The museum in Portici and the Palazzo degli Studi in Naples

Andrea Milanese (translation Delphine Burlot, Nathaniel Deines and Julia Schelling)

The Royal Museum in Naples was one of the most important museums of 18th and 19th century Europe. Founded in 1777 when King Ferdinand IV decided to gather in one location – the former Palazzo degli Studi, previously the headquarters of the University of Naples – the archaeological collections displayed in the Herculanense Museum in Portici (for the most part from Herculaneum and Pompeii) and the Farnese collection in the Capodimonte Museum.

Ahead of its time, the Naples museum – renamed Museo Reale Borbonico in 1816 – kept objects from the Egyptian era to modern times; a universal museum that conformed with the contemporary cultural context and Naples’s position as great European capital. It became a true culture palace, a pure product of the Enlightenment, and was praised as such from its creation: “A fair tribute from a Nation in a century of enlightenment to those fine arts passed on to us and whose splendor had given a new brightness to Italy and modern Europe” (Saint-Non 1781, II, p. 54).

The essential refurbishment of an increasing number of works from the ancient Palazzo degli Studi went on for quite a long time because of the political events that had shaken up Europe at the end of the 18th century. A public opening occurred in 1810, during the French rule of the Kingdom of Naples, but its collection wasn’t completed definitively until 1828, with the relocation of the collection of Pompeian paintings from the museum in Portici to the Palazzo degli Studi. The Bourbon Museum was then composed of the following collections: marble sculptures, bronzes sculptures, Pompeian frescoes, inscriptions, Egyptian objects, Italo-Greek vases, small bronzes, medals, treasury, terracottas, architectural cork models, easel paintings, medieval and modern objects, and the secret cabinet (of obsene art).

In 1807 the Soprintendenza generale agli Scavi del Regno was added to the museum. This institution had administrative supervision over a great number of sites in a kingdom whose borders equaled those of Magna Graecia.

The story of the Naples Museum, a combination of two former museums, ended in 1957, with its division into two separate institutions: the National Archaeological Museum and the National Gallery of Capodimonte.