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main index      © Jeff Matthews       entry Jan 2012              

T
he Staircase in the Entrance Hall of the National Museum


There is a separate entry, here, on Pompeo Schiantarelli, the architect who designed the marvelous double stairway in the entrance hall of the National Archaeological Museum in Naples. One of the problems with that museum is that you are overwhelmed just inside the front door of the museum, itself. The stairs are only about 30 yards away, and even though you can see them beckoning, you will be rightly tempted to wander around the ground floor and the significant exhibits on that level (including the amazing Farnese Collection) before you come back and have a go at the stairs. That's understandable, but you really should pause and take time to admire the staircase. It's one of Pompeo Schiantarelli's most beautiful creations and not as valued as it should be simply because it's an appendage of the grander scene of the entire museum.

When Ferdinand IV decided to move the university to new premises in the late 1770s and turn the old building into a grand museum, it required some work. Much of that was given to the acknowledged head of ponderous royal architecture, Ferdinado Fuga, but some of the delicate and ornate interior was handled by Schiantarelli. His staircase is more in keeping with the lovely and whimsical double stairs of Ferdinado Sanfelice and, indeed, recall that artist's work in the Palazzo Serra di Cassano and the Palazzo dello Spagnuolo (see the Sanfelice link, above). (You know, the kind where you and your love start at the bottom on separate sides and pretend to meet for the first time again and again on the way up when the stairs come together at the landings!) The staircase in the museum starts with curved sections to both sides and has straight sections, as well. It is marked by symmetrical middle landings that lead off to floors on both sides and the exhibits on those levels.

The stairway was finished in its original form in 1785 but the museum itself was not opened as such until 1816 when the Bourbons were restored to the throne of Naples after the Napoleonic wars. Earlier, the great Venetian sculptor Antonio Canova (whose works are also found elsewhere in Naples), had received a commission to do a Romanesque-like statue of King Ferdinand, and when Ferdinand (newly renamed Ferdinand I of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies) was then restored to the throne, Canova's work was installed (1822) in the central niche on the first landing of the staircase (top photo). The Latin inscription at the base praises the king as a patron of the arts. The statue is joined by two of Aphrodite, one on each newel pillar in front of the king, and the Farnese Lion at the very bottom of the staircase (photo, above).

In 1861, when the Bourbons were deposed by the unification of Italy, the statue of Ferdinand was exiled, as well, and put in storage where it languished until 1886 when it was installed in an exhibit hall dedicated to Canova. In 1887 the staircase changed appearance somewhat when some of the original grey "piperno" (trachyte) stone was replaced by marble. A large bust of Jupiter from the site at Cuma was later placed in the niche formerly occupied by the statue of Ferdinand. After WWII, Ferdinand was again moved to another room in the museum. It was not until the late 1990s that the Canova statue was returned to its place of honor in the staircase.


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