December 15, 2009

Francesco Messina

Self Portrait
(Courtesy of
By Giovanni di Napoli

Francesco Messina was born on December 15, 1900 in Linguaglossa, a small town near Catania, languishing in the shadow of Mount Etna. Like many other poor Southerners he grew up outside his native Sicily, residing wherever his family could find work.

Instead of making the arduous trip across the Atlantic to the United States his father decided to try his luck in Genoa, a major port of call during the Mezzogiorno's post-unification diaspora.

In Genoa, Messina apprenticed as a marble cutter. At an early age he showed great artistic ability carving cherubs for cemeteries. Clearly destined to be a sculptor the boy practiced tirelessly, developing his skills in various media and excelling in terra cotta and bronze.
By the age of twenty he was already presenting his work in major European exhibits. The Sicilian had a great fondness for depicting the human form and was a proponent of naturalism in sculpture at a time when it was unfashionable.

In 1932 Messina moved to Milan. Two years later he was appointed the chair of sculpture at the Brera Art Academy. From here he toured Europe, studying the masterworks of the ancients. He won the prestigious Biennale Internazionale prize for sculpture in Venice in 1942.

After he retired from his position at Brera, in 1971, Messina needed a new studio to work. With the permission of the municipality of Milan the celebrated artist renovated, with his own money, the dilapidated Church of San Sisto, at Carrobbio. This is how the ancient building, founded by the last Lombard king–Desiderius, was preserved and became the Francesco Messina Museum and Studio.

Today the Sicilian master's works can be found in museums, public squares and private collections around the world. They are highly prized. Francesco Messina passed away in Milan on September 13, 1995.

Further reading:
• Messina: Graphic Works Edited by Guido Guastalla, Graphis Arte Editore, 1973