The Sansevero Chapel

  • dipinto Pietà


    Unknown Artist, second half of the sixteenth century.

    There are no elements to allow attribution or a date for this painting representing the Pietà. The author was presumably a mediocre Neapolitan mannerist, and the work was created before 1590. It was around this date, according to the remarkable story of the historian d’Engenio Caracciolo, that the first miracle worked by the sacred image took place. The oval is framed in a fine starburst of stucco angels by Paolo Persico in 1769.

    Leaving the Pietà‘s artistic merit aside, its historical significance lies in its role in the foundation of the di Sangro Chapel itself. In the late 16th century, the Duke of Torremaggiore, Giovan Francesco, commissioned the first chapel to house this painting. The later expansion of the chapel would lead to the constuction of the Sansevero Chapel, also known as Santa Maria della Pietà. For much of the 17th century, the Pietà was situated in the where the Deposition is now, until Raimondo di Sangro relocated it above the altar and placed it within Persico’s starburst.

  • Ritratto Raimondo di Sangro

    Portrait of Raimondo di Sangro

    Carlo Amalfi, 1759 ca (?)

    Situated above the Tomb of the seventh Prince of Sansevero, the Portrait of Raimondo di Sangro is symmetrical to that of Vincenzo di Sangro which can be admired above the side entrance. The artist is Carlo Amalfi, but there is still some doubt about the date of execution. 1759, the year when the plaque beneath the picture was erected, seems possible, but it may well be later.

    Compared with the portrait of Vincenzo, also by Amalfi, that of Raimondo shows greater realism and a more attentive study of physiognomy and psychology. As art historian Rosanna Cioffi points out, the subject has no attributes alluding to his nobility, his military valour or his scientific and literary output (attributes sculpted in marble on his Tomb). The Prince, an elderly man, seems to stare at the spectator with a proud gaze, protected by a simple breastplate.

    The Portrait of Raimondo di Sangro is in a poor state of preservation, despite being the work of the same artist who portrayed Vincenzo using the same technique of oil on copper. This circumstance fuelled the popular imagination, whereby the image of the “accursed Prince” was destined to a sort of damnatio memoriae. In reality, it is likely that the painting is in particularly poor condition because of its location. Its setting is, in fact, beneath a small glass dome, which must have seen a lot of damage in the past, leaving the portrait exposed to the elements.

    Before this oval, Amalfi had done at least one other portrait of di Sangro, from which Ferdinando Vacca made a famous eighteenth-century engraving, which has fortunately survived. In it, Sansevero appears younger, with the sash and cross of the Order of San Gennaro, to which he was admitted in 1740. The iconographic documentation regarding the Prince of Sansevero has recently been enriched by Francesco De Mura’s Portrait of Raimondo di Sangro, exhibited for the first time in 2009 on the occasion of the exhibition Ritorno al Barocco. Da Caravaggio a Vanvitelli. The work, which was acquired by the Sansevero Chapel Museum in 2019, is currently on show in the sacristy.

  • Ritratto Vincenzo di Sangro

    Portrait of Vincenzo di Sangro

    Carlo Amalfi,, 1770s (?)

    Placed over the “small door” of the temple, the Portrait of Vincenzo di Sangro was long mistakenly considered to be an image of Prince Raimondo. Sources and documents leave no doubt as to the fact that the painting, work of the Sorrentine Carlo Amalfi, actually depicts Raimondo’s eldest son, born in 1743. If it is known that the urn and decorative context of the portrait were made before 1766, it is less certain when the portrait itself was painted, and a number of critics hypothesise the mid-seventies.

    Stolen during the restoration work of 1990, the painting was recovered in the July of 1991 and returned to its place.

    With this oil on copper, Amalfi, who had already painted the Portrait of Raimondo di Sangro, proved himself an able portrait artist. It is a three-quarter length portrait, showing Vincenzo in riding coat and wig. The red watered silk sash, that crosses over from his right shoulder to his left side, could be that of the Knights of the Order of San Gennaro (which would mean a date after 1776, the year when the eighth Prince of Sansevero was admitted to the prestigious equestrian order). To the left of Vincenzo are a number of books on which is resting a helmet, symbols clearly intended to exalt the culture and the warlike virtues of the Prince.

    The painting rests on a coffin and seems to be held up by three putti, while two others raise an enormous stucco mantle that makes up the background. There is no commemorative inscription. Vincenzo di Sangro married Gaetana Mirelli di Teora in 1765, was Gentleman of the Chamber from 1772 and – as we have already stated – Knight of the Order of San Gennaro. He had a brilliant military career, becoming Commodore of the Royal Navy. Universal heir to the family wealth, he did not complete the work on the Chapel which was still not finished when Raimondo died, probably because of economic difficulties.

    Even though the Description of the City of Naples by Giuseppe Sigismondo (1789) correctly identifies the subject of the portrait as Prince Vincenzo, throughout the nineteenth century most people thought it depicted Raimondo di Sangro. For this reason many prints were taken from this painting, showing the seventh Prince of Sansevero.

  • dipinto Madonna con bambino

    Madonna and Child

    Giuseppe Pesce, 1757

    The painting, dated and signed by the Roman Giuseppe Pesce, was done in 1757 on behalf of Raimondo di Sangro, who donated it to King Charles. This Madonna and Child was lost without trace for centuries, until in 2005 the current owners of the Sansevero Chapel tracked it down and purchased it for display in the Sacristy.

    Pesce, an artist who distinguished himself in Naples with a number of frescoes in the Church of Santa Chiara (destroyed during the 1943 bombings), produced an example of excellent workmanship, using paints made by di Sangro himself. The overall composition is in classical style, presumably due to the Roman origin of the painter. Particularly noteworthy is the brightness of the range of colours, due to the use of wax in the paint, which gives the surface the brilliant and smooth surface of a miniature.

    On the back is Raimondo di Sangro’s dedication, which emphasises his own role as “first inventor” of the tempera and wax technique. It reads: “To the most August Charles, King of the Two Sicilies and Jerusalem, Infante of Spain, Duke of Parma and Piacenza, Great Hereditary Prince of Tuscany, illustrious protector of the fine Arts, his Lord, Raimondo di Sangro, Prince of Sansevero, first inventor of the tempera and wax colour technique, donates, dedicates and consecrates this first exemplar”.

    The picture, which the King kept in his apartments, is also mentioned by the anonymous author of the Short note on what can be seen in the house of the Prince of Sansevero (1766), who describes it as a “painting with coloured wax in a fairer and more beautiful manner than that already invented by the Comte de Caylus of Paris”. The Madonna and Child is an example of the unusual relationship the Prince of Sansevero had with his artists: not simply a commission, but an actual collaboration, which in a number of cases led the artists to make use of the inventions of their patron.

  • dettaglio Ritratto di Raimondo di Sangro

    Portrait of Raimondo di Sangro

    Francesco De Mura, c. 1745-1755

    In remarkable testimony to the art of Francesco De Mura (Naples, 1696-1782), the painting represents a mature Raimondo di Sangro – proud, but at the same time good humoured. The red sash over his right shoulder, and the rich mantle that surrounds the figure, are insignia of the Order of Saint Januarius, a prestigious decoration conferred on the Prince in 1740. His magnificent armour recalls his military glory as Colonel of the Capitanata Regiment (from 1743) and protagonist of the valiant battle of Velletri. The blue and gold of the di Sangro coat of arms can be seen in the frill on the breastplate, which frames a lion’s head. The latter is also present in the portrait of Vincenzo, the Prince’s son, visible in the nave of the Sansevero Chapel.

    The facial features and marks of social distinction of the person portrayed have led to undisputed acceptance of identification as Raimondo di Sangro – first suggested by Katia Fiorentino on the occasion of the exhibition Ritorno al Barocco. Da Caravaggio a Vanvitelli (catalogue by N. Spinosa [ed.], Naples 2009). Indeed, as recently pointed out by Giuseppe Porzio, the figure depicted shares with the other two better-known portraits of the Prince of Sansevero “the same broad and rounded forehead, the perfectly oval face, and the large and expressive eyes that stand out above all the other features, namely the strong nose, the thin and tight-lipped mouth, and the double chin. All three portraits transmit great dignity that is at the same time agreeable” (Antichi maestri a Napoli. Dipinti del Sei e Settecento, G. Porzio [ed.], Naples 2019).

    The vigour with which the artist renders the drapery, together with the radiant hues of the palette, make this oil on canvas, acquired by the Museum in 2019 and displayed in the sacristy from 2020, “one of the peaks of elegance and refinement of form” (again Porzio) in the portraiture of De Mura, described by Bernardo De Dominici, his contemporary, as “most singular in this art”.