Naples. Discovering the heretics’ snuff-box

Rome (NEV), May 18, 2017 – The Reformation and the Counter-Reformation together on a small snuff-box, in the background the Bible, all fit out by the sides with verses from the Dante’s Inferno and Paradiso of the Divine Comedy: the lovely “Heretics’ snuff-box”, a piece of porcelain with an elliptical shape, dating back to the eighteenth century, is a relic unique of its kind. It is kept at the National Museum of Ceramics “Duca di Martina” in Naples and it depicts, on the external top, six heads of “heretics” linked to the Protestant Reformation of the fifteenth century: Luther, Calvin, Erasmus, Frederick of Saxony, William I of Orange and, the only woman, the Duchess of Ferrara, Renata. On the inside, instead, there are six assiduous defenders of the Catholic faith: Cardinal Jacopo Sadoleto, Tommaso de Vio, Johannes Mayer, Eberhard Billick, Leonard Halle and Francesco Panigarola.

Those who commissioned the object apparently did not want to grant any indulgence to the ‘heretics’: by citing the verse 127 of the ninth canto of the Dante’s Inferno, they associated them to the condemnation foreseen for the epicurean heretics, whose souls lie in burning sepulchers.

While the verses of the twelfth canto of the Paradise are reserved for those hidden inside the box, where the tobacco is best to smell: Therein the amorous lover of the Christian Faith was born, the holy athlete, well disposed toward those he loved, and toward his foes severe.

In Naples, around this precious object, in the afternoon of May 13, at the “Duca Martina” Museum, there was a special guided tour: the historiographic and artistic secrets of the amazing snuff-box were revealed as part of the activities for the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, promoted by “Naples meets the Reformation”. For the occasion were present, among others, the director of the Museum, Luisa Ambrosio, one of the most important scholars of European porcelain, Alessandro Biancalana, the vice-president of the Federation of Protestant Churches and member of the Lutheran Community of Naples, Christiana Groeben, and the Lutheran pastor of Naples, Kirsten Thiele.