The Prince of Sansevero What has been said of him

  • He is of the line of a most noble family of the princes of the Kingdom of Naples, and takes his name, Prince of Sansevero, from that of his feud. He stands out for his singular, wonderful, and one might say, miraculous, genius. He seems to be wholly immersed in philosophical studies. He carries out new experiments every day […] He knows the most diverse foreign languages, but first and foremost he cultivates the very highest eloquence and purity of the Italian language. With his passionate lust for fame and vain glory, in the preface of his Lettera Apologetica he reveals how he is driven by this ambition, going so far as to consider himself almost the author of some new doctrine […] He is a diligent scholar and admirer of heretical writers, especially those among the British who introduce the idea of freedom and religious indifference.

    Censure of the Congregation of the Index of Forbidden Books of Il Conte di Gabalì and the Lettera Apologetica (29th February, 1752).
    Frontespizio dell'Indice dei libri proibiti - testo in latino
  • Now these works, and all those so far discovered of such an illustrious Personage, to whom we have briefly referred here, lead us to hope for yet greater things to come, and it will be understood by all without the slightest doubt, that he is one of those heroes that Nature occasionally delights to produce in order to magnify Her greatness

    Giangiuseppe Origlia Paolino, Istoria dello Studio di Napoli, Naples 1753-54.
    dettaglio libro Istoria dello studio di Napoli
  • I was friends with the Prince of San Severo, Don Raimondo di Sangro […] This gentleman is short in stature, with a large head, of a handsome and jovial aspect, a philosophical mind, and much given to mechanics: his manner is of the sweetest and most endearing: a scholar and retiring, he loves the conversation of men of letters. If he did not have the fault of a vivid imagination, which sometimes leads him to believe improbable things, he might be considered one of the perfect philosophers. He was an intimate friend of Their Majesties, but his apologia, De Quipue, written with a degree of freedom greater than the theologians found agreeable, and then his being found to be the head of the Freemasons of Naples, aroused great enmity among the clerics, and especially Cardinal Spinelli, that he lost no occasion to justify his previous actions, which had diminished him in the opinion of the King

    Antonio Genovesi, Autobiography, c. 1755-56 (ed. cit. : Milan, 1962).
    ritratto Raimondo di Sangro
  • Speaking of the arts, we believe that we must make separate mention of Raimondo di Sangro, who without professing any of them, illustrated many with his taste and his inventions. One might say of him what Fontenelle said of another man of letters, that he contained in himself an entire academy […] If Raimondo had wanted to make a greater appearance in the republic of letters and the fine arts […] perhaps none would have shone more brightly than him. But he did not aspire to be an author: he revealed a few secrets to his friends, while others died with him, or lie undiscovered in some corner of his house.

    Giuseppe Maria Galanti, Breve descrizione della città di Napoli e del suo contorno, Naples 1792.
    dettaglio testo Breve descrizione della città di Napoli
  • While he followed the way of Mars, / his mind turned to things sublime / of new mysteries a frequent observer / upon these he shone his genius and art. / / But such attentions remained obscure in part, / considered dreams by the learned; / loosed the brake of his fervent imagination / signs he invented without marking paper. / / And great buildings, and a Temple adorned with beauteous works, / emulating the Achaean chisel / he built, yet their completion was to him denied. / / Thus destiny frustrates and makes vain / our thoughts, and seated atop the tomb, / sinister she scoffs at human designs.

    Carlantonio de Rosa di Villarosa, Ritratti poetici di alcuni uomini di lettere antichi e moderni del Regno di Napoli, Naples 1834.
  • The Prince of San Severo was without doubt […] a cultured and ingenious man. He did not become a name in the history of knowledge, but gave rise to variously fantastic legends, because he made a secret of his finds, loving to amaze his peers. Thus, he found a way of colouring marbles, but did not publish the method he used […] In the absence of published works, then, there remains the tradition of which, less the imaginary and the exaggerated, it must be said that the Prince of Sansevero did many things in order to be admired by his contemporaries, but cared little for the judgment of posterity.

    Luigi Settembrini, Lezioni di letteratura italiana, Naples 1866-1872.
    Ritratto di Raimondo di Sangro - Carlo Amalfi
  • He was a man of vast, strange and versatile genius. Born in 1710, he was educated in the Roman Seminary, returning at the age of twenty to Naples. Many things are told of him: he was versed in the physical, chemical, artistic and military sciences. He knew Greek, Hebrew, Syriac and Arabic, studied the most celebrated Theologians, pondered on the Fathers of the Church, and was the inventor of the chromolithograph, printing several colours with one stroke of the press. He received several honours at the battle of Velletri, and was eager to undertake, keen to accomplish, curious to investigate, and easy to find, dying in 1771

    Gennaro Aspreno Galante, Guida sacra della città di Napoli, Naples 1872.
  • Tactics, military inventions, pyrotechnical inventions (sea-green, emerald green, ruby, pavonazzo, and the yellow that we admire today in pinwheels were discovered by him, as well as whistling rockets and others, for which it seems the secret is lost, “with a clear and distinct singing of birds, which certainly without other aid was produced by the fire itself”), hydraulic, architecture, artistic inventions. His study of ancient and modern languages, philosophy, theology, history and the ancient world, did not prevent him from finding the time to indulge in writing the lettera apologetica and the invention of the new Quipu alphabet, with only the name and the memories remaining of the old one.

    Luigi Capuana, Don Raimondo di Sangro, from Libri e teatro, Catania 1892.
    Tavola n. 3 - Lettera apologetica
  • Stray flames, infernal lights – the people said – could be seen behind the huge ground floor windows overlooking Sansevero alley […] The flames would disappear, the darkness would return, and behold, dull and prolonged noises could be heard inside […] What went on then, in the underground parts of the palace? It was from there that the noise came: closeted there with his aides, the Prince composed fantastic mixtures, wearing blazing mittens to fire […] exquisite porcelain and pottery of all kinds. There he would blend ground colours for print and make the presses squeal, presses manufactured, according to his own instructions, so as to print several colours on the sheet at once […] This man was of great ingenuity and spirit: if I am not mistaken, he used the former for his enjoyment more than anything else, and the other to make fun of all. It is also, and above all, for this that he deserved to go down in history.

    Salvatore Di Giacomo, Un signore originale, da Celebrità napoletane, Trani 1896.
  • And who other is the Prince of Sansevero, or the ‘Prince’ par excellence, in Naples, for the populace on the streets surrounding the Sangro Chapel, full of amazing and baroque works of art, if not the Neapolitan embodiment of Dr Faustus or the magician Pietro Barliario of Salerno, who made a pact with the devil, and became a quasi-devil himself, in order to master the most hidden secrets of nature or do things that push the laws of nature to the extreme?

    Benedetto Croce, Storie e leggende napoletane, Bari 1919.
    Benedetto Croce - foto
  • The best representatives of the nobility […] had, since the end of the seventeenth century dedicated themselves to study, as seen in the person of Tiberio Carafa, man of letters, politician, patriot and conspirator, and, in the course of the next century, counted among its ranks Raimondo di Sangro, Prince of Sansevero , and Gaetano Filangieri […] together with several other writers of science, economics and politics, and many others who were not writers, but took a variously active part in the new thinking and doing.

    Benedetto Croce, Storia del Regno di Napoli, Bari 1925.