The collection at Museo di Capodimonte in Naples rivals the world's best museums and holds major works by Bellini, Caravaggio, Massaccio and even Andy Warhol. I selected these five works that highlight two women artists and three fascinating female subjects as a way to dig into the larger collection. Budget cutbacks at Capodimonte require that not all the galleries are open every day. I hope these works will encourage you to go to Naples now and visit this extraordinary museum.
01 of 05
"Judith Slaying Holofernes" by Artemisia Gentileschi
Artemisia Gentileschi was a hugely successful artist in Baroque Italy, an even greater accomplishment because she was a woman. Trained by her father Orazio, Artemisia lived in Florence, Rome, and Naples where she worked for many high ranking patrons. Taken from the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament, Judith slaying Holofernes is a subject she worked with often. There's a version of this painting at the Uffizi in Florence but the Capodimonte painting is better, darker and shows the obvious influence of Caravaggio.
02 of 05
"Antea" by Parmigianino
This ravishing painting was almost lost during World War II when it was moved from Naples to the medieval abbey of Montecassino for safekeeping. The Allies forces dropped bombs over Montecassino but "Antea" had been taken to Berlin and stashed in the salt mines at Altaussee, Austria. It was returned to Naples in 1945.
Antea, painted between 1531-34 in the Mannerist style by Parmigianino, the bewitching model has never been identified. Her fur, gold chain, tiara and golden sleeves are all things commonly given to women as gifts from men who want to be their lovers. This work has traveled the world, most recently to the Frick Collection in New York.
03 of 05
"Danae" by Titian
This sensual painting done by Titian in 1544 depicts the myth from Ovid where Danae is seduced and impregnated by Zeus who descended from Mount Olympus and came over her in a shower of gold. Titian did many studies for this painting which can be found in the Museo del Prado and the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg. Danae is portrayed with the fleshy body of a Renaissance courtesan. Michelangelo saw the painting-in-progress in Titian's studio. It later influenced Rembrandt, Anthony Van Dyck, and Gustav Klimt.
04 of 05
"The Family of Ferdinando IV" by Angelica Kauffmann
Angelica Kauffman was a Neoclassicist painter who was one of two female founding members of the Royal Academy in London. She was a child prodigy who worked extensively in England and Rome for wealthy patrons. This portrait of the King of Naples and Sicily (also known as Re Nasone, King Big Nose) demonstrates the high ranking families who valued Kaufmann's talents. She identified herself as a history painter, a rare role for an already unusual female artist.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
05 of 05
"Lucretia" by Parmigianino
Lucretia is a not a mythological woman but a figure from early Roman history. Here she wears a cameo depicting the goddess Diana, a symbol of chastity. Lucretia was raped. When she disclosed the news, she stabbed her chest with a dagger to forget the insult and shame that had been forced upon her. In this image, Lucretia looks off to an unknown distance and holds the ornate dagger to the center of her half-bare chest.
This painting was originally part of the Farnese collection and is a less famous example of Parmigianino's work in spite of its luminous surface and dramatic composition. A similar pose and profile can be seen in his other works.
The museum and park are on a hilltop overlooking Naples. Take a quick cab ride from the historic city center to Via Miano. Or buy a ticket at any newsstand or "tabacchi" and catch bus 178 at Piazza Museo, right in front of the Archaeological Museum to go to the Capodimonte Museum.