to say Albert Einstein, because the formula clearly means that space, time, and pizza are the same thing! But I don't think Albert liked pizza. I don't know why. It's a piece of cake.
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Tomorrow -- for various reasons
Nov. 10 - We pause tomorrow in remembrance of the end of WW1, the Great War. Depending on where you are from, you may call it Armistice Day, Veterans Day, Remembrance Day, etc. It all ended one century ago tomorrow on the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. " (Or, as they say in German, "am elften elften um elf Uhr elf." It sounds bouncy and cute, like maybe a bunch of elves chattering, "Well, that wasn't so bad, huh?" But it was. It was the "War to end all wars" and yet 20 years later it would stand aside to make way for the next one, the "War to make the world safe for democracy." That's not a wise-crack. It's just sad.
Yet tomorrow, Nov. 11, has a place in WW2, as well, in the Allied air war against Italy. This paragraph is from the complete entry in these pages on the Allied Bombing of Naples in WWII.
The initial air strikes against Naples were strategic and effective in disrupting the Italian war machinery in the south. [The strikes against southern Italy included the bold — and unprecedented — attack on November 11, 1940, against the large Italian naval facility in Taranto, down at the heel of the boot of Italy. British Fleet Air Arm planes from the aircraft carrier Illustrious, 170 miles out in the Ionian sea, successfully attacked the port, devastating the Italian fleet. That attack was the first major victory for naval air power in the history of warfare and has been called "the blueprint for Pearl Harbor."
(Photo of HMS Illustrious from the 1950s)
The success of the British attack must have been illuminating to the Japanese -- you could launch planes from aircraft carriers against facilities on land. The HMS Illustrious was the lead ship of her class of aircraft carriers built for the Royal Navy before World War II. The planes were twelve already antiquated aircraft, Fairey Swordfish biplane (!) torpedo bombers (shown) designed by the Fairey Aviation Company built in the early 1930s. And yet it worked.
There's nothing light-hearted about any of this, nor should there be. Well, maybe... just this. The British Navy still celebrates on November 11 something they call "tuh-'RAN-toe night". (That's me imitating the incorrect but exquisitely Churchhillian mispronunciation of any word that is not English.) It's 'TAH-ran-to. Maybe I'll wander over to the club, have a pint with the chaps and wax nostalgic to Vera Lynn singing We'll meet again.
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The Master & Triptych of Beffi
Nov 12 - A noteworthy, little-known piece of sacred Christian art. If you rely on travel guides and gurus to see Italian art, stay home. OK, you'll get a lot, but you'll miss a lot. I had not heard of this work and not even the town of Beffi. I found Beffi in the Province of Aquila (Abruzzo). The town has 48 inhabitants and is about 63 mi (102 km) east of Rome. There are great places near Beffi and Aquila. Golly, you could spend a whole day in Rome! And you will have missed this triptych.
This masterpiece (shown) is normally held in the Abruzzo National Museum in Aquila, but has been moved because of a recent earthquake. Ask around. It was painted on wood against a gold background and was originally in the church of Santa Maria del Ponte in Tione near Beffi.[A triptych --from Greek, meaning, "three-fold"), is a work of art, usually a panel painting, divided into three sections that are hinged together. They can be folded shut for ease of transport and then opened again for display. The form arises in early Christian art and was a popular standard format for altar paintings from the Middle Ages onward.]
The artist is known simply as the Master of Beffi or the Master of the Triptych of Beffi. The work was done between 1410 and 1416. Biographical details of the artist are scarce. Tradition says that he was not originally from Abruzzo and was on the "border" between Neapolitan art and that of Siena at the end of the 1300s. He settled in the town of Sulmona and opened a studio around the year 1385 and then later in Aquila where his main works are on display. He was also a "miniaturist" (illustrator of the initial letters in illuminated manuscripts*) and sculptor. He was active during the late 1300s and early 1400s. (*hese things.)
The center section of the triptych shows the Madonna and Child on a throne. They are looking back to the first section, which shows the Annunciation and the adoration by the shepherds, the right section shows the Dormitio Virginis. Some sources call that the death of Mary, though the Latin really means the Sleeping Virgin (consult your local Roman Catholic theologian for differences and details -- I am not that guy!) and the coronation of Mary (as queen of Heaven). Until 1915 the triptych was above the main altar of the church and then moved after an earlier earthquake in the area. It is painted in tempera* on wood with gold background; dimensions, height 123 cm / 48.5 cm unfolded; that's about 2 feet high and 6 feet wide. The 3 sections are the same width so with the side panels folded in to the center, you have a portable item of 2 feet by 2 feet.
*[Tempera painting: from the Latin temperare --to mix. Tempera is a permanent, fast-drying painting medium consisting of colored pigments mixed with a water-soluble binder medium, usually glutinous material such as egg yolk and/or albumen. Tempera paintings are very long lasting, and examples from the first century AD still exist. Tempera went out when real oil painting came in -- after 1500.]The Master of Beffi has about a dozen or so known works, most of which are in the area of Aquila. Through his studio in Sulmona, he influenced a number of artists from the 1400s. His first work that we we know of is The Tree of the Seven Words (1390) done for the church of Santa Mania Paganica in Aquila and preserved in the National Museum of Aquila. His last known work is Sant'Onofrio and Mary Magdalene, now held at the Sulmona Civic Museum. It is from 1425, presumably near the date of his death.
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Speaking of Triptychs
Nov. 14 - I asked poet & neighbor, Giacomo Garzya, to write one, seen from his balcony in Naples.
I glance east
a Neapolitan Madonna
is at Vesuvius
to guard the city,
so light and sweet
that she moves your heart.
Whatever dwells in the
heart of that volcano now
surely dreams pleasant dreams.
Neapolitan and romantic,
though often spurned by her city.
A Neapolitan Triptych
At the center, south, Capri,
the island of my morning dreams,
floating on the sea, ready
to withstand the storms.
Even Capri has a woman,
softly resting on a bed of
red coral, nothing like it in the world
from the Romans to the present day,
she sparkles and gives off love
from every rock.
Naples, 8 Nov 2018
To the west, Posillipo,
places of pines and splendor
of the sea, its villas and women
at ease on their grand
lounges, shelves on the coast.
Places of gentle kisses
from the passing sunset
as they fade in the rising moon
that graces bodies in their nakedness.
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Nov 16 -
Ancient Syracuse"Urbem Syracusas maximam esse Graecarum, pulcherrimam omnium saepe audistis. Est, iudices, ita ut dicitur."
"You have often heard it said that Syracuse is the largest and most beautiful of all Greek cities. Members, those who
say that are indeed correct." (Cicero, In Verrem, II,4,117)
Ancient Syracuse (originally called Συϱάϰουσαι, transliterated as Syrakousai by the later Greeks in Italy) and then as Syracusae by the Romans was founded on the island of Ortigia on the south-eastern coast Sicily in c.734 BC by colonists from Corinth led by their oekist (or oecist), Archias of Corinth. Some ancient sources, including Aristotle, say that the colonists, themselves, descended from Trojan prisoners captured by Agamemnon in the Trojan War. The oekist was picked by ancient Greek city-states to lead new efforts to go forth and colonize. He had the power to select where to settle and to direct the initial labors. The oekist was often accorded his own cult after his death, and his name was held sacred even when other details of the founding were forgotten. Foundation myths about Archias say he was descended from Hercules and that he founded Syracuse where he did after defeating a local population called the Siculi.
image above: Papertowns
The Greeks turned their colony into one of the most important commercial and cultural centers in the Mediterranean and, thus, one of the great cities in all of ancient Greece in literature, science, philosophy, and military might. Syracuse itself then founded other smaller colonies at Akrai, Kasmenai, Akrillai, Helorus, and Kamarina, all of them strung out from Syracuse's position on the east coast and running inland to the SW to keep an eye on Gela, a colony founded a bit after Syracuse by other Greeks (and thus potential enemies!) from Rhodes and Crete. (That creeping to the west also put Syracuse on a collision course with Carthaginian ambitions on the island.) At its height (around 400 BC) Syracuse's walls encircled 120 hectares (300 acres) and the population numbered around 250,000. It vied with Athens for number one among Greek cities. Syracuse was finally subdued in 212 BC by Rome. The city became part of the Roman Republic as the capital of the province of Sicily and then the Roman Empire. When that fell, it was taken by a succession of Germanic invaders, the Vandals, Goths, and Ostrogoths. In the 6th century it became part of the Eastern Roman Empire and in the 7th century was declared capital of the entire Byzantine empire for a short period before that function returned to Constantinople. It withstood an initial Arab assault and finally fell to the Arabs in 878.
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Nov 17 -
The Magnificent Magmathon!
Headlines about recent studies of the Campi Flegei (the Fiery Fields) are referring to what you see in both images. In the map, the red circle contains what is left of the mammoth Archiflegrean Caldera also known as the Campanian Ignimbrite eruption (complete articles on that event and the Flegrean Fields are here and here, respectively.) The photo (below) shows what the area looks like today looking from one rim of the crater (the site of the Camaldoli convent to the other rim (at Capo Miseno), over the secondary volcanos (20,000 years after the big one), the Flegrean Fields. The new studies are important only because they are the latest, not necessarily because you should start running. Essentially, the gigantic magma chamber, the "bulge beneath the bay," that still lurks below the old supervolcano is filling with magma. From various headlines from around world, it is not clear what that means. A sampling:
-Italian Supervolcano may restart Eruption Cycle
-New research suggets Italian Supervolcano is Filling up up with Magma
-Campi Flegrei Volcano’s Ancient Cycle Seems to End in Large Eruption
The majority of expert professional opinion is, however, non-committal, calm, almost sedate.
-There is no evidence that an eruption is imminent. or -We just have to wait and see. (That's my favorite!)
So depending on where your panic meter is set, you might decide to see what's on the sports page. But it's good to know that the geologists are on the scene preparing for the Supervolcano that will make the world safe for Democracy. Supervolcano is the key word. Listen carefully. A supervolcano is an exceptionally large volcano (the diameter of this was 20 km!) that begins as a boiling reservoir of magma that rises from the mantle (that part of the earth's interior below the crust (at about 30 km) and above the core 2900 km) ... rises up to within the earth's crust and builds up pressure until it erupts in a massive explosion. While most "normal" volcanoes are conical, a supervolcano can actually be flat enough to be hard to detect. They are no longer frequent. This supervolcano blew 40,000 years ago and is the most recent such eruption in history. Even one large regular cone volcano can affect climate and cause a "year without a summer." That happens because eruptions force sulfur dioxide into the upper atmosphere that combines with water to produce droplets of sulfuric acid; that forms a reflective barrier that blocks solar radiation and reduces temperatures. If one cone volcano can do that (it happened at least twice in the 1800s) think what the eruption of the supervolcano Toba in Sumatra did 74,000 years ago. It produced a volcanic winter around the world so catastrophic that some sources say the human race was pushed to the brink of extinction. Now think of .... better, don't think about it... what the triple caldera supervolcano under Yellowstone might do. It is on a 600,000 year eruption cycle. The last one was 640,000 years ago. It's overdue. So our little Campanian thing here? Not a problem. Larry Ray gave me the title at the top of this entry, and he and I are not worried.Below, right. In this photo, the faint land in the background, dead center, is the island of Ischia (also Procida). Then there's water. The strip of land below that is the mainland. That is the other rim of the caldera crater. The triangular bit on the left is Cape Miseno and marks the end of the gulf of Naples. You are looking across the entire collection of volcanoes called the Campi Flegrei. It's about 20 km / 12 mi from your point on the rim at Camaldoli to the other rim.
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Nov 19 -
Viaggio in Italia (Trip to Italy) film, 1954, directed by Roberto Rosselini.
(The title is misleading. It's all Naples. The opening credits are accompanied by a famous Neapolitan song, 'O paese d' 'o sole, and there is constant Neapolitan music throughout.) The film is entirely psychological introspection. That made it a revolutionary film, but at a certain point, the viewer may agree with one comment I read: "By the 40-minute mark they were so bored that the film itself is boring." That's one way to look at it. Another way would be to give it a chance and see why the film is now critically seen as something new, a landmark on the way to modern cinema.
If you have looked at the history of Italian films you know about Neo-Realism, the no-nonsense drear, poverty, and violence of post-war Italy, totally plausible and depressing. Then comes the economic miracle, and the '50s start to generate light-heartedness again, implausible but fun. That's fine, but there's something that comes in between and this film is it. It was so new that it went unnoticed at the time, not least of all due to the confusion during the initial production and then the release of a number of different versions over three years in different languages and of different running times and for different markets -- even with different titles (the English might have been Voyage to Italy, Trip to Italy -- even The Lonely Woman, or Strangers, depending on which release you're talking about).
I have watched the version with the original soundtrack (before it was dubbed into Italian for the release in Italy) starring George Sanders and Ingrid Bergman as Katherine and Alex Joyce, an English married couple (image) on a trip to Naples for a real estate transaction. They are well-to-do and have motored down in their 1952-ish Rolls Royce Silver Lady convertible. They have been married eight years, have no children, are openly sarcastic and hostile to each other and have been that way since well before this trip. The film dwells on their inner mental states (especially hers, moody and melancholy -- he is flippant, as if he has no inner state), and you wonder what they themselves must be wondering: why and how are they still together? Initial dialogue is mostly like this: "It didn't occur to me that it would be so boring for you to be alone with me./ Would it be so terribly boring if we were to remain alone? /I don't think you're very happy when we're alone. /I realize for the first time the we...we're like strangers. After eight years of marriage...it seems we don't know anything about each other." The rest is endless sniping or petty jealousy: "I was dreaming about something. I can't remember what it was." "Maybe the charming Judy we were so lucky to meet last night. How silly of me. I never realized you were so interested in other women." It's like that right up to the happy ending. (No, really!)
He spends time on Capri trying to drum up old friends and she visits the tourist attractions of the area: the National Museum, Cuma, the bubbling Solfatara pit in the Flegrean fields, the Fontanelle ossuary/cemetery. She spends most of the time brooding about her life, only occasionally smiling as she counts all the children and pregnant women on the street, and he spends his time trying to inject something --anything-- into his life. Viaggio has the loose directorial style of Neo-Realism but none of the story-telling action. Rosselini's methods were unusual. He was the great master of Neo-Realism. The actors did not receive their lines until shortly before filming a particular scene, leaving them no time to rehearse. That worked in Neo-realism because the directors often used unknown non-actors off the street, but there is something strange about two of the biggest movie stars in the world at the time trying not to act.
The film was a critical and financial failure but was influential on modernism and "New Wave" filmmakers working in the 1950s and 1960s, the likes of François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, the moment when film showed its potential to be poetry. The film has what can pass for a happy ending (unlikely in Neo-realism). On a visit to Pompeii, she is shaken at the sight of plaster molds of a dead couple, lying together at the moment of their death in the eruption. She sobs and breaks away. It startles because it's the only real action in the entire film. He follows, they leave and are then caught up in a religious procession for San Gennaro -- massive crowds, long strings of children. They are pushed close together and she says "I don't want to lose you... because I love you." He replies "Perhaps we get hurt too easily." She says, "Tell me that you love me. I want to hear the words." He says, as flippant as ever, "Well, if I do, will you promise not to take advantage of me?" She smiles. He says, "All right. I love you." Smiles all around. Pull back to long shot of the continuing procession. I have to stop now, but watch the film. Say you will. I want to hear the words.
(There is a part 2 to Viaggio in Italia on the next Miscellany page (73) at this link.)
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Leda and the Swan
Nov 20 - Pompeii keeps on giving. Now that they're working at a part of the site left untouched since the eruption of 79 AD, amazing frescoes and mosaics are coming to light, some of them in remarkably good condition. This image shows a fresco on the myth of Leda and the Swan, uncovered last week! The myth, itself, is one of the most depicted and redepicted in Greek mythology. There are a few originals left in the ancient world, such as a mosaic on Cyprus, and now we'll have this Roman mosaic from Pompeii. Leda and the Swan from Greek mythology is a tale in which the god Zeus, in the form of a swan, seduces the mortal woman, Leda. It was an especially popular subject for Renaissance artists. There are copies (but no originals) of treatments by Michelangelo and Leonardo, for example, and there are also a number of modern versions in art and verse, even this poetic retelling by W.B. Yeats, written in 1923:
A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.
I recommend the Wikipedia article "Leda and the Swan". The page has a good gallery of images, plus a critical claim that this particular poem by Yeats is "the greatest poem of the century." That is one opinion, fine, but it fails to note an interesting point: Yeats himself was less generous and apologizes to a good friend and fellow poet for "theft":
"In the passage about the swan I have unconsciously echoed one of the loveliest lyrics of our time --Mr. Sturge Moore's 'Dying Swan.' I often recited it during an American lecturing tour, which explains the theft." (The reference is to Thomas Sturge Moore (1870-1944).
Yeats' "admission" is on p. 533 of W.B. Yeats, Collected Poems, Macmillan, Papermac edition, 1985, London, ISBN 0 333 342119.
The first part of the poem that Yeats "echoed" is:
O silver-throated Swan / Struck, struck! A golden dart/ Clean through they breast has gone/ Home to thy heart./I also note that the theme of Leda and the Swan stayed with Yeats. From the same volume cited above (op.cit. p.301), we find in
Thrill, thrill, O silver throat!/ O silver trumpet, pour / love for defiance/ on him who smote!
The Winding Stair and other poems (1933) "Lullaby":
Beloved, may your sleep be sound... /
...Such a sleep and sound as fell / Upon Eurotas' grassy bank* / Where the holy bird, that there /
Accomplished his predestined will, / From the limbs of Leda sank / But not from her protecting care.
*The Eurotas is one of the major rivers of the Peloponnese, in Greece. It figures prominently in ancient Greek mythology.
Unlike some Greek myths we know about from their mention in Homer's Iliad or Odyssey, there is not a lot of of ancient written reference to Leda and the Swan. Thus we rely on ancient writers such as Hyginus (c. 64 BC – 17 AD), or Fulgentius (c. 500 a.d.), both of whom wrote anthologies of myths and fables. There is some much later poetry: French poet, Pierre de Ronsard (1524–1585); or Nicaraguan poet, Rubén Darío (1867-1916), for example, but it's sparse. The poem by Yeats is what all literary critics recall when they think of "Leda and the Swan". (Compare this to the abundant painting and statuary.)
You can read what you want into any or all of that, such as that the rape is a metaphor of what the British did to the Irish (just a suggestion!) but this newly discovered item from Pompeii is the real deal, straight from antiquity. Barring further discoveries from archaeology, this is as close as you're going to get.
Nov 23 - Edoardo De Angelis (b. Naples, 1978) is a Neapolitan film maker and lives and works in Naples. In 2006 he graduated from the Experimental Center for Cinematography in Rome. His graduate short film was entitled The Mystery and Passion of Gino Pacino, about a man who dreams of making love with Santa Lucia and loses his sight from a sense of guilt. It won a prize and attracted enough attention for him to start his career as a feature film maker. So far De Angelis has five feature-length films: He is versatile and has a sense of social responsibility as well as a sense of humor.
2011 - Mozzarella Stories. A comedy (what else with that title?) set in nearby Caserta. It was presented at the São Paulo International Film Festival and won an award for Best Scenography. OK, better to start your career with a comedy. Then give'em hell.
2014 - His second feature film, Perez., a dramatic thriller set in Naples involving a criminal attorney and his daughter, who falls in love with the son of the big-time mobster in the Camorra (the local version of the Mafia).
2016 - Closer to his main interests, his third film is part of the "episode" comedy Come and live in Naples. That is, three directors each present a segment that displays the city as a place that welcomes immigrants. De Angeles' episode is called "Magnificent Shock" of which one critic said, "This one is a jewel. We have finally found a director who has reinvented this archetypal form of Neapolitan cinema." The reference is to films of post-war Naples such as L'Oro di Napoli (The Gold of Naples, 1954, dir. V. DeSica).
2016 - The Indivisibles. If you're looking for weird, here. Dasy and Viola are Siamese twin sisters, turning 18 and living in the suburbs of Naples. They have beautiful voices and thanks to their performances at weddings and baptisms, they keep the whole family going. They are kept isolated from the rest of the world by their own father, who exploits them as sideshow freaks. One of them falls in love for the first time and they discover that they can be separated. The film was launched at the Venice Film Festival and was a sensation.
2018 - The Vice of Hope. Neo-Realism is still alive. This film was presented at the Toronto International Film. It's a grim look at the seedy, vile world of child trafficking. The film is set in nearby Castel Volturno and has something in common with the earlier film about conjoined twins -- unscrupulous adults abusing helpless children, and you don't get much seedier than that.
My thanks to Peter H. for calling my attention to these films.
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The Collection of a Prince - art exhibit
Dec 3 - From December 6 2018 to April 7 2019, the Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano at Via Toledo 185 (a few meters from the Naples Royal palace) will host the exhibit The Collection of a Prince, paintings by Rubens, Van Dyck, Ribera, etc. (The image on the right is a detail from Rubens' Herod's Banquet (1635-1638), on loan from the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh. The collection, before being broken up, belonged to the Vandeneynden family and then to the princes Colonna di Stigliano who lived in this sumptuous Palazzo from the last decades of the 1600s. For this exhibit, they have now returned to Naples to be exhibited in the very rooms where they once hung three centuries ago. The exhibit will include works of others, such as van Dyck, Aniello Falcone, Luca Giordano, Mattia Preti, Salvator Rosa, Massimo Stanzione, and others.
opening times: opening on Decenber 5, from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. ; then from the 6th, Tue-Fri from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.;
closed Mondays. Open Sat & Sun from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Will stay open on the holidays od Dec. 8. 17, 24, 26 and 31
and Jan 1 and 6, 2019. Ticket price €5 full, €3 reduced. Mail: email@example.com