The Prince of Sansevero His relationship with artists

A generous and exacting patron

Raimondo di Sangro finally settled definitively in Naples in the mid-thirties of the eighteenth century, and soon began restoring the ancestral palace and adjacent mausoleum. From the subsequent decades and up to 1771, the residence in Largo San Domenico Maggiore and the Sansevero Chapel were constant building sites, as the hundreds of documents conserved in the Historical Archive of the Bank of Naples and the District Deeds Office show. The number of artists and craftsmen employed by the Prince is remarkable: engineers and architects, painters and sculptors, plasterers and carpenters, smelters and even “bellmakers” found work at the Chapel.

He was an extremely generous patron, but also demanding, and careful about protecting his interests. Examination of payment papers and – even more so – the deeds shows maniacal attention to detail in the description of work to be done and a long series of guarantee clauses by the contractor. Despite these precautions, on more than one occasion, Raimondo di Sangro was dissatisfied with the work carried out, and there were various clashes with the artists he employed.

Different artists working on a single project

Despite already starting the reorganisation of the Sansevero Chapel, it was only in 1750 – according to Giangiuseppe Origlia – that Raimondo di Sangro conceived its overall iconographic design. In that year, he called Antonio Corradini (1668-1752) as master of the works, a famous Venetian sculptor formerly in the service of the Emperor Charles VI. On the death of Corradini, his position was entrusted in November 1752 to the Genoese Francesco Queirolo (1704-1762), who had already done some sculptures in Rome. The relationships between the Prince and Queirolo, however, turned sour, and a scandalous legal battle ensued. In the last years of his life, the Prince entrusted the supervision of works to the Neapolitan architect and sculptor Francesco Celebrano (1729-1814).

In addition to the above-mentioned names, we recall Giuseppe Sanmartino (1720-1793), a Neapolitan sculptor who made for the Prince, other than the Veiled Christ, some fine plaster work in the courtyard of Palazzo Sansevero, and the Sorrentine Paolo Persico (1729-1780), who, while working for di Sangro, matured so much as to later be called by the Bourbons to contribute to the splendid decorative sculpture of the Royal Palace in Caserta. Also not to be forgotten is Francesco Russo, an artist of whom little is known, who – before creating the splendid fresco of the Sansevero Chapel – had already worked under the direction of the Prince in the ante-sacristy of the Chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro.

The Sansevero Chapel: the Prince’s intellectual legacy

It is probable, in any case, that none of these people really knew the details of di Sangro’s design, nor were they apprised of the symbolic meaning of the Virtues of which they were gradually completing the allegorical path imagined by the Prince. Painters and sculptors, furthermore, sometimes made use of the inventions of their patron in their work. An example is the colours used by Russo or Giuseppe Pesce, or the particular method used for the engraving on the Tomb of Raimondo di Sangro. For these reasons, in the Sansevero Chapel, more than in any other monument, one notices the presence of a patron who, at times overshadowing any single artistic presence, authoritatively imposes himself, transmitting energy, coherence, awe, and a European taste to the whole work.