Having finally finished reporting on July’s Leeds conference (and not even being the last to do so) leaves me now free to leap forward two months in a single bound, leaving me only four behind from reality, and talk about a conference I went to in September, to wit: Digital Diplomatics 2011. The organiser of this, I will admit, largely got me to participate by pointing that it would be (a) in Naples and (b) largely expenses-paid. I was practically packing at that point, because compensations for academic drudgery are sometimes hard to find and that seemed like a good one. But, following the practice of my last (and first) jaunt to Italy for similar purposes, I made sure to leave at least some little time for sight-seeing too, because I have been to too many exciting places and spent my time there in a conference venue drinking bad coffee. (And in Italy drinking bad coffee is kind of a felony.) So even before I got to the conference, having made more or less sure I could find it (wrongly, as it happened, but I had help by then so it was OK), I took the time to take a look round with a camera.
I really took to Naples. My kind of city appears to be one that’s scummy enough that it suggests you could survive and even enjoy yourself if you were poor, that has people having fun in it in the evenings, and ideally has plentiful Italian food and wine in it, so I may need to learn more Italian and advance my intent for a Sicilian comparative project, as plotted here years ago. Naples – well, scummy isn’t the word, the whole city really really needs a clean, but it is full of people having fun and the food was easy to find good and cheap. It may have helped with this impression that I was in the city the evening the Napoli football team beat Inter Milan, but you know, I’ve been in cities where the local team winning means an outbreak of civic violence and window-breaking, not (as here) spontaneous Vespa parades including stupidly dangerous jumps from scooter pillion to scooter pillion on the move. (There appears to be no public space into which Neapolitan youth will not try to get on the back of a Vespa.) It was all kind of great, if dirty and poorly-maintained. But this is not a tourism blog so I will just concentrate on the medieval stuff for a few photos, which I’ll stick below a cut. But let me at least show you this:
I never even found out what this building was, though some poking at maps now suggests it is part of the Palazzo Reale enclosing the Piazza del Plebiscito, very democratic, but there was much more to be seen here.
The first medieval thing I found to get excited about was the church of Santa Chiara, which is opposite a quite different modern affair, the Chiesa del Gesù nuovo. That was also incredible, but in a completely different way, full of gilt, every surface covered in painting, impossible to look in any direction without being distracted and sucked in by splendour – but not even slightly medieval and with extremely stiff photography restrictions clearly posted that I didn’t feel up to defying. At Santa Chiara they were feeling much more indulgent:
and so I got more to work with. It is a big church, and essentially single-naved, albeit with side-chapels. Everything I’ve found to read about calls it Gothic, or Provençal-Gothic, but I’m not seeing it: it’s massive, basilical, has a wooden roof and so on, despite the pointy windows, I want to claim it for Team Romanesque. There’s probably a good reason why that’s wrong, and maybe it was more Gothic before it was bombed out in 1943 and rebuilt in the early 1950s, but I didn’t know that then, and I thought (and think) it was great. It’s also so closely surrounded by other buildings, as so often with city churches, that from the ground you can’t really get its shape into a camera from outside.
Happily the inside of the nave more or less makes it clear what’s going on where. Above you see that east end done in closer-up, and the thing here that I haven’t seen elsewhere, I don’t know how unusual it is, is the stand-alone shrines behind the altar. There were also a couple of these near the entrance, which allowed one to get a closer look at how they were done.
So as you can tell I was very much taken with Santa Chiara, but there is far far more in this city than I managed to see. Some enduring highlights, aside from the promenade above, were this building that faced it, which turns out to be the face of the Palazzo Reale but in the evening lighting just made me think that centuries of skulduggery and intrigue could have been played out there:
And, you know, that may not be wrong. And then this, which was from the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, where I probably shouldn’t have been photographing, but who could stop themselves faced with this?
The Museo was interesting for a couple of reasons, but both slightly negative ones for me at least. Firstly, it was almost entirely Classical sculpture or if not sculpture, other Roman cultural material. I do realise that Pompeii is just across the bay and so forth, and that Naples was important then, but you could be forgiven for thinking that as far as the curators were concerned (and despite the line of medieval and modern kings of Naples buried in Santa Chiara) nothing of cultural note had happened here since about 200 CE, and very little before 200 BC (not least as the Egyptian gallery was undergoing renovation and the numismatic one was shut). Some of it—lots of it— is gorgeous, and in the case of a display of basically the contents of a whole villa that takes up much of the second floor (a place called the Villa of the Papyri, whose owners appear to have made so much milling papyrus there that they could afford a truly lavish range of domestic sculpture, both of which aspects were documented in the objects on display), really extremely interesting, but I went a long way up and round this building looking for anything medieval, and the only post-Roman thing in there as far as I could see was the statue of Charles III, the Bourbon monarch who gave them a lot of the collection. However, upstairs, as well as a Gabinetto Segreto that we were supposed to sign into to see (but with no-one on guard people of all ages and dispositions were wandering in anyway), I also found this:
This engaging fellow had travelled a long way to be here, in as much as this was part of a small gallery display proudly announcing the fact that the Museo had successfully reclaimed its contents from the J. Paul Getty Museum in the United States. The vibrant colours with which the display was set up, however, were rather contradicted by the fact that none of the objects had any signage or description, that in a room twice the size of my office they had only six items, I think, and that they were in the most inaccessible part of the Museum. I couldn’t help but feel that the Getty had probably loved these things more. Anyway. Obviously, as an ex-museum type whose old place of employ had several colleagues banned from Egypt on account of its holdings, I have a stance here, and it doesn’t need to come out now. Obviously as we’ve already established I absolutely wasn’t creeping round taking unauthorised photos and even if I’d seen something world-famous and iconic I certainly wouldn’t have grabbed a shot and then hidden my camera again as quickly as possible. That would have been someone else. Even if it had been this:
I’m glad we’ve got that clear. There will be further medievalist photos as I turn to the actual conference, for reasons that will be made clear in the telling, but for now that’s enough I think. Enjoy!