press release

Since Naples had been threatened by the eruptions by Mount Vesuvius from time immemorial, the city invoked the protection of the martyr San Gennaro (St. Januarius). Although the city was rich, inequality existed; in July 1647, a new tax triggered a revolt among the people. Tommaso Aniello, known as Masaniello, a poor young fish merchant, became the hero of this movement (The Market Square during the Masaniello Revolt). In 1656, an epidemic of the plague devastated Naples, killing over half of the population within just a few months. Gargiulo painted the terrible episode of the carrying of cadavers to the market square.

The spirit of Roman and Venetian Baroque, which was conveyed by the powerful personalities of Luca Giordano and Francesco Solimena, drew the Neapolitan School toward a turbulent, decorative style.

Giordano was an extraordinary virtuoso who hesitated between a naturalistic vein and another, much more sensual one inspired by Venetian art (The Death of Cleopatra; The Return of Persephone). Francesco Solimena created a bridge to the eighteenth century. He became one of the most sought-after painters in Europe and was a specialist in large monumental compositions such as The Fall of Simon Magus.

During this time, still life painting flourished and became a Neapolitan specialty. The two dynasties of the painters Recco and Ruoppolo, as well as Porpora, influenced the genre, whether in picturesque compositions of fish and crustaceans or in sumptuous and exuberant bouquets.

Through 84 major works from many French and foreign museums, and with an exceptional contribution from the museums of Naples, this exhibition with a National Interest label proposes a vast panorama of one of the most brilliant moments in Italian art: Neapolitan painting in the seventeenth century.

From the arrival of Caravaggio in 1606 to the triumph of Solimena just before 1700, Neapolitan painting evolved from an expressionistic and tragic naturalism to a sensual, baroque taste for color and movement.

In the seventeenth century, Naples was a province of the Spanish empire and was governed by a viceroy. It was one of Europe’s largest cities, an important commercial crossroad and a hotbed of exchange between Italian, Spanish, Nordic and French artists. The political, economic and cultural splendor of the city was conveyed in vedute, which are urban panoramas and landscapes and the specialty of the Neapolitan school.

During his stays in Naples, Caravaggio left a lasting impression on his contemporaries and on local artists. Other artists borrowed from his uncompromising realism and his dramatic chiaroscuro. The appropriation of his art by painters like Giovanni Battista Caracciolo, Carlo Sellitto and Filippo Vitale crystallized in the Caravaggisti style in Naples, which until then had been under the influence of Mannerism. In 1616, the arrival of Jusepe de Ribera gave a new impetus to the school of Caravaggio, six years after the death of the Lombard master, by accenting his naturalism.

Ribera gave Caravaggio’s realism a very strong naturalist orientation that captivated many Italians, including those who worked in his studio.

The Master of the Announcement to the Shepherds (The Painter’s Studio) and Francesco Fracanzano (Kitchen Interior) endow their subjects with a very savory rustic and popular verve.

Aniello Falcone created battle scenes that were an outstanding success in Europe in the seventeenth century through the bias of his student Salvator Rosa.

In the years from 1630 to 1650, the most important painters moved away from the tenebrism of Caravaggio by lightening their palette and painting in a more spirited style. The example of the Venetians in the Renaissance and the Flemish in the seventeenth century was decisive.

Ribera initiated and continued this evolution with several masterpieces, including Apollo and Marsyas and the Baptism of Christ. Antonio De Bellis preferred poses with an almost Mannerist elegance, just like Bernardo Cavallino, who focused on color and emotive, sensual expressions.

Even painters who were very attached to Classicism, such as Massimo Stanzione (Portrait of a Woman with a Cock in Neapolitan Costume), or to Naturalism, like Francesco Guarino (Saint Agatha), looked for seductive colors and materials.

The King of Spain recognized the quality and variety of the Neapolitan School by asking some of its members, such as Andrea Di Lione and Aniello Falcone, to make paintings for the Buen Retiro Palace in Madrid.