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Meridian room

The Gran Salone della Meridiana (Meridian Room) is one of the most imposing roofed rooms in Europe; its construction was begun between 1612 and 1615 but was hindered by structural problems and was only completed in 1804. Between 1790 and 1793 the astronomer Giuseppe Casella thought of installing an Astronomic Observatory in the room but the only part of his design to be built was the solar meridian that gives it its name.

History and formationThe Gran Salone della Meridiana (Meridian Room) is one of the most imposing roofed rooms in Europe (length 54.80 m., width 20.80 m. and height 20.35 m.). Its construction dates back to the years 1612 – 1615 when, on the orders of the viceroy don Pedro Fernando de Castro, Conte di Lemos, it was decided to transform an unfinished sixteenth building used for the Real Scuderia (Royal Stables) so that it could house “Gli Studi” which until then had been situated in the rooms of the courtyard of the church of S. Domenico Maggiore. The work was assigned to the architect Giulio Cesare Fontana . However, the project was left unfinished. The only parts to be completed were the western wing and the central building whose interior, on the upper floor, consisted of the Gran Sala, which was originally intended to house a “public library”. The “Studi” were opened in June 1615 and remained there for over 150 years. However, the Room was almost certainly not open to the public for almost the entire seventeenth century because it was still unfinished. Even in the last decades of the seventeenth century, its structural instability caused considerable alarm, and this was intensified by the powerful earthquake that struck Naples in 1688 so that the Meridian Room, left unroofed, gradually fell into ruin. Shortly after his arrival in Naples, Charles of Bourbon (1734) entrusted the task of restoring the building to the architect Giovan Antonio Mediano. ItineraryDuring the reign of Charles III, the Farnese Library, which had become Bourbon property by inheritance, was transferred from Parma to Naples. The king had the idea of combining his own library with the public library, assigning it to the Gran Sala of Palazzo degli Studi, whose roof was rebuilt in 1735. However, when Charles III left Naples to take up the Spanish throne, his plans had not yet been completed. Following the transfer of the Regi Studi to the Real Convitto del Salvatore in 1777, work began on restoring the building of Palazzo degli Studi which was chosen by Ferdinand as the site of the Real Museo. In 1782, the Scalone and the Salone were restored according to the design of the Roman architect Pompeo Schiantarelli; the floor was replaced with glazed bricks (the current floor of polychrome marble dates to the nineteenth century), the old cupboards for the books were replaced with walnut shelving decorated by gilded cornices and arranged on two levels. Pyramid-shaped chests of drawers were installed to preserve mathematical instruments and the main entrance was decorated with four alabaster columns on the sides and two niches for statues. The vault was decorated with a splendid fresco by the Neapolitan artist Pietro Bardellino, dated 1781 and with the artist’s signature. The work celebrates the virtues of Ferdinand IV and his wife Marie Caroline of Austria as protectors of the Arts: Virtue crowns the two sovereigns who are surrounded by the personifications of the Sciences, Literature, the Arts, Faith, justice, Force and Truth. To emphasise the commitment of the royal couple towards culture, two mottoes complete the allegory: “Regis virtutibus fondata felicitas”, 'happiness is founded on the virtues of the king', and “Iacent nisi pateant”, 'artistic things languish if they are not displayed to the public'. Eighteen paintings illustrating the deeds in Flanders of Alessandro Farnese, condottiere and hero of the Counter-reformation, were arranged between the windows of the second order. Taken from the Farnese Palace in Piacenza, the paintings were done in the late seventeenth century by artists of the Farnese court such as G. E. Draghi and D. Piola. 1783 was the year of the official opening of the library as indicated in the commemorative stone plaque at the entrance composed by the scholar Francesco Daniele. Nevertheless, the date does not correspond to the actual opening; indeed, the work had not been completed at the time and the arrangement of the books required considerable time. The room underwent transformations between 1790 and 1793, when it was decided to install an Astronomic Observatory in the North-West wing at the suggestion of the astronomer Giuseppe Casella. However, the project was soon abandoned and only the meridian on the floor was built, giving the room its name. Designed by Pompeo Schiantarelli and over 27 metres long, it consists of a brass strip arranged between marble panels in which beautiful painted medallions are set depicting the twelve signs of the zodiac. At midday local time, the sunlight enters the hole of the gnomon placed high up in the South-West corner and its rays strike the meridian line of the floor, running along it according to the season. Shortly after the official opening of the library (1804), further earthquakes caused a series of cracks and already by the end of the century new structural problems beset the museum which, in 1860, became a national museum. The vault seemed to be slightly unstable, partly due to leaking rainwater and partly due to the settlement of the wooden trusses; meanwhile, it became increasingly urgent to resolve the problem of the lack of space, both for the archaeological materials, caused by the continuous arrival of excavation finds, and for the Library with the considerable increase in the number of volumes. Therefore, in 1925 the Library was transferred to its current location in Palazzo Reale. In 1927 the room was opened to the public and was further embellished by the Flemish tapestries depicting the Battle of Pavia. Made from original drawings by Bernard van Orley, now in the Louvre, the tapestries were presented to Charles V by the merchants of Brussels, then passed into the possession of the d’Avalos family and were finally donated to the museum of Naples in 1862 by Don Francesco d’Avalos. The tapestries decorated the room until 1957 when they were moved to the Art Gallery of the Place of Capodimonte. The Farnese Atlas, a statue of the second century AD, was also arranged in the room and is still on display there; the giant holds up the heavenly vault, one of the most complete ancient depictions of the Zodiac.

Further information
Collection data

Mancuso 1983; Cantilena 1988; Museo Archeologico 1994; Museo Archeologico 1999.

Location: First floor