The Restorers at San Lorenzo Maggiore, Naples

thomas-struth-the-art-restorers-at-san-lorenzo-maggiore-naplesA 1988 photographic portrait of 4 restorers in Naples by Thomas Struth, currently on show in the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York.

Their website says of the image:

The setting..was the restorers’ current work place—the former refectory of a church then being used as a staging area for paintings from the surrounding area that had been damaged in a recent earthquake…Struth uses a large-format view camera on a tripod, which, with its oversize negatives and slow exposure time allows for a tremendous amount of detail, and the shallow depth of field subtly pushes the four figures into the space of the viewer.

Click on the image above for the full HD photograph.

A Sunday poem for an exiled Empress

Seated Agrippina

Agrippina the Younger was a Roman force to be reckoned with: great-granddaughter of Augustus, adopted granddaughter of debauched Tiberius, sister of mad Caligula (who she may have slept with), wife of slobbering Claudius (who she may have poisoned) and mother of tyrannical Nero.  The British Archeologist Mary Beard wrote that ‘Agrippina was probably the best connected woman that the Roman world ever saw ‘ and she was one of the most ruthless, described by ancient texts as beautiful but ‘ambitious, violent and domineering’, utterly determined to make her son, Nero, Emperor by all means available.  Having succeeded, in an ensuing power struggle with her son, she was exiled to the port of Misenum, now Miseno, near Naples before being bumped off in AD59 aged 43.

Above is a photograph of the famous statute known as Seated Agrippina which is in the Naples Archeological Museum.  It may or may not be her.  But when visiting Naples in the mid 19th Century, the American Herman Melville, writer of Moby Dick, wrote:

In hall of Naples here, withall I stood,
Before the pale mute-speaking stone
Of seated Agrippina – she
The truest woman that ever wed
In tragic widowhood transfixed;
In cruel craft exiled from Rome
To gaze on Naples’ sunny bay,
More sharp to feel her sunless doom,
O ageing face, O youthful form,
O listless hand in idle lap,
And, ah, what thoughts of God and man!

A rather sympathetic portrayal of a ruthless operator.  A rundown Roman ruin in Miseno is known as Agrippina’s tomb.

Io Amo Napoli!

Marcello Mastroianni Marriage Italian style (1964)- A greying, sick man sits on a beach on a southern shore and speaks warmly about Naples.  Marcello Mastroianni, the incomparable and very cool post-war Italian actor, notes that ‘the strength of the Neapolitan is their character, in their nature, in their traditions’.  He continues:

‘Io amo Napoli. E’ la città meno americanizzata d’Italia anzi d’Europa. Una volta a Roma,mentre passeggiavo,qualcuno alle mie spalle disse:”Ammazza le rughe,come s’è invecchiato!”, invece a Napoli uno mi si avvicinò così:” Marcellì, ce simmo fatt’ viecchiarell,eh? ‘o volite nu cafe?” :che garbo,che gentilezza d’animo…Napoli va presa come una città unica,molto intelligente: Napoli è troppo speciale quindi non la possono capire tutti’.

Translation and video below. Continue reading

A Sunday poem: ‘Stanzas Written in Dejection, near Naples’

The Bay of Naples from space

The English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was in Naples from 29 November 29 1818 until 28 February 1819.  He was at a low ebb: he was ill and estranged from his wife Mary over the death earlier in the year of his daughter Clara.  His first wife, Harriet Westbrook, and Mary Shelley’s half sister, Fanny Inlay, had both committed suicide and his two children by Harriet had been taken off him by the courts.  His friends had turned against him and his poetry was neglected by the public and condemned by the critics.  And he was plagued by financial and personal problems. The beauty of the Bay of Naples could not lift his mood and the depressive tone of this poem reflects this.

‘The sun is warm, the sky is clear,
The waves are dancing fast and bright,
Blue isles and snowy mountains wear
The purple noon’s transparent might,
The breath of the moist earth is light,
Around its unexpanded buds;
Like many a voice of one delight,
The winds, the birds, the ocean floods,
The City’s voice itself, is soft like Solitude’s.

I see the Deep’s untrampled floor
With green and purple seaweeds strown;
I see the waves upon the shore,
Like light dissolved in star-showers, thrown:
I sit upon the sands alone,—
The lightning of the noontide ocean
Is flashing round me, and a tone
Arises from its measured motion,
How sweet! did any heart now share in my emotion.

Continue reading

Viva, Viva La Befana!


Le Befane

Last night, as we packed away our Christmas decorations for another year, Italian children hung their stockings and awaited the arrival of a special visitor, Befana, a kindly and very ugly witch.  In Italian folklore, Befana drops in at Italian homes on the eve of Epiphany and leaves presents: nice gifts for good children and coal (now black sweets) for naughty ones.

A popular rhyme goes:

La Befana vien di notte
con le scarpe tutte rotte
con le toppe alla sottana
Viva, viva la Befana!

There was a nice vibe in Naples today.  Family groups promenaded together along Lungomare in the glorious sunshine, and street entertainers amused the children (both the good and the not so good).  A fitting last holiday before the year’s work starts tomorrow as ‘L’Epifania tutte le feste si porta via‘.


Napule è…

Here Pino Daniele, a legendary Neapolitan singer-songwriter and guitarist who died last night, sings his own tribute to his city alongside Eric Clapton. The mayor of Naples said this morning:

‘Pino è Napoli, legame infinito e indistruttibile, come il suono e la voce della sua musica’

Translation of the lyrics via Napoli Unplugged:Napule E..