Naples is home to much glorious baroque, but here’s a place where the Florentine Renaissance extended south. The church and monastery of the Olivetan monks (Benedictines) was begun in 1411. Despite dramatic changes – a revision to suit baroque taste in the main church, an 1805 earthquake, a bomb strike in 1944 and the modern enclosure of the original four cloisters within a carabinieri (police) barracks – the monks’ refectory, redesigned and frescoed by Giorgio Vasari in the 1540s, remains to enthrall the visitor.
Not that Vasari wanted the commission at first, dismissing the space as ‘Gothic, low and dark’, an impression probably reinforced by the beautiful but old-fashioned marquetry around the walls (including a delightful rabbit).
But once the ceiling was re-stuccoed to his specifications, creating shapes in plaster ‘in the modern style’ upon which to paint, Vasari settled to work. Assigning a vault each to Faith, Religion and Eternity, he added associated virtues and many zodiac and mythological images. Thus the monks who ate here in silence could read the images above them both as a book of instruction and an aid to prayer.
Dear Readers, today’s note is quite a scoop! This refectory is not in the guidebooks as it has been under renovation forever. Just recently opened, and “rediscovered” by Penny. Great work, hats off to her!