December of last year. In Lyon an auction is scheduled with various junk, grandmother’s paintings, flayed lamps, kitsch furniture, sets of knives and teaspoons. There is also a Neapolitan canvas of seemingly cheap labor. Among the participants, the antique dealer Umberto Giacometti, accustomed to finding jewels for museums like the National Gallery in Washington. Wait your job. He has the coup in mind. He sits in silence while everything parades in front of him, and the old measures go up to 100 euros.
Here is the Neapolitan image. It is presented as an 18th century painting. It is three meters long and 80 centimeters high with the blue sky and the sea, and in the center the view of Naples. Giacometti’s gaze lights up. The antique dealer looks at the work. He isn’t sure, but his intuition tells him to bet. It is a picture like so many that Grand Tour travelers appreciated, a placid, shiny, comfortable Naples. There are a couple of offers around 1,000 euros, but Giacometti immediately beats them all. He offers a disproportionate figure for this type of work. Around 30,000 euros. Everyone withdraws, there are no specialists capable of understanding that this work could even reach 300,000 euros in the first instance. And one, and two, and three. Nobody goes up, the job is yours.
As soon as it was delivered to him in Naples, Giacometti entrusted it to two expert restorers, Karin Tortora and Francesca Rodia, which remove false colors and reveal the “true” image, with the sea and sky restored to their old, dark and dreary colors. It is a canvas of the French. didier barra, Giacometti is convinced of this. It would not date from the eighteenth century but from the second before. Specifically from 1622. The historical value is given by the representation of the flight by boat from Naples of the Spanish viceroy Antonio Zapata y Cisneros after a popular uprising against him.
1622 was a year of misery. There was famine, the grain from other countries did not arrive. Poverty was so widespread and inflation so high that people filed away copper coins, which had dwindled to half their original size, and then sold the proceeds on the black market. It was also the year of the state mint scam, where a shipment of gold for new coins arrived and disappeared.
But it is not so much the historical episode that gives value to the canvas. It is the city portrayed. For the first time, all of Naples appears on a canvas, from Posillipo to farmhouses and distant villages like Pianura, from Camaldoli to the port, passing through Pozzuoli and Capo Miseno. It is not the oldest canvas of Naples, because the primacy belongs to the famous Strozzi table of the end of the XV century, but never before in the canvas of Barra had the whole of Naples been portrayed.
There are also the Royal Palace, then built only in its two wings with the third under construction, the Caligula bridge in Pozzuoli, destroyed forever a few years later, and the lighthouse on the great pier, which collapsed a few months later due to a fire and was rebuilt in another form. The buildings are scientifically aligned, as are the streets and crossroads, although precise instruments did not exist at the time. All the palaces have the number of windows they actually had, all the churches have steeples of exact proportion, or so Giacometti claims. Barra now climbed the Camaldoli hill, now the highest point of the castle of San Martino, and then he went church by church, building by building, measuring and drawing, and thus in a work that lasted for years he represented the city in its entirety. «Probably the painting was destined for the viceroy, as a memory of his brief reign, that is why a swan flies in the sky, which in Spanish is called cisneros. The work was found in the south of France, near Spain,” says Giacometti, in whose studio the canvas will remain on display until Monday, before returning to the restorers for another month of work.
“It can be worth up to a million euros, I hope that Neapolitan museums are interested in it,” continues the antique dealer, so “its natural destination is San Martino, where another canvas by Barra, the View of Naples, is already on display.”
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in Il Mattino
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