Architecture and trauma: silver and salvation in baroque Naples

Wednesday 22 March, 18.00–19.30

Helen Hills (York)


Baroque Naples was tarnished in Protestant Europe with a reputation for excess — most especially an excess of silver in its churches and chapels, part of the mort main of the Spanish church, a prodigious resource that was gathering dust rather than fighting wars or generating interest. Silver was the material par excellence for chalices, pyx and plate, for carte di gloria and sacred and liturgical objects of many kinds, including the spectacular solid silver reliquaries in the Treasury Chapel of San Gennaro in Naples, unsurpassed amongst European treasuries. Silver was intimately implicated in discourses of the sacred, of assaying, of testing, of purity, purification and authenticity and sanctity through the discourse of light, lux and lumen, shine and the capacity to reflect light. And its threads were entangled in noble dress, furniture and accoutrements of aristocratic fashion. Yet silver was particularly implicated, too, in the violence of Spanish colonialism. This paper examines these apparently divergent qualities of silver to investigate relationships between matter and affect, colonialism and culture in baroque Italy.