Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

ErN 93,  entries Jan 2003, Aug 2005, Nov 2010, May 2023, July 2023

he Albergo dei Poveri — the Royal Poorhouse
                              or, How the White Elephant Lost its Color
Painting of the Albergo           
     from the 19th century          
In Buddhist lore, a white elephant is said to have revealed to the mother of the Buddha that she was going to give birth to the Enlightened One. Thus, in many parts of Asia, the albino elephant is sacred. It does not lead the weary life of toil of your average working class pachyderm. On the contrary, the sacred animal must be sheltered, tended, worshipped and, of course, fed. The ancient kings of Siam are said to have ruined enemies —or maybe just taught upstarts a severe lesson— by presenting the gift of just such sacred creatures, gifts that had to be pampered and fed for the next 60 or 70 years. A few Holy Jumbos could eat you out of house and home. In English, then, the term "white elephant" has come to be a metaphor of something that is big, useless and ruinously expensive to maintain.

In Naples, the Whitest Elephant of All is the Albergo dei Poveri, or the Royal Poorhouse, the mammoth structure on via Foria, begun in the mid-1700s to care for and educate the indigent of the Kingdom of Naples. The Albergo was ordered built in 1751 by Charles III, the first Bourbon monarch of the Kingdom of Naples. It was designed and started by Ferdinando Fuga and then continued by Luigi Vanvitelli, the great architect of the Bourbon Royal Palace in Caserta (the so-called “Versailles of Italy”). The idea, in those days, of constructing a mammoth poor house along via Foria, one of the principle entrances to the city of the eighteenth century, was in keeping with promoting the image of Charles III as an enlightened monarch and the image of his kingdom as one of compassion. It was also in keeping with a wave of such “social construction” throughout Italy in that century in the form of poor houses, hospitals and communal granaries. (Indeed, in Naples, there was even a grotesquely efficient paupers’ graveyard with a numbered communal plot for each day of the year.)
The original plan for the Hospice was to have one long façade fronting five internal courtyards, the central one of which would house a high-domed gigantic church that was to be the inner hub of the entire building; from that hub, passageways were to radiate out to dormitories, dining halls, workshops, and gardens. It was actually envisioned as a sort of self-sufficient small village. The intentions of Charles III were never fulfilled. The anti-clericalism of French rule between 1806 and 1814 in Naples put an end to the central church, and two of the five courtyards were eliminated, thus giving the present configuration of one central courtyard and one on each side. Thus, by 1820 the plan to build a poor house bigger than most royal palaces had become much less ambitious. That part of the building that had been finished, however —and it was impressive— remained in use through WW2, and in its long history the mammoth buuilding has housed everything from trade schools to hospitals to the back-up archives for the city of Naples. After WW2 they even put in a football field in a courtyard to keep the local kids out of trouble. Also, there are currently some 85 families living in the building, housed in flats around the courtyard behind the east third of the façade. They are, by now, the grandchildren of the needy families that were situated there after WW2. Thus, even in its unfinished state, it has served the city.

Real neglect began after WW2, and the years since then have been a disaster. Also, the building suffered considerable damage in the earthquake of 1980; yet, the consensus is that it is still structurally sound. In 2002 the main entrance and adjacent rooms were restored as part of a "teaching project" to help build a cadre of masons, builders and artisans trained in historical restoration. The restored section is open and houses exhibitions of one sort or another. In February 2003 plans were approved to restore the building to the "unfinished" state of the early 1800s. That is, no attempt, for example, will be made to build the mammoth church that was originally planned for the main courtyard of the building. The various rooms will then be available for various functions and possibly even private enterprises that do not "offend" the history of the building.

The restored façade
is impressive; however, one façade, even a very large one, doth not a restoration make. The building is not only 300 meters long; it is a city block wide with internal courtyards and a long back wall. It is an ambitious undertaking, essentially rebuilding what was originally meant to be a magnificent view as visitors to the city would come down from the Capodimonte hill and pass by this sparkling example of Bourbon largesse and social concern. When the French then ruled Naples for nine years (1806-1815), they built a broad road (present-day name, via Don Bosco) down the hill into the city, planning a Triumphal Arch approximately where Piazza Carlo III is today. Visitors were to  pass beneath the arch and have the splendid Albergo dei Poveri on their right. The French left and the arch was never built. Even without it, a rejuvenated Albergo dei Poveri will still be a cornerstone of sorts, possibly the beginning of a further rejuvenation of that entire section of the city; yet, none of the rest of the building, shows much sign of progress towards the purported goal of turning the whole thing into a "Youth City," a giant assemblage of schools, activity rooms, and multimedia facilities. If you stand in front of the building and stare up at and through the top row of windows, you find yourself staring at blue sky. There is no roof left in many sections. And from this miscellaneous 2008 update, it now seems that experts have decided that the white they chose for the restored façade was not the original color! So a "do-over" may be coming sooner or later. It was originally meant to be a pink elephant.

added May 2023==============================
y Main MANN Gets a Brother

MANN (Italian acronym - Museo archeologico di Napoli), is one of the foremost archeological museums in the world.
If MANN has its way, there will soon be a MANN 2 on the premises of the Albergo dei Poveri (Royal Poorhouse). The
history and description of that building are above this update. The "Albergo" is 1.6 km (1 mile) to the east on the same broad boulevard. When they say, "You can't miss it", they mean it. The plan calls for 10,000 sq.2 of exhibit space (2.5 acres). The reason is clear if you have been in the main MANN. It has too much stuff and not enough space. It's hard enough to see what they have on display, and there are storehouses elsewhere with items never seen by anyone but the movers who put them there. Never. There's a building down the street a bit
400 meters long and 3 or 4 stories high. The Royal Poorhouse. No tenants. The city owns it. How about a MANN2? Renovation should begin later this year. News of the expansion comes as MANN opens its exhibit on Alexander the Great and the East (29 May-28 August). MANN2 will primarily show works from the Santangelo Collection of Francesco Santangelo, a Neapolitan politician and lawyer from the 1700s. He amassed Italy's largest collection of Greek and Roman artifacts from Pompeii and the surrounding area and also from Etruria, Reggio Calabria, and Basilicata. The city of Naples bought the collection in 1865 after Santangelo’s death and donated it to MANN. It has, however, remained largely unseen since that time. As well as MANN2, the refurbished Royal Poorhouse is also expected to house a branch of the national Italian library and new facilities for the Frederick II University of Naples, the city’s main university. 
                        Thanks to  Jeff Miller for calling this to my attention. Thanks to Luciano Mangiafico for his entry, directly below.


The Santangelo Art and Antiquities Collection
by Luciano Mangiafico

By many accounts, the Santangelo Art and Antiquities Collection was one of the finest private collections in the world.
It will soon be available for everyone to see when it finds a solid home in the MANN 2 museum (as noted in the item directly above this one). This extraordinary collection started through the many interests and effort of Francesco Santangelo (1754-1836). He was a cultured man, loved literature, and was an amateur poet. He was an expert on coins, and collected paintings, archeological pieces, bronze objects, and ancient ceramics, not just Greek and
Roman, but even Etruscan. In other words, a jack-of-all-interests. He started out as a lawyer. A good one. He did so well that in 1814 he bought the 15th-century Palazzo Carafa della Stadera on Via San Biagio dei Librai in the historic center of Naples, (#22 on this map). He refurbished it and used the lower floors as a private museum for his "stuff" and the upper floors as his residence. That was the beginning of the museum. It was open to visitors as early as 1815 and the written accounts all tell much the same story: unbelievably rich and varied, something you must when you come to Naples.

Francesco and sons had to be good diplomats to deal well with the powers-that-be, preening and powerful mutual friends and enemies such as Napoleon, Murat, Garibaldi, and finally the federal government of united Italy. In terms of human interest, they left some good stories
one of Francesco's three sons, Nicola (image, right), had a chance to add to the family collection, both by buying items and "appropriating" (!) some items found at the archeological sites within his jurisdiction; particularly in 1814, when excavations in Basilicata brought to light precious gold and bronze works of art. Nicola was accused of not reporting it all and of having simply taken some items he had no right to. He then took action to slither out of danger; he turned some items over to the archeological museum, kept some, and the good part gave some lovely trinkets to the then Queen of Naples, Caroline Bonaparte Murat, Napoleon’s sister.

The Santangelo family started having financial problems in the 1850s and the collection ran real risk of dribbling
away. Some of it had already gone and it would have been a sad let's-sell-this/let's sell that affair just to stay afloat. Fortunately, archeologist Giuseppe Fiorelli (1823-96), then Director of Excavations at Pompeii and Director of the Naples National Archeological Museum avoided further dispersal of the items abroad. When the national government
failed to come up with money to buy the Santangelo antiquities, Fiorelli convinced the city of Naples to do so. Since the city did not have an appropriate venue for them all, Fiorelli put the coins and medals on the museum’s second floor. Most of the other items, particularly large vases and pottery, went into storage. These items should soon be on display at the Albergo dei Poveri right down the street (or at the top of this page!).

post script: Some items are unfortunately already gone. Some may still exist. Some may not. Some may still turn up. World Wars are hazardous to your art collections. We're talking about 350 works by artists such as Michelangelo,
Titian, Caravaggio, Giordano, Van Dyck, Botticelli, Rubens, and many others. It is not an overstatement to describe
the Santangelo collection as one of the finest in the world. BUT in the late 1860s, most of the painting were moved
from Naples to a villa that Francesco Santangelo had bought in Pollena Trocchia, a small town about 7 miles east of
Naples. That magnificent villa was destroyed in the 1960s and a nunnery built in its place. We have to assume that the Santangelo heirs simply needed money and had begun to sell off their collection. The only surviving inventory is a 26-page list published in Naples in 1876. It lists only 146 paintings. The sale of the remaining Santangelo home furnishings and works of art continued until recently. Indeed, on June 14-15, 2011, the Milan branch of Sotheby’s auctioned off about 100 lots from the Santangelo estate, including furnishings, sculptures, musical instruments, and paintings.

Selected References
1. Paoletti, Maurizio. Una delle più belle e interessanti d’Italia: la collezione Santangelo. La
Calabria nelle collezioni del Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli (Catalogo della mostra,
Reggio Calabria, 12 febbraio-21 giugno 2020).

2. Romanelli, Domenico. Napoli Antica e Moderna. Napoli: Tipografia Angelo Trani, 1815$b512080&view=1up&seq=7
3. Unknown. Catalogo della Pinacoteca dei Marchesi Santangelo di Napoli 1876. Napoli:
Tipografia Liceo V.E. al Mercatello, 1876

4. Unknown. Famiglia Santangelo

5. Various Authors. Napoli e i Luoghi Celebri nelle sue Vicinanze, Volume I. Napoli: Ministero
degli Interni, 1845

6. Various Authors. Napoli e i Luoghi Celebri nelle sue Vicinanze, Volume II Napoli: Ministero
degli Interni, 1845.

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