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Raimondo di Sangro Prince of Sansevero (Torremaggiore 1710 – Naples 1771) was an original exponent of the first European Enlightenment. A brave soldier, man of letters, publisher, first Grand Master of Neapolitan Masonry, he was – more than anything else – a prolific and enterprising inventor and patron.
In the underground laboratories of his palace, in Largo San Domenico Maggiore, the Prince dedicated himself to experiments in the most disparate fields of the sciences and the arts, from chemistry to hydrostatics, from typography to mechanics, obtaining results which appeared “prodigious” to his contemporaries. Because of his mainly esoteric conception of knowledge, di Sangro was, however, always reluctant to reveal the “secret” details of his inventions.
His intellectual output has therefore passed to posterity above all thanks to the rich symbolism of the Sansevero Chapel, a glory of world art, of whose impressive iconographic design the Prince was the ingenious creator. Part of his output was also committed to writing, especially the Lettera Apologetica, a work which caused a stir both on account of its typographic excellence and its controversial subject matter, so much so as to be judged “a sink of heresy” and, as such, banned by the Church of Rome.
Sometimes considered a successor of the alchemist tradition and a “great initiate”, other times an interpreter of the emergent modern science, Raimondo di Sangro fed a veritable myth about his own person, which would last throughout the centuries. With his multifaceted activities, still today wrapped in an aura of mystery, he embodied the cultural ferments and the dreams of grandeur of his generation. The inscription on his tomb describes him as an “extraordinary man, gifted in all he dared to undertake […] a famous investigator into the most recondite mysteries of Nature”.