The church of Sant’Angelo a Nilo in Naples was built at the behest of Rinaldo Brancaccio, cardinal in Naples since 1385, next to the family palace. Around 1535 the church was enlarged to incorporate the Seggio di Nido, a place of city representation since the ducal age. Readapted by the architect Arcangelo Guglielmelli (1709), the building preserves on the outside, as more ancient evidence, the fifteenth-century side entrance in marble and, on the main portal, carved wooden doors dating back to the early years of the sixteenth century.
THE TOMB OF CARDINAL RAINALDO BRANCACCI DI DONATELLO
To the right of the altar is the sepulcher of the founder Rinaldo Brancaccio by Donatello and his pupil Michelozzo; the funerary monument was sculpted in Pisa between 1427 and 1428 and sent by sea to Naples.
The canopy structure, with the deceased lying, still reflects the typology of late-Gothic monuments, although the choice of the large round arch reflects Renaissance culture: three elegant female figures support the tomb on which the cardinal is lying; higher up, two angels support the drapes that reveal the Madonna and Child; everything is inserted in a canopy, supported by columns with composite capitals and a mixtilinear tympanum with the roundel of God the Father.
Donatello certainly sculpted the bas-relief of the tomb with the Assumption of the Virgin, an example of the new way of representing space through the use of “stiacciato”: with great technical expertise, in a few millimeters of depth, the great Florentine master managed to restore the depth and roundness of the figures.
SANT’ANGELO A NILO AND ITS MONUMENTS
On the main altar there is a painting depicting Saint Michael the Archangel by Marco Pino (1573), a pupil of Beccafumi, who was very active in Naples. The painting is among the most important examples of mannerism by the Sienese painter, a careful student of Michelangelo’s forms dissolved in intense and liquid colors.
The position of Saint Michael which contrasts the arms with the legs creates the “serpentine” movement of the figure, much used in painting after Michelangelo.
Outside the church in the square of the same name, there is the statue of the Nile, a legendary monument linked to ancient mythologies. The statue dates back to the 2nd century AD. and depicts the god Nile, an ancient cult practiced by the community of merchants from Alexandria in Egypt, inhabitants of this neighborhood in the heart of the ancient centre. Over the centuries, the statue has undergone ups and downs that have made its fame legendary to the point of being considered a symbol of the city.
Once the Alexandrian cult ceased, the statue, forgotten and buried, was found in the 12th century without its head: for this reason it was called “the body of Naples” and mistaken for a female figure.
The loss of the sphinx and the presence of the children led one to believe that it was an allegory of the city. In 1657 a restoration gave it a bearded male head and the base on which it rests today.