The Galleria Umberto in Naples is in the shape of a Crux immissa (lit. extended cross) or Latin Cross; that is, one in which the main (long) beam sticks out above the crossbeam. The Gallery is oriented almost precisely to the four cardinal points; in this image, north is at the top. The long "beam" (horizontal in this image) is 138 meters long; the shorter crossbeam is 108 meters long. The Galleria is often termed "cathedralesque"; in keeping with that terminology, in this image, the left-hand section would be the "nave" of the church, the right hand section the apse, the top and bottom together, the transept. They meet at a large space called the "crossing." If you stand in the middle of the crossing, the top of the dome is 57 meters above you. Where the sections of the cross meet at the central space, they form large
surfaces at the NW, NE, SW and SE points. These are quite large (first photo on the right, below this box) and are, in fact, entrances to the offices on the upper floors of the Gallery.
The first architectural results of the industrial revolution sprang up in Britain in the middle of the 19th century: Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace in 1851, for example, and The Oxford Museum (1859) by Deane and Woodward. By using iron, these architects sought to reconcile the split in the Victorian personality, which viewed such industrial material as the substance of engines to power modern society with, perhaps, but hardly the stuff of Architecture with a capital A—the discipline of designing museums, hotels, universities and other such places for the genteel to gather.
Such use of
glass and iron, however, was to revolutionize
architecture and eventually lead to the first
steel-framed skyscrapers of the Chicago architects
before the century was out. High vaulted glass and
iron domes, governed by their own new architectural
aesthetics, characterized a number of structures built
in Europe in the last decades of the nineteenth
century. The most prominent example in Naples is the
Galleria Umberto I, across from San Carlo Theater. It was
inaugurated in 1890, and named for Umberto I, who was
king of Italy from 1878 until 1900 when he died at the
hands of an assassin [see this
entry on an earlier attempted assassination of
Umberto]. (There is a slightly earlier, smaller
example of the same type of architecture in Naples,
the Galleria Principe di
idea behind the Risanamento
('resanitizing' or 'making healthy again') of Naples
in the 1880s and 90s was to clear large sections of
the city that for centuries had been nests of squalid
overcrowding and disease; then rational construction
could take place. The wide boulevard known as Corso Umberto (or
the Rettifilo, the 'straight line') running
from Piazza della Borsa all the way to the
main train station at Piazza Garibaldi was one result
of this effort, as was the construction of a new
seaside road and 20 blocks
of new buildings at Santa Lucia. The Galleria
Umberto was another.
There was a
need to renew the area across from San Carlo known as
Santa Brigida, and four designs were submitted. One by
Emanuele Rocco (1852-1922) was chosen. His plan left
in place a number of historic buildings that others
would have torn down, yet presented a high and
spacious cross-shaped mall, a truly cathedralesque
affair surmounted by a great glass dome braced by 16
metal ribs. Of the four glass-vaulted wings, one
fronts on via Toledo (via Roma), still the main
downtown thoroughfare, and another opens onto the San
Carlo Theater, framed like a splendid proscenium by
the portals of the gallery (photo, below). The Galleria
Umberto was based on the design of the gallery
in Milan completed in 1865; yet, it was a more
aesthetic fusion of the industrial glass and metal of
the upper part and the masonry below, which, itself,
is a spectacular collage of Renaissance and Baroque
ornamentation, tapering off to clean smoothness of
marble at the ground concourse. Other architects
involved were Ernesto Mauro and Antonio Curri, the
latter being primarily behind the intensely ornate
decorative and symbolic designs that cover surfaces in
the Galleria. (He also worked on restoring the
interior of the San Carlo
theater as well as the delightful interior of
the nearby Gambrinus Caffè.)
The Gallery was built to stimulate commerce and to be a symbol of a city reborn. It still contains numerous cafès, businesses, book and record shops, and fashionable stores. Once it held theaters and restaurants as well, and was, indeed, the sitting room of bourgeois Naples. (One such theater was the fabled Salone Margherita, home of the local version of the café-chantant. It was below the main concourse with a stairway leading down to it and a separate entrance from street-level outside. It was closed for many years and is currently being rebuilt.) The fate of the Galleria Umberto has come to be somewhat of a metaphor of Naples, meaning that there are good times and bad, periods of splendor as well as decay. Among its many ups and downs is even the fact that it was the target of aerial bombardment by a dirigible in the First World War!
These days, you can
still —and should still— marvel at the architecture,
its deceptive orderliness as it moves and shifts like
Proteus from one detail to the next. Yet, the Galleria
also lets you become for a moment the center of an
equally fascinating bit of flesh-and-blood
architecture: a true human kaleidoscope swirls around
you, on the way to the opera, to work, to a
rendezvous. Perhaps they are well-dressed, perhaps
disheveled; the weird as well as the mundane, the
casual and the poised. From the perfectly nondescript
to those who look like extras in some bizarre film,
they all have their own reasons for being drawn to
what is still a most remarkable structure.
masonic symbols*note to "...though that is disputed." the Jewish Virtual Library says "The Magen David (shield of David, or as it is more commonly known, the Star of David) is the symbol most commonly associated with Judaism today, but it is actually a relatively new Jewish symbol....there is really no support for the claim in any early rabbinic literature. In fact, the symbol is so rare in early Jewish literature and artwork that art dealers suspect forgery if they find the symbol in early works. "
Igor Stravinsky, Pablo Picasso, and Naples
Neapolitan Influences on their Art
by © Luciano Mangiafico, 11/2019
Visiting Naples in April you are likely to enjoy perfect weather: sunny, warm days, and crisp refreshing nights. In the air is the perfume of new flowers in their vivid colors, the aroma of freshly fried fish, and the frigitorie, with the vendors on the street doing a brisk business with their instant deep-fried finger food. Sauntering along, you hear the constant hum of small talk and music or singing in the background, traffic, and Neapolitans taking the fresh evening air and taking one another's measure, as well. There is sartorial splendor mixed with the bedraggled — the bizarre alongside the commonplace. They often come together near the royal palace, just opposite the front entrance of the San Carlo Opera House. Here stands the Galleria Umberto I (image shown) one of the grandest covered civic spaces in southern Italy, a focal point of Neapolitan cultural life and of this report.
In April 1917, Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) (sketch, left, of Stravinksy in 1920, is by Picasso) was then in Naples for two weeks and, as he recalled later in his autobiography, the weather was not very Mediterranean, it was in fact anything but: “Instead of the sunshine and azure blue I expected at Naples, I found a leaden sky, the summit of Vesuvius shrouded in immovable, ominous mist.” *1
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) (photo, right, is from 1906) was also there at the same time. One evening, the two of them went for a walk and as Stravinsky, in his conversations with music historian Robert Craft recalled: “The only other incident of our Neapolitan holiday I can remember is that we were both arrested one night for urinating against a wall of the Galleria. I asked the policeman to take us across the street to the San Carlo Opera House to find someone to vouch for us ... Then, as the three of us marched backstage, he heard us being addressed as "maestri" and let us go.” *2
Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929)
What were these two famous artists doing in Naples in the spring of 1917? What had brought them together there? In short, the First World War. In early 1917 there was no end yet in sight. The German-French front was only 100 miles from Paris, Russia was in turmoil and would get out of the war, and the United States was gearing up to go "Over There" and join the Allies against Germany. Paris, however, was still an intellectual capital, with experimentation in literature, music, and other arts going on despite the somber wartime mood. But also in Paris, the Ballet Russes, the avant-garde ballet company of Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev (image shown), was not doing well, so Diaghilev moved the troupe to Rome. Of course, Italy was also in the war, but that front was several hundred miles away to the north, so cultural life in the Italian capital was almost normal. Thus, in early 1917 Diaghilev's Ballet Russes was in Rome and, importantly, both Picasso and Stravinsky were there. Picasso was working for Diaghilev on the scenery for the ballet Parade by Jean Cocteau, and Diaghilev had convinced Stravinsky to join him in Rome, where Stravinsky would conduct his Firebird.
Essentially, the war so disrupted France, that Diaghilev took his ballet troupe elsewhere, and the avant-garde followed, joining him and his troupe in Rome: musicians (Stravinsky), artists (Picasso), and writers (Cocteau). Diaghilev had met Picasso in Paris the previous year and asked him to design the scenery and costumes for Parade. Though Picasso’s friends were dismayed that he was leaving Paris for Rome to work on such a frivolous hack project, Picasso, in early 1917, looked forward to getting away from Paris. War shortages, blackouts, and artillery bombardments had taken their toll on him, and he was coming out of two disastrous love affairs. He was eager to escape. He was ready to get away from dead-end relationships and perhaps even away from Cubism to return to the Mediterranean classicism of times past. He got to Rome in February 1917 and was a tourist with Diaghilev and others in the group. They all went to the Colosseum, but Picasso also went to the circus to paint clowns and other circus figures. He had never seen a ballet or designed sets or costumes for one, but he liked the idea of working on Parade. It was about a popular carnival. Maybe he thought he could turn popular entertainment into real art!
Stravinsky got to Rome on April 5 and formally met Picasso, whom he had known casually in Paris. Stravinsky liked Picasso instantly. He liked Pablo's even keel, his unenthusiastic way of speaking, and his Spanish accent, stressing each syllable. Right from the start Picasso admitted knowing nothing about music, at which Stravinsky smiled, as much as saying "thank you" for the acknowledgment. And then they all went to Naples.
So you have Stravinsky and Picasso in Naples in 1917, where, spurred on by Diaghilev, they saw the sights: the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, exploring the National Archeological Museum (image, left), visiting the Museum of San Martino on the Vomero hill (image, below, left). Picasso was particularly interested in and inspired by the erotic frescoes in Pompeii and in the Archeological Museum and by Greek and Roman sculptures, particularly the gigantic, convoluted Farnese Bull (image, right) and the muscular Farnese Hercules, both in the National Museum.
The San Martino museum is the white building
on the hill. Sant'Elmo fortress is in back.
John Richardson, in his biography of Picasso, explains: “For Picasso, far and away the greatest revelation of Naples was the incomparable Farnese collection of monumental Greek and Roman sculptures. [...]The influence of these marbles would take three years or more to percolate fully into Picasso’s work. Signs that their three-dimensional monumentality would alternate with the flatness of synthetic cubism first occured in his 1920 figure paintings. From then on the gigantism of the Farnese marbles will make itself felt in the increasingly sculptural look of his paintings as well as in his actual sculptures. Indeed, one might say that Picasso’s rebirth as a great sculptor was a direct consequence of the revelation of the Farnese galleries. The marbles would give Picasso back the sense of scale that cubism had denied him by limiting the image to the size of the subject. They would classicize his work far more effectively than the antiquities he had studied in the Louvre. And they would embody the sacred fire —in this case the sacred fire of Olympus— for which he was always searching.” *3
And Picasso loved the genial imagery of Neapolitan street life and the popular theater. It all inspired him for decades, working its way into his evolving neoclassicism.
The trips to Naples in March and April 1917 further added to Picasso's artistic skills as he began a long association with the theater, creating costumes and sets for many ballets, including Pulcinella, based on the iconic Neapolitan folk character Polecenella from the Commedia dell'arte. And he got to work with such composers as de Falla, Satie, and Stravinsky. On the second trip, in mid-April 1917, Diaghilev and Picasso were accompanied by Stravinsky. They went to Naples to take in five performances of the Ballet Russes at San Carlo. The weather was not the best with Vesuvius hidden by mist most of the time. The performances were not a success. The last three of the five planned were cancelled. Ernest Ansermet, directing the Ballet Russes orchestra, who was part of the group in Naples, has left us a vivid picture of Naples in 1917: “Napoli is insane. Yellow on a blue sea, mechanical pianos. Balconied bordellos on the street with girls taking footbaths. A cow in the courtyard. Odor of Spain. Smoke in the sky and burning lava in the body.” *4
(Image, right, is Picasso's Pulcinella with Guitar, from 1920. The ballet, Pulcinella with music by Stravinsky and set
designs by Picasso, is also from 1920.)
The two companions, Picasso and Stravinsky, in addition to almost ending up in jail, also went to the Villa Comunale and the famous Dohrn aquarium (image, left). Picasso studied the realistic, neoclassical frescoes on the library walls. They liked old Neapolitan postcards, paintings, and watercolors, so they scoured small art galleries and bric-a-brac shops. They bought tickets to a Commedia dell’Arte performance in which the main character was Pulcinella. Stravinsky recalled that they saw the free-flowing play “in a crowded little room reeking of garlic. The Pulcinella was a great drunken lout whose every gesture, and probably every word if I could have understood it, was obscene.” *5
a curved corno (animal horn), representing
the sexual vigor in the phallic symbol
Picasso was particularly interested in masked performers and while in Naples, he not only bought commedia masks and several commedia puppets, but also sketched various Pulcinellas and sexual symbols (image, right). It is clear that he was fascinated by the in-your-face talk, the bawdy malevolence, and the lewdness of the character. Perhaps the idea of basing a ballet on Pulcinella then started to germinate in his mind.
Later, in 1919, the performance of Pulcinella that Picasso and Stravinsky had seen in Naples in 1917 inspired Diaghilev to commission a ballet of the same name. It was eventually performed in Paris on May 15, 1920. Picasso did the costumes and sets, and Stravinsky composed the music. Picasso had disagreed with Diaghilev on designs for the scenery and costumes for Pulcinella, so Picasso made at least four different sets of sketches. Diaghilev was still unhappy. Picasso's last set of sketches was cubist, giving prominence on the stage to Neapolitan-inspired décor. Diaghilev threw the drawings on the floor and stomped on them before leaving. Picasso was offended but the following day accepted the impresario's gruff quasi-apology and prepared the sketch that was ultimately used to paint the scenery. This was simplicity itself, with muted colors of white, black, and blue, a white canvas floor repainted spotlessly after every performance, no footlights but only the pale light of a yellow moon, so that the attention of spectators could focus solely on the performers wearing bright colored 18th-century costumes. One of Diaghilev’s biographers, Richard Buckle, said that the Picasso scenery for Pulcinella was one of the most beautiful stage settings ever made. *6
Stravinsky was later asked if he knew what had happened to that Picasso backdrop scenery, and he replied; “It was in the dome of the Paris Opera, when I last heard, and completely faded save for the moon, whose yellow had been renewed, in part, by a cat. Diaghilev, I suppose, was in debt to the Director of the Opera, and when our company withdrew after the Pulcinella performances the Picasso was kept there.” *7
The Naples Conservatory. Entrance.
Stravinsky and Picasso thus collaborated on Diaghilev's ballet, Pulcinella, which, when it opened in Paris in 1920, was very successful. Diaghilev had first approached Stravinsky indirectly in June 1919 by having conductor Ernest Ansermet write to him with the idea of using music of Neapolitan Giovanni Battista Pergolesi (1710-36) for a new ballet. Stravinsky knew little of Pergolesi’s music except parts of the comic opera La Serva Padrona and the Stabat Mater, a piece of sacred music. Then in 1919 Diaghilev personally asked Stravinsky to look at some music by Pergolesi to see if he could re-orchestrate it for a ballet. At first Stravinsky resisted the idea, perhaps feeling slighted that they had first offered the job to Spanish composer Manuel de Falla. Stravinsky finally agreed when he found out that Picasso would do the scenery and costumes and after he had looked at the Pergolesi musical fragments. Stravinsky later wrote: “the proposal that I should work with Picasso ... whose art was particularly near and dear to me, recollections of our walks together and the impressions of Naples we had shared... combined to overcome my reluctance.” *8
The Naples conservatory. The sculpture
of Beethoven is by Francesco Jerace.
Stravinsky also needed the money. He had lost most of his wealth during the Russian Revolution and had a sick wife and four children to feed, plus Russian relatives who had fled their homeland. Fashion designer Coco Chanel helped Stravinsky and Diaghilev financially and for nine months let them stay at her Paris villa. Stravinsky worked on the score for Pulcinella and finished it by December 1919. The music for Pulcinella would incorporate Stravinsky's "reorchestrations" of the music of Pergolesi, and Diaghilev had earlier given Stravinsky 33 copies of the musical fragments. Some manuscripts were from the library of the Naples Conservatory of San Pietro a Maiella (image shown). Stravinsky later said that he had changed very little in the Pergolesi scores and wrote:“The material I had at my disposal - numerous fragments and shreds of compositions either unfinished or merely outlined ... I discerned ever more clearly the closeness of my mental and, so to speak, sensory kinship with him.” *9 (As it turned out, not all of the music was really by Pergolesi, but of the 19 that Stravinsky chose, 10 of them really were.)
When rehearsals started, Diaghilev was shocked. He thought Stravinsky would give Pergolesi "harmless adaptations", as Respighi had done with his versions of music of Cimarosa and Rossini. Stravinsky recalled that Diaghilev might have felt he had offended the 18th century and bastardized Pergolesi. When Pulcinella premiered in 1920, the reaction was mostly positive to the dancing, staging, and choreography, but mixed on the music. Some objected not to the music itself, but to Stravinsky’s effrontery in presenting “a new and improved”, vandalized (!) Pergolesi, while others, who had no idea who Pergolesi was, were delighted. Even Diaghilev, seeing the success of Pulcinella, came around. When a woman said that “old things” should be respected, Diaghilev said that without Pulcinella all the pages of Pergolesi’s music which Stravinsky had used would have remained unknown.
Stravinsky had the last word: “Pulcinella was my discovery of the past, the epiphany through which the whole of my late work became possible. It was a backward look, of course — the first of many love affairs in that direction— but it was a look in the mirror, too. No critic understood this at the time, and I was therefore attacked for being a pasticheur, chided for composing ‘simple’ music, blamed for deserting ‘modernism,’ accused of renouncing my ‘true Russian heritage.’ People who had never heard of, or cared about, the originals cried ‘sacrilege’; ‘The classics are ours. Leave the classics alone.’ To them all, my answer was and is the same: You respect, but I love.” *10
Stravinsky had indeed simplified the music’s texture and stripped down the baroque frills and sentimentality. What remained was a modernized version of Pergolesi, a neoclassicism that was to be one of the major musical movements of the century. Later Stravinsky said that the music in Pulcinella was a new kind of music, simpler and orchestrated differently than his other works. Right after the successful 1920 premiere, the composer, other members of the creative cast, and friends celebrated. “Not surprisingly, the party got a bit out of hand after a very drunk Stravinsky perched himself precariously on the balcony that ran around the huge dance floor and hurled cushions and bolsters from the adjoining rooms onto the guests below. This led to a pillow fight that lasted until three in the morning. In a more sober state, Stravinsky was as pleased with Pulcinella as with its favorable reception.” *11
With a bit of help from our duo of Pablo and Igor, little "Polecenella" from Naples was now in the avant-garde.
1. Igor Stravinsky. Autobiography. New York: WW Norton & Co, pp 67-68.
2. Igor Stravinsky and Robert Craft, Conversations with Igor Stravinsky. New York: Doubleday, 1959, 117-18.
3. John Richardson. A Life of Picasso: The triumphant Years, 1917-1932. New York: Knopf, 2007, p.28.
4. ibid., p.24.
5. ibid. Igor Stravinsky and Robert Craft, p.178.
6. Buckle, Richard. Diaghliev. Orion Publishing, East Lothian, Scotland, 1993. The citation by Huscher (the
program annotator for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) is on-line here.
7. ibid. Igor Stravinsky and RobertCraft, ibid, p.11.
8. ibid. Stravinsky. An Autobiography, p.81.
9. ibid., p.82
10. ibid. Igor Stravinsky and Robert Craft, pp.113-4.
11. McAuliffe, Marie. When Paris Sizzled: the 1920s Paris of Hemingway, Chanel, Cocteau, Cole Porter,
Josephine Baker and Their Friends. New York: Rowan and Littlefield, 2016, p. 178.