Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews    entry Jan 2013

Monte di Pietà

Monte di Pietà is the large well-maintained (it's owned by the Bank of Naples!) building on the south side of via San Biagio dei Librai near the intersection of via San Gregorio Armeno (#25 on this map). The church at the back of the courtyard that you see as you peer through the large portal is properly called the Chapel of the Monte di Pietà. The entire structure has to do with the institution in Italy of church-run non-profit pawn houses that had started to open throughout Italy in the mid-1400s in order to combat usury. (See this link for further information on the origins of pawn houses and public banks in Naples.)

The Monte di Pietà was, indeed, one of the first such "pawn houses" in Naples, founded in 1539. The original institution was in the Palazzo Carafa d'Andrea some blocks farther to west, still in the historic center of town. The Monte acquired new property, the current location, in 1597, purchasing the residence of Girolamo Caraffa. (Caraffa —also spelled Carafa— is a family of Neapolitan nobility going back to the 11th century and with a subsequent genealogy of noblemen, military and clergy.) The original building on the site was demolished and a new one put up, the one we see today, by Giovan Battista Cavagna, the architect also responsible for a number of other works in Naples, including the facade of the grand church and monastery of San Gregorio Armeno right around the corner from the Monte di Pietà.

The chapel "annex" of the pawn brokerage was finished in 1605 and was the product of the combined sculpting and painting genius of Michelangelo Naccherino, Pietro Bernini
(1562-1629), father of the better known Gian Lorenzo Bernini), Belisario Corenzio, and Fabrizio Santafede.

During Masaniello's Revolt in 1647, the building was spared the ravages of the violence through a timely intervention on the part of Giulio Genoino, an elderly priest widely believed to be the "brains" behind the revolt. There was, however, a mysterious fire in 1786 that did a great deal of damage to the premises, by that time gone from pawn brokerage to public bank. (The building still houses an important branch of the Bank of Naples.) The chapel, however, was not damaged. The chapel is a jewel of artwork from the Neapolitan Baroque of the 1600s. It is decorated in gilt stucco and has a majolica tile floor; other than the artists mentioned above, there are works by Ippolito Borghese, Giuseppe Bonito, the tomb of cardinal Ottavio Acquaviva by Cosimo Fanzago and, from a later period, portraits of Charles III of Bourbon and his queen consort, Maria Amalia, the first Bourbon royal family of the Kingdom of Naples.

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