#Cosimo Fanzago

TRACES OF MIDDLE AGES ALONG VIA DEI TRIBUNALI IN THE OLD TOWN OF NAPLES

by

PAOLO GRAVINA

paologravina7@gmail.com

If you want to read a quite literal translation in italian, please click here: http://paologravina7.com/2014/12/01/tracce-di-medioevo-lungo-via-tribunali-nel-cuore-antico-di-napoli/.

Se vuoi leggere una traduzione quasi letterale in italiano, clicca qui: http://paologravina7.com/2014/12/01/tracce-di-medioevo-lungo-via-tribunali-nel-cuore-antico-di-napoli/.

Naples is like a book to skim through, where the history could be read page by page. Naples is a layering of facts and events, where the appearances could be deceiving. Churches and palaces were constantly restructured over centuries, due to changes in style related to taste and cultural instances of the ages that have passed through. Not by chance, many neapolitan churches, founded in the Middle Ages or Early Christian period, have completely lost their original appearance in order to be adapted to the canons of the Council of Trent during 16th century, assuming therefore a Baroque shape. These changes are evident along the path of Via dei Tribunali. At the beginning of the road, between Vico San Domenico and Piazza San Gaetano, four important monuments follow each other along both sides of the road. First of all we meet the Church of San Pietro a Majella, founded along with its monastery – which houses a famous conservatory – at the beginning of 14th century by Giovanni Pipino from Barletta, an important member of the court of King of Naples Charles 2nd d’Anjou. The church consists of a plan with three aisles, with a caisson ceiling on central nave, and cross vaultings on the side ones (photo 1), according to a scheme previously adopted in other prestigious buildings in Naples, such as the Basilica of San Domenico Maggiore. The aisles are divided by pillars with a rectangular section, and semi-columns on three sides which support the ribs of the vaults on the side naves.

Photo 1: Naples, church of San Pietro a Majella, plan (from C. BRUZELIUS, The stones of Naples: church building in Angevine Italy, 1266 – 1343, New Haven and London, 2004).

Photo 1: Naples, church of San Pietro a Majella, plan (from C. BRUZELIUS, The stones of Naples: church building in Angevine Italy, 1266 – 1343, New Haven and London, 2004).

Photo 2: Naples, church of San Pietro a Majella, the interior.

Photo 2: Naples, church of San Pietro a Majella, the interior.

The existence of a straight apse, rather than “Cistercian suggestions”, seems to be related to the narrowness of the space behind, due to the presence of Vico Storto San Pietro a Majella, a winding road that separates the church from the convent of San Domenico Maggiore. This alley coincides with the ancient path that, passing through the oldest defensive walls in correspondence with Porta Donnorso (a no more existing gate, mentioned in Medieval documents as “Porta de domino Ursitate”), joined the city to the port and the Angevin Castle, seat of the Royal court. The oldest evidences state that the church had smaller dimensions than the current ones. Its façade was in alignment with the bell tower, whose base contains one of the two portals, the only one preserving its original Gothic shape (photo 3).

Photo 3: Naples, church of San Pietro a Majella, eastern side with the bell tower.

Photo 3: Naples, church of San Pietro a Majella, eastern side with the bell tower.

The church probably had a square plan. Between 14th and 15th centuries the church underwent several renovations. Two chapels were added at the opposite ends of the transept (the Leonessa Chapel along the northern transept, and the Pipino Chapel along the southern transept). The aisles were prolonged moving forward the façade. In order to advance these renovations, the Duke of Calabria, Alfonso of Aragon, released the huge amount of 2000 ducats to persuade the Celestine friars of Santa Caterina a Formiello (a church near Capuana Gate, along the eastern side of the 15th century defensive walls, near Piazza Garibaldi) to move to San Pietro a Majella monastery, in order to enlarge his dwelling in the surroundings.

The church was restored in Baroque style around the middle of 17th century, when some chapels were transformed. At the same time were executed the façade’s portal (photo 4), commissioned by Giovanna Zunica, Princess of Conca; the main altar, realized by Pietro and Bartolomeo Ghetti on a design by Cosimo Fanzago (photo 5); and the caisson ceiling, a precious carving of gilded wood, realized by Neapolitan craftsmen on a project by the Carthusian architect Bonaventura Presti (photo 6).

Photo 4: Naples, church of San Pietro a Majella, façade.

Photo 4: Naples, church of San Pietro a Majella, façade.

Photo 5: Naples, church of San Pietro a Majella, the main altar realized by Pietro and Bartolomeo Ghetti on a design by Cosimo Fanzago.

Photo 5: Naples, church of San Pietro a Majella, the main altar realized by Pietro and Bartolomeo Ghetti on a design by Cosimo Fanzago (from Napoli Sacra. Guida alle chiese della città, Vol. 7).

Photo 6: Naples, church of San Pietro a Majella, caisson ceiling (from Napoli Sacra. Guida alle chiese della città, Vol. 7).

Photo 6: Naples, church of San Pietro a Majella, caisson ceiling (from Napoli Sacra. Guida alle chiese della città, Vol. 7).

The caisson ceiling is one of the brighter works of Baroque art in Naples. In fact holds paintings by Mattia Preti, depicting Scenes from the life of Pietro from Morrone (the Pope Celestine 5th), into the ceiling above the aisles (photo 7); and Scenes from the life of St. Catherine of Alexandria into the ceiling above the transept. These paintings date back to the period from 1657 to 1659.

Photo 7: Mattia Preti, “Celestine 5th takes into possession of the papal seat, preceded by Charles 2nd D'Anjou with the cross”, Naples, church of San Pietro a Majella, painting in the caisson ceiling above the central aisle (from Napoli Sacra. Guida alle chiese della città, Vol. 7).

Photo 7: Mattia Preti, “Celestine 5th takes into possession of the papal seat, preceded by Charles 2nd D’Anjou with the cross”, Naples, church of San Pietro a Majella, painting in the caisson ceiling above the central aisle (from Napoli Sacra. Guida alle chiese della città, Vol. 7).

The frescoes of the chapels Pipino and Leonessa, located at the opposite ends of the transept, could be counted among the best expressions of Neapolitan painting of the 14th century. The Leonessa chapel, the one at the northern end, still preserves a large of part of its frescoes dating back to the middle of 14th century, at the time of the first restructure of the building. These frescoes could be divided in two superimposed bands: the lower band, with a sequence of circles containing busts of Saints (photo 8); and the higher band with Scenes from the life of St. Martin.

Photo 8:  Naples, church of San Pietro a Majella, Leonessa chapel, circle with the bust of the Magdalene.

Photo 8: Naples, church of San Pietro a Majella, Leonessa chapel, circle with the bust of the Magdalene.

Indeed, the star – sprangled sky decorating the cross vault holds circles with images of Saints and Doctors of Church.

The Pipino chapel – founded around the middle of 14th century by Giovanni Pipino, earl of Altamura and Minervino Murge, which died in 1356 (he should not be confused with the eponymous founder of the church) – opens on southern branch of the transept. This chapel holds a series of frescoes representing Scenes from the life of Christ of great stylistic quality. 

In this branch of the transept, between the first and second chapel, appears the image of the “Our Lady of Humility”, dating back to the middle of 14th century (photo 9).

Photo 9: Naples, church of San Pietro a Majella, Our Lady of the Humility.

Photo 9: Naples, church of San Pietro a Majella, Our Lady of the Humility.

From an architectural point of view, very interesting is the bell tower with five levels surmounted by a pyramidal spire (photo 3). It seems to reproduce, in its essential elements, the bell tower of the Cathedral in Lucera, a small town into the northern Apulia, near Foggia (http://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_cattedrale_di_Santa_Maria_Assunta_%28Lucera%29). At this purpose, could be very interesting to notice that the same founder of the church, Giovanni Pipino from Barletta, was appointed by Charles 2nd d’Anjou to exterminate the Saracen colony that the emperor Frederick 2nd of Swabia installed just in Lucera, whose cathedral still represents one of the best preserved patterns of gothic architecture in Southern Italy. This cathedral was probably founded by the same King of Naples Charles 2nd d’Anjou.

Walking towards Piazza San Gaetano, on left side we’ll find one of the most important evidences of Renaissance architecture in Naples: the Pontano chapel (photo 10). The importance of this chapel is due to its artistic, architectural and literary elements. The building – founded in 1490 from the humanist Giovanni Pontano to hold the mortal remains of his wife Adriana Sassone, who died during that year – has a rectangular plan, aisleless and covered with a barrel vault. The chapel preserves, in its inner space, a rare maiolica tiled floor dating back to the end of 15th century, and a “Madonna and Child” frescoed by the local painter Franesco Cicino above the altar that was due to conserve the precious relic of Livy’s arm, according to the wishes of its founder Giovanni Pontano.

Photo 10: Naples, Pontano chapel, façade.

Photo 10: Naples, Pontano chapel, façade.

The boundary walls are decorated with frames and pilaster strips dividing the surface in a sequence of rectangular panels holding windows. Besides, every window is flanked by memorial tablets in greek and latin, dictated by the same Giovanni Pontano. The chapel, resting on an high base (or stylobate), has also a crypt. The 18th century writer Bernardo de Dominici, in his Vite de’ pittori, scultori e architetti napoletani (Lives of neapolitan painters, sculptors and architects) has attributed the plan to Andrea Ciccione (a fanciful character more than a real person). The scholar Roberto Pane indeed ascribed the chapel’s plan to Fra’ Giocondo da Verona. Afterwards the same scholar attributed the plan to the Tuscan architect Francesco di Giorgio Martini.

On the same widening in front of the chapel, raises the monumental façade of Santa Maria Maggiore alla Pietrasanta, rebuilt during 17th century on the same site of an Early Christian basilica founded in 6th century BC by Pomponius, bishop of Naples, of which remains no visible traces. The name is due to the presence of a stone with a carved cross, on which was placed an image of the Virgin. But the most interesting monument looking upon the widening is the bell tower dating back to 10th or 11th century, rare evidence of Romanesque architecture in Naples (photo 11).

Photo 11: Naples, church of Santa Maria della Pietrasanta, bell tower.

Photo 11: Naples, church of Santa Maria della Pietrasanta, bell tower

We could consider this building as a kind of “patchwork”, built with various elements dating back to the period from the Roman to the High Middle Ages: two columns (photos 12 and 13); an altar (photo 14); an architectural frieze (photo 15), and the fragment of a channelled column with trabeation (photo 16). Into the inner walls of the barrel arch at the base of the bell tower were placed some lava stones used to pave streets in Roman Ages (photo 17).

Photo 12:   Naples, church of Santa Maria della Pietrasanta, bell tower, Roman column on the eastern side.

Photo 12: Naples, church of Santa Maria della Pietrasanta, bell tower, Roman column on the eastern side.

Photo 13:  Naples, church of Santa Maria della Pietrasanta, bell tower, Roman column on the western side.

Photo 13: Naples, church of Santa Maria della Pietrasanta, bell tower, Roman column on the western side.

Photo 14:  Naples, church of Santa Maria della Pietrasanta, bell tower, Roman altar.

Photo 14: Naples, church of Santa Maria della Pietrasanta, bell tower, Roman altar.

Photo 15:  Naples, church of Santa Maria della Pietrasanta, bell tower, architetural frieze from a Roman building.

Photo 15: Naples, church of Santa Maria della Pietrasanta, bell tower, architetural frieze from a Roman building.

Photo 16: Naples, church of Santa Maria della Pietrasanta, bell tower, fragment of a channelled column with trabeation.

Photo 16: Naples, church of Santa Maria della Pietrasanta, bell tower, fragment of a channelled column with trabeation.

Photo 17:  Naples, church of Santa Maria della Pietrasanta, bell tower, lava stones into the inner walls of the barrel arch.

Photo 17: Naples, church of Santa Maria della Pietrasanta, bell tower, lava stones into the inner walls of the barrel arch.

After few steps, crossing the intersection with via Nilo and via Atri, we can notice a trachyte – tuff arcade with lancet and barrel arches, the only trace of the “Palace of Philip D’Anjou” (photo 18) built by Philip D’Anjou – a member of the royal family of Naples, prince of Taranto and Emperor of the Eastern Latin Empire – at the time of his marriage with Catherine of Valois, daughter of the Latin Emperor Baldwin 2nd. Another trace is the marble portal with the coat of arms of the royal family at the top (photo 19). For those who want to deepen this subject, at the end of this article there’s a short bibliography.

Photo 18: Naples, Palace of Philip D'Anjou, arcade.

Photo 18: Naples, Palace of Philip D’Anjou, arcade.

Photo 19:   Naples, Palace of Philip D'Anjou, marble portal.

Photo 19: Naples, Palace of Philip D’Anjou, marble portal.

SHORT BIBLIOGRAPHY

V. REGINA, Napoli antica. Una splendida passeggiata tra i monumenti, le chiese, i palazzi, le strade, i luoghi perduti e le leggende popolari del centro antico di una città ricca di storia e di cultura, Roma 1994, pp. 124 – 134.

Napoli sacra. Guida alle chiese della città, Vol. 7, Napoli (2010).

P. L. DE CASTRIS, Arte di corte nella Napoli angioina, Firenze, Cantini 1986, pp. 408 – 447.

C. BRUZELIUS, The stones of Naples. Church Building in Angevin Italy, 1266 – 1343, New Haven and London, Yale University Press 2004.

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