Climbing the grand staircase in Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano, we access the second floor, through which the exhibition route of the Gallerie d’Italia in Naples winds.
To Start With, the Last Caravaggio
Ideally, the itinerary departs from the Sala degli Stucchi (“Hall of Stuccoes”), which hosts the undisputed masterpiece of the collection: the tragic Martirio di Sant’Orsola (“Martyrdom of Saint Ursula”, 1610), painted in Naples by Caravaggio just over a month before his death. Here, the episode of the saint’s martyrdom is focused on its defining moment and reduced to the bare essentials, breaking out of the mould of the previous iconographic tradition.
The Protagonists of the Neapolitan Seicento
The tour continues with the Sala degli Amorini, which owes its name to the presence of putti (or “amorini”) in the decoration of the vaulting, accompanied by an opulent wall frieze that runs along the perimeter of the room.
Visitors to this hall find themselves face-to-face with our 17th-century collection capable of outlining the main vicissitudes of painting in Naples throughout the century: from the naturalistic shift brought about by Caravaggio’s 1606 arrival in Naples all the way down to the magnificence of the Baroque season.
Amongst the treasures kept here:
- Judith Beheading Holofernes, attributed to Louis Finson, a Flemish artist who painted in the Caravaggesque style
- the solemn Saint George by Francesco Guarini, set somewhere between Massimo Stanzione’s patrician grace and Jusepe de Ribera’s intense realism
- Samson and Delilah, typical creation of Artemisia Gentileschi –a tragic, extraordinarily intense painter of the Italian Seicento –and her repertoire of female heroines.
The Baroque Art of Luca Giordano
We owe the renewal of the painting tradition mainly to the brilliance of Luca Giordano, who was behind the crucial shift towards the Baroque.
Amongst his masterpieces, the monumental Rape of Helen (c. 1660) is an excellent example of the production of literary-mythological characters typical of his career.
An exemplary stage in the continuation of the Baroque direction started off by Luca Giordano is undoubtedly represented by Francesco Solimena’s stunning canvas depicting Hagar and Ismael in the Desert Comforted by the Angel (c. 1690). Despite its pictorial exuberance, the work conveys the quest for a resoluteness and nobility in drawing that heralded the classic tendencies of the new century.
Francesco Di Maria’s artwork belongs to an alternative academic line compared to Giordano’s pictorial exuberance; we can admire his Cristo benedicente (c. 1658), inspired by principles of drawing precision and classic order.
Between Still Lifes and Pitture Ridicole
The still life represents one of the main components of the collection of the Gallerie d’Italia in Naples. This art genre is illustrated by a small yet incisive selection of paintings, including two Sottoboschi (“Underwoods”, c. 1650-1656) by Paolo Porpora – Italian pioneer of the specialty – and two renowned compositions by the more famous and versatile painter Giuseppe Recco.
Standout works from the Settecento include the two paintings by Gaspare Traversi, Neapolitan by birth and training, but permanently based in Rome as of the 1750s: La lettera segreta and Il concerto, (“The Secret Letter” and “The Concert”, both c. 1755-1760) belong to the repertoire most typical of his production, which can be set within the genre of the “pitture ridicule” (“ridiculous paintings”) so dear to comic-popular tradition.
Van Wittel’s Vedute of Naples
The Sala degli Uccelli (“Hall of Birds”) of the Gallerie d’Italia houses paintings that outline the history of representation of Naples and the Campania region between the 18th and 19th centuries.
The exhibition starts off with four canvases by Dutch artist Gaspar van Wittel, regarded as one of the founders of modern vedutismo, based on the nearly topographical precision of painted scenes. The Veduta di Napoli con Largo di Palazzo (“View of Naples with Building Square”, first quarter of the 18th century) and the Veduta di Napoli con il borgo di Chiaia da Pizzofalcone (“View of Naples with the Village of Chiaia da Pizzofalcone”, 1729) – extraordinary for their accuracy and overall breadth – are especially noteworthy.