From Piazza Mercato to Ponte Ricciardo, and on to Via Toledo: Giovan Battista Della Porta’s translations of hands and feet of executed criminals across early modern Naples

Sergius Kodera


In undertaking the research for his treatise on palmistry, the Chirophysiognomia (written perhaps between 1599 and 1608), Neapolitan polymath Giovan Battista Della Porta (1535–1617) collected plaster casts and drawings of the hands and feet of executed criminals whose corpses were displayed as signs of terror to foreigners. These corpses were deliberately left to rot at the gallows of the Ponte Riccardo, in an eerie place just off the city limits of Naples. This article contextualises Della Porta’s collecting activities as part of a set of contemporary discourses on place in Naples. It uses two prototypical contemporary maps of Naples by Lafréri and Du Perac (1566) and Baratta (1629), to trace the itineraries of convicts (and their remains) through specific places. In particular, this article discusses the heterotopia of the gallows out of town – its location and architectonic structure, and the fact that this place was not represented on contemporary maps. Indeed, the gallows at this bridge had a long-lasting impact on the imagination of Neapolitans and foreigners (as can be reconstructed not only from Della Porta, but also from two novellas written by Masuccio Salernitano (1471) and Maria de Zayas (1637)). Moreover, this article argues that that Della Porta’s method of translating (infamous) corpses into text is related to the ways in which the city of Naples was translated into a text in contemporary guides to the city, for instance by Pietro di Stefano (1560).

Keywords: Naples, executions, early modern novella, physiognomy, Masuccio Salernitano, Ponte Della Maddalena/ Ponte Ricciardo (Naples), Piazza Mercato (Naples), Alessandro Baratta, Antoine Lafréry, Pietro di Stefano, Giovan Battista della Porta, Maria de Zayas

Full text: OAJ_issue6_kodera (pdf, 1.34 MB)


Biographical note

Sergius Kodera is Dean of the Faculty of Design at New Design University, St. Pölten (Austria). His primary fields of interest are the history of the body and sexuality, magic and print media. He has published on and translated works of renaissance authors, including Marsilio Ficino, Fernando de Rojas, Niccolò Machiavelli, Leone Ebreo, Girolamo Cardano, Giovan Battista Della Porta and Giordano Bruno. He is writing a book-length study in English on Della Porta.