Seeing Naples: Reports from the Shadow of Vesuvius

by Daniel Rothbart

Published by Edgewise Press

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ISBN-13: 978-1-893207-41-7 ISBN-10: 1-893207-41-2 PRICE: $35.00 cloth edition Postage and Handling are additional. Add New York State Sales Tax where applicable.

ISBN-13: 978-1-893207-41-7
ISBN-10: 1-893207-41-2
PRICE: $35.00 cloth edition
Postage and Handling are additional.
Add New York State Sales Tax where applicable.

Edgewise Press is proud to announce the publication of Seeing Naples: Reports from the Shadow of Vesuvius, by Daniel Rothbart, a book of travel writing inspired by the author’s experiences as a Fulbright scholar in Naples during the early 1990’s. The work combines personal narrative with stories from the city’s history, ancient and modern, that speak to Neapolitan values and culture.

The exotic, bustling train station of Napoli Centrale offers a springboard into the city of Naples. Fishmongers, black marketers, and clergymen mingle in open-air markets of lower Naples beneath fluttering laundry. Expeditions to the island of Capri and Matera, a stone-hewn city in mysterious Basilicata region, follow. Printmaker Giorgio Corazza, foundryman Gennaro Esposito, and welder Egidio Balestrieri open their shop doors, sharing perspectives on life, art, tradition, and craftsmanship. Excursions include a visit to the Chapel of Sansevero, where Raimondo di Sangro, an eighteenth-century alchemist prince, transformed fabric into marble sculpture. A last stop, at the Reggia di Caserta, or the “Versailles of Naples,” reveals sprawling baroque water gardens and the disquieting story of their creation.

Seeing Naples revisits another astute observer of the city, Vittorio De Sica, who filmed the city’s buildings and alleyways in the early 1950’s in his classic movie, The Gold of Naples. The film is composed of comic and dramatic vignettes featuring performances of Sophia Loren, Totò, Silvana Magnano, and De Sica himself, along with scores of local extras.  It deals with topics of personal power and obligation, self-presentation, gambling, sex, money, love and death, often as played out in public settings, and is pictured in beautiful stills from the movie and the stories retold briefly by the author.

Central to the book are Rothbart’s conversations and interviews with remarkable Neapolitans and the photographs that accompany them. His discussions about art and history with scholar Riccardo Notte, son of artist Emilio Notte, record anecdotes about the Italian Futurist movement as seen by Emilio. The book also interprets dramatic historic narratives linked to the sights of the city, such as the life of Masaniello, a seventeenth century fishmonger, who led a people's rebellion against the Spanish, developed a taste for power and privilege himself, and was assassinated in the Church of the Carmine.  Seeing Naplesrecounts a history of the Jews in Naples, describing an interview with Guglielmo (originally Wilhelm) Reiter, a holocaust survivor whose early adult life was one of flight and repeated near capture by the Nazis, and whose life after the war was drastically and sadly changed. 

In his foreword to the book, Wayne Koestenbaum observes, “Rothbart’s narrative of Naples bears the freight of a melancholy intrinsic to the act of paying attention to a city that is older and wiser than we will ever live to be.”  In Seeing Naples, there are fascinating and somehow cyclical tales of glory, oppression, occupation, revolt, canny adaptation, art and triumph, as Naples and her people persevere and thrive.

Seeing Naples will be officially launched at a panel discussion at The Drawing Center, on April 17, 2018.  The panel discussion will include Daniel Rothbart, Wayne Koestenbaum, and the co-publisher, Richard Milazzo.  Also present will be co-publishers Howard B. Johnson and Joy L. Glass.  Produced by Brett Littman, Executive Director of the Drawing Center.


Daniel Rothbart is a master of serene, coruscating surfaces, and of the depths they hide; artificer, flâneur, ruminator, wanderer, scholar, he seems not to inhabit contemporary time, but to dwell in several temporalities simultaneously, like Spinoza astrally projecting himself into the lithe body of a Situationist, then backtracking to star in Ben-Hur, and plummeting even farther netherward to glide on the never-drowning Raft of the Medusa.” – Wayne Koestenbaum, excerpt from the Foreword to Seeing Naples: Reports from the Shadow of Vesuvius

“Like the DeSica film, The Gold of Naples, that frames one of these striking essays, Daniel Rothbart’s Seeing Naples is a book of charmed encounters. Foundrymen, fishmongers, communists, avant-gardists, elderly Jews and a range of citizens living by their wits: Rothbart has a nose for such – characters and a knack for placing them in the broad realms of culture and heritage. I don’t think it’s possible to read this original, evocative collection without yearning to visit southern Italy – and yet sensing that somehow you’re already there.” – Dave King, author of The Ha-Ha

Daniel Rothbart’s working sojourn in Naples has produced this delightful, effortlessly informative book. We meet Raimondo di Sangro, an eighteenth-century alchemist prince and get a sense of a heady mix of art, science and magic. Marinetti jostles with Mussolini. We end with a trip to Caserta, ‘The Neapolitan Versailles,’ which, Rothbart notes, was used in Kubrick’s film Barry Lyndon. He is alone on a bus, apart from three guards talking soccer. You close feeling you’ve spent time in Naples. A nice time.” – Anthony Haden-Guest, author of True Colors: The Real Life of the Art World

“I have never really wanted to visit Naples before, until reading Daniel Rothbart’s terse melding of a sculptor’s memoir with political and cultural history. The clarity of his writing is at the service of evocative storytelling.” – John Perreault, author of Hotel Death and Other Tales 


“I have never been to Naples, but I saw some of it in Daniel Rothbart’s excellent Seeing Naples: Reports from the Shadow of Vesuvius. The book is delightful, and I recommend it to all lovers of Italy, art, history, and the human condition. The book has the look and the feel of a coffee table book. Many coffee table books are mere decorative pieces; this should not be. Reading Seeing Naples is an enchanting and enriching experience…. Seeing Naples does not respect – or rather, is not interested in – disciplinary boundaries. The narrative moves seamlessly from the technical points of welding to sculpture to history to the human response to being in a crowd, but it is never a professional tractate. Rothbart teaches us to see by letting us in on his experience and memories of what it was like to see Naples.” – Joachim Krueger, Ph.D, “Naples of the World,” in Psychology Today, August 6, 2018.

“It is a city whose art, food, and unique everyday life may inspire passionate admiration, but as Daniel Rothbart nicely explains in his new book, Seeing Naples:  Reports from the Shadow of Vesuvius, it is also a place where just getting across the street takes cunning….  In the early 1990s, Rothbart went to Naples on a Fulbright in pursuit of his career as a visual artist. Bravely, he purchased a used moped, survived several collisions, made friends, took evocative photographs, and learnt to love the city.  In this marvelous collection of evocative essays, he tells about Masaniello, the famous leader of the 1647 political rebellion; the failed modernizing revolution of 1799; the cult of the dead, a truly oddly local Catholic ceremony; the sad story of the expulsion of the Jewish community; the heroic street rebellion of September 1943, in which the populace rose up and drove the German army from the city; Vittorio De Sica’s 1954 film The Gold of Naples starring Sophia Loren and the great Neapolitan actor, Totò – look up on you tube a scene from another movie where Totò sells the Trevi Fountain to an American bumpkin, very Neapolitan it is…. The order of this narrative is as elusive, and enthralling, as everyday Neapolitan experience. Rothbart is a great storyteller, very Neapolitan in that way. Just as an artwork can be described in diverse valid ways, so too this city can legitimately be interpreted by writers with varied interests….  Rothbart is a perfect commentator on Naples because he is unflappable, because his account is accurate, and because he is entirely sympathetic but not uncritical. A gifted observer, he honestly observes the city’s history and social conflicts without moralizing….  Read his marvelous text and look at his photos and you too will want to go there or, if you have been, have good memories of that trip.  If you can afford the flight, go to Naples tomorrow – but if you cannot, get this book today.” – David Carrier, “Sweet, Gritty, Impossible Naples,” in hyperallergic, July 8, 2018. 

DANIEL ROTHBART is a Brooklyn-based artist and writer. Rothbart holds a B.F.A. from the Rhode Island School of Design and an M.F.A. from Columbia University.  In addition to Seeing Naples, he is the author of Jewish Metaphysics as Generative Principle in American Art (1994) and The Story of the Phoenix(1999).  His studio practice is the subject of Daniel Rothbart: Works 1988-2009 (2010) by Enrico Pedrini, which includes essays by John Perreault and Varda Genossar.  Rothbart’s studio work can be found in public and private collections, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

First edition cloth, March 2018, 152 pp., sewn, bound and printed in Italy, with a four-color jacket cover and a black and white photograph of the author on the frontispiece.  ISBN-13: 978-1-893207-41-7  ISBN-10: 1-893207-41-2.  Daniel Rothbart’s Seeing Naples contains 72 color images of Naples collaged into the endpapers of the book, 128 black-and-white illustrations, 15 choice quotations on Naples, and a brief list of Further Readings.  Along with the expansive design, Seeing Naples employs historical eighteenth-century Neapolitan type, recomposed digitally for the book jacket, spine, title pages and the header text of each chapter, providing the reader with a luxurious reading experience in keeping with the baroque – paradoxically classical but expressive – spirit of Neapolitan culture. 

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