Sculpture from the Cappella di San Severo

The Cappella di San Severo in Naples is today a small museum that was originally founded as a funerary chapel in the late 16th century for the noble di Sangro family, princes of Sansevero. Raimondo di Sangro, the seventh Prince of Sansevero (1710-71) was a generous patron of the arts and commissioned most of the incredible sculpture that has made the chapel famous.  I was fortunate enough to visit Naples this past April and see these fantastic works of art in person.  While the chapel had been around since the 1500's, the sculpture created in the mid-1700's is what the Cappella di San Severo is famous for today.

As Donald Posner wrote in the book 17th and 18th Century Art:

"The ideals of the eighteenth century brought about significant changes in Italian sculpture.  The baroque style was gradually transformed into a version of the Rococo as sculptors tended to stress elegance, lightness, and wit in their work." 1


Christo Velato, Giuseppe Sanmartino, 1753

This statement is found to be true when visiting this chapel. Raimondo di Sangro commissioned the renowned Venetian sculptor Antonio Corradini to carve a veiled Christ in marble as well as other sculptures to add to the chapel.  The internationally known Corradini had been working in Germany and Austria and came to Naples in 1750 to work on this project.  However the artist died in 1752 after creating his sculpture ModestyModesty, which was also a veiled figure, was a tribute to Raimondo's mother Cecilia Gaetani.

When Corradini died before sculpting the Christo Velato (the figure of the veiled Christ after the Crucifixion) Giuseppe Sanmartino was commissioned in his place to create this work.  Sanmartino was a young Neapolitan sculptor with less experience but who had a strong vision of what Christ should look like.

Sanmartino's sculpture is very strong in it's workmanship, a single block of alabaster carved to realistically convey the dead body of Christ as seen through a thin piece of fabric.  Through the cloth Christ's wounds, muscles and even veins can be seen.  As I walked around the work I found that the figure looked different from every angle.  I couldn't help but wonder what the artist used as a model as he carved this as it is so incredibly lifelike.


Disillusion, Francesco Queirolo, 1753-54

When I saw this in person I found this to be a very moving work of art.  I was surprised that until I visited the museum in Naples I hadn't heard of this sculpture and that it wasn't more widely known.  I found both the Christo Velato and Francesco Queirolo's Disillusion (seen above) to be some of the most original and well executed sculpture I have seen.

Francesco Queirolo's Disillusion was dedicated to Raimondo's father Antonio, the Duke of Torremaggiore.  The sculptor Queirolo, who was originally from Genoa, has created an unbelievably complex composition.  Out of one block of marble the artist convincingly created a figure emerging from a net with two very different textures; human flesh and the rope of the net.

The small winged figure is an allegory of Intellect helping the figure of Humanity to shed the Net of Disillusion.  Again, in person this sculpture makes a very powerful impact.

As the Museum website says of the chapel and Raimondo di Sangro's influence:

"Each individual work, in fact, had to play a unique role in the overall iconographic design that he had conceived, and which the artists themselves were probably unaware of. It is for this reason that in the Sansevero Chapel, more than in any other complex, there is the sense of patronage which, sometimes overwhelming the individual artistic presence, dominates and gives off energy, coherence, a sense of awe, and lends a European air to the whole complex." 2



1 Held, Julius S. and Donald Posner. 17th and 18th Century Art: Baroque Painting, Sculpture, Architecture. New York: Prentice-Hall Inc., and Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (1972) p. 355.

2 http://www.museosansevero.it/inglese/cappellasansevero/cappella/fastosettecento.html


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