Contemporary Art Makes Its Way into Naples’ Baroque Soul

Wed, 07/28/2021 - 04:45
san gennaro church
San Gennaro Church. Photo credit: Calatrava Exhibition website (

The Church of San Gennaro at the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte has reopened to the public after 50 years, and it promises to be quite the unusual experience. 

Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava has inserted (a lot of) contemporary into Naples’ Baroque soul - as Italy’s Culture Minister Dario Franceschini put it, “The restoration of the Church of San Gennaro is an extraordinary experiment that mixes contemporary and Baroque art in an unprecedented way.”

Overlooking the Gulf of Naples, the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte was once one of the several residences of the Bourbon kings of Naples.

Calatrava’s work on the Church of San Gennaro, built in 1745 by the architect Ferdinando Sanfelice for Charles of Bourbon, is a tribute to the 'light of Naples' and to the local craftsmanship.

It is a ‘global’ work that completely reinterprets the space of the 18th-century chapel, from the stained glass windows to the ceiling decorated with stars to the niches with drawings and porcelain installations; it features new lighting and new furnishings, including precious silks used as altar hangings and porcelain vases and candlesticks, which Calatrava produced specifically for the church together with students and artisans from the local Caselli school, which trains the future artisans of the Real Fabbrica di Capodimonte to carry on Naples’ craftsmanship tradition.

In addition, visitors will be accompanied by the music of the organ and the church bells, restored for the reopening. 

The contemporary restoration of San Gennaro Church is part of a greater Calatrava-themed exhibition, “Santiago Calatrava. Nella luce di Napoli,” which runs until August 22, 2021. The exhibition, the first dedicated to a contemporary architect at Capdimonte, is curated by the director of the Museum and Real Bosco di Capodimonte Sylvain Bellenger and by Robertina Calatrava, wife of the Spanish/Swiss architect. The exhibition, which traces Calatrava’s career, highlights his love for Naples; he himself wanted it to be set in the Parthenopean city.  

The show signals a new trend toward contemporary art and architecture in Naples - as culture minister Franceschini put it, “For a long time, we felt it was not possible to include contemporary art in the Italian historical and cultural heritage. I want to thank Calatrava for this beautiful gift and the quality of his work. This experiment signals us the way forward.”

The move toward contemporary art in Naples began with the ‘Art Stations of the Naples Metro’ project, when some of the city’s metro stops were decorated with more than 200 works of art by contemporary artists, with the intent to make the metro look more attractive and give everyone the chance to familiarize with contemporary art. 

For more information, visit the Calatrava exhibition website