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The Chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro


The Chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro within the Naples Duomo (Cathedral), is one of the great artistic manifestations of the Neapolitan Baroque. The city decided in 1527 to build the chapel, dedicated ex voto to the patron saint of Naples for freeing the city from the recent plague. Construction was not started, however, until the early 1600s, at which time, the Theatine monk and architect, Francesco Grimaldi *1 began rebuilding the right (south) transept of the cathedral to house the new chapel.

A number of artists had their hand at decorating the interior of the chapel with paintings: Cavalier d’Arpino, Guido Reni, Fabrizio Santafede, Belisario Corenzio, and Battistello Caracciolo. Documentation within the chapel says that for a number of reasons, their efforts were not completed or were otherwise unsatisfactory. Thus, in 1630, the Bolognese artist known as Domenichino (for Domenico Zampieri, [1581-1641]) was called upon. Over the course of the ensuing decade he adorned the vaults and spandrels with the fresco, Stories of San Gennaro and Allegories of the Patron Saints of Naples. In 1632 he started a painting on copper of Miracles of the Saint, meant for the altars, but died leaving the work unfinished. It was completed in 1646 by Giuseppe de Ribera, who also added Miracle of the Furnace in that year, the year in which the new chapel was opened and dedicated. Also left incomplete was a dome fresco, Paradiso, finally completed by Giovanni Lanfranco, a painter from Parma and considered one of the masters of Baroque “Illusionism”—that is, the artistic tradition in which the artist creates a work that appears to share the physical space with the viewer.

Stuccos, frescos and paintings in the sacresty and in the Chapel of the Immaculate Virgin were done between 1663-68 by Luca Giordano, Giacomo Farelli,*2 and Andrea Falcone.*3 There is also an impressive wealth of marble, bronze and silver statuary within the chapel and internal rooms. These include marble angels by Girolamo d’Auria, Tommaso Montani, and Michelangelo Naccherino,*4 as well as the bronze statues of the patron saints of Naples, these primarily by Giuliano Finelli*5 as well as some by Cosimo Fanzago and Giandomenico Vinaccia.

The Chapel houses the relics of San Gennaro as well as a vial of the saint’s blood, which is the focal point for the yearly celebration of the Miracle of San Gennaro. The Chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro is not to be confused with the recently opened Museum of the Treasures of San Gennaro housed next to the main body of the cathedral.

 
*note 1: Francesco Grimaldi (1543-1630) was born near Potenza and studied architecture in Rome with Bramante and Michelangelo. Much of his best-known work is in Naples, where his works include, among other things, all or parts of the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli a Pizzofalcone, the Basilica of San Paolo Maggiore, and the church of Santa Maria della Sapienza. (^to text)

note 2: Giacomo Farelli (1624-1701) was born in Rome. He studied painting under Andrea Vaccaro in Naples. His works in Naples include the large altarpiece depicting Christ and the Virgin Appearing to St Bridget (1655-6) in the church of Santa Brigida.

note 3: Andrea Falcone (1630-1675) was Neapolitan and related to the painter Aniello Falcone. He probably trained in the workshop of Cosimo Fanzago. Besides six stucco angels in the chapel, his works in Naples include the monumental statues depicting Prudence, Temperance and Divine Justice in the church of S. Paolo Maggiore and the Virgin and Child and two Allegories of Charity in church of Pio Monte della Misericordia.
 
*note 4: Michelangelo Naccherino (1550–1622) was born in Florence but was particularly active in the Kingdom of Naples. Among works in Naples, he is remembered for the two monument fountains, the Santa Lucia and the Gigante.

note 5: Giuliano Finelli (1601-1653) was from Carrara and trained initially with Michelangelo Naccherino and then Gian Lorenzo Bernini. His best-known works are, in fact, those in the chapel. He was a contemporary and rival of Fanzago.

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