From aristocratic dwelling to apartment building to bank venue and, finally, to the ideal museum for all art lovers:
enter into the history of Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano and discover its transformations over the years.
The central Via Toledo was built in 1563 following the instructions of Viceroy Don Pedro Álvarez de Toledo y Zúñiga, with the clear intention of attracting the aristocratic families of Naples. And right here, in the “the most populous and gayest street in the world” – according to Stendhal – stands Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano.
Once we’ve passed through the austere, monumental doorway, which features marble and piperno stone rustication, we are bathed in light from the vast glass ceiling in the entrance hall, designed by architect Luigi Platania and built in the 1920s.
The exhibition halls feature bright, cool colours, like the green in the Sala della Fedeltà (which hosts Vincenzo Gemito’s works) or the airy ceiling in the Sala degli Uccelli, where we can admire renowned vedute of Naples.
Our gazes are inevitably drawn, as well, to the elegant pictorial decorations that enhance every corner of the museum. Giuseppe Cammarano’s depiction of Sappho’s Apotheosis holds sway at the centre of the great vault on the piano nobile. Set within a gilded frame in marked Empire style, the poetess – dressed in classical apparel – faces the god Apollo, seated on clouds against the backdrop of a golden sky inhabited by the Muses. A putto is holding a lyre, one of Apollo’s symbols, with the initials CF – in reference to the banker who commissioned the work, Forquet. Despite its marked academic style and noticeable classic influences, the depiction also appears to honour the Baroque painting of Luca Giordano, whose works we can also find in the palazzo, with the golden atmosphere permeating the backdrop, clouds and sky.
The walls, instead, were painted with tempera by Gennaro Maldarelli, a close collaborator of Cammarano’s. Here, the female figures of the Muses – which seem to be a clear reference to the art of Canova – alternate with an elaborate ornamentation made up of candelabra, ovals, animals, flower vases, vegetable elements and dancing putti.
As a whole, the paintings contribute to an ambience of great value, also thanks to the presence of Art Nouveau-style brass lamps dating back to the last stage of works in the palazzo – that is, in the early 1900s.
In the Sala degli Stucchi – which houses Caravaggio’s Martirio di Sant’Orsola – we find Neoclassical decorations reminiscent of mythological groups by Antonio Canova and, on the ceiling, the portrayal of Sleep after a composition by Bertel Thorvaldsen.
Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano was originally owned by wealthy Spanish merchant Giovanni Zevallos, who hired Bartolomeo Picchiatti, architect and Senior Engineer of the Kingdom, to build his new home in 1639.
The building was greatly damaged during the popular revolt of 1647, when it was besieged and set on fire. Moreover, having run into debt, the Zevallos family were forced to sell their home to the Vandeneynden, a family of merchants originally hailing from Antwerp.
Jan, the youthful founder of the Neapolitan branch of the family, had come to Naples around 1611-1612 to manage the profitable trade between Italy and Flanders. His fortunes further increased when he entered into professional relations with Gaspar Roomer, another merchant-banker from Antwerp who was also a sophisticated collector and dealer of art. Over the years, Jan became wealthy enough to be able to purchase the Zevallos palazzo between 1659 and 1661, and even the title of Marchese di Castelnuovo for his son, Ferdinand.
Furthermore, we must bear in mind that the Vandeneynden family was related to several families of Flemish artists (Brueghel, de Wael, de Jode, to name just a few) who were also involved in the art market. This dense network of connections gave rise to one of the main Neapolitan collections of the 17th century. The palazzo on Via Toledo housed a stunning art collection including remarkable works – such as Rubens’ The Feast of Herod – now on display at the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh. The collection was expanded on the occasion of Ferdinand Vandeneynden’s marriage to Olinda Piccolomini, a member of the noble Roman-Sienese family, who brought several portraits belonging to her family, as well as a large number of tapestries, upon her move to Naples.
Two generations of the Vandeneynden family lived on Via Toledo, and had the building renovated several times over the years. Especially significant were the works carried out by Carthusian architect Bonaventura Presti, who also realised the magnificent rusticated portal softened by the chromatic effects achieved via the juxtaposition of piperno stone and ivory-coloured marble.
In 1688, Giovanna and Elisabetta Vandeneynden, the daughters of Ferdinand and Olinda Piccolomini, married Giuliano Colonna and Carlo Carafa di Belvedere, respectively, and ownership passed to the Colonna di Stigliano family, who maintained it until the late 1800s. During this period of time, the opulent residence was always at the heart of the city’s aristocratic life, often hosting the Neapolitan nobility, not to mention the viceroyal family themselves.
In 1831, the non-payment of dotal credit on behalf of her children led the princess of Stigliano, Donna Cecilia Ruffo, to dispossess the family of all their assets, putting the palazzo up for sale.
From that moment onwards, the building began to be subdivided amongst tenants from different social backgrounds, as the interiors gradually lost their architectural homogeneity: Donna Cecilia kept the second piano nobile for herself; banker Carlo Forquet occupied the first piano nobile and knight Ottavio de Piccolellis turned two previously separate lodgings on the mezzanine floor into a single apartment.
The new owners decided to modernize both the interior and the exterior of the building according to the tastes of the time, as was being done for several other buildings on Via Toledo in the same period.
Values and Artwork at the Palazzo
The next-to-last chapter in the history of the building began to unfold on 13th December, 1898, when the Banca Commerciale Italiana purchased the first piano nobile and the other apartments belonging to the Forquet family.
Restoration work that would drastically alter the appearance of the building began in the late 1920s:
Let’s move rapidly on to the 2000s: today, over 120 works of art are on display at the Gallerie d’Italia in Naples, allowing visitors to retrace the key events of the figurative arts in town, from the 17th-century beginnings all the way down to the early 20th century.