Mediterranean Masterpieces | This Collection Tells the Story of Naples Through Its Art

Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano is a hidden gem in the heart of Naples

by Clem Fiell
Oct 28 2019, 12:01pm

Perched in a beautiful bay overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, and just a few miles from the still-volcanic Mount Vesuvius, is the Southern Italian city of Naples. Since the 6th century BC, the city has grown continuously, and is now the third largest in Italy.

It is a city of layers - across the centuries' eras, families and historical undercurrents have made their marks atop one and other in Naples. Like every major Italian city, it benefits from a wealth of stunning art and architecture left behind by the great Classical and Renaissance periods.

"The museum is a hidden pearl at the centre of the cities social and creative story"

The great aristocratic families of the Italian city states bought and built monumental homes to stake their claim on the great metropolis, commissioning master architects to express their cultural capital as well as their material wealth.

An array of artworks at the Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano. Photo: Courtesy of Gallerie d'Italia

This was exactly the case with the Via Toledo, built under the instructions of the fantastically named Viceroy Don Pedro Álvarez de Toledo y Zúñiga. This street was especially designed as a central hub for the blue-blooded members of Italy’s elite to live and congregate in. But by the early 1600s, a new kind of wealth filled the illustrious postcodes of Naples – the freshly minted international merchant class.

A selection of artworks displayed at the gallery. Photo: Courtesy of Gallerie d'Italia

Italy, with its long boot dipped deep into the Mediterranean sea, has always been a hugely important link in the intercontinental chain of trade. Like all great European port cities, Naples has benefitted from an unending flow of cultural influences from around the world.

The interior of the museum. Photo: Courtesy of Gallerie d'Italia

In 1639, for instance, the Spanish trader Giovanni Zevallos commissioned starchitect Bartolomeo Picchiatti to build him an ultra beautiful abode on that prestigious street. He called it the Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano.

While this was an era where vast sums of money could be made, it was also one of political instability. A popular revolt rose up in Naples in 1647, and the Palazzo was badly damaged. Worst still, Giovanni himself was racking up more and more debt. He sold the home to another ultra rich family – the Vandeneynden clan of traders from Antwerp.

A selection of artwork on the walls of the gallery. Photo: Courtesy of Gallerie d'Italia

Not only did this new family have commercial connections, they were also related by blood to various famous Dutch artists, including Brueghel, de Wael and de Jode. Using these art world connections, the Vandeneynden began to fill the Palazzo with Italian art, perhaps keen to show their Italian credentials to the locals. Sadly, their full collection was dispersed over the years.

The most famous masterpiece in the collection, Caravaggio's 'The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula'. Photo: Courtesy of Gallerie d'Italia

While over the subsequent centuries the house was sold on and passed between hands, the Vandeneynden collection has remained a singular document of the Italian regions incredible artistic legacy.

Over the past 200 years Intesa Sanpaolo has built a collection specifically focused on Neapolitan and Southern Italian art. 123 masterpieces entered the museums collection including the awe-inspiring Caravaggio’s 'The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula', the final painting completed by the great Lombard master.

Landscape paintings dotting the walls of the gallery. Photo: Courtesy of Gallerie d'Italia

In the 21st century, Intesa Sanpaolo funded the opening of the house as ‘Gallerie D’Italia’ – a public museum that will surely be a magnet for visitors who want to peel back the layers of Naples’ Artistic heritage. The bank brought together the Vandeneyden collection for the very first time since the artworks were last housed in the building, as part of their Progetto Cultura programme. The bank itself also has a remarkable collection of artwork on permanent display.

Like a hidden pearl at the centre of the cities social and creative story, it is an unmissable stop off on your next south Italian cultural excursion.

Clem was hosted by Gallerie d'Italia. The famous Italian bank Intesa Sanpaolo has worked tirelessly in protecting, preserving and promoting the gallery and the artworks it houses. You can find out more about the gallery here.