by Selene Salvi (Eng. trans. By Jeff Matthews)
You gods, whose is the realm of spirits, and you, dumb shadows, and Chaos, Phlegethon, wide silent places of the night, let me tell what I have heard: by your power, let me reveal things buried in the deep earth, and the darkness.
--The Aeneid VI, 264-67 trans. A.S.Kline
Beneath the ground, Naples is a giant negative, an immense reverse image of itself, made up of caves, tunnels, cisterns, tombs, and shelters dug in the volcanic rock, easy to work, “light” but sturdy—the yellow tuff called, indeed, “Neapolitan”. It is a mysterious terrain, in part still unknown, that over the centuries has drawn legions of artists from all over Europe.
There are much older traditions, but the Neapolitan school of vedutismo (or veduta) officially surfaces in the 1700s; it moves between reality and fantasy to make the Parthenopean landscape one of the most fascinating subjects of the artist's craft during the Enlightenment. A volcanic outburst that breaks open the yellow tuff covered with Mediterranean shrubland often produces dark patches in the depths of the sea. The earth below then starts to surface on canvasses and in sketchbooks and becomes delightful and amusing, but also a testimony to hard work.
Between the end of the 1800s and the beginnings of the 1900s, the city starts to move gradually away from images of landscape traditionally associated with it, the painter's eye deserts the works of Nature and turns to those of Man. The small streets, squares and monuments now occupy the artist's space and become an eternal witness to the rapidly changing land. The earth below is again covered.
Fulvio De Marinis was born in Naples in 1971. He was a student of Augusto Perez at the Naples Academy of Fine Arts where he studied sculpture before definitively dedicating himself to his first love, painting. With De Martinis, the artist's eye withdraws even further, abandoning the surface completely, that which is “above”, and seems to look inward on itself in search of identity, of lost roots, ancestral desires and fears, until it finds a vision of that which dominates man so much more easily than man thinks he dominates it. The world below us becomes for the first time the undisputed master, a metaphor of revelation for the Parthenopean artist well aware that in his earth, as Erri De Luca tells us, “The underworld unleashes in us a feeling of the sacred; it has not come down upon us from the heavens, is not inspired by gazing from night-time terraces and contemplating comets, eclipses and constellations, but rather by scenting the gasses of the Fiery Fields, the Campi Flegrei and hearing the snarl of the broken earth and seeing the rivers of fire in the bowels of the volcano.” Thus begins De Marinis' intimate and personal nekya (in ancient Greece, a ritual by which ghosts were called up and questioned about the future) an adventure into a netherworld populated by ghosts, spirits, ancestors, souls and demons. It must have been that disheveled sibyl Melancrera-Testa Nera, (*1) who left her stone prison to guide him in twisted passage-ways through an upside-down world, along “the obscure paths of riddles, where a straight and easy way leads step by step into darkness” (Alexandra, 10-13 *2). The three-dimensionality of the flesh, of the places, is left behind for the two-dimensional vision of the eidola—the apparition, the image. You are in the soul-city of Naples. With De Martinis the places are again real actors within the artist's space, as, for example, “L'Antro della Sibilla”/The Grotto of the Sibyl, in which we recognize the remarkable gallery discovered by Maiuri in 1932 on Mount Cuma, or in “La Regina dei Cimmeri”/ The Cimmerian Queen” where the souls of the “pezzentelle” (*3) inhabit many spaces within the Fontanelle cemetery (an ancient tuff cave in the Sanità section of Naples, the site of an enormous ossuary) and are transformed into subjects of that realm where “the eye of the sun can never flash his rays through the dark and bring them light, not when he climbs the starry skies or when he wheels back down from the heights to touch the earth once more” (The Odyssey XI, 17-20, trans. Robert Fagles.) From votive niches they look mutely out at the future queen or guardedly look down from atop the “library” of thigh-bones, carefully stacked like books on shelves. At the center, the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, looks like an ancient veiled Isis, while daughter Demeter, who has gathered a pomegranate, turns in amazement and worry towards her guide (is it Ascalaphus, or the painter of icons, or even the observer?) who might keep her forever in this land of gloom by revealing the last of her secrets.
*note 1: Melancrera-Testa Nera– “Black head”, another name for the sibyl of Cuma, perhaps because of skin colour or complexion or perhaps even because her pronouncements were particularly obscure.
*note 2: Alessandra – a poem attributed to Lycophron, the Hellenistc Greek tragic poet (alive c. 250 BC). The poem relates the later fortunes of Troy and of Greek and Trojan heroes.
*note 3: pezzentelle – (lit. in rags, i.e. the poor. Refers to the souls of the poor stuck in Purgatory awaiting some “little shove” by the living to move on to Paradise.
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