Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

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Domenico Antonio Vaccaro (1678-1745)

 -"Say, isn't he the same guy who did…?"

  Spire in the square of San Domenico Maggiore

spire of S.
              Dom. MaggioreIn Naples, the answer to that question is usually "yes." There is always a "same guy who did…". Or built. Or painted. Or sculpted. There was a small, busy cadre of illustrious painters, sculptors and architects in the Naples of the 1600s and 1700s who created much of what made the city into an artistic treasure in those years. The sculptor Giuseppe Sanmartino comes to mind; his magnificent Veiled Christ is more famous than his other works scattered throughout the city, but it by no means puts the others to shame--not by a long shot. And Cosimo Fanzago? If you see a Baroque-y church in Naples and you're not sure, guess Fanzago. Statistically, it's better than even money, and even if you're wrong, it will still impress your friends. (Your enemies, however, may counter with, "But what about that double-gerbilled hyper-atrium." Be prepared.) D.A. Vaccaro is another one of the great creators of eighteenth-century Naples. As a painter, he trained under Francesco Solimena. Some of Vaccaro's paintings survive, such as the Penitent St William of Aquitaine in the church of Sant'Agostino degli Scalzi. It is, however, his sculpture and architecture that left an indelible stamp on the city.

Having said that, unfortunately one of Vacarro's early works of sculpture proved to be not so indelible after all. The grand obelisk in the middle of Piazza del Gesù, perhaps the most ornate work in the entire city, was originally surmounted by a bronze equestrian monument to Philip V of Spain, a splendid piece by Vaccaro and his father, Lorenzo, a prominent artist in his own right. When the Spanish were forced out of Naples in 1700, the monument was destroyed. (Charles III later replaced it very wisely with a statue of the Immaculate Virgin, supremely immune from fickle mobs of statue-topplers.) Much of Vaccaro's sculpture is on the premises of the San Martino monastery (now a museum), such as the figures of Providence and Divine Grace for the chapel of San Giovanni Battista (John the Baptist) on the premises, as well as half-length busts of St Januarius and St Martin for the main courtyard. He worked extensively, as well, to decorate the crypt of the church of San Paolo Maggiore in the historic center of the city.

The Immacolatella                         

Vaccaro's most visible work in the historic center is another tall column (top photo) this one in the square of San Domenico Maggiore. The spire was started after the plague of 1656; the design was by Cosimo Fanzago. The work, itself, was undertaken by royal architect, Francesco Antonio Picchiatti (1619-94),* whose concern for documenting and preserving the great number of remains of the ancient Roman city of Neapolis beneath the site caused construction to be suspended in 1680 when the spire had reached only about half the height one sees today. Vaccaro later undertook to finish the project and delivered it in 1737. The finished carved obelisk and bronze statute of St. Dominic on the top are his. Vaccaro also did innumerable models for silversmiths and ornate figures for the presepe, the traditional Neapolitan Christmas manger displays.

[* F. A. Picchiatti is also responsible for the chapel in the building of Pio Monte della Misericordia in Naples, which contains Caravaggio's The Seven Works of Mercy as well as for the original convent of Santa Croce di Luca, begun in 1643. The convent stood at the extreme western end of the old historic city (#39 on this map). It was demolished in 1900 to make room for the new Polyclinic hospital; a small section was left standing as a historical marker. Additionally, Picchiatti was one of the architects who carried on from Fanzago on the construction of the church of Santa Maria Egiziaca a Pizzofalcone. The story has come down that Picchiati's home was somewhat of a museum in itself, testimony to his wide-ranging interests behind his profession. His private "museum" held 20,000 ancient coins, 6,000 inscribed pieces of marble, 300 bronze statues, various domestic implements of aniquity, ancient weapons, a library of paintings and 1200 books.]
Vaccaro's architecture is what may stand out to casual visitors to the city. Anyone who visits the courtyard of the Santa Chiara complex will note the majolica decoration (photo, above. Click here for a separate item on the restoration of that courtyard.) As well, a stroll along the otherwise dismal port section of Naples will bring you to the delightful (but as yet unrestored!) old customs station (photo, above right), the Immacolatella, the only part of 18th-century Naples still standing in that immediate area. That, too, is Vaccaro's.

He also planned what turned out to be the most spectacular building never [sic] built in Naples! It was to be the Palazzo Tarsia, now in the heart of the crowded Montesanto section of Naples and overlaid by two centuries of rebuilding, destruction and subdividing. The outlines of the original building, amorphously wedged into an unbelievable hive of buildings, are vaguely indentifiable from above. The elaborate terraces, ramps and gardens—to the extent that they were ever completed—are gone. Vaccaro's own engraving for the project still exists (illustration, left).

Also see The Church and Mosaic of San Michele on Capri.
Also see The Church of San Michele Arcangelo (at Piazza Dante).

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