August 3, 2011

Around the Web: Southern Italy's Artistic Legacy

By Tom Frascella, March, 2011


Carlo di Borbone, Palazzo Reale, Napoli
Southern Italy owes a debt of thanks for the cultural preservation and expansion of its artistic traditions to the 18th century Bourbon Dynasty. Beginning with Charles the VIII ascension to the thrown of the United Kingdoms of Naples and Sicily in 1734 southern Italy enjoyed a new found patronage of art and architecture. Charles very aggressively improved infrastructure, built up the navy, encouraged the Arts and commissioned many elaborate palaces and buildings. Charles would remain regent from 1734-1750.


His mother Elizabeth was heir to the Farnese family fortune and the Duchy of Parma. Although, she would eventually abdicate that inheritance in favor of her son, it was Elizabeth birthright which brought the extensive Farnese Art collection to Naples from Parma. The Farnese family had been major players in the political and social hierarchy of Italy for generations producing successful merchants, politicians, religious leaders and Popes in remarkable numbers. In turn these very successful individuals had amassed many valuable and unique treasures. Charles would inherit from his mother not only Art but an appreciation for collecting Art.

Treasures from the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli:
(L-R) The Farnese Bull and Atlas.
During Charles’ reign many great Palaces were built and items from the Farnese Collection served to decorate and inspire the living spaces of many of them. It was also during the reign of Charles that the ancient ruins of the long lost and deeply buried city of Pompeii were rediscovered under some forty feet of volcanic ash. Charles sponsored and encouraged the early excavations at Pompeii which uncovered many priceless objects including ancient art work hidden from view for almost two thousand years. These ancient artistic treasures were added to the extensive art collection of the Farnese and displayed in the Bourbon Palaces of Naples.

In 1750 Charles VIII abdicated the crown of Southern Italy in favor of his infant son, in order to assume the Crown of Spain as Charles III. However, Charles did not leave Italy before establishing a Museum. Charles recognized the need to house the expanding collection of ancient treasure being unearthed. The museum was established at the seat of the University of Naples, 1616-1777, in a building that had originally been built as a cavalry barracks. The building was located at what had been the northwest wall of the original city limit of the ancient Greek city of Neapolis. Charles although absent from Southern Italy would remain throughout his life extremely interested in the excavations of Pompeii and the discoveries made there. He would receive regular reports and delighted in each new archeological find. In the late 1770’s the building and the Museum were greatly expanded to its present size and appearance and today it is known as the Naples National Archeological Museum.

Treasures from the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli:
(L-R) Athena Promachos, unearthed from the Villa of the Papyri, Herculaneum
and King Ferdinando IV as Minerva by Antonio Canova.
Remarkably, despite the political, social and civil disruptions that have occurred in Southern Italy between the mid 1700’s and World War II much of the original Farnese Collection has remained intact and in Naples. After the Bourbons were deposed the House of Savoy directed additional archeological finds from the area to the Neopalitan museum. Initially most of this expanding collection was housed at one location however, as new objects were added to the collection a greater viewing space was required. In the 1950’s the collection was divided and a second Neapolitan museum, the Museum of Capodimonte was created. This Museum was originally a Bourbon Palace built by Charles at first as a hunting lodge and place to escape the heat and bustle of Naples. Later as it was expanded into a more formal Palace Charles encouraged the building of a porcelain factory nearby to encourage and to foster local craftsmanship. Porcelain produced at this location bears the name Capodimonte and is still in production. Continue reading
Examples of Capodimonte porcelain at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC.
(L-R) Woman figurine (ca. 1785-95) and The Rabbit Catchers (ca. 1755-59).
Photos by New York Scugnizzo