Atlantis Alumni

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Great Museum In Naples

Our ship’s next stop, Naples, appeared with its sheltered harbor, early Monday morning. Note Jim’s photos of the Castel Nuovo (the oldest in the city, built 700 years ago) and the Palazzo Reale or royal palace. Jim was put out of sorts by hucksters who wanted us to take their taxis to places like Pompeii, the Amalfi coast or extensive city tours. Naples is a city with vast multitudes and everyone has a racket. We edged away from the port and found a taxi near the opera house, the famed Teatro San Carlo, where once, many years ago we saw the great ballerina Carla Fracci dance the title role in “La Peri,” a masterpiece of 19th century Romanticism. In Italian I asked the taxi driver how much he wanted to take us to the Museo di Capodimonte, the city’s leading art museum. He told me 15 Euros, but while he drove the long distance to the large park, Jim noticed a card in the back seat of the cab that listed our drive as costing 11 Euros. So that’s what Jim handed the taxi driver when we got out. He was surprised but I mentioned the list price and he shrugged. That’s the way things are in the third largest city in Italy. The Capodimonte museum is famed for three things: it’s one of the largest royal palaces in Italy; it was also the site of a porcelain factory in the 18th century; and it houses some of the finest art in the city. I enjoyed seeing masterpieces by Giovanni Bellini, Titian, Artemisia Gentileschi, Ribera and others. In Parmigianino’s portrait of “Antea” a weasel leans down a lady’s arm, which is covered by a huge silk sleeve. At first you think the animal is simply a fur piece. But then you notice the animal’s sharp white teeth, the lady’s gloved hand and the gold chain around the beast’s neck. The weasel’s bright eyes pierce the viewer’s consciousness as much as do the young woman’s—both amaze you with their intense stares from the 16th century. Another favorite painting was Brueghel’s “The Blind Leading the Blind.” We think of that old saw as a pre-conceived phrase, but Brueghel saw the parable in visual terms. He shows us a row of rag-tag beggars leading one another by walking sticks held shoulder-high. But the first blind man tumbles down into a ditch, even as all the others still stumble on. Is this not like life itself, one asks oneself? Jim enjoyed the period rooms, full of mirrors, candles and porcelain walls. And we both loved the great, late Caravaggio painting, the “Flagellation of Christ.” In this spectacular, large work the great early Baroque master shows Christ tied almost naked against a column, as three tormentors bind his hands and one is ready with the birch branch to whip the helpless victim. Though some light illuminates the tormentor to our left, with his crude and callous features, most of the light falls directly on the holy figure’s splendidly painted torso. This is not only Baroque theater, but also cruelty and forgiveness woven into an endlessly fascinating play of dark and light. –Dan

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