For several months now, we have been telling you about extraordinary works of art, incomparable Italian artists, and their exciting lives. However, with this article, we want to draw attention to another part, as important for art as its creators, namely the home of many of the statues we have already introduced to you.
The chapel of Sansevero, also known as the Church of Santa Maria della Pieta (or Pietatella), is one of the most important museums in Naples. Located near Piazza San Domenico Maggiore, it is next to the family palace of the Princes of Sansevero. Separated from it by an alley, it was once crowned with a suspension bridge that allowed family members to access the place of worship at any time.
And while one legend says that the church was built on an existing ancient temple dedicated to the goddess Isis, another claims that in 1623 a real
miracle happened. An unjustly arrested man, taken to prison, dedicated himself to the Holy Mother of God, passing in front of the wall of Sansevero. Suddenly, it collapsed and revealed a picture of a summoned Virgin, which would later determine the church’s name dedicated to Santa Maria della Pieta. The place quickly became popular among pilgrims. John Francesco di Sangro, Duke of Torremaggiore, decided to build a private chapel in the gardens of the nearby family residence of Sansevero, Palazzo Sansevero.
Years later, Alessandro di Sansevero decided to expand the existing small building and make it worthy to one day welcome the remains of the whole family, as told by the 1613 marble plaque above the main entrance. Documents from that time testify that even then, the chapel was of high artistic value. Pompeo Sarnelli describes it as “highly decorated, with works of very fine marble, surrounded by statues of many worthy personalities of this family.”
In the eighteenth century, Prince Raimondo di Sangro began to expand the chapel and enrich it with various works of art. He wanted to turn it into a place that testifies to the greatness of his family. In the following years he hired artists such as Giuseppe Sanmartino, Antonio Corradini, Francesco Cairolo and Francesco Celebrano. It was during this period that masterpieces such as The Veiled Christ, Disappointment, and Chastity were created. They are still some of the most mystical statues that historians continue to study and view. Raimondo used much of his assets to pay for all the works, even concluding debts to complete the chapel construction. He was generous, but also very demanding and often personally directed the creative process so that the works corresponded exactly to the role assigned to them.
The chapel is home to sculptures and paintings. The first thing you will notice when you enter is the fresco that decorates the ceiling – Paradise of Sangro by Francesco Maria Rousseau. Two and a half centuries after its creation, the brilliance of the colors is still dazzling, which testifies to the mastery of the artist. The mural ends at the windows with six monochrome medallions in green with the saints and patrons of the House: San Berardo di Teramo, San Berardo Cardinal del Marci, Santa Filipa Mareri, San Oderizio, San Randisio, and Santa Rosalia. Below them
are six marble medallions by Francesco Cairo that depict the six cardinals of the Sangro family.
The statues are the responsibility of Antonio Corradini who, however, managed to complete only “Chastity” – dedicated to the prematurely deceased mother of Prince Raimondo and a monument dedicated to Paul di Sangro, the sixth Prince of Sansevero. Corradini left behind several sketches, including the one about The Blurred Christ, later created by Giuseppe Sanmartino.
The bridge connecting the chapel with the nearby family palace collapsed in 1889 due to water intrusion. In addition, some of the frescoes and floor designs were damaged. The restorers failed to restore the original flooring and decided to remodel it with Neapolitan terracotta, while Di Sangro’s coat of arms in the center of the floor was made of yellow and blue enamels that reflect the colors of the family name.
After its transformation into a museum center in the nineteenth century, the chapel welcomes many tourists daily. In addition, it later began to be used as a venue for events and concerts. Pietatela hosts events from the worlds of literature, music, theater, and even contemporary art.