December 19th, 2007


In a niche in the façade of the royal palace in Naples stands a marble statue of Carlo V, who in the sixteenth century was the heir of four of Europe's leading royal houses. This aristocrat held a staggering number of noble titles, including Holy Roman Emperor, King of Aragon and Castile, King of Naples, Archduke of Austria, Titular Duke of Burgundy, as well as head of the Spanish colonies in America.

Vincenzo Gemito, a genius and madman, was commissioned in 1887 to do the sculpture in marble. Gemito portrays Carlo as an effeminate fop. A scented dandy. Worthy not of admiration, but contempt and scorn.

This, at least to me, is a perfect illustration of the uncanny talent of Italians to accommodate an endless succession of invading foreigners. These outsiders may indeed come with their armies and take over and build magnificent palaces and of course place crowns upon their own heads. But despite all that, these fools will never penetrate the heart and soul of the people.

Compare Gemito’s statue to the adoring painting of Carlo in oils, by an unknown artist. Two entirely different interpretations.

And consider Gemito’s self-portrait. As he did not spare Carlo, he also did not spare himself. Even in the grip of old age and madness he retained his acute sense of the absurd.