On the occasion of the opening of the Diocesan Museum of Naples, located in the baroque church of Donnaregina Nuova, closed for many years, important paintings were brought on display, such as the Annuncio e l'Immacolata Concezione (The Annunciation and the Immaculate Conception) painted by the Lorrainer Charles de Mellin in 1646 in the first chapel to the left; San Francesco che riceve i simboli della beatificazione e della santità (Saint Francis receiving the stigmatas), rare iconography by Solimena in the third chapel to the right; and the tender Madonna con Bambino (Madonna and the Child) by Massimo Stanzione in the sacristy.
The museum presents works of art grouped together to illustrate the most important themes of Christian faith as experienced and manifested in the Neapolitan Church: at the level of the nave the representation of “San Gennaro”, patron saint of the city of Naples and the representation of “Mary”, a life model and inspiration for Christians. At the upper level, the first theme is “Mystery and Sacrifice of Christ”, followed by “the Martyrdom”, and then the “Consecrated life” of those who manifested their faith through monasticism and religious orders. These themes of the Christian faith have been depicted by the formidable likes of Andrea Vaccaro, Paolo de Matteis and Luca Giordano; but also the Flemish Teodoro d'Errico, Francesco Solimena, Aniello Falcone, and Marco Pino da Siena. Moreover, the visit to the Museum exhibition, covering a surface of nearly 3000 sq m, will lead to the hall of the precious liturgical objects, like the rare Reliquary Cross dating back to XII century and enshrining a fragment of the Holy Cross of Christ as well as the XIV-century tempera on panel with gold background, a funerary portrait of the Archbishop of Naples Umberto d'Ormont.
Panels, canvases, frescos, sculptures, gold and silver pieces…. So many, the works of art to be admired, once closed in storages and safes and whose layout highlights the most significant episodes of the selected themes. In the words of His Eminence card. Crescenzio Sepe, “…a reference point both for an informed re-examination through arts of the history of the faith of the local community and for a likewise learned cultural interpretation of the present”. The two itineraries, the medieval and the baroque one, are complementary to each other, thus giving shape to a synergy with no equal which leads us over the course of the history of Neapolitan art, where we can find out the roots of our culture and our faith.
The convent of Donnaregina represents a unicum in the historical center of Naples where usually ancient buildings have been adjusted after the Council of Trent to the abundant baroque embellishments invading every wall or floor with their marble inlays, even covering the pre-existing paintings.
This Franciscan monastic insula (isle) still preserves remains of the old convent and of the two Churches, the medieval and the XVII century one which up to the '30s were conceived as a single block with a small corridor joining the two apses and thus past and present, like a kind of umbilical cord and through which the Clarisse nuns could move around without leaving the cloistered areas. Today, the original architectures and decorations still give us a rare testimony of the history of Neapolitan Art and of the Franciscan Order.
THE MONUMENTAL COMPLEX OF DONNAREGINA
At the beginning of the XVII-century the Clarisse nuns of the convent of Santa Maria Donnaregina decided to have a new baroque Church built, more suited to the current taste, annexing the old gothic Church to the cloistered area of the convent. The works for the construction of the new sacred building thus called Santa Maria Donnaregina 'Nuova', began in 1617 and saw the participation of the most renowned artists of the time. The majestic piperno staircase leas up to the impressive nave of the Church dressed in polychrome marbles and topped with a XVII century vault, that is completely covered in a fresco of the Gloria della Vergine (Glory of the Virgin). Above the presbytery there is a fresco by the young Francesco Solimena who painted the Miracolo delle rose di San Francesco (The Miracle of Saint Francis' roses) and next to the main altar the last canvases by the baroque painter Luca Giordano.
In 1861 the monastery was suppressed and the nuns assigned to other monasteries, while the complex had different destinations of use. At the same time, after the opening of via Duomo, the cloister and the Convent were the object of several robberies. Between 1928 and 1934 the Superintendent Gino Chierici, with a big engineering intervention, had the two churches separated, by shifting the wall of the new choir
6 meters forward along two railway lines and then had the missing section of the gothic apse rebuilt and the monument to Mary of Hungary, which had been moved to the new Church by will of the abbess Eleonora Gonzaga, brought back to the old church.
SANTA MARIA DONNAREGINA NUOVA
The first witnesses of this place date back to the 780, mentioning a monastic complex closed to the city walls called San Pietro al Monte di Domina Regina, most likely from the name of the land owner. The convent was inhabited by Greek-Italian nuns, then by basilian nuns, in IX-century by Benedictines and finally by Franciscan nuns, traditionally in contact with Saint Claire in person. In 1293 a strong earthquake destroyed the monastery which was then taken in charge by the wife of Charles II of Anjou, Mary of Hungary, mother of the Franciscan, Ludwig and of Robert, king of Naples in place of his brother who became bishop of Toulouse and then Saint in 1317.
In 1307 Queen Mary ordered a restoration of the Church according to the gothic taste and she even donated to the Order jewels and the proceedings of the sale of a Greek wine produced in the royal vineyards in Somma. After the completion of the works in 1316 the Queen ordered that her tomb, commissioned to the sculptors from Siena, Tino di Camaino and Gagliardo Primario, should be placed in the Church.
The sculptor who had moved to Naples in 1324, one year after the death of Mary, realized a wonderful monument, today visible on the left side wall of the Nave. The monumental tomb celebrated the Angevin royal dynasty in Naples and thanks to the elegance and the regularity in proportions finally became the most sought after tomb example at Court, featuring a gothic canopy and the Queen laying on a sarcophagus carried by the virtues representing her sons under the small arches. Opposite to the tomb, on the right side wall, opens up the Loffredo Chapel with the Crucifixion and Scenes from the Life of Saint Francis and San John the Evangelist by an unknown artist dating back to the first half of XIV century. The Nave of the Church is made up of a first space with four spans and the wooden choir of the nuns resting on the octagonal columns. The opposite side of the nave stretching up to the maximum height of the Church, ends in a pentagonal apse with high and large mullioned windows and a cross vault.
In 1390 a lightening caught the Church and set a big fire which destroyed the roof and altered the original colours of the frescos in the choir, accessible through an external staircase. The frescos cycle, despite the reddish coulour due to the fire, represents the most vast and interesting XIV-century cycle still preserved in Naples.
Started in 1320, it has been attributed to the School of Pietro Cavallini who studied in Rome at the workshop of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere and particularly some of the most archaic figures, such as the pair of characters from the Old and New Testament, or the impressive Giudizio Universale (Last Judgment) on the counter-façade and the Storie della Passione (Passion Narratives) on the left side wall are ascribed to the Master Filippo Rusuti. Dating back to the third decade of the XIV-century following an addition for an experiment of the school of Giotto, are the histories of Storie di Santa Agnese e di Santa Caterina (Saint Agnes and Saint Catherine) on the right side wall and those of Santa Elisabetta (Saint Elisabeth) on the bottom section of the left wall.
Cavallini came to Naples around 1308 and worked at the court of King Charles, husband of Mary, when he realized, among the others, the beautiful Brancaccio Chapel in the Church of San Domenico Maggiore.
Alongside with the frescos, the choir of the Church of Donnaregina also preserves the coffered wood ceiling decorated with the Incoronazione della Vergine (Coronation of the Virgin) by the sculptor from Bergamo, Pietro Belverte at the beginning of XVI century and the wooden stalls from the same period, originally in the Church of San Lorenzo. The Church still preserves renaissance frescos in the lower sections of the choir and two Crocifissioni (Crucifixions) on both sides of the apse arch. The Church is accessed through a small courtyard successively decorated with marbles in 1771.
SANTA MARIA DONNAREGINA VECCHIA