Museo Cappella Sansevero
Via Francesco De Sanctis 19/21, Napoli
The Sansevero Chapel Museum in the historic heart of Naples is a jewel of the world’s artistic heritage. Here, baroque creativity, dynastic pride, beauty and mystery blend to create a unique and almost timeless atmosphere.
With its masterpieces such as the famous Veiled Christ, renowned world over for the remarkable tissue-like quality of the marble, feats of virtuosity such as Disillusion, and enigmatic creations such as the Anatomical Machines, the Sansevero Chapel is one of the most impressive monuments that the human mind has ever conceived.
A noble mausoleum, a temple of initiation, which admirably reflects the multi-faceted personality of its ingenious architect, Raimondo di Sangro, seventh Prince of Sansevero.
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These disquieting objects were kept in a room in the palace of the Prince of Sansevero, called “the Apartment of the Phoenix”, as a number of travellers and the Short note attest. This source describes the Machines in detail, from the blood vessels of the head to those of the tongue, and adds that at the feet of the women was placed “the tiny body of a foetus”, alongside which there was even the open placenta, connected to the foetus by umbilical cord. The two anatomical studies were moved to the Chapel, and in this way saved from destruction or loss, long after the death of the Prince. The remains of the foetus were still visible up to a few decades ago, until they were stolen.
The Anatomical Machines have fuelled the so-called “black legend” about the Prince of Sansevero. Also Benedetto Croce recounts that, according to popular belief, Raimondo di Sangro “had two of his servants killed, a man and a women, and had the bodies strangely embalmed so that they showed all the viscera, the arteries and the veins”. These experiments need to be contextualised within the wide-ranging spectrum of experiments and interests of the Prince of Sansevero, who also took an interest in medicine. Furthermore, the skeleton of the woman was on a base and could be made to “turn right round so as to allow observation of all the parts”, which leads to the conclusion that Raimondo di Sangro had designed it as an object of study. It should not be forgotten, however, that he intended to – and succeeded in – amazing contemporary and future observers, and the original location of the Machines in the Apartment of the Phoenix is significant, given the association of the bird in question with the myth of resurrection and immortality.