24 Hours in Naples

Diego Armando Maradona is everywhere in Naples. To be fair, he always has been, ever since unfashionable Serie A strugglers Napoli snapped up the 24 year old wunderkind in 1984. He led them to two league titles, the Coppa Italia and Supercoppa, and the UEFA cup over the course of the following five seasons. To say that he is revered would be an understatement. His image, the replica shirts, the eponymous pizzas, the fridge magnets are everywhere. Diego is Napoli’s patron saint, the urchin from the wrong side of the tracks who dragged a club from the despised and derided south of the country to glory, and they will never forget him.

But, if possible, he seems more ubiquitous than ever this year. The reason is this : Napoli are on the verge of winning the Scudetto for the first time in 33 years. With twelve games remaining, they lead Serie A by a surely insurmountable 18 points. Banners and flags are already out, proclaiming them as Serie A champions with a third of the season yet remaining.

Tempting fate? Perhaps. But no other club in Serie A has Diego Maradona smiling down upon them…

But we’re not in Naples for Diego, inescapable as he may be. We’ve come for the Artemisia Gentileschi exhibition at the Gallerie d’Italia.

We took the high-speed Frecciarossa service from Venice. By booking ahead, we found Premium (somewhere between standard class and business class) tickets for 37 euros each way. And this is an absolute bargain. You get comfy seats with plenty of legroom, as well as complimentary coffee/biscuits/prosecco. It takes about five and a half hours, they apologise for being six minutes late and, really, it’s the only way to travel.

We stayed at the hotel Il Convento on Via Speranzella – good value, very nice breakfast, absolutely lovely staff. Would definitely stay there again. We head out for Negronis, and then off to the pizzeria La Speranzella for those wonderful Neapolitan-style pizzas with charred, pillowy crusts. Mine comes with an intensely rich tomato base, a layer of ricotta and – as a little bonus – half a meatball in the centre. It’s tremendous, but I regret having eaten so many snacks with my Negroni. The waiter discovers Caroline is a new Italian, and shakes her hand. Then we head back to the hotel, stopping to make a reservation for lunch at Antica Capri, for which they reward us with a glass of limoncello.

The following morning is grey and drizzly, but the Gallerie d’Italia is just five minutes walk away. Caravaggio’s final painting, The Martyrdom of St Ursula is upstairs in the private collection but, for once, mad old Michelangelo Merisi is not the main attraction. Today is all about Artemisia. It’s all about looking beyond the appalling events of her early life and that famous image of Judith beheading Holofernes (of which we see two other variations on the theme). It’s about Saint Catherine, Bathsheba and Susanna – inevitably surrounded by sleazy, leery men – and other great female figures of the Old Testament – and reminding us that, quite simply, she was a genuinely great artist. Feminist icon – that’s not for me to say – but the art is what remains. It’s what makes her great. It’s why, four hundred years after being the victim of some truly despicable people, she was ultimately the victor.

I’d say this is unmissable but, given it finishes on March 19th, the odds are you already have. And I’m sorry for that. It’s a wonderful exhibition.

There’s time for lunch, of course, at Antica Capri. Caroline has an amazing-looking stew of pasta e fagioli with seafood, under a crispy, charred pizza crust. I have a huge pile of crispy fried anchovies, with a bowl of chips on the side (I didn’t need them. I ate them anyway) and crusty bread. A bottle of Falanghina brings the total up to about 40 euros, and it’s terrific value. And then it’s time to head back to the station for the long, but blissfully comfortable, journey home. Napoli, the bookies predict, will probably officially win the scudetto in the first week of May. Diego will be looking down. I hope Artemisia will be too. There will be no better place in Italy to be…

2 thoughts on “24 Hours in Naples

  1. Thanks for the Venice-Naples train tip- what a bargain at €74! As for the Artemisia exhibit, I hope it was good as the extraordinary one held in Rome in 2016/17 at Palazzo Braschi – 100 works that included her contemporaries. (In May, the National Gallery of Ireland are holding a Lavinia Fontana exhibit…)


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