Naples in Paris: An Unprecedented Collaboration between the Louvre and the Museo di Capodimonte

7 June 2023 – 8 January 2024

Francesco Mazzola, known as Parmigianino. Portrait of a Young Woman,
also known as Antea.
Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte © Luciano Romano

Paris, the city of love, is brimming with art, culture, and history, known for its charm, scenic views, and world-renowned museums, among them the Musée du Louvre. Naples, Italy’s picturesque city, boasting its own unique blend of historical and cultural wealth, is home to the Museo di Capodimonte, one of Italy’s largest and most important museums. In 2023, an unprecedented partnership is formed, as the masterpieces of Naples are set to grace the galleries of Paris. The regal palace of Capodimonte, once a hunting lodge for Naples’s Bourbon monarchs, now transports its treasure trove of art to the Louvre, showcasing collaborative efforts of European museums and reaffirming their importance.

The Louvre, originally a royal palace itself, and the Museo di Capodimonte have significant similarities – they both inherited their collections from eminent monarchs and symbolise the historical links between France and Italy. This grand partnership is a beacon of the Louvre’s future vision in Europe and museums. The six-month “Neapolitan season” in Paris will commence in June 2023 and will run until January 2024. The event will be accompanied by a diverse program of music and films, enriching the cultural environment and providing a full Neapolitan experience.

Naples at the Louvre: An Exhibition of Masterpieces

Around seventy masterpieces from Capodimonte will be exhibited in three different locations in the Louvre, presenting an exceptional array of art. The prestigious Grande Galerie will feature a stunning selection of works from two of the world’s foremost collections of Italian paintings. The Salle de la Chapelle will recount the history and diversity of the Capodimonte collection, assembled mainly by the Farnese and Bourbon families. Finally, the Salle de l’Horloge will showcase four outstanding cartoons (preparatory drawings) from the former Farnese collection, including one by Michelangelo, another by Raphael, and two by members of their circles. These works will be on display alongside the Louvre’s drawings by Raphael or his workshop, further emphasizing the artistic dialogue.

The Cultural Events: Extending Beyond the Louvre’s Galleries

The cultural events set to accompany this major exhibition are designed to echo the vibrant spirit of Naples in the heart of Paris. The program will include a wide array of activities, from concerts and performances to other festive events, held in the Louvre’s auditorium and galleries. These events will showcase the rich cultural past of Naples and its ongoing inspirational potential for contemporary artists. The celebration will feature the orchestra and singing school of the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, one of the world’s most prestigious lyric theatres. In addition, writers, filmmakers, and actors will participate in a film festival dedicated to “Naples through filmmakers’ eyes,” further enriching the ‘Neapolitan season’ in Paris.

The Museo di Capodimonte: An Unfolding Legacy

The Museo di Capodimonte, originally a royal palace (reggia in Italian), houses a collection covering all schools of Italian painting, making it one of the few museums in Italy with such a broad range. It also holds the second-largest department of drawings (after the Uffizi) and a remarkable collection of porcelain, bearing testimony to the exceptional artistry of the period. Some of these masterpieces, such as Danae and the Portrait of Pope Paul III by Titian and Antea by Parmigianino, are already known to many as they feature in art history textbooks, but their connection to Capodimonte may come as. Among the works on show will be the stunningly vivid ‘Portrait of Pope Paul III and his Grandsons’ by Titian, as well as El Greco’s evocative ‘Portrait of Giulio Clovio’. Moreover, the exhibition will display the exquisitely crafted Farnese casket, a masterpiece of Renaissance goldsmithing, which, akin to Benvenuto Cellini’s golden salt cellar made for King François I, underscores the heightened artistic flair of the period. Another notable object of art on display is Filippo Tagliolini’s spellbinding biscuit porcelain group, ‘The Fall of the Giants’, reflecting the richly imaginative spirit of the age.

Equally captivating is the Salle de l’Horloge, exhibiting some of the 30,000 drawings in the Museo di Capodimonte’s collection. Among these are Fulvio Orsini’s illustrious works, including his notable cartoons, ‘Moses before the Burning Bush’ and ‘Group of Soldiers’. Believed to be the works of Raphael and Michelangelo respectively, these drawings are iconic of Orsini’s visionary approach to art, which propels drawing to an elevated stature. These rare works will be displayed alongside the Louvre’s own cartoons, fostering an enriching dialogue between the two esteemed collections.

Accompanying the exhibition is a diverse program of events celebrating Naples’ rich cultural heritage. The Louvre’s auditorium and galleries will host an array of concerts, performances, and festivities. Among the highlights will be performances by the orchestra and singing school of the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, one of the world’s most prestigious lyric theatres. Moreover, the museum will invite a host of writers, filmmakers, and actors to partake in a film festival dedicated to portraying Naples through the lens of cinema.

In describing the exhibition, Sylvain Bellenger, the director of the Museo di Capodimonte, underscores the monumental significance of this undertaking. Rather than simply focusing on an artist or movement, this exhibition focuses on a museum itself, highlighting the dynamic role museums play in shaping and preserving history. Bellenger further articulates the exhibition as a dialogue where art encounters history, and two museums intersect their narratives, thereby adding an innovative layer to the understanding of both.

The Museo di Capodimonte is intrinsically tied to the history of the kingdom of Naples, much like the Louvre is inextricably linked to the French Revolution. The royal palace, once serving as a hunting lodge for the Bourbon monarchs of Naples, houses the royal collections of the Farnese family. Isabella Farnese, queen consort of Spain, gifted this extraordinary collection to her son Charles of Bourbon when he ascended to the throne of Naples in 1734.

The Farnese collection has since evolved, enriching the culture and identity of Naples. With the creation of the Teatro San Carlo, the oldest opera house in Europe, and the establishment of a porcelain manufactory in Capodimonte, Naples has established itself as a vital stop on the Grand Tour and a significant cultural hotspot in Europe.

Post the Second World War, in 1957, the renovated Capodimonte palace became the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte, Italy’s premier picture gallery staging significant exhibitions on Neapolitan civilization. Now the museum, along with its historic park known as the Bosco di Capodimonte, form the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, the country’s largest public urban garden. Each building within the garden complex fulfills a unique cultural, educational, athletic, or culinary mission, forming a truly multidisciplinary cultural complex.

Filippo Tagliolini. The Fall of the Giants. Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte © Luciano Romano

This exhibition, Naples in Paris – The Louvre Hosts the Museo di Cap for brevity. Upon entering the Salle de la Chapelle, your eyes are drawn to the remarkable collection of major paintings. Foremost amongst these are Titian’s ‘Portrait of Pope Paul III and his Grandsons’ and El Greco’s ‘Portrait of Giulio Clovio.’ Together with the stunning sculptures and objets d’art, these masterpieces open up a world of enchantment that invites visitors to lose themselves in centuries past. The Fabulous Farnese Casket stands out as a paragon of Renaissance goldsmiths’ craft, comparable to the golden salt cellar created by Benvenuto Cellini for King François I. Filippo Tagliolini’s biscuit porcelain group, ‘The Fall of the Giants,’ is another show-stopper. These objects’ display echoes the various golden ages of the Kingdom of Naples, revealing the wealth and splendor of a lost epoch.

The next stop is the Salle de l’Horloge. This grand gallery showcases the extensive collection of drawings from the Museo di Capodimonte, amounting to over 30,000 works. Noteworthy pieces include Fulvio Orsini’s compilation of one of the greatest Italian collections of drawings. Orsini, who served as a librarian for Cardinal Alessandro Farnese, showcased works by Michelangelo and Raphael. This exhibition includes some of the most coveted pieces, such as ‘Moses before the Burning Bush’ by Raphael and ‘Group of Soldiers’ by Michelangelo, which were originally prepared for the Vatican’s decoration. Other highlights are the cartoons for ‘The Madonna of Divine Love’ and ‘Cupid Kissing Venus,’ long believed to be products of the masters’ circles. This rich collection of drawings and cartoons is displayed among famous works from the Louvre’s Cabinet des Dessins, including Raphael’s ‘Disputation of the Holy Sacrament,’ and ‘Moderation,’ by Raphael’s closest pupil, Giulio Romano.

Just as the exhibition embodies the grandeur of the artworks themselves, it simultaneously pays tribute to the vibrant culture of Naples through a diverse program of concerts, performances, and festive events. Visitors are invited to step into the shoes of artists past and present, experiencing the ‘Neapolitan season’ in the museum’s auditorium and galleries. Among the highlights are performances by the orchestra and singing school of the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, a lyrical theatre renowned worldwide. Moreover, there’s a film festival dedicated to ‘Naples through filmmakers’ eyes,’ featuring writers, filmmakers, and actors invited to share their unique perspectives on the city.

As part of this landmark exhibition, Sylvain Bellenger, the director of the Museo di Capodimonte, offers an enlightening overview of the museum’s history and its intertwined fate with the Kingdom of Naples. The histories of both Capodimonte and the Louvre are irrevocably intertwined with their respective countries’ political and cultural shifts. Bellenger further illuminates the shared history of these institutions, explaining that both museums were initially royal palaces, later turned into repositories of art. This parallel evolution imbues the exhibition with a sense of shared purpose and mutual respect, honoring the rich cultural histories that brought these museums and their collections into being.

The Capodimonte Museum, originally built to house the Farnese family’s collection, has a history as rich and illustrious as the Louvre. Isabella Farnese, queen consort of Spain and the last of the Farnese, gifted this impressive collection to her son, Charles of Bourbon, who later became the king of Naples. Bellenger guides visitors through this fascinating lineage, noting the museum’s expansion under successive political regimes and its post-WWII transformation into southern Italy’s foremost picture gallery. His insight paints a vivid picture of how art and history intersect, illuminating how museums like the Museo di Capodimonte and the Louvre can offer windows into the past.

This “Neapolitan season” at the Louvre is a compelling exploration of the art, culture, and history that unite and distinguish two great European cities. As the works of the Museo di Capodimonte fill the galleries of the Louvre, Paris becomes a stage for the vibrant spirit of Naples. The unprecedented collaboration invites audiences to encounter Italian art in a new and exciting context, promoting a deeper appreciation for the global tapestry of cultural heritage. The exhibition, accompanied by the diverse program of events, offers an experience that extends beyond the galleries and resonates with the heart of Naples. This historic collaboration underscores the invaluable role museums play in preserving and promoting art and cultural heritage.

Manno di Bastiano Sbari and Giovanni Bernardi. Farnese Casket (Cassetta Farnese). Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte. By courtesy of the Italian Ministry of Culture, Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte

Naples in Paris

The Louvre Hosts the Museo di Capodimonte

7 June 2023–8 January 2024
Denon wing: Salon Carré and Grande Galerie
Sully wing: Salle de la Chapelle

7 June–25 September 2023
Sully wing: Salle de l’Horloge



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