Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

 entry Aug 2007    

ompeo Schiantarelli 
    The “big leagues” of Neapolitan architecture in the glorious period of the late 1700s included Fuga (1699-1782) and Vanvitelli (1700-1773). As a matter of fact, those two may have been the big leagues all by themselves; they built royal palaces as if they were going out of style. (Actually, they were going out of style.) If you were another architect—say, Pompeo Schiantarelli [how “another architect” can you get? They don’t even know when he died!], one of Fuga’s students, then you wind up some day as a “minor Neapolitan architect of the 1700s,” as I have found him referenced in a few works. That’s a shame; he has an impressive portfolio and was one of the solid “go-to” architects of the day. Fuga and Vanvitelli are often reputed (at least by me) to have said: “I’m busy. Go to Schiantarelli.”
As far as I can determine, Pompeo Schiantarelli, was from Rome. There is an extant architectural sketch of his as part of a competition at the prestigious Accademia di San Luca Archivio Storico, an art academy that still exists. The sketch is from 1766; thus, we may conclude that he was a student there. (A reference may be found in I Disegni di Architettura dell'Archivio Storico dell’ Accademia di San Luca by P. Marconi, A. Cipriani and E. Valeriani. Rome, 1974.)

Schiantarelli then crops up in 1775, apparently working his way down to Vanvitelli & Fuga-Land, where the largesse of the new Bourbon dynasty was doling out large sums of money to kingdom builders. He was the architect of the parish church of S. Michele Arcangelo in the town of Castel Madama near Rome. Strangely, sources from that area cite him as a Neapolitan.

His major credit in Naples was as one of the architects who redesigned the old university building, turning it into the current National Archaeological Museum. (He designed the magnificent staircase in the museum.) Also, the building in the photo accompanying this article is called, simply, the “Schiantarelli building." It is located on the north side of via Foria at the intersection of via Duomo. The name is unusual; although the Albergo dei Poveri may also be called Palazzo Fuga (after the architect), to my knowledge there is, for example, no Palazzo Vanvitelli or Palazzo Fanzago in Naples. (If they named every building in Naples built by Fanzago after the architect, Cosimo Fanzago, the rest of the alphabet could take some serious time off.) I don’t know who commissioned the Schiantarelli building or who ordered those 16 busts of the presumably extended family members to be inserted into the niches —and I don’t anyone who does know. Even the normally long-winded I Palazzi di Napoli by Aurelio De Rosa (Newton and Compton editors. Rome 2001) says, simply, that it is a “beautiful building. To most of us, it’s “that building with all the faces.”

Also in Naples, we find the church of Santa Maria Maddalena de' Pazzi on via Salvator Rosa restored by Schiantarelli at the end of the 1700s; also, two buildings on via Toledo—the Palazzo Lieto and Palazzo Monaco di Lapio; Schiantarelli also assisted Fuga on the rebuilding of Palazzo Gravina (now part of the architectural department of the University of Naples). Outside the city, he contributed to the design of at least two of the famous “Vesuvian Villas”—the Villa Vannucchi and the Villa Lauro-Lancellotti in Portici. In nearby Angri, he also built a villa and gardens for prince Marcantonio Doria. The original plan for the Naples astronomical observatory was also Schiantarelli’s (the plan was abandoned in the turbulent times of the Neapolitan Republic, coming to fruition only after Schiantarelli's death when his work was finished by another architect during the French rule of Murat).

An engraved plate from the Istoria
Most interesting in this prolific career is an episode only tangentially connected to architecture, having more to do with geology. The great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 produced the first example in Europe of technical diagrammatic illustrations of the effects of such a disaster (by British natural philosopher John Michell and the Dutchman Johan Drijfhout). When southern Italy’s turn came in 1783 it was in the form of a series of calamitous quakes that killed 35,000 persons and devastated much of Calabria. The Neapolitan Academy of Science and Letters sent a team to record the devastation. The team recorded destruction of man-made structures as well as topographical changes to the environment with the aim of providing accurate and comprehensive visual documentation. Pompeo Schiantarelli led the team, and his 68 sketches (the engraving for printing the plates was done by Ignazio Stile) with fold-out plates and maps recorded in Istoria de' fenomeni del tremoto avvenuto nelle Calabrie e nel Valdemone nell'anno 1783 [Account of the Effects of the Earthquake in Calabria in 1783] (pub. Naples, 1784) are early examples of a pragmatic blend of art and scientific observation. At least two Calabrian towns, Polistena and Mileto, destroyed by the earthquake were rebuilt to plans laid out by Schiantarelli. (The plates and text of the earthquake account are widely cited and have been reprinted. They are thoroughly discussed in “Sections and Views: Visual Representation in Eighteenth-Century Earthquake Studies” by Susanne B. Keller in The British Journal for the History of Science, Vol. 31, No. 2 (June, 1998), Cambridge University Press.) I think there is only one book about Schiantarelli: Pompeo Schiantarelli. Ricerca ed architettura nel secondo settecento napoletano [Research and Architecture in Naples in the late 18th Century], by Francesco Divenuto (pub. Edizione Scientifiche Italiane, 1984).

[Also see this entry on the rebuilding of Calabria in the wake of the earthquakes.]

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