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main index   © Jeff Matthews   entry June 2007


T
he Return of Parthenope
  

For many years, the most prominent statue of the mythological siren, Parthenope, the icon of the city of Naples, was Partenope fra i Geni della Commedia e della Tragedia (Parthenope between the Spirits of Comedy and Tragedy). The sculpture was set atop the façade of the San Carlo Theater in long-ago 1816 when the opera house was rebuilt after a disastrous fire. The original design of the sculpture was by Antonio Niccolini (1772-1850), a Florentine architect and designer who spent most of his life in Naples working for the Bourbon dynasty that ruled the kingdom. Not only was he responsible for the entire remake of San Carlo (and a subsequent interior remake in the 1840s), he also designed the completion of the grand palace at Capodimonte and rebuilt the large villa known as the Floridiana, now a public park. He was also the director of the Academy of Fine Arts as well as of a school for stage design.*

Niccolini’s  Parthenope lasted for many decades and even survived WWII air-raids that damaged the theater, itself; yet, in 1969 a calamitous lightning strike virtually destroyed the original work. A two-year restoration is now complete and in a few days, Parthenope will be returned to her place. As of this writing, finishing touches are being put on the sculpture in the parking lot outside the theater before it is hoisted into place.

The restoration is the result of collaboration between the Mario Brancaccio Cultural Association and Vodafone Italia, the cell-phone company. The funding came largely through an ingenious fund-raising project; you sent an SMS message to Vodaphone to donate one euro to the project and purchase, at the same time, a fine ring-tone for your cell phone recorded by the San Carlo opera orchestra. A similar project a few years ago helped restore the famous lion sculptures at Piazza dei Martiri. (Now that I think of it, I have indeed noticed less pin-ball-machine-like rings going off in the busses these days. I remember saying to myself: “Hmmmm. Not bad. I wonder where he got that.”

 

* Details on the life of Niccolini are from Isabella di Resta: "Niccolini, Antonio" Grove Art Online. Oxford University Press, [date accessed: June 7, 2007].


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