Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact:Jeff Matthews

entry Dec  2014, update with Santa Lucia Oct. 2022  

                           Vincenzo Migliaro (1858-1938)

I thought I had seen the name before but I wasn't sure. A young woman I know went up to the San Martino museum to look at some paintings that included a few by Vincenzo Migliaro —as she explained it, paintings of the Naples of “once upon a time,” showing the characteristic hub-bub of street life that faded in the wake of the Risanamento, the massive rebuilding of the city between 1889 and 1915. I bet myself I could find what I was thinking of. I won. The third book I picked off my shelf was i Vermi by Francesco Mastriani. The cover (see that last link) is illustrated with Migliaro's Strada di Porto (Port Road).

[See part 2, below, for more on Magliaro's paintings of the Risanamento.]

Migliaro was a Neapolitan artist best remembered for his paintings of popular, animated Neapolitan life of the late 1800s. He was a keen observer of Neapolitan landmarks and customs and his works often radiate the exuberance connected with the small streets, market places, and simple everyday lives of the people of the city. He is regarded as a practitioner of what is called “genre art”; that is, a painter of domestic settings, interiors, festive occasions, street scenes, etc. Critics usually make reference to his use of color and light —shimmering, alive, as if they were describing an impressionist and not someone generally called a realist.

Migliaro studied wood carving and sculpture at the age of 15 and at 17 enrolled in the Naples Academy of Fine Arts and focused on painting. In 1877 he entered a nationwide competition among all the art academies in Italy and placed second with a work entitled Testa di donna (Woman's Head
—not this image, left), also a subject matter that would become another of his trademarks—paintings of sensual women. (The image on the left is entitled Fulvia.)

  Strada Pendino                   
Between 1880 and 1930, he displayed in Turin, Barcelona, Rome, Venice and Milan, among other places. His works are in the hands of private collectors, foundations and, in Naples, museums such as San Martino and Capodimonte, but also in places you might not think to look. He was actively involved in the 1890s in the artwork in the Caffè Gambrinus (the best-known period cafe in the city) as well as in the decorations within the Stock Exchange building, also from the same period. To a limited extent, some of his paintings have religious themes. As well, some of his works are of a clearly social nature. His Tatuaggio della camorra (Camorra Tattoo —the camorra is the local version of the mafia, the “mob” ) now in the Naples Provincial art gallery at the Portici royal palace won a silver medal at the Universal Exposition in St. Louis in 1904. He also did some work in poster art, such as one for the 1911 Exposition of Historical Memories of the Risorgimento in Naples (The Risorgimento was the movement to unify Italy in the 1800s.)

The image at the top of this entry is signed and dated “V. Migliaro / Napoli / 1895”. The painting was thought to have been lost, but it reappeared in the 1980s and was provisionally given the title of Vendemmia (Harvest). Later research pinned it down as a scene from the yearly Piedigrotta festival and parade in Naples showing country folk in for the festivities (the woman on the left is holding a tambourine, there are fireworks in the background, etc) The painting is known to have been displayed as such in Naples in 1896. It is oil on canvas and is quite large
—240 x 160 cm (94.5 x 63 inches) That's a good-sized door, perhaps necessary for all the detail.  It is currently in the Piazza Scala gallery in Milan.

added Oct. 2022
        What Really Happened to Santa Lucia? - (the area of Naples, not the saint!)

Vincenzo Migliaro was commissioned to do a series of paintings that would save for posterity at least the images of Naples lost to the earth movers of the mammoth Risanamento (urban renewal) of the city at the end of the
1800s and beginning of the 1900s. Here, Selene Salvi just sent me this letter:

"You know what I just found out? Maybe you already know this. They didn't bury the old Santa Lucia area. They just hid it. The city told residents of Santa Lucia they were getting apartments in those new blocks of buildings (orange blocks, image, right) but all they did was push back the sea and put in landfill. The old buildings are still back there  (on via S.Lucua, on the right). Here's a painting by Migliaro
(below) and then a photo (bottom, right) Fulvio took just a short time ago. Then here's what I what wrote after walking around and having a look, myself:

"Vico Grotta and vico Forno a Santa Lucia. ["vico" is a small street] Matilde Serao wrote about the Risanament of Naples: 'One of the noblest, but pitifully mistaken utopian ideas of those who wanted to save Neapolitans from misery, from vice, crime, and death, was that of giving the people places to live built just for them.' [Selene then
continues, "They wanted to do just that, give dwellings to the 'Santa Lucians', the fishermen, to those who sell sulfur water or weave fishing nets, to the divers, BUT those people would never be able to look out at their sea again.

'Vico Grotta e Vico Forno a Santa Lucia'  (image, left) ...was the first painting in a series by Vincenzo Migliaro commissioned by the Ministry of Public Instruction, an idea of the Director of the Antiquity Museums of Naples. Migliaro liked the idea of a series of paintings. They would include images, as well, of the new buildings that had replaced them, such as the new blocks for the "Santa Lucians".
In reality, those people never moved into their new homes. The rent was too expensive. So the middle-class bourgeoisie not only took over those new homes that had gone up at the sea-side over the landfill, but even the picturesque area next to it at the Egg Castle.

"In reality vico Grotta and vico Forno a Santa Lucia were not knocked down and buried beneath landfill; they never disappeared at all, but today the balconies of those houses don't give you a view of the sea because they're smothered like specks of dust on a carpet. You can see in the photo (right) how the buildings Migliaro painted look now."

(Me, again.
jm) What can I say? Progress? The Great War was still 15 years in the future, not to mention the Bigger and Better War
after that.  Optimists say we live longer today (if we live through the
wars) and are healthier. Stephen Pinker at Harvard is the only one
I know of who says that. He smiles a lot. Happy guy. I do know I have been guilty of telling people that the old buildings of Santa Lucia were plowed under beneath the new blocks. Not so, not so. Sorry.

Selene says the entire series of paintings that Migliaro did to document the Risanamento of Naples are currently held in the museum of San Martino. She says the collection is beautiful and a must-see if you are interested in the history of the city. However, whether the collection is open to the public when you go up there is hit or miss. She went up and it was open. They toured it all and even shot a nice video. So you take your chances. I took some screen-grabs of the video
(They're terrible. Sorry about that, too!) just to show you how large Migliaro's
paintings are. He painted big.

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