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The Treasure of San Gennaro: Baroque Silver from Naples

DATES October 28, 1987 through January 18, 1988
ORGANIZING DEPARTMENT Decorative Arts
COLLECTIONS Decorative Arts
  • October 28, 1987 The Treasure of San Gennaro: Baroque Silver from Naples, an extraordinary exhibition of 48 works of art -- including fourteen large silver sculptures, as well as other silver objects, paintings and textiles -- never before seen outside that Italian city, will open at The Brooklyn Museum October 28 and remain on view through January 18, 1988. The works, drawn from the riches of the Chapel of the Treasure of San Gennaro in the Naples Cathedral, date primarily from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and reflect the luxury and splendor of Neapolitan Baroque and Rococo artistic production.

    The Treasure of San Gennaro
    is part of Italy on Stage, a cultural festival sponsored by the Italian Government. The exhibition is held under the sponsorship of the Regione Campania, the Soprintendenza ai Beni Artistici e Storici di Napoli and the Delegazione della Reale Cappella del Tesoro di San Gennaro. It was made possible, in part, by grants from the Regione Campania and Italstat, Rome.

    “These astonishingly expressive silver sculptures, which resulted from the expert collaboration of inspired artists and master craftsmen, speak to us of religious fervor, material wealth and consummate artistry,” commented Robert T. Buck, Director of The Brooklyn Museum. “Along with the other masterly objects in the exhibition, they successfully span the gap between art and folklore, between objects of worship and creations of universal aesthetic significance,” he said.

    The Honorable Francesco Corrias, Consul General of Italy in New York, in commenting on the Italy on Stage festival that will be held in New York City, stated:

    “This two-month long artistic and cultural event is a panoply of Italian theater, opera, cinema, chamber and orchestral music, sculpture and painting. I am pleased that this festival, which celebrates the Italian creative spirit, will be a significant contribution to the Italian Cultural Month taking place in October, and more generally, to the cultural life of this great city itself.”

    San Gennaro, the patron saint of Naples, was Bishop of Benevento, near Naples, at the close of the third century A.D. He was imprisoned, tortured and finally beheaded in A.D. 305 by the Emperor Diocletian. His blood, collected in two vials at the time of his martyrdom, is said to liquify twice a year in what has come to be known as the “miracle of San Gennaro.”

    The cult of San Gennaro reached its height in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the building of the Chapel of the Treasure was begun in 1608 with an architectural competition won by Francesco Grimaldi, an architect-priest renowned at the time. Work on the Chapel continued until the mid-eighteenth century, with famous artists and craftsmen -- among them Luca Giordano, Domenichino, and Jusepe Ribera --commissioned to supply frescoes, sculptures and ornaments. Working in precious materials, artists such as Lorenzo Vaccaro, Giuseppe Sanmartino and Michele Lofrano created ornamental candlesticks, objects for the mass and large reliquaries in the form of busts of the saints.

    Among the more notable works included in the exhibition are: the sculpture of young Tobias with the angel Raphael (1797), cast in silver by the brothers Giuseppe and Gennaro del Giudice from a clay model created by Giuseppe Sanmartino, one of the foremost architects and sculptors of the period; a pair of monumental silver candelabra, which measure over eleven feet in height, by Filippo del Giudice; and the twelve silver busts of popular saints, some of which measure over five feet tall.

    The installation at The Brooklyn Museum is coordinated by Kevin L. Stayton, Curator of Decorative Arts.

    Italy on Stage is sponsored by the Consulate General of Italy and the Italian Cultural Institute, New York. It is under the aegis of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Tourism and Performing Arts, and the Ministry of the Arts, with the patronage of the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, and the participation of Italian regional administrations. Sponsors of the festival are: Alitalia, Banca Nazionale dell’Agricoltura, Banca Commerciale Italiana, Ente Nazionale Energia Elettrica ENEL, Enichem USA, Italia di Navigazione, Itaistat, Lega Nazionale Cooperative e Mutue, Sofin, Unioncamere, and Italcable. Italy on Stage is coordinated by Centro Servizi Spettacolo, Roma.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1971 - 1988. 1987, 086-88.
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