Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

© Jeff Matthews   entry April 22, 2016, revised Apr 18, 2018

The entry below this box about the church of San Giuseppe a Chiaia (image, right) is by Neapolitan artist Selene Salvi. She has a presence in Naples: Life, Death & Miracles with a page containing various examples of her work. The article below appears in Italian on her Facebook page as Chi ci ha messo una croce sopra? (Roughly, "Who put a cross up there?") This English translation is mine. It is slightly modified from my English translation on her FB page, which has more photography. The two photos in this text, below, are by Fulvio De Marinis. There is also a video on Selene's Facebook page. There is an additional item on the church here. The church is located on via Riviera di Chiaia, on the north side of the Villa Comunale, the public gardens. This photo was taken from there.


Crossing Out Beauty

- by Selene Salvi


H
ave you ever been in the 17th-century church of San Giuseppe a Chiaia (Naples)? You'll find works by Luca Giordano, Nicola Malinconico, Francesco Di Maria and something unique and precious hidden at the entrance on the right. There is a valuable 19th-century painting (1868, image, left) of tenuous colors and delicate contrasts, representing the body of Saint Restituta being transported from Ischia to Napoli.
The view of the painting, however, is blocked by a crucifix set up on an altar at the base of which there are two marble angels kneeling in prayer on marble cushions. To the right of the altar, in a small room, a splendid marble Angel of the Resurrection sits on a sarcophagus and points with the right hand at the small dome above that bears a fresco of a flight of angels looking down from Heaven (image, below). There is a passage from the gospel of John inscribed on the sarcophagus: “transiit a morte in vitam” (...is passed from death to life). Beneath that we discover who is buried there: “Henry Edward Fox Lord Holland, born March 7, 1802 died December 18, 1859”. Who was that person? Above all, who are the creators of these precious works that adorn both altar and small chapel?

 


In order, then. Lord Holland was a baron and an English diplomat. He and his fascinating and cultured wife, Mary Augusta Coventry (1812-1887), resided at Palazzo Roccella (today the seat of PAN/Palazzo delle Arti Napoli). For a good 42 years those rooms were alive with the activities of the most renowned cultural salon in Naples, hosting famous artists, literati and political figures of liberal persuasion. In his memoirs, Edward Chepmell, lady Augusta's physician, wrote that the Hollands received each evening and that the salon was always packed with a mix of Neapolitans, Russians, Germans, French and English. It was all presided over by the lady of the house, who spoke those languages. Palazzo Roccella was a safe haven, as well, for meetings in which even the most ardent liberals could voice their opinions without fear of being broken in upon by the Bourbon police. The Hollands enjoyed the protection of the British ambassador to the kingdom, brother of the powerful foreign secretary, lord Palmerston. All eyes and hopes were on Naples.

 
Augusta loved the company of artists and was a close friend of symbolist painter,  George Frederick Watts, who immortalized her in a number of works. When lord Holland passed away in 1859, his wife had the tomb and altar installed (1860-65).

Two artists were called on to adorn the works: Biagio Molinari (or Molinaro) (Trani, 1825-Napoli, 1868) and sculptor Tommaso Solari (Napoli, 1820-1889). Both were founding members of the Società Promotrice di Belle Arti (Society for the Promotion of the Fine Arts), an institution that brought great acclaim to the world of Neapolitan art. The painting of Santa Restituta is by Molinari. His work likely draws inspiration from that of Domenico Morelli, “Corpi di martiri cristiani portati dagli angeli” (1855) ("Bodies of Christian Martyrs borne by angels"), oil on canvas (129x179.5 cm / about 4 feet x 6 feet), conserved in the National Museum of Capodimonte. Morelli's work, marked by strong chiaroscuro accentuated by light from above, displays the first glimmer of dawn on the horizon. Molinari, as well, choose the same solution, but his colors are more delicate, the shadows more marked.


Tommaso Solari was a sculptor born into a family of artists. He sculpted mainly in a classical style and was a gifted artist with a "fine chisel", as they say. Many of his works are found in the most important sites in the city. The Angel of the Resurrection in the Holland chapel is his, as are the two angels at the base of the alter, while the frescoes on the small dome are by Molinaro.


It is best to visit the premises before noon on a bright sunlit day. The light filtering through from a small window behind the sepulcher lends a special atmosphere to the interior. Both altar and chapel are mentioned in English-language tour guides from that period, and if you are a lover of Neapolitan art, this site should be on your list.


So far, so good. But someone had the idea of putting up a cross directly in front of Molinari's beautiful painting, such that you get only a partial view of it, and that is irritating. What were they thinking?! It's high time to restore some dignity and respect to an artist who gave the city so much of himself during his lifetime. We need more beauty today; we don't need to cross it out. Literally!


And Lady Holland? In 1883 (24 years after the death of her husband) she left Naples forever, although she rented the Palazzo Roccella until 1887, perhaps thinking that she might return. She died on September 20, 1889 and was buried at St. Anne's Hill, forever distant from the sun of the city that she loved so much


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