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Statuary, Monuments & Structures in the Villa Comunale

This is n.1 in a series. To part 2; part 3; part 4; part 5; part 6.

If you stand at Piazza Vittoria at the eastern end of the broad seaside road, via Caracciolo, and look west you are looking at the entrance to the large public park, the Villa Comunale, once known as the Royal Villa. (There is a separate general page on the Villa Comunale here.) Considering what the Villa Comunale has been through over the centuries, I am surprised that it remains the most pleasant place in Naples just to walk around and relax. (The last grand insult to the park was in the bleak period following WWII when all the trees were cut down for firewood and many of the statues were damaged. Recent injuries include the not-yet defeated palm pest.) The park undergoes periodic restoration, some of which I like, some of which I don't. It is also the venue for flea markets, band concerts, joggers, and temporary facilities for such things as the America's Cup elimination trials (about to start in April).

The entrance is marked by a series of eight classical statues mounted along the length of the entrance (about 120 meters), one of which is shown above. Within the park, itself, for the entire length of one kilometer, there is a great array of similar classical statuary, other more modern works of sculpture, and a  few miscellaneous buildings. As well, there is greenery of various kinds, though not as lush as one hears tell of the royal gardens of yore. This combination of green plants and white marble statues is remarkable. There are about 45 works of sculpture on the premises plus a few structures that are worth commenting on. This series will not cover them all; I have chosen the ones that I like and that I think will give you an idea of the variety to be found as you stroll through. (There will be 3-6 items to a page, depending on how wordy I get with the explanations. This first page is particularly wordy.) So, off we go.

The statue shown above is atop the entrance and is identified as Hercules with Telephus on his Shoulders. Hercules needs no comment. In Greek mythology, Telephus (or Telephos) was the son of Heracles and Auge, daughter of king Aleus of Tegea. His name means "far-seeing." There are other statues of Hercules and Telephus in other poses in Italy. They are Roman copies of Greek originals. As well, there are also other artistic depictions such as a fresco at Herculaneum.

As we get started, there a few things you should know about the classical statuary in the villa. (I'll say this once and you can remember it as we proceed) The classical statues that you see today are all copies of originals held at the time—the late 1700s—at various places in Europe, including the Naples Archaeological Museum. And—most interesting—these copies were done specifically to be placed on the grounds of the grand Caserta Palace. They were moved to the Royal Villa in Naples in the early part of the 1800s. Also, these particular copies in the villa are almost all by the same two sculptors—Tommaso Solari and Andrea Violani, two of the team of four or five that did all such work at Caserta between 1750 and 1800.

Solari is the grandfather of another Tommaso, and both of them are represented in the statuary in the villa! Art historians are more likely to remember the name Solari as the surname of a number of Milanese artists and sculptors, some of whom worked on the Milan cathedral in the 1400s. I don't know that they are related. The Neapolitan Solaris have done notable work in the city; Tommaso's grandson, also Tommaso (1820-1889), did the statue of Charles of Anjou at the Royal Palace as well as collaborating on the grand monument to Dante in Piazza Dante and the monument to Victor Emanuel II now at Piazza della Borsa. (He was moved from Piazza Municipio to get him out of the way of subway construction. No one seems to know if he will be moved back when that construction is finished. It's a good thing he's on a horse.) The Hercules shown above is by Andrea Violani, who apparently did little else but make copies of classics; he started working for the Bourbons in 1753—specifically for the great architect, Luigi Vanvitelli, in charge of the overall design of the Caserta palace. Violani spent the next 50 years sculpting for Vanvitelli and the Bourbons. As far as I know he has no well-known original works. Violani died in 1803.

The path from the entrance leads west down the center of the park. There are various pieces of interest on both sides (that I will come to sooner or later), but perhaps the first thing that one notes looking straight ahead is the low and plain Fountain of the Four Lions. The basin is from the Temple of Poseidon at Paestum. It was moved to Naples and installed in 1825 to make up for the fact that they had just removed the centerpiece of the whole villa, the famous Farnese Bull. To keep that precious original safe from inclement weather, it was moved to the Archaeological Museum where it still plays a prominent part in the Farnese collection. The marble lions around the perimeter are in Egyptian style and designed by Pietro Bianchi (1787-1849), the architect from Lugano whose best-known work in Naples is certainly the church of San Francesco di Paola at Piazza Plebiscito.

This bust of Alvino is in the Villa
Comunale. It is by G.B. Amendola
and was erected in 1884.

Something a bit more modern! This is the gazebo, the bandstand for concerts in the park. It is located in the center of the main concourse just past that long, long, magnificent building, the Dohrn Aquarium. The bandstand was the idea of one Francesco Fiumi who proposed the construction of a structure that would hold 40 musicians. (I have played on that bandstand; 40 is very optimistic, but I am a trombonist and I need more room than most mortals.) The venue was to be "slim and elegant" and Fiumi would pay for it. The job went to Errico Alvino (1809-1876) (photo, right) a professor at the art academy and, in fact, the architect in charge of rebuilding that academy and much of the adjacent area. He came up with this totally delightful metal and glass bit of Art Nouveau. It was installed in 1877, after Alvino's death. (It is currently being cleaned and restored, and I hope they don't louse it up.)

(Above details on the bandstand are from Facciamo finta che: cronistoria architettonica e urbanistica di Napoli in scritti critici e polemici dagli anni '50 al 2000 by Renato De Fusco, Liguori Editore, 2004.)

To part 2;
part 3; part 4; part 5; part 6.

bibliography & sources

—Abita, S. & N. Spinosa. Le arti figurative a Napoli nel Settecento. Società editrice napoletana, 1979.
—Alisio, G. Il passeggio di Chiaia. Immagini per la storia della Villa comunale. Electa, Naples. 1994.

—Dazio, M.L. & U. Bile. Civiltà dell'ottocento: itinerari napoletani. Electa. Naples. 1997.
—Della Monica, N. Le Statue di Napoli. New Tascabile. Rome. 1996.
—Di Cesare, G. La Villa reale di Napoli: le sue statue, le sue piante, le sue passeggiate. Tipografia del Sebeto, Naples. 1846.
Manoscritti di Luigi Vanvitelli nell’archivio della Reggia di Caserta 1752 – 1773, with notes by Antonio Gianfrotta. Ministry of Culture for Caserta and Benevento. 2000.
—Strazullo, F. La Villa comunale due secoli dopo. Monograph. Publ. Di Mauro. Naples. 1993

...and, of course, Selene Salvi of Napoli Underground!

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