Neapolitan topics have curiously been neglected by British scholars of art history. The Research Forum decided to address this issue by organising a visit to Naples from 30 January to 2 February for Courtauld researchers to meet staff and students at the University. Napoli-phobia was not an option for our intrepid group, which consisted of Dr Joanna Cannon, Dr Georgia Clarke, Professor Paul Hills, Dr Susie Nash, Professor Patricia Rubin, Dr Peter Stewart and PhD student Edward Payne. Coordinated jointly by the Research Forum and Professor Francesco Caglioti of the University of Naples Federico II, the trip was designed to explore resources, make contacts and encourage research in Naples by Courtauld staff and students.

For four days, we took part in an intensive programme of lectures and site visits – conducted entirely in Italian – ranging from antiquity to the nineteenth century and spread out across the city. Discussions touched on a variety of artistic media, ranging from bronze horse heads to painted fresco ceilings. Our skills as linguists were put to the test, and the bar was set high by Patricia Rubin, who kicked off the programme with an engaging lecture on Parmigianino, delivered in fluent Italian. Equally stimulating lectures were given the next day by Francesco Aceto on Simone Martini, and by Francesco Caglioti on Donatello.

Our first site visit, led by Carlo Gasparri, explored the sculptural treasures and ancient artefacts from the Farnese Collection at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale. This was followed by an examination of an array of churches led by research students, some of whom were graduates of The Courtauld! From San Lorenzo Maggiore and San Domenico Maggiore, to the Cappella Pontano and the Duomo, students enlightened professors about the physical structure, interior decoration and elaborate history of these buildings. We watched with awe as the exponents of Italy’s oratory tradition spoke passionately and tirelessly – for as long as two hours – without glancing at notes or pausing to draw breath. These site visits not only tested our ear for Italian and our stamina for art history, but also the strength of our bladders, as no talk was interrupted by even the call of bodily functions!

On the final day we were transported from the myths of Virgil’s Tomb and the depths of the Crypta Neapolitana, to the heights of the Certosa di San Martino, with its breathtaking view over the bay of Naples. As we bid farewell to our Neapolitan friends and colleagues, who treated us with grace and hospitality every step of the way, a London exchange was mentioned. Many of us still remain in close contact with our hosts, and this research trip no doubt points to future Courtauld-Naples collaborations.

Edward Payne, PhD student

Research students managing their Napoli-phobia

Certosa di San Martino in Naples, with panorama of the city and Mount Vesuvius