Saint Cecilia in Ecstasy Bernardo Cavallino
Antea (detail)
Triumph of David, Andrea Vaccaro (Detail)
Flowers and Fruit with a Woman Picking Grapes
The Singer
Portrait of Pope Paul III with the Camauro (detail)
The Last Judgment (detail)
The Last Judgment (detail 2)
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An exquisite sample from one of the largest art collections in Italy

In his remarks on the opening of the new display of Baroque Masterpieces at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, Dr Sylvain Bellenger explained the creation of the vast treasures at the Capodimonte Museum, which houses over 47,000 items, including collections of paintings, antiques, furniture, and porcelain dating from the thirteenth century to art from modern times. It is one of the largest collections of art in Italy and the world.

The Capodimonte Museum, an eighteenth-century royal palace, was purposefully created to house a grand art collection. It is an example of a rare group of royal palaces that play host to extensive major western art collections. Others are the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and the Louvre in Paris.

The Capodimonte palace was a royal residence used for hunting and organised as a farm and historical garden. King Charles of Bourbon (1716-1788) began construction of the palace in 1738 to display the immense Farnese collection of Renaissance and Baroque artworks given to him by his mother, Elisabetta Farnese (1692 -1766), who was the Queen of Spain.

The Farnese art collection was associated with the Farnese family of Parma, and especially Alessandro Farnese (1463-1549), who would become Pope Paul III and would amass a significant collection of art during his lifetime. He came from a wealthy family that had produced several popes. As a wealthy aristocrat, he expressed his social power and grand status with commissions and acquisitions of art that would become the Farnese collection.

Subsequent Farnese heirs continued adding to the Farnese collection until 1731, with acquisitions of contemporary art produced from all Italian centres, including Rome, Parma, Bologna, Florence, and Venice. Elisabetta inherited the family’s centuries of artistic endeavour when her uncle Antonio Farnese died without a male heir.

When Charles of Bourbon was crowned the new sovereign of the Kingdom of Naples, Elisabetta Farnese endowed her son with the Farnese family art collection to reinforce his grandeur, power, and opulent wealth.

The Farnese collection includes works by the most renowned artists of the day. Paintings by Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, Giovanni Bellini, and El Greco are amongst the many masterpieces acquired and commissioned by the Farnese family.

During his reign as King, Charles, coming from a long line of royalty accustomed to amassing grand works of art, continued the aristocratic tradition and collected contemporary works from all over Europe, including the Baroque paintings that flourished in Naples. The city was home to many artists and workshops and was a flourishing market for art with a wide variety of subject matter. Some of the most prominent were Christian-themed works commissioned by the clergy to decorate the city’s thousands of churches and monasteries. These featured biblical stories and patron saints in dramatic scenes and situations.

Baroque, an important period in Western art history that emerged after the Renaissance period, is a style of seventeenth-century Italian art that is characterised by a dramatic contrast of light and dark, exaggerated movements and realistic representations of facial features, forms, and emotions.

This exhibition features forty late Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces highlighting the height of Neapolitan art in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The Road to the Baroque, Masterpieces from the Capodimonte Museum is a wholly rewarding and immersive experience. Along with the pleasant installations and informative descriptions of the paintings, Baroque music adds to the ambience and the exhibit provides a real flavour of what it is like to visit the palace in Naples in person.

Perhaps that is the true goal of this show.

However, for now, a visit to see these masterpieces will certainly be satisfying.

Text & photos by Cammy Yiu