A collection fit for royalty

Masterpieces of the 16th and 17th century are reunited in their original palace home

Alastair Smart


On Via Toledo, in the heart of Naples, is a Baroque palace where history is being made this winter. Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano – nowadays owned and used as an art museum by Intesa Sanpaolo, Italy’s largest bank – is hosting an exhibition called Rubens, Van Dyck, Ribera: A Princely Collection.

It features 36 works, all from the 16th and 17th century, including The Feast of Herod by Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of the Engravers, Pieter de Jode the Elder and Pieter de Jode the Younger by Anthony van Dyck) and Drunken Silenus by Jusepe de Ribera.

“This is a special moment at Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano,” says Michele Coppola, Executive Director of art, culture and historical heritage at Intesa Sanpaolo. “Not just because we’re staging a fine exhibition, the product of superb study and research, but because we’re offering the city of Naples a collection of art that’s returning home.

“Works that, centuries ago, were kept in this palace are now back for a few months. It’s something truly to be treasured.”

The palace was built in the 1630s for the merchant Giovanni Zevallos (later Duke of Ostuni). On his death, it passed to his son Francesco – only for the latter to run up huge debts and lose everything he’d inherited. In 1653, the property was sold to Jan Vandeneyden, a successful Flemish merchant who’d settled in Naples.

Vandeneyden and his son Ferdinando would build a highly impressive art collection. They acquired works by leading painters not just in Naples (such as Ribera and Luca Giordano), but also in Flanders (such as Rubens, Cornelis de Wael and Jan Brueghel the Younger).

An inventory taken at the end of the 17th century recorded 300 paintings in the collection – though these would all be sold off and dispersed at the start of the 19th century, when the family became beset by discord and financial problems.

The current exhibition sees 36 pieces from the Vandeneyden collection reunited in Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano for the first time since that dispersal. In a bid to track works down, Intesa Sanpaolo drew on the expertise of a host of scholars of 17th-century art, including Christopher Brown, Giuseppe Porzio, Renato Ruotolo, Keith Sciberras, Maria Cristina Terzaghi, Gert Jan Van der Sman and Aidan Weston Lewis.

Works that, centuries ago, were kept in this palace are now back for a few months. It’s something truly to be treasured
Michele Coppola, Executive Director of art, culture and historical heritage at Intesa Sanpaolo.

“At Intesa Sanpaolo, our aims go beyond the financial well-being of the communities we serve,” says Coppola. “We look to contribute to their cultural well-being, too, through initiatives such as the Rubens, Van Dyck, Ribera exhibition.

“The masterpieces on show celebrate the breadth of art that was being made and collected in Naples in the second half of the 17th century. They also confirm the strong connection between our bank and the city – and the role of the gallery as an increasingly significant, cultural reference point here.”

At three venues across Italy, Intesa Sanpaolo operates a network of art museums it calls the Gallerie d’Italia: one in Milan, one in Vicenza and the other (Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano, open since 2007) in Naples. In each, it shows pieces from its 30,000-strong art collection, as well as temporary exhibitions.

The works in this winter’s Naples show have been lent by an array of museums and private collections worldwide – including the Prado Museum in Madrid; the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston; the National Galleries of Scotland in Edinburgh; the Capitoline Museums in Rome; the Toledo Museum of Art (Ohio); National Gallery of Athens; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

Coppola says: “The international nature of these loans is entirely in keeping with the international nature of the Vandeneydens’ collection, which mixed Italian masters with Flemish ones.”

Another example of the collaboration that the exhibition has entailed is the way its curator Antonio Ernesto Denunzio (Intesa Sanpaolo’s head of exhibitions) invited Gabriele Finaldi (director of London’s National Gallery) on board as a consultant curator.

As for the prince referred to in the exhibition title, that is Giuliano Colonna di Stigliano – who married Ferdinando Vandeneyden’s daughter Giovanna in 1688 and was known as the Prince of Sonnino. His heirs would inherit his title, precious art collection and Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano.True to its roots, the palace today specialises in Neapolitan painting from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Intesa Sanpaolo uses the venue for the long-term display of works it owns with a connection to Naples’ artistic past. The best-known example is The Martyrdom of St Ursula, the magnificent final picture by Caravaggio, painted in the city in 1610. The 36 works from the Vandeneyden collection, then, neatly complement the art on view elsewhere in Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano. “Written sources survive from the Vandeneydens’ day, emphasising the excellence of the art on their walls,” Denunzio says. “And what a thrill it is to see so many of the paintings, centuries later, back on the same walls again.“For the city of Naples, too, this is a source of much pride: a reminder of its rich history and the period when it was a cultural hub linking north Europe and south.”

Rubens, Van Dyck, Ribera: A Princely Collection is at the Palazzo Zevallos Stigliano, Naples, until April 7
Cover Photo:
Peter Paul Rubens

(Siegen, Vestfalia 1577 –Anversa 1640)
Herod’s Banquet, 1635/1638, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh
oil painting on canvas, 208 x 272
Luca Giordano
(Naples 1634 – 1705)
Birth of Venus,
Chalon-sur-Saône, Museée Vivant Denon
oil painting on canvas, 174 x 314 cm
Salvator Rosa
(Naples 1615 – Rome 1673)
Landscape with men in arms,
1655/1660, County Museum of Art, William Randolph Hearst Collection, Los Angeles
oil painting on canvas, 76,2 x 99 cm
Jusepe de Ribera
(Xátiva 1591 – Naples 1652)

Inebrieted Silenus,
1626, Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Naples
oil painting on canvas, 185 x 229 cm
Pic by Luciano Romano
By permission of Ministry of Cultural and Environmental Heritage and Activities
Massimo Stanzione
(Orta di Atella [?]1585 – Naples 1656)
Sacrifice of Moses,
Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, Naples
oil painting on canvas, 288 x 225 cm
Mattia Preti
(Taverna, Catanzaro 1613 – La Valletta 1699)
St. John the Baptist preaches before Herod,
second half of the sixth decade of the seventeenth century,
Shanks Collection
oil painting on canvas, 176,5 x 256,5 cm

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