The Pennsylvania State University
Cover for the book Architecture and Statecraft

Architecture and Statecraft

Charles of Bourbon's Naples, 1734–1759 Robin L. Thomas
Architecture and Statecraft tells the story of how a king from Madrid landed in Naples. Along with his Dresden-born queen, supported by an international cast of architects and American silver, he transformed it into a vibrant capital city. Beautifully written and carefully researched, this book elegantly matches King Charles’s ambitious urban projects. Robin Thomas brings to life the rich conglomeration of the king’s buildings, from Europe’s most celebrated opera house to one of its largest poorhouses. Embezzling architects, reformist statesmen, boisterous nobles, a homely king, brilliant musicians, proud cavalrymen, and humble poor populate the book’s pages. Architectural, political, print, military, and music historians, along with lovers of this beautiful city, will all want to savor this rich Neapolitan feast.”
“Visitors to Naples who visit the Teatro di San Carlo, Piazza Dante, and the majestic Albergo dei Poveri may not know to attribute these monumental spaces to the restoration of Naples as the royal residence of Charles of Bourbon and the policies of civic rebirth, good government, and ‘public happiness’ promoted in mid-eighteenth-century Europe. This beautifully written and deeply informative book is the first study in English to engage with the transformation of Naples under the Spanish king who ruled the city from 1734 to 1759. Robin Thomas has written a powerful and evocative volume that describes the impact of Enlightenment ideas on the architectural fabric of Naples and situates these monuments within the context of European architecture and city planning of the eighteenth century.”
“Charles of Bourbon, king of the Two Sicilies from 1734 to 1759, reshaped Naples, his capital city, into an environment that embodied the sovereign’s agenda for a centralized and enlightened state, rather than one that reflected the competing powers of various political players. In his groundbreaking study, Robin Thomas argues that, to this end, Charles undertook architectural projects that met civic needs by providing didactic cultural activities, by stimulating a thriving economy, by tending to the city’s indigent, and by fostering an effective military. Thomas’s study frees the discussion of Neapolitan architecture from considerations of style, placing it with scholarship that understands the built environment’s participation in political change.”
“Thomas’s account thrusts eighteenth-century Neapolitan architecture to the forefront of Italian baroque scholarship. Through these chapters we see the building arts of Naples take their rightful place among the most glorious achievements in Italy, comparable in every way to the storied chapters from Rome, Venice, and the Piedmont. In sum, Robin Thomas has set a remarkable standard for graceful writing, substantial research, and perceptive insight in a book that provides a rich and engrossing account of Naples in its full glory.”
“Meticulously researched, clearly organized, elegantly written, and carefully edited, Thomas’s book offers a rich feast for early modern art and architectural historians as well as scholars of music, politics, and history.”
“Very much in the tradition of John H. Elliott and Jonathan Brown’s celebrated work A Palace for a King, Thomas combines art history with solid archival research to demonstrate how architecture served as a prominent tool of statecraft in the early modern period. As Thomas argues, eighteenth-century Naples became ‘the capital where Caroline architecture most effectively built the city as well as the state.’”

The eighteenth century was a golden age of public building. Governments constructed theaters, museums, hospices, asylums, and marketplaces to forge a new type of city, one that is recognizably modern. Yet the dawn of this urban development remains obscure. In Architecture and Statecraft, Robin Thomas seeks to explain the origins of the modern capital by examining one of the earliest of these transformed cities. In 1737 King Charles Bourbon of Spain embarked upon the most extensive architectural and urban program of the entire century. A comprehensive study of these Neapolitan buildings does not exist, and thus Caroline contributions to this new type of city remain undervalued. This book fills an important gap in the scholarship and connects Charles’s urban improvements to his consolidation of the monarchy. By intertwining architecture and sovereignty, Thomas provides a framework for understanding how politics created the eighteenth-century capital.

Robin L. Thomas is Assistant Professor of Art History at The Pennsylvania State University.

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