The seven young Neapolitan aristocrats that founded the charity institution of Pio Monte della Misericordia in the break of the 17th century ( 1601 ), would never have imagined that they were setting up one of the most admirable and important cultural sites that Naples can demonstrate today. The historical complex that embodies a baroque church and a picture gallery, still serves its original purpose of helping the ones in need, but also stands out as a brilliant sight, set right in the heart of the most original and old part of Naples.
Situated on Via dei Tribunali, right opposite Duomo’s side and Guglia di San Gennaro, you pass through the four-apse façade before you enter the magnificent, octagonal cross plan church, that even though is small in size, it is of great artistic importance. Paintings and sculpture masterpieces decorate each of the eight sides, including “ Deposizione” by Luca Giordano and “San Pietro liberato di carcere” by Battistelo Caracciolo , two of the most important Neapolitan 17th century artists. But, the incomparable and indisputable masterpiece which makes the site so famous is Caravaggio’s huge painting that adorns the high altar, “The seven acts of Mercy”, one of the three paintings of his that can be admired in Naples.
At the highest point of his chiaroscuro technique, Caravaggio orchestrates a complex, dramatic scene full of movement and baroque intensity.
The original commission was for a series of seven works, each depicting a different act of mercy, but Caravaggio ingeniously incorporated them all in one great masterpiece. The original document of the commission and Caravaggio’s payment of 400 ducats is displayed in the picture gallery housed on the first floor.
You can reach it through a monumental staircase in order to admire an important group of paintings of Renaissance and Baroque, that includes works by Francesco de Mura, Antrea Vaccaro who was clearly influenced by Caravaggio, José de Ribera and Paul van Somer from the Flemish school. All paintings are exhibited in the institution’s original rooms, among 17th century furniture, silverware, sculpture and decorative objects. The Sala del Coretto in particular offers suburb views towards the chapel and Caravaggio’s great painting. A library of 17.000 volumes completes the monumental complex and adds another artistic side of spiritual depth.
As a unity, this museum and institution offers a wonderful chance of observing some of the most important works of art that Naples has to show in their original site, while keeping alive its original cause and mission for more than 400 years now.
Pio Monte della Misericordia: Via dei Tribunali 253, Naples