One of the world’s greatest museums (and a favorite of mine) is the National Archaeological Museum in Naples. With over three million objects from antiquity, its collection is packed with Roman empire treasures excavated at Pompeii, Herculaneum and Stabiae, including stunning mosaics and colorful frescoes and the fabulous Farnese collection of classical sculpture. I am always amazed by how few visit this extraordinary museum. If you love art and archaeology, it’s a must, and a MUST for anyone who visits Pompeii or the other sites. It’s like stepping into another world.
The bright pink museum is located in one of Naples’ graffiti-adorned neighborhoods. The building was originally a cavalry barracks, then the seat of the University of Naples. Charles III of Bourbon established the museum, then known as the Real Museo Borbonico, to house the antiquities bequeathed to him by his mother, Elisabetta Farnese, and to showcase the dazzling discoveries unearthed at Pompeii and Herculaneum that he funded to advance the prestige and fame of his Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
A couple of surprising facts about the museum: it has an excellent collection of Egyptian artifacts (second only to Turin’s phenomenal Museo Egizio, the world’s oldest Egyptian museum). And, if you still aren’t convinced . . . there is one more secret (literally) for you to uncover here. The museum has a ‘secret’ room, known as Gabinetto Segreto, which has a large collection of erotic art and relics from Pompeii. Initially the room had restricted access to those of ‘mature age and known morals,’ but was finally opened to both men and women in 2000; in 2005 it was officially installed into the museum’s permanent gallery space.
Mamma is cherished in Italy and has always been the bedrock of the family. Mother’s Day — La Festa della Mamma — was “officially” recognized in Italy in 1958 about fifty years after it was established here in the States. A parish priest began the now annual tradition in the Umbrian hilltown of Assisi in 1957, with surrounding towns joining the celebration of Mamma and her unconditional love. The local festa was so popular, La Festa della Mamma was immediately adopted all across Italy. But even before then a special day for mothers — Giornata Della Madre e del Fanciullo — “The Day of the Mother and Child” had been celebrated in December.
Not surprisingly, images of the Virgin Mary with her son are among the most beloved in Christian art. Devotion to Mary in her dual role as the human mother and a divine being reached its peak in the 14th to 16th centuries, creating tremendous demand for mother and child depictions. The term Madonna is Italian for “my lady” and was conferred as a title of respect or high rank, but came to be synonymous with the mother of the holy child and with tender representations of the two.
This slideshow features 32 Madonnas by Italian artists such as Raphael, Botticelli, Andrea della Sarto, Luca della Robbia, Bellini, Tiepolo and Barocci from major museums, including those in Washington DC, London, Vienna, Berlin and New York (The Met),as well as the Walter’s Art Gallery in Baltimore, the Vatican Museum, and Michelangelo’s exquisite Madonna from The Church of Our Lady in Bruges.
Venice is a city of surprises, filled with contrasts and apparent contradictions that, somehow, fluidly coexist. It is a city of water and of stone, the most pliant and most solid of natural substances. For much of its history Venice has been guided by BOTH church & state and by both honor & profit. And, like the Roman god Janus, Venice has always faced in two directions at the same time: to the West and to the East.
But most improbable of all is Venice’s amazing historic arc . . . over a millennium Venice went from a marshy hideaway for refugees to one of the greatest economic and political powers in the world.
Whenever I visit La Serenissima and revel in the architectural confection of St. Mark’s Basilica and the Gothic grandeur of the Doge’s Palace I am reminded of the twin pillars upon which Venice built its improbable success: an unwavering faith in a higher being and a more earth-bound faith in the ingenuity and resourcefulness of its fellow Venetians to navigate and triumph in a challenging world.
Venice and all of Italy will bounce back and once again astonish and delight us all.
Andra! Tutto Bene!!