Ancient Rome Comes Alive in Naples

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Jun 14, 2020

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.

La Festa Dei Ceri (Race of the Candles)

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May 24, 2020

The beautiful Umbrian fortress town of Gubbio, which seems caught in a pre-Renaissance time warp, normally celebrates La Festa dei Ceri in mid-May – we look forward to next year! It’s a dizzying fusion of gaiety and religious devotion, and an unusual race with a preordained outcome.

The ceri or “candlesticks” are three gigantic wooden structures over twenty feet tall and weigh about 900 pounds, built out of octagonal sections so that they look almost like chess pieces. Each is crowned with carvings of saints Ubaldo, Giorgio, and Antonio who, respectively, protect masons, merchants, and farmers. Costumed throngs of locals — garbed in the dedicated color for each of the saints (yellow for Ubaldo, blue for Giorgio, and black for Antonio) — party in the narrow streets and piazzas in anticipation of the ritual afternoon race of the saints.

With a roar from the multitude, the ceri are hoisted up by teams of local young men who haul the giant pedestals along the Corsa dei Ceri at running speed to the top of Mount Ingino. Though always exciting, the ritual race is not one you want to bet on: St. Ubaldo, the town’s patron, wins every time. This heralds a year of good fortune for the town.

The festival inspires such passion among people of the region and their descendants that homesick Italian soldiers enacted it within the bloody landscape of World War II. And in the United States, Jessup, Pennsylvania, just outside of Scranton, performs a nearly identical “Race of the Saints” to celebrate St. Ubaldo’s Day on the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend (also postponed until 2021).

Photos courtesy of Frank Yantorno, artist, photographer and Ciclismo Classico guide who lives outside of Bolzano.

La Festa della Mamma

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May 9, 2020

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.