In conversation with Lucy Cleland.
WEDS 27th MARCH, 5 - 6.30pm
Faded Grandeur and Fabled Pizza
I had the good fortune to spend the day in Naples to view a collection of Attic style vases, which were made in this city in the 18th and 19th centuries as tourist’s mementoes for visitors doing the European “Grand Tour”. The richest visitors invariably bought the ‘real thing’, as many Attic and Appulian vases were being uncovered back then and sold to the highest bidder. The canny Neapolitans knew that this was a limited source of supply, so started making gorgeous copies of these vases for the more modestly wealthy visitors. Anyhow, vases appearing soon at Guinevere hopefully.
I didn’t have the luxury of making a long weekend of it, so it was the 6am flight out for me, followed by the
evening flight back – Oh the glamour! Still, I knew that my business would be concluded by lunchtime, so I planned a leisurely stroll through the Centro Storico and Spaccanapoli areas, finishing with a tour of the Capodimonte museum, which I had never visited before, and is home to Caravagio’s Flagellation of Christ – considered to be one of the most influential paintings of the late Renaissance, and a work that I have wanted to see for a long time.
I started my stroll at the Piazza del Plebiscito , a grand public square which is very un-Neapolitan in its scale and sense of space – surrounded by imperious colonnaded buildings including the Royal Palace.
Suitably impressed, I wandered up the insanely busy Via Toledo, flanked on the left by the Spanish Quarter with it’s narrow streets which lead tantalizingly up to Castel St Elmo and San Martino – The Spanish Quarter has a difficult reputation due to it’s historic ties to the Camorra, and it’s still not a good idea to wander around there looking too ostentatious!
I was beginning to feel peckish, and I had spent a lot of the previous weekend researching where I was going to eat my lunchtime pizza. Pizza in Naples is a bit of a religion – it is said that the worst pizza in Naples will be better than the best pizza anywhere else in the world, and I think I agree. Also, Neapolitans think that five euros is expensive for a pizza, and actively boycott posh pizzerias – so, you get to eat one of the best snacks on earth for the price of a moldy London sandwich – not bad. Anyhow, all my research went out the window as I spied a few outside tables by a pizzeria in Piazza Carrita, plonked myself down and ordered a Margherita and a beer – it was predictably sensational but set me back 8 euros! I obviously wasn’t blending in.
A little further up Via Toledo, I turned right up the succession of streets which make up Spaccanapoli, which is one of the three historical Greco-Roman roads which run east to west across the city. This was chaos on a grand scale – absolutely barking. The street is impossibly narrow, with some of the higher floors looking as if they’re about to touch balconies. Traditional shops, pizzerias, cafes, pasticcerias, butchers, fishmongers and plenty of shouting occupy the street level, sometimes housed under grand arches, but always a bit grimy, not at all sanitized. I was tempted to go for another pizza but knew that I would not make it up the hill to the Capodimonte with two pizzas on board.
The Capodimonte is a grand 18th century Bourbon palace with towering views over the city. It’s surrounded by tranquil gardens, and is built around a traditional central courtyard. The famous old masters collection includes works by Titian, Masaccio, Mantegna, Raphael, Botticelli, Bellini etc etc reads like a role call of Neapolitan renaissance artists – and some who were just passing through. It really is a fine setting to see these extraordinary works, and I had the place pretty much to myself – no crowds with noisy guides and no selfie sticks!
There are some astounding staterooms with mind boggling furnishings and works of art including “The Porcelain Room” which is entirely constructed from 18thC Capodimonte porcelain, including the walls and ceiling. My favourite was the Camuccini room which is centered by an enormous (about 12 foot) circular marble table – supported by Roman marble legs excavated at nearby Herculaneum, and the top is inlaid with exquisite Roman mosaics. I was now having to watch the time as my return flight beckoned, so I hurried through the second floor, pausing to gawp at the disturbing Judith and Olophernes by Artemesia Gentileschi, which depicts two women calmly sawing the head of the Greek general Olophernes – they look serenely detached, as if they were preparing lunch.
So finally, I turned the corner to see…a blank wall.
There was a guard snoozing by the blank wall. “Dove è la Carravagio?” I ask.
– “Monza” he replies, and resumes his forty winks.
I should have had the second pizza.