Salvatore Balsamo (Naples, 1894 – 1922), The treasure chapel in San Gennaro in the Cathedral of Naples
Oil on canvas cm 75 x 55, signed (Sal. Balsamo) lower left.
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Salvatore Balsamo trained in Naples following the teachings of Vincenzo Irolli, Giuseppe Casciaro and Eugenio Scorzelli, but he defined the stylistic canons through which he interprets the representation of landscapes and Neapolitan marine, prominent subjects in his repertoire, also contributing to the observation of the works by Nicolas De Corsi. Marked for the robustness of the chromatic options adopted, he also addresses the themes of figure and gender, as evidenced by the “Interior with three figures of a woman” preserved in the collections of the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Milan. Because of his premature death – Balsamo died at only 28 years – the presence of the Neapolitan artist on the market is rare and sought in particular for the views set in the Gulf of Naples and descriptive of the daily life of the Neapolitan capital, in flat narrative tones and steeped in folklore, and scenes depicting architectural interiors.
This work is part of this last iconographic vein, characteristic of the best Balsamo production, probably made starting from the observation of a previous model, a painting executed in 1863 by the undisputed protagonist of the Posillipo school, Giacinto Gigante, resulting the painting presented here, the royal chapel of the treasure of San Gennaro, inside the cathedral of Naples. Balsamo portrays this extraordinary baroque liturgical environment most likely on the day dedicated to the celebration of the patron saint’s feast.
The chapel, a true architectural and artistic masterpiece, a place where Kings and Queens, nobles and people for centuries honored the Saint with gifts and prayers and where a blaze of frescoes, paintings, statues, silver busts, polychrome marbles welcome the faithful, it appears, in fact, teeming with a festive crowd of devotees who came to the church to pay homage to Gennaro. Balsamo, thanks to the adoption of a series of rapid touches of pasty color, succeeds in restoring in the composition the colorful mass of believers assembled at the High Altar, and of the balustrade that delimits, in the foreground, the altar placed in the part left.
The Chapel was consecrated on December 16, 1646: in it were placed the relics, the cruets containing the blood and the statues of the Neapolitan Saints. To embellish the most important place of worship for the Neapolitan popular devotion was placed a two-faced bust of San Gennaro in brass and bronze, made by Gennaro Monte. Furthermore, the Chapel was one of the four Conservatories of Naples. In fact it has perfect acoustics, the first example of quadraphony with two organs and two choirs. Among the Masters of Chapel active in this historic liturgical environment we remember illustrious composers such as Scarlatti, Cimarosa, Pergolesi and Durante.