Salvatore Di Giacomo: painting with words in the Naples of the 1800s

by Francesco Lomasto

Salvatore Di Giacomo, Neapolitan poet and playwright, left his beloved city not only splendid lines, but also delicate brushstrokes. Very close to painters, Salvatore di Giacomo shows us with ineffable delicacy how, writing about Naples, he paints and, while painting, he writes.

Salvatore Di Giacomo: a poet in the Neapolitan labyrinth

The space in which he moves with an attentive and enchanted eye Salvatore Di Giacomo (Naples, March 12, 1860 - April 5, 1934) is typical of nineteenth-century Naples, not different from the one that describes with crude realism Matilde Serao with his “Ventre di Napoli”: the Naples of the alley, of the little room, of the enclosed space. A labyrinthine city, dotted with narrow turns, corners, lows, archives, undergrounds and cloisters, that Naples where even the sea, its vital essence, is far away, as Anna Maria Ortese would say in “The sea does not wet Naples”. 

A space that inspired and fascinated all the intellectuals of the city, almost purposely dark, waiting to be illuminated by the soul of several authors and characters. Among these does not go unnoticed Salvatore Di giacomo who, with his verses and his works, makes that space an opportunity to show how, if desired, a pen can become a brush and a page a canvas. 

With Salvatore Di Giacomo we can undoubtedly speak of "claustrophilia", A love, a basking in the description of Neapolitan enclosed spaces, especially protagonists of cases of" claustrophobia "in the literary field (to realize this, just read “Geneva or the orphan of the Annunziata"By Antonio Ranieri)

Salvatore Di Giacomo: painting with words in the Naples of the 1800s
Strettola degli Orefici, Vincenzo Migliaro (Naples, San Martino Museum)

Salvatore Di Giacomo, from page to canvas

Salvatore Di Giacomo must certainly have admired the delicate Impressionist paintings, because this is what he reports on the page: the vague, the nuanced, an atmosphere that is delicately lost in space and time.

Di Giacomo does with words what painters did with their fingers and the brush: below is a significant passage from the novel "Rosa Bellavita":

 “Just a hushed one chatter it passed between the slats of a shutter, in front of the large window of the gallery; a chattering of females in confidences [...]

Era, in the meridian hourthe silence was so grave that every smallest noise sounded double; the voices rose for the tranquility of the staircase distinctly, even a murmur of people gathered on the first floor, chatting. As, between tears and sleep, Bellavita listened to the events of the staircase, she suddenly seemed to recognize the voices.

The sun looking inside, through the window, he placed on the balcony a large yellow dice, in which he was limply stretched out the Gambarella cat, with his eyes closed, as if dead. When the Bellavita appeared, the cat stood up slowly, without fear, and went away, pausing halfway up the stairs to look at her, with the quiet attention of a curious beast [...] "

Reading this brief but splendid description we cannot fail to notice how our imagination, on the impulse of Salvatore Di Giacomo's words, has created a real painting impressionist. Nothing is defined, everything is vague, vague, delicate and therefore infinite, paradoxically, in the typical tight space Neapolitan.

Salvatore Di Giacomo: painting with words in the Naples of the 1800s
Impression, Sunrise. Claude Monet, oil on canvas, 1872, Musèe Marmottan Monet, Paris

The sun, the light with Di Giacomo it takes on an almost liquid, fluid consistency, flows over things, wets them. All this with the absence of colors, but only with words that are not very precise and technical (Di Giacomo uses, for example, the more vague "talking" instead of "talking", "chatter" and not the more punctual "chat") . 

This is the writing of Salvatore di Giacomo's vague, in a Naples where it is possible to paint with words, dazzled by the sun, made vague and, therefore, delicately beautiful.

-Francesco Lomasto


Professor Nunzio Ruggiero, A capital of the nineteenth century, the literary culture in Naples between Europe and New Italy (Guide, 2020)

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