Postcard from Naples, Italy: The Egg and the New Castle

Castel dell’Ovo

Castel dell’Ovo stands astride the small island of Megaride that originally was settled by Greek colonists in the 6th century B.C. Five centuries later, a Roman patrician built his villa on the site, now attached to the mainland. Its name, the Egg Castle, arises from a legend that the poet and magician Virgil (70-19 B.C.) placed an egg into the foundation of the fortress to support it. If the magical egg were ever to be broken, disaster would befall Naples.

Appointed Roman Emperor in 475, Flavius Romulus Augustus ruled for but a year before being overthrown and imprisoned in the castle, possibly until the end of his life. A monastery was founded on the castle site shortly before the year 500. Emperor Valentinian III (419-455) added fortifications to the site toward the end of his reign, but those fortifications were of little help to the crumbling Roman Empire. Valentinian III was assassinated in Rome, and Rome was soon sacked by the Vandals, whose destructive invasion contributed the word vandalism to our vocabulary.

Most of the early fortifications were demolished to prevent use by invading forces. Perhaps the magical egg was broken, because the piece of prime real estate on the bay captured the attention of Roger the Norman (1095-1154) who conquered Naples in 1140. He set up his headquarters there in a new castle.

But this Egg Castle was relegated to the role of an old one, one well-suited to serve as a prison. Normanesque was not the style of Charles of Anjou (1226-1285), King of Sicily, and a son of King Louis VIII of France (1187-1226). A little farther around the Bay of Naples, Castel Nuovo, or Maschio Angioino, was designed as a more palatial fortification. It served as the royal seat for rulers from off and on 1279 until 1815. The most notorious of, and the end of, the line of Anjou royals there was Queen Joanna II (1371-1435). During her tumultuous reign she was known for her several marriages and numerous lovers. Rumors swirled that she disposed of her lovers by unceremoniously dumping them via a secret trap door into a well in the castle’s dungeons where they were consumed by a resident crocodile.

King Alfonso V of Aragon (1396-1458) remodeled the palace in a Catalan-Majorcan-Gothic style. The impressive marble entryway added in 1470 commemorates his entry into Naples in 1442. The royals associated with the House of Bourbon found the New Castle not sumptuous enough for their tastes and added several luxurious new palaces in and around Naples beginning in the mid-1700s.

Unfortunately, the Palatine Chapel with its Giotto frescoes and several other portions of the Castel Nuovo were closed off during our visit, but the Civic Museum was open.

Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: The house that made Mudejar-Renaissance mashups fashionable

When the governor of Andalusia, Pedro Enriguez de Quinones (1435-1492) began construction of his palace, most of the building expertise in the neighborhood was provided by Mudejar craftsmen.

A two-year grand tour of the Holy Land and Italy by his son, Fadrique Enríquez de Rivera (1476 – 1539), brought Renaissance influences into the home but not at the expense of Mudejar architectural details and azulejos. More than 100 different tile designs from the 1530s by the Pulido brothers color the interiors and its multiple courtyards. The first marques of Tarifa, Fadrique set a trend for mixing these styles among the wealthy in Sevilla, and that influence is reflected in a multitude of house museums now open to the public.

In 1521, Fadrique also established the Semana Santa tradition of a Lenten procession he was exposed to in Jerusalem, the Holy Way of the Cross. The route of La Via Crucis began in his chapel and proceeded 1,321 paces to a pillar just outside the city walls. The number represents the purported number of steps Jesus tread from the House of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem to the crucifixion awaiting him. Possibly this association is what led Sevillanos to refer to the home as the Casa de Pilatos.

Casa de Pilatos was made a national monument in 1931, but it remains the residence of the family of the Duke of Medinaceli, who retain portions as their private quarters.

I feel guilty including the portrait of “The Bearded Woman” by the famous Joseph de la Ribera, except it does jump off the wall at you. Instead of trying to explain the painting or my inclusion of it, I offer a translation of Ribera’s inscription on it. This is provided by WTF Art History (great blog title):

Look, a great miracle of nature. Magdalena Ventura from the town of Accumulus in Samnium, in the vulgar tongue Abruzzo in the Kingdom of Naples, aged 52 and what is unusual is when she was in her 37th year she began to go through puberty and thus a full growth of beard appeared such that it seems rather that of a bearded gentleman than a woman who had previously lost three sons whom she had borne to her husband, Felici de Amici, whom you see next to her. Joseph de Ribera, a Spaniard, marked by the cross of Christ, a second Apelles of his own time, by order of Duke Ferdinand II of Alcalá, Viceroy at Naples, depicted in a marvelously lifelike way. 17th February 1631.