Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

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Naples Miscellany 49 (start mid-Sept, 2014)

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Painted from above the old lake on Ischia the small island of Procida is directly in front in the foreground.
 Monte di Procida
and Cape Miseno at the western entrance to the bay of Naples are across the Procida strait.
Vesuvius is in the background, the Sorrentine peninsula extends to the right and a bit of Capri is on the far right.

(Sept. 15) The main port on the island of Ischia has celebrated its 160th anniversary. Ferdinand II of Bourbon (Re Bomba the Bomber king!) decided to eliminate the narrow strip of land that separated the natural crater lake known as "the lake of baths" (image, above) and turn it all into a sea-port. Work started in 1853 and the new port was inaugurated on Sept. 17, 1854. The new port is still the most important one on the island and has been augmented, but not superseded, by other smaller harbors on Ischia. It remains vital to the economy of the island.

(Sept. 15)  "Good morning. Welcome to Culture Vultures. We Deliver!" It seems to me that places and museums are always lending stuff to other places or museums. That's how you and I get to see lots of stuff. Last year, for example, some of the Treasures of San Gennaro  (also here) went from Naples to Rome for a successful exhibit, and travelling exhibits of items from Pompeii have recently returned from the U.S. and Great Britain. Now, however, there is a hullabaloo rising over one of the most celebrated works of Michelangelo da Merisi, alias Caravaggio. The work is entitled Sette opere di Misericordia (The Seven Works/Acts of Mercy) from 1607 (image, right). The painting was made for, and is still housed in, the church of Pio Monte della Misericordia in Naples. It was meant to be seven separate panels around the church, but Caravaggio combined them into one, which became the church's altarpiece.

The fuss is that Milan is going to have an Expo 2015 (May 1-Oct 31), one the Catholic charitable organization Caritas will participate in. Caritas has requested that the Seven Works of Mercy be loaned to them for the duration of the Expo. Neapolitan politicos are already complaining. One said, “The next thing you know, they'll want Mt. Vesuvius for their exhibits!” It's not that Naples might not get a work of art from up north in return. That could would happen (maybe a Leonardo or two). It's not even that “The Seven Works” is a permanent fixture in the church where it resides. That is a technical detail that was solved on four separate occasions in the 20th century when the Caravaggio work went on tour. No, it's something else, says a journalist in il Mattino. Loans of great works of art are, indeed,
great publicity for the city, but maybe the treasures of Naples have become too popular. The nay-sayers don't like the idea of Naples turning into a place where you can simply order up a treasure instead of actually coming to the city. Naples is very rich in things to see but, at the same time, stubbornly remains a very difficult place in to see them in. Churches, monuments and even entire streets are often closed, or on strike or this, that and the other thing. Putting The Seven Works on exhibit elsewhere and having it meet with overwhelming acclaim would remind people of how sadly inept the city really is. Maybe he's right. If you like The Seven Works, wait till you see the Veiled Christ or the Farnesi Collection! Why travel to Pompei and find it closed when you can wait for Pompeii to come to you? And there's a great amphitheater in Pozzuoli! Maybe even Vesuvius! (They can deliver almost anything by drone these days!)

(Sept. 16) Rehearsal rooms and lecture halls in disrepair, old and out-of-tune instruments -- these are some of the things that need to be taken care of at the Naples "San Pietro a Maiella" Music Conservatory, one of the oldest and most prestigious in Italy. The students, themselves, have issued an appeal, saying "Some of the greatest names in music studied here. It can't just end like this." Indeed, if the facilities are not adequate, the conservatory risks turning out unqualified graduates. Unqualified to play and unqualified to be music teachers (although that is what they will do); you have thus set in motion a downward spiral. That is what one instructor meant when he spoke of a "unstoppable decline." A city official is not that gloomy about the situation, however.  He says, "The kids are right. The situation at the conservatory is intolerable, but by November, when the academic year starts up, I guarantee that the situation will have improved. I have already spoken to the technical office for the province of Naples and, if I have to, I'll go to the Province Office of Public Works."  [relevant entries on the music conservatory are here and here.]

(Sept. 19) San Gennaro. In spite of what it says here about the Feast Day of San Gennaro, the patron saint of the city of Naples, being officially turned into a "floating holiday," the day is still, in the minds of all Neapolitans, today, September 19. The bureaucrats in Rome are just lucky that today happens to be a Friday, so the "floating" is already taken care of. It is the day on which the faithful await the "miracle" (see the above link to San Gennaro). The day is celebrated not just in Naples but in various Italian immigrant communities in the world where there are a substantial number of persons of Neapolitan origin. (I'm guessing that even an immigrant from Genoa living in Argentina, Australia or the U.S., roots for Gennaro, as well, but that is just my own personal speculation.) (The image in this entry is of a large, modern, bronze bust of San Gennaro by local artist Lello Esposito. See this link.)

(Sept. 20) Fulvio De Marinis
The two paintings shown here are by local artist Fulvio De Marinis, born in Naples in 1971. He was a student of Augusto Perez at the Naples Academy of Fine Arts where he studied sculpture before dedicating himself to painting. If he has a specialty, it is driven by his fascination for the myths of Naples. The painting at the right is entitled The Nymph of Lake Averno; below is Hic habitat minotaurus. There is an English  translation of an essay by Selene Salvi of Napoli Underground (NUg) entitled, Fulvio De Marinis: The Places of Myth plus a selection of 22 of his works on the NUg website at this link. These two images are low-resolution; the images on the NUg site are larger and of higher resolution. They are photos, however, of the original paintings. The paintings, themselves, many in galleries, are generally oil on canvas. 

update 2022: the NUg website referenced 4 lines above is off-line, defunct.

[additional items by De Marinis: Siren's Song - Memento vivere

                   Hic habitat minotaurus

(Sept. 23) Papers have announced the beginning of work on the gardens in front of the cloister and church of Santa Chiara as well as on the iconic church belfry (pictured) at the  intersection of Via Benedetto Croce and Via San Sebastiano. The gardens will be rebuilt and will become a public park in the heart of the historic center. The belfry is to be returned to the state it was in before the disastrous air-raid of August 1943. (See this link for details.) That means you will once again be able to climb to the top of the tower and look down on the street called “Spaccanapoli.” They say that all this will be ready by April 2015. Optimistic, but a good sign.

(Sept. 29) - The island of Ischia is taking advantage of the fact that much of the island and surrounding waters are now part of a marine protected area. It has always been a place for sport diving and snorkeling, and two groups, Ischia Diving and The NEMO Association ("founded for the primary purpose of presenting and spreading the culture of the sea"from their published literature) have now started offering introductory courses in marine biology. The Ischia Biodiving Weekend 2014 takes place on Oct. 17, 18 & 19 and will meet at Ischia Porto, the main harbor on the island. (That's the port in the image at the top of this page, though it now no longer really looks like that!) Their literature specifies that the course is aimed at participants who already have an entry-level open-water diving certificate that is, beginning SCUBA. I don't know what happens if you show up with just snorkel and fins. They may take your money and feed you to the fishes. (The image is the 49th plate from Ernst Haeckel's Kunstformen der Natur, 1904, showing various sea anemones classified as Actiniae, in the Cnidaria phylum.)

(Oct. 4) This looks like a good idea. I had never heard of the Mediterranean Exchange of Archaeological Tourism, but the XVII edition will be running at the Archaeological Museum of Paestum from Oct. 30 through Nov 2. From its literature: " international event... dedicated to archaeological heritage... multimedia, interactive and virtual technologies... debate on cultural heritage and tourism... a meeting place for professional business persons, tour and cultural operators and for travelers." There will be 150 exhibitors from 20 foreign Countries, 50 conferences and meetings, and 300 speakers." I think this means that if your nation has something to show off (and they all do) this is a pretty good place to pick up some tips on how to build and operate a successful tourist trade.

(Oct 7) Oh, NO! Amid all the bad news, this may be the worst, although it has generated some funny comments. Milena Gabanelli is a journalist and television host known in Italy as author and anchorwoman of  an investigative TV program called Report currently broadcast by the Italian public TV channel Rai 3. The other evening she did a hard-hitting, fact-finding (yes, all that!) exposé on what's wrong with the way they make pizza and why it causes cancer. A long list: wrong oil, wrong cheeses, wrong yeast, tomato sauce from China, and they burn the crust —and that's just for starters. The local papers are all over this one, because here you're messing with one of the three basic food groups of Naples (the other two are cigarettes and cell phones). No one has given up Neapolitan pizza as result of the program, but someone suggested that Report should next report on the paranoia caused by Report.

(Oct 13) Justice - blind? Maybe. Slow? Definitely. It's not so much that the property search and resolution of the claim lasted 80 years (!) —ok, maybe that's part of it— but the fact that the on-line report of the case had so many comments, many with their own horror stories, that the paper finally disabled the comment page. The case in point was one of those cases that ask “Who really owns this piece of property right now?". They used feudal sources going back to 1536 as well as Napoleonic law put in place under Murat in Naples in the early 1800s. The trick was to show “continuous and uninterrupted possession” of a piece of property first disputed in a suit brought in June of 1934 in Caserta. I think someone has now won and someone has lost, but I'm not sure. The papers seemed more fascinated than upset at how slowly the wheels of justice grind. They took pride in quoting German philosopher, Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), who is supposed to have  said, “The paths that lead to truth and those that lead to error are the same; Italian justice is slow but it seldom makes mistakes.” Really?! That's ok. Heidegger was wrong about Hitler, too.

(Oct 15) Beauty or Truth. Neapolitan sculpture of the late 1800s and early 1900s. That is the title of a fascinating exhibit running from Oct 31 through Jan 31, 2015 in the exhibition hall on the premises of the church of San Domenico Maggiore, a remarkably easy place to get to in Naples, which is all the better because this is a good one! From the announcement: "This exhibit is a unique chance to see all of the masterpieces of sculpture of 18th century Naples, an especially illustrious era for Italian and European art...There are various sections: itineraries covering sculpture of the XIX century and early 1900s in Naples by Angelini, Lista, Gemito, Belliazzi, Amendola, Jerace, Palizzi, Franceschi, d’Orsi, De Luca, Renda, Cifariello, etc...) [and]...virtual itineraries of unmovable monuments." There will 250 works from galleries throughout Italy. The image shown here is of the Roman goddess Victa by Francesco Jerace (1854-1937). He is one of the sculptors (as are others on that list) who contributed to the well-known series of eight that line the west facade of the royal Palace in Naples. He also did a group statue called L'Azione as part of the national monument to King Victor Emanuel II in Rome. And the coolest one of all, a huge sculpture of a brooding Beethoven in the courtyard of the Naples music conservatory. All three of those would be part of a "virtual itinerary," I imagine, since they cannot be moved. (Of course, if you happen to have an irresistible force around, you can try to move anything.)

Just got this spectacular shot from friend, Larry Ray. It shows
B-25s of the 340th Bomb Group over Mt. Vesuvius during the
eruption of March 23, 1944, the last eruption of the volcano.

There is an entry in these pages on "Recent eruptions of Vesuvius."

  • (October 25) Wherever the mythical Elephant Graveyard is supposed to be, it now has another resident. Restin peace. Sabrina, the icon of the Naples zoo, a 56-year-old female elephant, also mentioned here five-years ago when she was merely ill, has died. Sabrina was the only elephant in the zoo. Not exactly solitary confinement, but for a social species such as the elephant, it probably comes close. She came to the zoo in 1986. Fifty-six is kind of middle-aged for an elephant; maybe she just got lonely. Or maybe it was the zoo. I have not been back there in a while because it was so depressing. Anyway, the last word to John Donne: "Nature's great masterpiece, an elephant; the only harmless great thing."   [related zoo update, Nov. 2015]

  • Oct. 26 - Here are a couple of nice etchings from a delightful book, Viaggiollamare) by F. Alvino published in 1845 by Iride, Naples. The engraver was Achille Gigante (1823-1846), a member of an important family of Neapolitan painters and lithographers in the 1800s. Both etchings are of places that don't stand out today but are still there. The one on the left is the Rovigliano Rock (the Rock of Hercules) (main entry here); on the right is the Quisisana Palace (main entry here). Both of them are seen from the Castellammare side of the bay; that is, at the beginning of the Sorrentine peninsula. Naples is way off to the left.

(Oct. 26) - And in sports... There is a general entry in these pages on the sports stadiums in Naples. Recently, what used to be the main football stadium (now superseded by the San Paolo stadium) has remained a very important facility for the city. It is the Arturo Collana stadium. It has been run by the city for the last 12 years and is "home" to 49 different youth sports clubs not just football, but track and field and what have you. For various reasons of political hanky-panky the city has decided to put the concession to run the stadium up for bids to private companies. The mayor is against it; it should be a public concern. In the meantime, kids, go train somewhere else. Oh, the board of health has closed the Scandone swimming pool in Fuorigrotta. It is one of two Olympic-size pools in the area (the other is on the grounds of the Mostra d'Oltremare) and serves as the training facility for all competitive swimmers in Naples. The health guys checked the water and...well, you know how picky they can  be. C'mon, what's a few dead turtles in the water! (OK, I made that up. I think.)

(Oct.27) - All, or almost all, of the sacred treasures of Angevin Naples are on display for the first time at a single exhibit in the Museum of the Treasure of San Gennaro. The exhibit runs through December 31. The museum, itself, is relatively new, having opened ten years ago (main entry here). It is housed adjacent (on the south) to the Duomo (cathedral) of Naples and is not to be confused with the similar-sounding Chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro inside the cathedral, itself. Each item on display in this particular exhibit has to do with a precise period in the history Naples between 1266 and 1380 (and some even earlier). Among them, the shrine to Saint Lawrence, on loan from the Louvre; and the jewel-encrusted cross of the Norman adventurer, Robert of Hauteville (from the Diocese Museum in Salerno) plus many other items on loan from their "home" museums.
END of Miscellany page #49
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