Saturday, October 9, 2010

Mambo Napoletano

This weekend, my art history class went to Naples to learn about the Neapolitan Baroque. To say the least, it was an adventure. On Thursday night, I decided to go out with my roommates. We went to a bar in Trestevere, which is a quiet artsy area of Rome during the day, and a huge American frat party at night. We try not to go there too often, but it's fun once in a while, especially because you can find half of TU Rome there on any given Thursday. So we went and it was a lot of fun -- maybe a little too much fun. The next morning, I awoke for my 7am bus at 7:10. But by the grace of God and my friend/former roommate Ali calling me, the bus did not leave me behind, but I was fifteen minutes late. FAILBLOG! Luckily, my classmates were nicer about it than I would have been. And we were off.

Three hours later, we were in the heart of Naples. This is where we met our teacher. Though from the United States originally, she married a Neapolitan and lives in Sorrento, so she knows the city inside and out. Over the course of the trip, she gave us a few tip and tidbits. I think they were supposed to be interesting...
1. "Naples is at the base of Vesuvius. It's the most dangerous kind of volcano because it could erupt at anytime. There was an earthquake in 1980, so they think it will erupt really soon."
2. "While walking, we are going to avoid dark alleys. There is not as much random crime here, but there are tensions between the local mafias and you could get caught in between."
3. "Later, we're going to go to Spaca Napoli. It's the street that splits Naples in half. Real Neapolitans, like the bus driver, they don't even go there because they're too scared. But, we're going to go!" AWESOME!

So, first, we went to the Capodimonte Museum. It's a former palace on top of one of the hills of Naples. There, we saw some masterpieces from the Baroque and the Renaissance. The Museum was in park, and apparently there were school funding cuts, so all the children of Naples were striking, so there were kids everywhere. There must have been ten different soccer games going on, with little boys arguing about the score. It was pretty cool. I think I liked the atmosphere of the park more than the actual museum, although the paintings were awesome too, especially Titian's Danae.

Then, we went to a monastery on another hill of the city. From the terrace, there was an amazing view of the city with with Sorrento and Capri visible in the distance. There was some nice art there too.

(The view from the monastery. Oh, hey, Vesuvius! Also, the monastery's cemetery was enclosed by a wall adorned with stone skulls. I'm a little scared to say that I was much more intrigued than creeped out.)

Those two museums took all day, so we didn't get to the hotel until around 6. We were all exhausted and starving, so we joined our teacher for some authentic Neapolitan food at a little hole-in-the-wall. The food was awesome! I got prosciutto and mozzarella to start and
then penne alla sorrentina, which was penne with tomato sauce and mozzarella. Another little tidbit -- not only is Naples the birthplace of pizza, it is also the best place to be real mozzarella, which is made with water buffalo milk. Anyway, the place was really small and probably run by a family. It was a new place for our teacher and she said she was astonished by the quality of the food. While we were eating a man walked into the restaurant singing a traditional Neapolitan song. He didn't work there -- he just came to see if he could make a buck singing. The waiters didn't mind at all. They just worked around him. It was so cool!

Then I went back to my room and basically passed out. The next morning, we got free breakfast at the hotel. It was American style -- cereal, big cups of coffee, juice, and rolls with butter. It was so good! From there, we walked to the Cathedral. The Cathedral is dedicated to Saint Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples. Most of the church is Gothic and kind of cold, but the chapel is a burst of color and light. There is silver all over the place, including silver busts of saints with relics inside. There is also an illusionistic dome by Lanfranco and several oil paintings by Domenichino. Now, here is some of the story behind the chapel....
So, they wanted to decorate this chapel, which was dedicated to the patron saint of Naples (who isn't even recognized by the Catholic Church, but Neapolitan are still devoted to him because they really just do what they want), so it had
to be nice. At the time, Naples was under Spanish control, so it was not Italy. At first, the Cathedral Committee asked two Neapolitan artists to do the dome, but they didn't like the work and ended up scraping it off and hiring Lanfranco. Lanfranco was from Parma, in the north of Italy, so it ruffled a few feathers that he should be able to do this dome. But he was chummy with the Spanish viceroy, so he was protected. Domenichino, who was also a foreigner, however, was not so lucky. He was commissioned to do about six oil paintings. During his time in Naples, he received tons of threats against his life. Eventually, he got fed up and left, his work unfinished. The Cathedral Committee was pissed and the Spanish viceroy abducted Domenichino's wife to get him back to Naples to finish. So, he went and finished everything except one and a half paintings. Before he could completely finish, he was poisoned and died. It is said that his assassins were fellow Baroque masters Ribera and Caracciolo (and another guy, who is less important, so I don't remember his name). Domenichino's last painting remains unfinished. As for the one he had not started yet -- the commission was given to Ribera. It is considered a masterpiece of the Baroque period. From there, we church hopped and saw, among other things, Caravaggio's Seven Acts of Mercy, another masterpiece.

(Much to the dismay of Domenichino fans everywhere, Ribera's masterpiece)

Then we walked down Spaca Napoli and Via Gregorio Armena. It was so cool! They were both tiny streets with little shops on either side. Tidbit! Naples is famous for it's Nativity scenes. They are really big there. A couple that we saw in museums were almost as big as my sister's bedroom and had hundreds of figures. Just the way Venice was lousy with mask shops, Spaca Napoli has dozens of shops where artisans hand carve figures for Nativity scenes. They also sell figuring of celebrities and what not. One of the figurines depicted a butcher with a man's head on the chomping block. It was labeled "The Head of Bossi." Bossi is the head of the Northern League, which is a political party. He is currently in cahoots with Berlusconi, who is the prime minister. So Bossi is crazy powerful, but he is also crazy crazy. Obviously from the North of Italy, he hates Southern Italy because he resents that money from the industry in the North is given to the Southerns, who he considers to be uneducated layabouts. And the Southerners -- well, they clearly hate him right back. Bossi made headlines a week or two ago because he called all Romans pigs. And we thought the animosity between North and South Jersey was big...

(Via Gregorio Armeno...traditional Neapolitan masks...The Head of Bossi)

After we got some time to shop, we headed to a famous pizzeria for some real Neapolitan pizza. Delish! Lunch was followed by some more museums and art. I really did pay attention, take notes, and find it interesting, but there was just so much that I can't recount every painting we saw. Around 5:30, we got back on the bus and headed back to Rome.

It liked Naples. In many ways, I think that when people think of typical or stereotypical Italians, they inadvertently think of Naples. That's where Italians argue all the time, have to deal with the Mafia, and little old women sit outside shops and cut vegetables. It was completely different from Rome, and I found it fascinating. The Neapolitan have a very different mindset than the rest of Italy. I would really like to go back sometime, just maybe not for class...


  1. That all sounds awesome! Also, those facts that your teacher gave you are hilarious/terrifying. It looks so pretty and the food sounds AMAZING!