The complex of San Domenico Maggiore in Naples was built during the reign of Charles II of Anjou (1285-1309) to house the Dominican friars. The church, with its Gothic forms, preserves all the subsequent decorative phases: with three naves, transept and polygonal apse, separated by sturdy pillars supporting pointed arches, it was restored with gold and stucco in 1849 by the architect Federico Travaglini. San Domenico Maggiore is thus evidence of the overlapping of styles as often happens to many Neapolitan churches over the centuries.
A clear example is the entrance façade, on the side opposite the square, where in a single monument all the construction phases of the factory can be recognized, from the fourteenth-century portal to the eighteenth-century atrium.
The church is rich in works of art including many masterpieces of sculpture from the sixteenth century, which decorated the celebratory monuments of the noble Neapolitan families.
Some of the important works carried out for this church are now found in various museums, such as Raphael’s Madonna of the Fish, now in Madrid (Museo del Prado), Titian’s Annunciation and Caravaggio’s Flagellation, both exhibited at the Capodimonte Museum. A faithful copy of this last painting is preserved in the chapel to the left of the main altar, painted by an important Neapolitan Caravaggio painter: Andrea Vaccaro (1604-1670).
The sacristy of San Domenico Maggiore stands out for its early eighteenth-century decorative homogeneity and for its function: on the gallery the luxurious coffins of ten Aragonese royals with their families are displayed, including that of Alfonso I. From the large chapel of the Crucifix you can accesses the small Carafa chapel, known as the Nativity Scene, due to the presence of large wooden nativity sculptures, ancestors of the eighteenth-century Neapolitan nativity scene, the work of the sculptor Pietro Belverte, 1507.
The frescoes of the dome painted by Pedro Fernandéz, a Spanish painter working in the city in the first decades of the sixteenth century, are very suggestive: on the four sides figures of prophets and in the center a balustrade open onto a blue sky, where the angels in the clouds, who support the coat of arms of the Carafa, create a spectacular looking effect, re-presenting an invention by Mantegna created in the Camera degli Sposi of the Palazzo Ducale in Mantua.
The third chapel on the right from the entrance, belonging to the Brancaccio family, preserves an important cycle of medieval frescoes intact which give us an idea of how the entire church could have been decorated in the fourteenth century. The author is Pietro Cavallini, one of the most important followers of Giotto, called to work in Naples by King Charles 11 of Anjou in 1308, who frescoed the Stories of Saint John the Evangelist, Saint Andrew, Saint Peter, Mary Magdalene and a Crucifixion.
Giotto’s revolutionary and narrative lesson is clearly expressed by the Roman master, through the intense and mellow colours, and in the framing of the characters, not flattened on an abstract background and two-dimensional as in previous Byzantine painting, but inserted into landscapes and typical ” architectural boxes” of Giotto’s invention.