Where biblical meets Bulgari, if you will, beauty and beliefs meet marvelously amid the mysterious red walls of Rome’s latest exhibition. The Treasures of San Gennaro, dazzling on display at the Palazzo Sciarra, until the 16th of February 2014.
Diamonds and mother nature are both billions of years old, and it is this mergence of mother nature and dedicated belief, by way of the legend of San Gennaro, Saint and protector of Naples, that is said to have kept the city safe from the hot flowing lava of Mount Vesuvius.
Epidemics and earthquakes were believed to have been tamed by San Gennaro, so the surviving citizens of Napoli built a chapel for the Saint in return for his protection, as a pledge of their trust and belief in him. This solemn promise was put in writing by a lawyer in 1527, and the original document is on display at the Fondazione Roma-Museo exhibition in the entrance.
Monarchs and monetary
Said to be worth more than the Crown Jewels in England, or the Imperial Crown in Russia, several centuries of Kings, Queens, Emperors and Popes bestowed lavish gifts in honor of this Saint, and the highest acclaimed goldsmiths and silversmiths were commissioned to create 21,610 masterpieces, 70 of which were transported by armed guard to the museum in Rome.
Over centuries a select committee of trustees, deputized and appointed to guard the special jewels, have kept them safe in a vault in Naples cathedral under lock and ‘golden’ key at the Royal Chapel of The Treasure of San Gennaro. The collection now normally kept at The Museum of The Treasure of San Gennaro, whose director Paolo Jorio over saw the design and construction, has claimed the collection virtually tells the history of Europe. Emmanuele Emanuele, head of the Rome Foundation organizing the exhibition, has also claimed the collection historically and artistically priceless.
Well, after taking a look, we believe him. Untouched and on show for the first time ever outside of Naples, this once in a lifetime exhibition now showing, is one of the most important collections of religious art in the world.
Entering the first room of this exhibit, the spotlight is on a grand golden carriage, while a rainbow array of stunning gems adorn the walls in honor of this third century martyr. Gigantic, awe inspiring candelabras decorated with cherubs, along with a reliquary bust of San Gennaro in gold and silver containing his skull, are showcased alongside the necklace of San Gennaro, begun in 1679 by goldsmith Michele Dato, made to adorn the bust. This absolutely stunning example of workmanship is thought to be one of the most precious pieces of jewellery in the world.
Made with emeralds from Colombia, sapphires and hundreds of diamonds, the design is mind blowing. You think you’ve seen jewels until you’ve seen this, which includes a cross of emeralds and diamonds donated by French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte. Separate pieces of jewellery have been forged together over centuries to create this necklace, made up of gifts, with many from monarchs. These individual pieces prove a huge mark of respect and show Naples was a force to be reckoned with by the sheer extravagance bestowed. In complete contrast, there is also a pair of earrings donated as a family heirloom, the only belonging of a diseased commoner in 1844, who survived an epidemic.
The Bishops Mitre, used for religious processions of the bust, is again dazzling and ornate, made of gold-plated silver and adorned with over 3000 diamonds, huge square cut emeralds, and hundreds of other rubies and emeralds. We can only imagine how spectacular a procession must be in all its glory. Importantly, the empty vial claimed to contain the coagulated blood of the Saint, which turns to liquid during such ceremonies, is believed to be a miracle that by legend brings good fortune to the city, and thousands of people gather in Naples three times a year to see whether the blood changes.
Lapis Lazuli, malachite, silver and gold. Chalices and tapestries in silk threads. Statues and the sheer geology of what’s in front of you, truly leave you in awe, and you cannot help but notice you are not the only one saying ‘wow’. As a statue of Archangel St Michael stand above a slayed dragon, tongue lolling on the ground.
Who, when, why & wow
In the 16th century, the monarch issued laws and decrees regulating goldsmiths and silversmiths. The guild of goldsmiths, a noble art, was one of the first craftsmanship to be associated with Naples and it was as early as 1305 that the King of Naples, Charles 3rd of Anjou, commissioned the first gift for San Gennaro and started the visible legacy of faith and art combined.
What with all the Neapolitan Baroque artifacts and Gold platters galore, it is not difficult to envisage the fact that in the 16th Century there were as many 300 workshops in Naples. One therefore instantly gains an appreciation of these individual artisans, and the sheer talent available at the time with the designs being literally breathtaking. It is also thanks to this artistry and these creations that this exhibition exists, along with the cult of the Saint, making it even more exceptional.
During the exhibition, the Fondazione Roma-Arte-Musei have organised a series of conferences and educational activities for schools and families in order to engage the public in the ancient art of goldsmiths.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star
Naples has long been famed for its gold smithery, which has ancient roots since the Greek colonial period and the Roman Empire.
These treasures embody a tangible interpretation of the history of Neapolitan and Italian art, with a notion of the light of the art shining from the dark alleyways of Naples.
The ancient Greeks believed that diamonds were the tears of God, whilst the Romans believed they were splinters of fallen stars. Nero held emeralds to his eyes to protect them from sun rays. Whoever said less was more, hasn’t been to Rome or Naples!