Michelangelo Merisi called Caravaggio arrived in Naples in 1606 on the run having killed a young man in a brawl in Rome. His fame and radicalism as an artist preceded him and he was quickly commissioned by a group of young, charity-minded noblemen for work at the Pio Monte della Misericordia church in the Centro Storico. The local worthies originally wanted a depiction of the Seven Works of Mercy — seven different acts of kindness from the Gospel of Matthew — on seven separate panels around the church. What they got was a single composition unlike any other painted before: a deeply religious painting embedded in a grim Naples alley scene, the combined figures emerging from the darkness.
Antonio Gramsci was a diminutive Italian Marxist theorist and founder of the Italian Communist Party who was imprisoned for 11 years by Mussolini. Gramsci is famously associated with the phrase, ‘pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will’. In February 1917, at the age of 26, he was the editor of ‘La Citta Futura‘ a recruiting newspaper for the Socialist party and he wrote this impassioned piece ‘I hate the indifferent‘ in an attempt to shake readers from the torpor that he thought infected the Italian spirit.
In the middle of a little square to the west of the Centro Storico is this statue of Vincenzo Berlini, the Neapolitan composer, who was associated with the Naples Conservatory of Music. When you wander along Via Tribunali, you can often hear music wafting from the windows of San Pietro a Majella church, today’s nearby home of the conservatory. The statue used to have four smaller females statues around it, now long stolen or vanished. Berlini here only has a pigeon, a tourist and graffiti for company.
Lonely Planet describe the square as ‘eclectic, bar-lined..roguish and raffish’. It is very busy on Saturday evenings when it is filled with locals, students and artists. A place to hang out for the young and also those young at heart and a good spot for an aperitif.
Lemon trees here in the south, and especially on the Amalfi coast, are rightly famous and grow everywhere. We have two in the garden which bear fruit for most of the year. I was looking for a light Summer desert menu with a lemony zing and decided upon this simple but stunning tart from the Two Greedy Italians – Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo. Both from near Naples, they cooked the dish outside on a terrace high above Amalfi.
The recipe uses candied cedro, a citrus fruit from the south of Italy, with pungent lemon zest sprinkled on the finished tart. But you can use candied lemon peel too. The result, as shown above, is a very light, delicate tart which is lovely either on its own or, as recommended by the cooks, with Summer poached pears. This version is from the BBC website.
The Tavola Strozzi, or Strozzi Table, is a oil on canvas picture of Aragonese Naples of the 15th century. Rediscovered in the early 20th century and used as a bed board, it is the earliest depiction of the city and is in the collection of the city’s San Martino museum. It shows the triumphant return of the Aragonese fleet after the victory against the Angevin pretender, John of Anjou, which occurred off the island of Ischia.
The level of detail is incredible. Taken from a sea perspective, the picture shows the castles, fortifications, gates, towers and churches of the medieval city. A line of warships re-enter the harbour in the morning. Key city landmarks such as Castle dell’Ouvo, Castle Nouvo, Castle Sant’Elmo, the Duomo, Santa Chiara and San Domenico Maggiore are clearly visible in the background.