© Jeff Matthews entry Feb 2007
Eight Statues, Eight Sculptors
One of the most visited points in Naples is Piazza Plebiscito, the large public square bounded on opposite sides by the Royal Palace and the great church of San Francesco di Paola. At that point, one can view the western façade of the palace and the symmetrical array of eight full-length statues, set in niches, four on each side of the main entrance. The statues represent, in chronological order, the seven dynasties that ruled Naples from the 12th to the 19th century plus a statue to mark the dynasty that ruled Italy from the incorporation of the Kingdom of Naples into the modern nation state of Italy in 1861 until the monarchy was abolished in Italy in 1946. The statues were installed in 1888 at the behest of King Umberto I. Facing the statues, in order from left to right, they are:
Roger II, the Norman (ruled from 1130-1154)
—Sculptor: Emilio Franceschi (1839-90) Franceschi was from Florence. He also sculpted prominently in wood; among many other items, he did the ornate wooden chimney-breast in the Tirrenia building (a.k.a. Palazzo Sirignano) in Naples. His most visible creation in Naples—in addition to this statue of Roger II —is the monument to King Victor Emanuel II in Piazza Municipio. He was the designer of the monument but died, leaving the completion to others. (Later note: in 2011 that statue was relocated to Piazza della Borsa).
|Frederick II of Hohenstaufen
—Sculptor: Emanuele Caggiano, (1837-1905). Born in Benevento, Caggiano was one of the important sculptors working in Naples in the second half of the 1800s. He taught sculpture at the Naples Royal Art Academy from 1878 on. Besides this depiction of Frederick II, another well-known work of his in Naples is Virtues of the Martyrs set atop the high monument column in the middle of Martyrs' Square.
—Sculptor: Tommaso Solari (1820-1889) —not to be confused with his sculptor grandfather, also Tommaso, from the 1700s, who has works in the Villa Comunale in Naples. Besides this statue of Charles of Anjou, the younger Solari did the statue of Italian patriot, Carlo Poerio, in Piazza San Pasquale. Also, he was one of the sculptors who did the monument to Victor Emanuel II in Piazza Municipio; as well, he (together with sculptor, Tito Angelini, created the statue of Dante in Piazza Dante and was one of the sculptors of the lions on the monument column at Piazza dei Martiri. His magnificent statue of the Angel of the Resurrection is in the church of San Pasquale a Chiaia.
—Sculptor Achille D'Orsi (1845-1929). D'Orsi was the son of a small landowner and entered the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Naples in 1857. His main interest was realism, and other than this stature of Alfonso, his noted works include his early terracotta, Wounded Soldier of Garibaldi and, later, The Parasites (a depiction of drunken Roman revelers) and Proximus tuus, a life-sized statue of an exhausted laborer—a work widely reproduced in late 19th-century Socialist propaganda. D'Orsi also created the prominent bronze statue of Umberto I on via Nazario Sauro in Naples.
|Charles V of
—Sculptor: Vincenzo Gemito, (1852 -1929). Gemito was an eccentric of almost Dickensian origins, having been abandoned as an infant at the famous Annunziata orphanage. He was later adopted, worked as an apprentice painter and sculptor, and then enrolled in the Naples Academy of Fine Arts at the age of 12. Besides this statue of Charles V, he is well known for his terracotta piece, The Player, (Il Giocatore), done when he was only 16. He displayed successfully in Paris (notably, the Neapolitan Fisherboy), then returned to Naples and opened his own foundry to revive the Renaissance art of the wax process for bronze casting. He spent many years in a mental hospital, but later returned to his work.
|Charles III of Bourbon
—Sculptor: Raffaele Belliazzi (1835–1917). Belliazzi was prominent among Realist sculptors in post-unification Italy and among those sculptors in Naples who belonged to the so-called "Resina" school, many of whom opened studios in the ex-Royal Palace of Portici (now part of the agricultural department of the university of Naples). Besides this statue of Charles III, Belliazzi created the monument tribute to King Umberto I to recall the monarch's visit to Naples during the cholera epidemic of 1884. The statue is done in volcanic rock and is in the Sanità section of Naples near the Capodimonte roundabout.
—Sculptor: Giovanni B. Amendola (1848–87). Amendola was from Sarno and studied in Naples at the Academy of Fine Arts. Besides this statue of Murat, other works by Amendola in Naples include the bust of architect Enrico Alvino on the grounds of the Villa Comunale. In nearby Salerno, his sculpture, Pergolesi Dying, is at the opera house. He moved to England and some of his works were commissioned abroad and remain there to this day, including the well-known bronze of a pensive woman entitled The Dominant Thought and his striking 21"-high bronze of a young couple, entitled Wedded.
Emanuel II of Savoy (1861-1878)
— Sculptor: Francesco Jerace (1854–1937). This painter and sculptor was from Calabria and went to Naples to attend the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Besides this statue of the first king of united Italy, he is most known for his contribution—a group statue called L'Azione—to the national monument to King Victor Emanuel II in Rome. A somewhat hidden work of his in Naples is the statue of Beethoven in the courtyard of the Naples Conservatory. He also did a great number of famous literary and political figures of the day, including Carducci and King Umberto I, located in many places throughout Italy and, indeed, internationally. The museum in his birthplace of Polistena is named for him.
Instant folklore: As soon as these statues went up, local wags coined pithy, vulgar expressions in dialect to put in the mouths of some of the monarchs. I have been unable as yet to determine if the first four have such sayings connected with them, but statues 5 through 8 are solid:
accusatorialy pointing to the ground with his right
hand, is saying, "Chi
ha pisciato cca n'terra?!" ("Who peed on the
ground right here?!");
daintily looking down, says, "Ma guarda che fettienti..." ("Just
look what disgusting pigs...");
Murat, with his hand
melodramatically splayed against his breast in a "Who, Moi?!" gesture
says, "Giuro che non
sono stato io" ("I swear 'twas not I.")
Victor Emanuel, with
his sword raised on high, thunders, "Tagliammolo 'o pesce!"
(Roughly, "Off with his d***!")
I love doing real research.
For some of the information on the sculptors, I have
used various entries in the Grove Encyclopedia of Art as well as
a volume entitled Le
Statue di Napoli by Nicola Della Monica,
Newton and Compton, Rome, 1996.