Campania's fertile and rich lands have attracted various peoples since prehistoric times, so it's not surprising that the territory bears the marks of many civilizations. Campania boasts Italy's richest trove of monuments from antiquity, with superb Greek ruins and unique Roman remains. You'll also find medieval castles and towns, Longobard, Norman, and Norman-Sicilian (or Arabo-Norman) architecture, and some of the richest collections of Renaissance and baroque monuments in Italy. However, art here didn't die with modern times -- Naples continues to be a lively center of artistic life, especially in music and the figurative arts.
The islands and mountains of Campania are home to a huge trove of prehistoric art, from the grottoes of Palinuro and Marina di Camerota, to the necropolis of Mirabella Eclano, to the beautiful painted terra cottas of the Grotta delle Felci in Capri, to the rich Grotta di Pertosa near Salerno. Prehistoric Italy is probably the least appreciated aspect of Italian history, but it's fascinating.
The Legacy of the Etruscans & the Greeks on Local Italic Art
The Greeks and the Etruscans started to introduce their artistic styles to Campania in the 9th century B.C. From the ruins of Cuma -- the first Greek colony in Italy -- to the wonderful temples of Paestum, to the acropolis of Velia, Campania is rich with examples of Greek architecture, and the region's jewelry and metal work bear the mark of Etruscan influence. Etruscan and Greek styles were deeply embedded in the art of the local Italic populations when the Sannites took over the region in the 5th century B.C. The best examples of Italic art are the marvelous statues from the Sanctuary of the Goddess Matuta in Santa Maria Capua Vetere; and in particular the superb wall paintings from the tombs of Cuma, Capua, and Paestum, in the archaeological museums of Naples, Capua, and Paestum.
With its harbors, fertile plains, and thermal waters, Campania was a key region for the Romans when it came to local artistic development. To the great private homes built along the coasts and on the islands -- especially in Herculaneum, Pompeii, Oplontis, and Boscoreale -- Rome added many grand public buildings, such as the amphitheater in Capua Vetere; the triumphal arch in Benevento; the villas of Minori, Pozzuoli, Baia; and the rich collections now in the museums of Naples, Capua, and Salerno.
The Byzantines, the Normans & the Longobards
Most of the early examples of art and architecture of the Middle Ages suffered from extensive damage, particularly by the Longobards. Only with the citizens' conversion to Catholicism and then with the arrival of the Normans did Byzantine art have a rebirth. The cathedrals of Capua, Salerno, and Amalfi are the richest examples of medieval art in the area, together with the Basilica of Sant'Angelo in Formis, the cathedral of Sant'Agata dei Goti, and the cathedral of Casertavecchia, as well as the Sanctuary of Montevergine and the cloister of Sant'Antonio in Ravello.
Campania also boasts several examples of magnificent medieval bronze doors, such as the ones in the cathedrals of Amalfi, Atrani, and Salerno. Classic Romanesque and Arab and Sicilian architecture intersect in these cathedrals. So do many of Campania's local cloisters, such as Amalfi's cathedral and the ex-convent of the Capuchins, Ravello's Palazzo Rufolo, and Sorrento's cloister of Saint Francis.
Renaissance & Baroque
When the Angevins moved the capital of their kingdom to Naples, the enormous artistic development that was the Renaissance exploded in Campania. Famous artists came here from Tuscany -- Lello da Orvieto, Giotto, Tino da Camaino, and Donatello -- while local artists emerged on the scene, including Roberto d'Oderisio, Niccolò di Bartolomeo da Foggia, and Colantonio, the teacher of Antonello da Messina. The results are visible in the many churches of Naples and in the Castel Nuovo.
In Salerno, the local painter Antonio Sabatini da Salerno gained renown in the early 16th century. Some of the most powerful examples of Campanian High Renaissance style are in Naples, where many Italian artists were active, including Rossellino, Benedetto and Giuliano da Maiano, Fra Giovanni Giocondo, Fra Giovanni da Verona, Pietro Bernini, Giorgio Vasari, Polidoro da Caravaggio, and Antonio Solaro. The chapels of Monte Oliveto and the Duomo in Naples are some of the best from this period.
In the 17th century, Caravaggio visited Naples and gave birth to the Neapolitan school of painting, which flourished in the 17th and 18th centuries under such names as Battistello Caracciolo, Andrea Vaccaro, Francesco Guarini, and Luca Giordano. Other Italian artists active in Naples during that period were Artemisia Gentileschi and Domenichino.
As with the rest of Italy, baroque art eventually gained dominance in Naples. The painter Francesco Solimena, together with sculptors Domenico Antonio Vaccaro (son of Lorenzo) and Giuseppe Sanmartino, were among its most famous practitioners. Among the many area architects, Luigi Vanvitelli, with his work on the Reggia di Caserta, emerged as the preeminent figure. Music by such important artists as G. B. Pergolesi and Domenico Cimarosa was also produced during this period.
The 19th and 20th centuries saw the continuation of Campania's artistic potential, with the School of Posillipo (Anton Pitloo, Salvatore Fergola) and later the Scuola di Resina in the 19th century, the Gruppo Sud, and the Gruppo 1858 in the 20th century. Modern painters such as Domenico Morelli and Francesco Paolo Michetti, along with sculptors such as Francesco Jerace, gained fame in the early 20th century, while one of the more contemporary artists to emerge is the painter Gianni Pisani. While the most famous composers of Italian opera generally hailed from other cities, the region did produce probably the most famous operatic performer of all time: Enrico Caruso, who was born in Naples in 1873.
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