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The diamonds, rubies and emeralds of the Treasure of Naples

mitre de San Gennaro du Trésor de NaplesThe Musée Maillol in Paris presents until July 20th, 2014 some of the most precious pieces of the Treasure of Naples. The jewels and objects are dedicated to the main patron saint of Naples, San Gennaro, who protects the city and its inhabitants from epidemics and volcanic eruptions.

San Gennaro was a bishop who died in 305 near Pouzzoles; he was a victim of the last Christian persecution in the Roman Empire ruled by Diocletian. According to the legend, the bishop has accomplished miracles and his blood kept in flasks liquefied for the first time early in May at the beginning of the 4th century. Neapolitans have collected precious objects since 1305 when Charles II d'Anjou bequeathed a gold reliquary-bust enriched with gemstones. On 13th January 1527 an exceptional agreement was officially established between the inhabitants of Naples and their patron saint, which led to the construction of the Chapel of San Gennaro meant to host the treasure yet to come.
The Neapolitans committed at that time that themselves and the future generations will gather jewels and one-of-a kind pieces to compose a unique treasure, it counts today 21 610 pieces and values more than the heritage of the British Royal Family or the one of the Russian Tsars according to some experts. The miracle of the liquefaction of the blood has inspired writers like Alexandre Dumas who refers to it in the chapter 19 of his book Le Corricolo.

archange Gabriel en argent massif du Trésor de Naplescroix du Trésor de Naples avec émeraudes de ColombieMost of the liturgical objects displayed at the Musée Maillol this spring are not shown to the public on a daily basis in Naples and some of them have never been unveiled in an exhibition before. The works of art were ordered by sovereigns and popes and done in Naples by famous craftsmen such as Giuseppe Sanmartino, Lorenzo and Domenico Antonio Vaccaro. The collection comprises 54 sculptures among them the one of the archangel Gabriel (1691) in solid silver made by Gian Domenico Vinaccia.

The Chapel and its treasure belong to the Deputation, a secular authority established in 1601 and managed by 10 nobility representatives and two people representatives. Thanks to the Deputation the city of Naples and its artists didn't really suffer from fundamentalist movements throughout history such as the terrible Inquisition.

The exhibition at the Musée Maillol shows the treasure of Naples in its historical context, it is surrounded by important paintings by Lucas Giordano, du Dominiquin, Micco Spadaro and Francesco de Solimena. The necklace of San Gennaro is the major piece of the exhibit; it gathers donations made between 17th and 19th century by monarchs and emperors except for the two earrings on the top that a woman gave to the Chapel after she survived the epidemic cholera in 1884. The mitre of San Gennaro created in 1713 stands next to the necklace, it features 3 326 diamonds, 164 rubies of which one is called "the lava of Vesuvius" because of its intense red colour and 198 emeralds, the most beautiful collection of Colombian emeralds known to date.