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The ascension of Saint Gennaro
Vaccaro, Andrea
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Vaccaro, Andrea

Naples, 1604 - Naples, 1670

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The ascension of Saint Gennaro

1635. Oil on canvas.
Not on display

Bishop Gennaro (or Januarius) is the patron saint of Naples, and thus the subject of numerous works from that city’s rich school of painting. According to tradition, he was bishop of Benevento during the Diocletianic Persecution in the third century AD. While visiting Pozzuoli, north of the Gulf of Naples, Gennaro was taken prisoner and tortured in various ways, miraculously emerging unscathed. Finally he was decapitated and buried there.

At the Duomo in Naples, relics of Saint Gennaro are housed in a luxurious chapel built for that purpose in the seventeenth century. The most famous remains are two glass vials in which Gennaro’s followers stored some of his blood. To this day the vials are exhibited to the faithful on the anniversary of his death. The miraculous liquefaction of his blood on that day, 19 september, is considered a sign of his protection of Naples. Among the most important events attributed to Saint Gennaro’s intervention are the end of a plague epidemic in 1526 and the miraculous protection of Naples from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1631. It was exactly this latter event that Neapolitan painter Andrea Vaccaro extoled in this exalted depiction of his patron.

Vaccaro’s artistic training, traditionally attributed to Girolamo Imparato (active 1573-1621), took place in his hometown and followed the strictest naturalism of Caravaggio. This was the predominant style in Naples during Vaccaro’s youth, as Caravaggio had spent time there and some of his finest followers settled in that city, including Jusepe de Ribera. After visiting Rome, Vaccaro tempered his style with the elegant forms and vivid colours of Bolognese classicism to craft a personal andsuccessful formula that clearly echoes the approaches of Guido Reni and Massimo Stanzione (1585-c.1656/58), who also worked in Naples. To this he added his own sense of naturalism, attaining a refined, pleasing balance that was very appropriate for religious subjects and much in demand among his fellow citizens and Spanish patrons. Vaccaro gained great fame in Madrid during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

In this representation of the principal Neapolitan saint, Vaccaro displays his particular merging of the vernacular with the Bolognese aesthetic. The composition, with the saint sumptuously characterised as a bishop and a host of cherubs carrying him through the clouds with his attributes, draws on Ribera’s painting of the same subject made around 1635 for the convent of the Augustine nuns of Monterrey in Salamanca. The artist sought an image that was both triumphant and measured, eschewing the vertiginous celestial ascensions then characteristic of the High Baroque. The smooth, delicate placement of the saint’s hands and up-turned eyes are indicative of why he reached heaven. His ecstatic gaze towards the light breaking through the sky and his left hand resting on his heart are both allusions to his commitment to God that resulted in his martyrdom. With his other arm, Gennaro reaches for two small vials of blood that symbolise his martyrdom.

The miracle is depicted with a chromatic austerity, in keeping with Vaccaro’s mature work, and the artist’s proud signature appears in the form of gilded initials. The earthly setting below is the city of Naples, which is meticulously depicted to transmit its status as a populous and wealthy town, with its great port, crowded houses and grand monuments. This emphasises Saint Gennaro’s ties to his city, which he protects from the bay itself (Aterido, A.: Italian Masterpieces. From Spain´s Royal Court, Museo del Prado, 2014, p. 148).

Technical data

Inventory number
Vaccaro, Andrea
The ascension of Saint Gennaro
Height: 207 cm; Width: 154 cm
Royal Collection (Palacio Real de La Granja, Segovia, 1772).

Bibliography +

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., Pintura italiana del S. XVII en España, Universidad Fundación Valdecilla, Madrid, 1965, pp. 467.

Salas, Xavier de, Museo del Prado. Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1972.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 719-720.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Pintura napolitana: de Caravaggio a Giordano, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 338, nº 150.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado. Inventario general de pinturas (I) La Colección Real, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1990, pp. 224.

Aterido Fernández, Ángel, Andrea Vaccaro 'The ascension of Saint Gennaro' En:, Italian masterpieces from Spain's royal court, Museo del Prado, National Gallery of Victoria Thames & Hudson, 2014, pp. 148.

Other inventories +

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1910. Núm. 469.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1942-1996. Núm. 469.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 515.

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 800.
Vaccaro. / 800. San Genaro, obispo de Benevento. / El santo es trasportado al cielo por un grupo de angeles que al mismo tiempo llevan sobre un misal dos frascos con la sangre del santo martir. Fondo: celage con la vista de la ciudad de napoles y su puerto. / Alto 7 pies, 5 pulg; ancho 5 pies, 6 pulg.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 800.

Inscriptions +

AV [entrelazadas]
Signed. Front, central area

Inscribed in orange. Front, lower left corner

18 (4 veces)
Scrap of paper. Frame, back, bar

Scrap of paper. Frame, back, right side bar

Inscribed with chalk. Back, central area

Inscribed. Stretcher

Nº 469 (2 veces)
Inscribed with chalk. Stretcher

Nº 469 (2 veces)
Frame, back, bar

S. Genaro / V
Inscribed. Frame, back, right side bar

Se puede / usar
Inscribed. Frame, back, lower bar

Exhibitions +

Italian Masterpieces from Spain's Royal Court. Museo Nacional del Prado
16.05.2014 - 31.08.2014

Update date: 09-04-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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