Porta San Gennaro, located in front of the Borgo dei Vergini, is one of the oldest of the ancient entryways into Naples. Mentioned in sources from 928, it was demolished and rebuilt the first time during the city’s Ducal period and a second time in 1537 during the Spanish viceroyalty as desired by Don Pedro di Toledo. The door is dedicated to San Gennaro as it had once been an obligatory passage to reaching the catacombs of the patron saint.
In 1656, at the end of a violent plague, the Council of the Elects of Naples decided that votive images should be painted on all city gates as a sign of thanks to the saint for escaping the plague. The execution of the works was entrusted to Mattia Preti who established himself in those years as one of the leading painters in the city’s artistic panorama. Preti was one of the finest Neapolitan baroque painters of his time and his work was fundamental for many Neapolitan artists of the time. Of the seven frescoes painted for the seven Neapolitan entry gates, the only one that has survived is Porta San Gennaro. The fresco depicts the Virgin with Child, flanked by St Gennaro, St. Francis Xavier and St. Rosalia, all who intervened to end the plague.
The scene is divided into two registers: in the upper one, the Virgin and Child in the midst of a glory of Angels rest on a crescent moon; a typical iconographic attribute of the Immaculate Conception. On one side we can see San Gennaro in his bishop’s vestments holding the miraculous vial of blood in his hands and on the other side is St. Francis Xavier pointing towards the cartouche with the inscription: S. FRANCISCUS XAVE … PATRONUS. Santa Rosalia, in monastic habit, wears a crown of roses in the background.
In the lower part of the fresco are depicted the Neapolitan peoples’ misfortunes and sufferings from the plague. On the left (now almost illegible) the Allegory of the Plague is seated on the steps and is depicted as a woman full of sores and covered in rags caught in the act of biting herself (symbolizing a self-feeding of the disease through contagion).
The history of the restoration of the fresco appears to be very troubled: twenty years after the construction of the votive shrine, the painting was damaged by the terrible earthquake of 1688 and by the mid-eighteenth century it was in a very poor state of conservation. At the end of the 1800s the decision was made to finally restore it. Unfortunately the restoration was very poorly carried out making it almost completely indecipherable. The last restoration dates back to the 1990s but today the fresco is degraded and blackened due to the effect of polluting atmospheric agents and lack of maintenance.
|Time of realisation
|Collaborations and partnerships
MIBACT – Comune di Napoli – ARen – ACEN – FAI – INFRACOOP – DEL CORE RESTYLING – RANIERI