Capodimonte porcelain–a royal tradition from Naples

In the early 1700s, porcelain produced at Meissen became all the rage in Europe. The King of Naples and Sicily, Charles VII, married Maria Amalia, whose grandfather Augustus II of Poland had founded the Meissen factory, the first hard-paste porcelain factory in Europe.

18th c. Capodimonte porcelain examples from the National Gallery of Victoria (Australia). Photo: by Sailko, from Wikimedia Commons.

18th c. Capodimonte porcelain examples from the National Gallery of Victoria (Australia). Photo: by Sailko, from Wikimedia Commons.

Pursuing his interest in the art, Charles VII founded the Capodimonte (top of the mountain) Porcelain factory in Naples in 1743. Production was well under way when Charles’ father, the King of Spain, died in 1759 and Charles took the Spanish throne and left the throne of Naples to his son Ferdinand. Before he left, however, he ordered the porcelain works demolished, and took the molds with him to Spain to found another factory there.

Ferdinand IV wasn’t so easily dissuaded–he had come to appreciate the porcelain art himself, and re-established the Capodimonte factory in 1772.  The detailed history (some found here) is more complex and involved a lot of experimentation with the porcelain “recipe”, hiring of various artists, chemists, directors, and so forth, and the establishment in Naples of an art academy.

Elaborate bisque figures, "The Triumph of Bacchus" from the Capodimonte Museum in Naples. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Elaborate bisque figures, “The Triumph of Bacchus” from the Capodimonte Museum in Naples. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Ferdinand was soon embroiled in Napoleon’s schemes for Italy, (I’ve posted about that before) and production of the royal sponsored Capodimonte porcelain ceased around 1818. The factory was purchased by Claudio Guillard and Giovanni Tourne, who continued to used the same mark as the royal factory. In 1834 the company was purchased by a Florentine, and about 1896 they combined interests with the Societa Ceramica Richard of Milan. They continue to produce porcelain in the Capodimonte style, and the style is widely copied today.

The Judgement of Paris, now in the Capitoline Museum in Rome. Colorful and elaborate figures typically linked with Capodimonte style. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

The Judgement of Paris, now in the Capitoline Museum in Rome. Colorful and elaborate figures typically linked with Capodimonte style. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Most of the 18th century products are in museums or collections of the wealthy today. Are you interested in buying some later pieces? Here are some listing from Ebay.com. Some claim to be 19th century pieces, and others are newer.

QUESTION: What is your favorite art or craft from southern Italy? Please comment!

Preparing to celebrate the New Year

While you still have the weekend to prepare, I’m allowing you enough time to enjoy New Year celebrations with some Italian flair.

First, you’ll need to dress for success. Prosperity, happiness, and virility in the coming year depend on wearing red undies. red undies Who knew?? So whether it’s Victoria’s Secret or Jockey, get some red ones–even if no one else knows you’re wearing them.

Food is a mainstay of all kinds of human celebration, and Italians have their own specialties associated with New Year’s Eve. Namely, lentils. Because they look (remotely, I’ll admit) like little coins, they are said to bring wealth in the coming year. And just for more financial success, eat those lentils with sausages that are sliced up into larger “coins”. How about a salad of dollar bills on the side? Just kidding!! Here’s a tasty recipe for your lentils and sausage. One tradition says to eat the lentils at midnight, one spoonful for eat tolling of the midnight bell. There is no midnight bell in my town, so I’ll just have to take my chances with the timing.

You’ve probably heard the expression “Out with the old, in with the new.” Traditionally in southern Italy, they’ve taken it to heart, and anything old and worn out was thrown out the window on New Year’s Eve. It has mostly died out now, but if you are walking around Naples that night, watch your head!

And while you are eating your lentils, wearing you red undies, you’ll likely be watching fireworks. Naples has one of the biggest fireworks displays, but they are popular throughout the country. Be careful, though. Illegal fireworks have been a problem (police seized more than 650,000 last year in late December) and injuries are not uncommon. Some cities have banned fireworks for various public safety reasons. You won’t have any trouble finding them in Naples, though. They’ll be welcoming 2013 with a bang, in fine Italian style.

"Fireworks in Naples", oil painting by Oswald Achenbach, 1875

“Fireworks in Naples”, oil painting by Oswald Achenbach, 1875

 

Guest Post: A Friend in Every Corner of the World

This week, my Napolitana friend Laura Vinti writes about her passion for travel, and a new program to help travelers connect with people in the places they visit.

I see traveling as a sort of spiritual quest. This might sound pompous and self-important, but I’m unapologetic about it — when I visit a city, I’m after its soul.

Now, faced with this confrontational approach,  every city I visit tends to defend itself by doing what charming cities do best: dazzle the visitor by flaunting its beauty, throw at them magnificent palaces, glittering mosaics and frescoes, and daring towers (sometimes leaning too, for added measure), hoping thereby to make the visitor forget their Spiritual Quest and settle for aesthetic intoxication instead.

Well, I don’t fall for it. I take pleasure in all the beautiful sights, and then I aim for the heart – the forgotten alleys, the unexpected quirks, the intimate secrets, the stories you don’t find in travel guides, the places where the locals go for their morning coffee, the corners that offer shelter to star-crossed lovers. I want to uncover the city’s dark side, understand its personality, learn the inside jokes, really get to know the locals. But all too often I come up empty.

The church of Gesu Nuovo in the historic center of Naples.

However, I now have a new weapon in my urban soul-seeker arsenal. Thanks to a great initiative which is spreading its wings (pun intended) throughout the world, I’m enlisting angels in my quest: Angels for Travelers, no less, whose aim is to unite the globe-trotters of the world into a global community of friends.

Angels for Travelers is an exciting and ever-growing network which gives travelers free access to a trove of insider knowledge by providing them with local friends at any stage of their trip, even before they arrive at their destination.

As Stefano Consiglio, professor of Organization Theory at the University of Naples and founder of “Angels”, says, “Angels for Travelers is a web travel community focused around the assumption that someone who wants to visit a new city is looking for a social experience. And what is better than to be guided by people living there?”

This idea was sparked by an episode he witnessed on a city bus during a recent trash crisis in Naples. “Two Spanish travelers were asking some fellow passengers about the nearest bus stop to their hostel. Soon, more people joined in to help the tourists out. It seemed that the group was attempting to distract the tourists from the garbage piling up every

Via San Gregorio Armeno, famous for Christmas creches.

street corner, while at the same time redirecting their attention to the many treasures of our city.”  He found this so striking, because the common assumption is that Neapolitans lack civic pride. “I started to think about how people can contribute to the improvement of their community, especially in a situation of serious crisis.”

Seeing how the passengers were eager to assist the tourists, he wondered about ways to channel this positive energy and do something useful for his city and for the local community. The idea of the “Angels” was born.

However, when he illustrated his idea to friends, they were skeptical: who would be willing to invest their time in helping people they didn’t know?  As it turned out, many were more than willing: only two months after the launching of the platform, already 190 Neapolitan Angels were ready to give advice to travelers arriving in the city.

“People are happy to share and more generous than we might give them credit for,” says Stefano.

Palazzo Sangro di Sansevero, a Naples landmark.

Capitalizing on their Neapolitan success, in 2010 Stefano and his staff decided to update the web platform in order to allow people from everywhere in the world to become Angels for their own city. The idea spread and now there are more than 4,000 Angels in 350 cities in the world, including New York, Paris and London, ready to share tips and insights about their hometown with new friends.

Last June, I met with one of the Neapolitan Angels, Amedeo Colella, to try the Angels’ experience first-hand.  He turned out to be the author of “Manuale di Napoletanità”, a delightful collection of 365 half-serious, half-joking lessons on Naples and ‘being Neapolitan’.

I asked him what he would suggest to an American of Neapolitan descent who wishes to unveil the authentic city of his ancestors.

“They should get in touch with its desperation and its poverty: the shady alleys where families of six or more share two bedrooms in a basement apartment, the second-hand markets where you can buy clothes by the kilo; they should look for the sites where Raffaele Viviani, the 19th century actor and playwright of the poor and forgotten, set his plays, and get a sense of the suffering that pushed his or her forebears to leave their country in search of a better life.”

To move on to a lighter topic, I steered the conversation toward food. It always works, and in Naples more than anywhere else: we Neapolitans love to cook, love to eat, and love to talk about food.

Immacolata obelisk in the Piazza del Gesu.

Since both Amedeo and I know that in our city true understanding passes through one’s stomach, we agreed that our ideal traveler will have to try a sfogliatella (a typical Neapolitan pastry made with ricotta) at Attanasio’s, near the main train station, or at least taste a babà (a yeast dough soaked with a rum and sugar syrup) at “Il capriccio” in Via Carbonara.

Mission accomplished, spiritual needs satisfied, we ended our conversation with an espresso shot at Caffè Mexico on Piazza Dante: a worthy way to mark my entry into the Angels for Travelers’ community.

To find out more about Angels for Travelers visit their website: http://www.angeliperviaggiatori.com

To listen to Stefano’s talk about Angels for Travelers at TED go to (http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/TEDxNapoli-Stefano-Consiglio-An)

The photos depict some of the sights recommended by Amedeo, all situated in the narrow streets of the ancient Greek grid of Naples.

Laura Vinti is a native Neapolitan living in the greater Washington, DC area. An MFA student in Fiction, she’s writing a historical novel set in 1500s Naples.