The Pharmacy of the Incurables in Naples

The Pharmacy of the Incurables is one of the most fascinating and enigmatic places in the city of Naples. Today, however, we will not tell you about the events and characters already treated elsewhere, but rather, we will propose a reinterpretation of the monument created by a great eighteenth-century artist: Pietro Bardellino.

Art in the Pharmacy of the Incurables

In the very interesting Pharmacy of the Incurables there is a work of great artistic and iconographic interest, a work not very well known, located as it is, in a place where the many scientific, historical and mystery attractions often reduce its well-deserved "appeal". It is a canvas painted in oil, large m. 11 x 5.90, placed on the ceiling of the Representation Hall, made by Pietro Bardellino in 1756: Macaone cares for Menelao Ferito. The work, in full harmony with the Metastasian current of melodrama, is inspired by a famous episode of the Iliad for its composition, competing at a distance with the almost contemporary Homeric frescoes painted by Tiepolo in the Villa Valmarana in Vicenza. It is a passage from the famous poem which tells of the prodigal intervention of Macaone, summoned to heal the wounds of the brave Menelaus, hit by a Pandaro arrow. Macaone, son of Asclepius and Epione, sucked in the infected blood of the patient with his mouth and then tried to soothe the infection of the poor Greek hero with some special remedies, as suggested by the master Chiron.

The artistic works in the Pharmacy of the Incurables

From the compositional point of view, the work is divided into four large sections, following a sort of narrative structure, closer to literature than to the figurative arts, very similar to the style of the time and to the great historical-mythological paintings of De Mura and Solimena, landmarks of Bardellino. Starting from the bottom left, in the first "frame" we can admire an agitated war scene, an ideal transposition of the iliac war; then a little to the right, in the background of a dilapidated building, we observe carefully the main scene, with the care given to poor Menelaus by the provident Macaone.

In the upper register, on the one hand, we observe a warlike allegory, most likely representing Mars, god of war, on the other, a swarm of angels. Very interesting, in the background, is the representation in medieval and turreted forms of the city of Troy, the scene of the whole story. It is more difficult, however, to go back to the iconographic sources used by the artist, also due to the great inventive freedom that characterized the painters in those years. The painting, one of Bardellino's first works, can be considered the cover image of the Pharmacy of the Incurables, where, in fact, the theme of treatment is associated with those of the battle against evil and the syncretism between classical and Christian elements, typical of the culture of the time. In fact, the presence of Mars and the Angels could represent the chronological and cultural continuity of Medicine, which from Hippocrates had reached the Century of Enlightenment, merging and often clashing with Catholic culture. Or as if to say, behind the saving action of men, there is always the invisible presence of the divinities! 

In short, a careful reading of Bardellino's masterpiece will allow you not only to fully enjoy the beauty of the painting of those years, but also to be able to re-read one of the most significant places in Naples with the enlightened gaze of one of the most important artists of the time.