Speeding along the Naples Metro Line 1, at the Toledo station, one comes across sixteen majestic figures from antiquity which accompany travelers on the route. We are talking about the monumental mosaic wall decoration created on the first level of the metro station by South African artist William Kentridge, entitled Ferrovia Centrale per la città di Napoli, 1906 (Naples Procession) (Central Railway for the City of Naples, 1906 (Naples Procession)). The metro setting, a melting pot of people and cultures and a symbol of modernity, inspired the celebrated artist to create a procession dedicated to the past of the city of Naples. Since its creation in 2012, people from the present and figures from the past have walked side by side for more than fifty meters toward the platforms of the Toledo metro station.
Countless allusions to the city, both technical and symbolic, coalesce within the work. Dating from AD 79, the mosaic references the form of artistic expression most commonly employed in Pompeii and Herculaneum, two sites that act as custodians to Campanian antiquity The two musicians depicted in the mosaic also feature on the walls of the two buried cities. Moving on, the young woman with the vase is from a Capodimonte ceramic. The procession ends with San Gennaro, the city’s patron saint, headless and very modern, indicating Vesuvius in eruption, the most recognizable Neapolitan symbol.
Far from advocating a revival of ancient art, the artist has created a dialogue with the present-day city of Naples. The first clue can be seen in the date of the title, 1906, the year in which the project for the city’s first metropolitan railway line was presented. Indeed, it is the original railroad maps that today serve as a backdrop for the procession created by Kentridge. Fragments of the map are combined with numerous gray tiles, as if the figures were slowly proceeding along the asphalt that covers the streets of contemporary Naples.
he artist’s work did not end with the Procession: in fact, a second monumental mosaic entitled Rimedio delle baraccopoli di Napoli in relazione alla stazione ferroviaria, 1884 (Processione di Napoli) (Remediation of the Slums of Naples in Relation to the Train Station, 1884 (Naples Procession)) astonishes observers as they glide down the escalators. This time the drawing used for the background of the work is the famous first plan for a subway in Naples by the architect Lamont Young, set against which is a cart pulled by a man On the cart is a woman who appears to be a deity worshipped in the Greek “polis,” as is confirmed by the inscription.
Now ready to board the subway, observers realize that William Kentridge’s two monumental mosaics actually serve as a reminder: although speed and dynamism are part of our everyday lives, man must not forget to look to the past to understand his present.