December 31, 2010
Jumping on the "Top Ten" bandwagon, here's our list of the most popular posts of 2010:
1 A Nightmare on Greene Street
2 The Lessons of Abu Tabela
3 A Most Illustrious Corpse
4 Mr. Enigma
5 To the Shores of Tripoli
6 To Hell and Back
7 Of the Wonderful Force of Imagination
8 The Last Days of September
10 Enigmatic Traditions: The Neapolitan Cult of the Dead
Close, but no cigar:
The Mustard Gas Disaster at Bari Harbor and The Patriotic Gangster deserve honorable mentions. If these pieces were posted longer they may have made the Top Ten list.
Still making the rounds from 2009:
1 Knight Without Fear and Without Reproach
2 The Pontelandolfo — Casalduni Massacre
3 Who We Are
We've had a good year and are looking forward to an even better 2011. Happy New Year!
December 26, 2010
Inside the Guggenheim Museum
By Giovanni di Napoli
By Giovanni di Napoli
Culture is often best represented through art. New York City houses some of the greatest museums and Italian institutes devoted to an unending range of famous to little known masters who capture the important traditions and time periods in Southern Italian history unbeknownst to mainstream Italian Americana. A lifelong Brooklyn native, I recently set aside time from my day job for what I like to call "A Day of High Culture," to explore some of these hidden gems.
My day began with a visit to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum to see the highly touted Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy, and Germany, 1918-1936. Billed as "the first major exhibition in the United States to explore the classicizing aesthetic that followed the immense destruction of World War I," this collection spans the interwar period when European artists were rejecting the various pre-war avant-garde styles of art (Cubism, Futurism, etc.) for more traditional, classical forms of expression. I couldn't miss this golden opportunity to see so many works I've only read about online and in books and journals. Unfortunately, no photographs were allowed.
The exhibit begins with a selection of prints from Otto Dix's Der Krieg (The War), a gruesome portfolio of the horrors he experienced as a soldier during the Great War. His graphic images of mutilated bodies obviously represent the chaos of post-war Europe. In stark contrast to Dix's illustrations stand several life-sized, idealized bronze figures, including the allegorical Ile-de-France by Aristide Maillol and a sublime representation of the Sicilian Nereid, Galatea, by Neapolitan sculptor, Amleto Cataldi. These statues, of course, exemplify the classicism that emerged from the chaos.
Stormtroops Advancing Under Gas by Otto Dix (Wikipedia)
On a personal note, Dix's Stormtroops Advancing Under Gas was inspiration for an art project I had in high school and was a thrill (if one can say that about such a dreadful subject) to finally see in person.
A detail from my high school assignment inspired by Dix's suite, Der Krieg
As you continue to ascend the circular ramp, which winds its way to the museum's various galleries, one is treated to an eclectic array of paintings and sculptures from the period. There are roughly 150 works by more than 80 artists on display. Among them are familiar names like Pablo Picasso (Woman in White and The Source) and Henri Matisse (Large Seated Nude), but more interestingly (to me) are the pieces by lesser-known artists like Georg Scholz (Female Nude with Plaster Bust), Leon-Ernest Driver (Bust of Madame X), and Leo Breuer (The Coal Man).
Highlights include Renato Bertelli's Continuous Profile of Mussolini, Antonio Donghi's Circus, and Arturo Martini's The Stars, a beautiful bronze sculpture depicting a man and woman standing next to a truncated tree staring upwards.
In addition to the many paintings, sculptures and photographs, the exhibit also includes avant-garde director Jean Cocteau's bizarre film Le sang d'un poète or The Blood of a Poet. Loaded with surreal imagery, the movie was the first installment of Cocteau's "Orphic Trilogy," loosely based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.
The exposition concludes with the so-called "Dark Side of Classicism," showing how art in Italy and Germany became heavily propagandized with the advent of Fascism. The gallery displays the "collusionist" work of Italian artists Mario Sironi (Soldier and Leader on Horseback), Arturo Martini (Athena) and Giorgio de Chirico (Gladiators). Also on view are Georg Kolbe's Young Warrior and Adolf Ziegler's triptych, The Four Elements. Ziegler, it should be remembered, was instrumental in the Third Reich's crusade against "degenerate" art. His attempt to denigrate the confiscated work backfired when the Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) spectacle became one of the most popular modern art shows ever. This portion of the exhibit culminates with Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia, a documentary film about the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Fittingly, Franz Würbel's Berlin Olympics poster stands adjacent to the mini theater.
The exhibit will be running until January 9, 2011.
Afterward, I made my way from the Guggenheim to the Italian Cultural Institute on 686 Park Avenue (next to the Italian Consul General's office) to attend Nativity in the World / from Naples to New York, a celebration of the presepio—a Neapolitan Christmas tradition. Several dignitaries and artists (Luciano Testa and Gino Baia) from Naples were on hand to help kick-off the festivities.
The presepio, or crèche, is a model Christmas crib displayed in homes or public places. The figures are typically made with polychromed wood or terracotta and clothed with fabric. In Naples this ancient custom (credited to St. Francis of Assisi) has been wholeheartedly embraced and developed into a legitimate art form.
Two Women by Isabella Dionisio
Originally the diorama just included the Holy Family (Mistero), but over time additional characters were added—first the Magi, Angels and shepherds then later more exotic figures, like Orientals and Saracens. In fact, the presentations can be so elaborate that sometimes the actual birth of Christ appears incidental. It should also be noted that often times the Nativity is set in a ruined temple instead of a manger, representing Christianity's triumph over paganism.
Figure by Giovanni Sinno
Technically, as "popular art" the Neapolitan presepio doesn't exactly meet the definition of "high culture," however, the pieces presented at the institute represent some of the more extraordinary examples of the genre and, in my humble opinion, can easily be classified as high art.
A Herdsman by Gianluca Buonocore
Traditionally Naples’ leading artists, including the great Baroque sculptors Salvatore di Franco and Giuseppe Sanmartino, made the figures. Although not on display here, examples of their exquisite work can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's annual Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche.
Under the patronage of the Bourbons, the custom spread among the Neapolitan nobility and grew ever more elaborate and dramatic. During Christmas time the aristocracy would welcome the populace into their palaces to showcase the tableau. According to Goethe it was a "hobby for people in high places." Luckily, an 18th century cart from the Bourbon collection from Reggia di Caserta is included in the show.
Cart with riders from Reggia di Caserta
The presepio exhibit at the Italian Cultural Institute will be running until January 21, 2011.
Also, one of the Institute's pieces will be on loan to the Italian American Museum in Little Italy. It will accompany Anita Sanseverino’s photographs from the Via San Gregorio Armeno—Naples' Mecca of presepio shops and stalls—currently on view. Ms. Sanseverino recently held an informative lecture and presentation at the museum entitled Presepio Napoletano and her pictures detail the intricate building process as well as capture the charm and beauty of these miniature masterpieces.
Anita Sanseverino and her photos at the Italian American Museum
In spite of their obvious differences, the installations at the Guggenheim Museum and Italian Cultural Institute honor the history and traditions of Southern Italian culture encapsulated through vast mediums of art. It is a fortunate thing to be living in New York City, where such exhibits can exist in relatively close range. If you have access to the city, I urge you to visit these events while they are still in session. Some things should not be missed.
(All photos courtesy of New York Scugnizzo unless otherwise noted.)
• Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy, and Germany, 1918-1936 by Kenneth E. Silver, Guggenheim Museum, 2010
• The Angel Tree: A Christmas Celebration by Linn Howard and Mary Jane Pool, Abrams, 1993
• A Neapolitan Christmas Crib by Olga Raggio, The Metroploitan Museum of Art Bulletin, December 1965
Labels: Arts and Culture
December 22, 2010
Detail of the presepe showing the Holy Family, or Mistero
(Photo courtesy of New York Scugnizzo)
Presepe Napoletano-Nativity of Peace Exhibit: An 18th Century artistic style Neapolitan Nativity manufactured, prepared, and exhibited by Master Ferrigno of Naples will be on display at Casa Belvedere from December 1, 2010 to January 31, 2011. A gift from the Campania Region of Italy, to the Federazione delle Associazioni della Campania USA, the Nativity received its name in honor of the attacks on the Twin Towers of New York. Casa Belvedere is grateful to the sponsorship of the Società Quagliettana, for the opportunity to keep this wonderful Italian tradition alive. Please call for exhibit times. Groups welcome.
The Neapolitan Presepio will be on display at Casa Belvedere from December 1, 2010 through January 31, 2011. Please see below for exhibit hours.
To schedule a group visit, please call 718-273-7660.
Presepio Exhibit Hours
Tuesday thru Thursday 1:00pm to 5:00pm
Sunday 12:00pm to 4:00pm
Closed: December 24-27 and December 31
Sunday 12:00pm to 4:00pm
Closed: December 24-27 and December 31
Tuesday thru Thursday 1:00pm to 5:00pm
Saturday and Sunday 12:00pm to 4:00pm
Closed: January 1 – 3
Saturday and Sunday 12:00pm to 4:00pm
Closed: January 1 – 3
Any donation to view the exhibit would be graciously accepted and most welcome.
School and Group Tours encouraged, please call (718) 273-7660 for information.
School and Group Tours encouraged, please call (718) 273-7660 for information.
Casa Belvedere, The Italian Cultural Foundation, Inc.
79 Howard Avenue
Staten Island, NY 10301
(Reprinted from Casa Belvedere calendar of events)
December 13, 2010
December 13th is the feast day of Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy), Virgin and Martyr. According to the old Julian calendar this day marked the longest night of the year, or winter solstice. Patroness of the blind, her name derives from the Latin lux, which means light. Santa Lucia is also associated with the harvest and Sicilians customarily celebrate her feast day with cuccia, a hearty porridge made with wheat berries.
Tradition has it that Lucia was born about 283 AD in Siracusa, the seat of the Roman government on the island of Sicily. She was the daughter of a wealthy Roman nobleman who died when she was very young. Her ailing mother, Eutychia, may have been of Greek stock.
Inspired by the martyrdom of Saint Agatha, who perished in 251 AD during the Christian persecutions of Emperor Decius, Lucia devoted herself to a life of Christian piety. However, when she came of age Eutychia arranged for her to marry a pagan suitor. Lucia implored her mother to allow her to remain chaste and distribute her dowry to the poor.
The Martyrdom of Sant'Agata,
Maschio Angioino, Napoli
(Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
Suffering (perhaps from dysentery), Eutychia was persuaded by Lucia to make a pilgrimage to nearby Catania and visit Saint Agatha's relics—famed for their miraculous healing properties. Mother and daughter prayed for help at the martyr's shrine, day and night, until they collapsed from exhaustion. Saint Agatha appeared before Lucia as a radiant vision, healing her mother and foretelling the young maid’s future glory. Miraculously cured, Eutychia granted her daughter's request and they began to distribute alms.
The rejected bridegroom denounced Lucia as a Christian during the height of Emperor Diocletian's persecutions. Brought before the Prefect of Siracusa, the defiant Lucia refused to denounce her faith. In order to make an example out of the young virgin he condemned her to the brothels. However, she proved to be unmovable. Soldiers and a team of oxen could not make her budge. Furious, the Prefect ordered her to be burned alive on the spot, but no matter how hard the legionaries tried, the pyre would not burn. Finally, he had her eyes gouged out, but they were miraculously restored. Alternate versions say that Lucia tore them out herself and presented them to her tormentors; hence her depictions with a pair of eyes resting on a platter.
Duomo di Siracusa
(Courtesy of Olivia Cerrone)
Prepared for martyrdom, she began prophesying the end of the persecutions and the downfall of the Emperor. In order to silence her, the Prefect had one of his guards plunge his gladius (Roman short sword) into Lucia's neck. She died on December 13, 304 AD.
In 1038—in fear of Moslem desecration—her relics were removed to Constantinople by the Byzantine general, George Maniaces. During the Fourth Crusade the Venetians made off with her remains and interred them in the Chiesa di Santa Lucia then later in the Chiesa di San Geremia. In 1513 her head was given to Louis XII of France and deposited in the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne de Bourges. Over the years fragments of the relics have made their way to various shrines across Europe, but pieces have since been returned to the Duomo di Siracusa, which remains an important site for pilgrims in Sicily.
Lutherans, Anglicans and Orthodox Christians also revere Santa Lucia. In Sweden her veneration is a delightful celebration where children dress in white, bear candles and sing songs in her honor. Sweetbreads are served in remembrance of a terrible famine in which she appeared in the harbor with boatloads of food to save the starving. A near identical legend takes place in Siracusa hinting that Norse pilgrims may have brought this story home with them from Sicily.
To us faithful she serves as a beacon of light in dark times.
December 7, 2010
Community, Family, and Popular Culture in Early Modern Italy by Tommaso Astarita
All men are created equal? We are not used to seeing a question mark after that sentence. It is treading on dangerous ground even to suggest it. In our developing, coerced "egalitarian" society there are those who have been ostracized for daring, even unwittingly in the course of unbiased research, to consider the question.
Every child entering the social arena whether it be school or sports soon discovers the difference in the abilities of their peers. They are then forced by those currently in charge to accept another ideal.
The best that could be hoped for would be that " all men are equal in the eyes of the law". But man-made law is just that and as such can be remade, applied differently, or simply ignored. There are also specious legal arguments that find a way around this ideal. We read about these decisions everyday. An equality that is enforced is a contradiction in terms. Reality will always intrude despite our best intentions and reveal itself.
Our English based jury system provides many advantages to the accused. A trial by a "jury of your peers" provides a safeguard against unjust laws that may be imposed by a ruling class. How many people are aware they they have this right of jury nullification. They may decide the case however they choose regardless of what a judge may "charge" them to do. If you ever need to avoid jury duty just tell the judge when interviewed that you are aware of your rights as a fully informed juror.
The court wants to have full control to steer the trial in their chosen direction and will most likely dismiss you immediately. This is a shirking of our obligations as citizens, but how many can afford the economic cost of being sequestered on a jury for an indefinite length of time. This makes the potential jury pool consist of the financially independent or those on welfare. Can the middle-class get a fair trial by their peers in this situation?
In Village Justice Tommaso Astarita treats us to a detailed study of a criminal trial from 1710 that occurred in a remote corner of Calabria. Using the original transcripts he shows the way justice was applied in a feudal society. He also shows that the Kingdom of Naples of the time was definitely in the center of European thought on judicial theory and its application, and once again how the people of southern Italy are often underestimated and misrepresented.
"Certain notions have long accompanied the image of southern Italian villages in the minds of foreigners, and indeed often Italian observers. Ideas of poverty and backwardness, of isolation and alienness, of illiteracy and ignorance, and of beliefs and ritual practices understandable at best through anthropological analysis have long characterized outside observers' perceptions of rural society in regions south of Rome and Naples. I do not reject all these characterizations, and, indeed in this book I stress the significance of some of them. I argue, however, that the southern villages were similar to those of many regions of western Europe. More important, although undoubtedly poor and often remote, they were home to dynamic and flexible communities that were able effectively to handle their internal tensions, to maintain a lively and autonomous culture, and to interact frequently and successfully with external authorities. The land was often formidable and the villagers mostly illiterate, but southern Italian rural people were far from passive and fatalistic victims of larger natural or human forces." pg xii
Pentidattilo is considered to be typical of many such small towns in the Kingdom of Naples of the time. It is located at the tip of the toe of Calabria, 5 kilometers inland from the coast in an easily defended location below a group of jutting peaks which suggest five fingers; hence the name which is of Greek origin. As in many areas of Southern Italy the population centers shifted here to escape the malarial coasts and the predation of Muslim raiders, and also to enjoy the "good air" of the heights.
The local dialect shows the influence of early Byzantine Greek settlement. After the depopulation caused by the Black Death further settlement was encouraged by the rulers of the kingdom and Greek speakers naturally found a home here. The Greek dialect was still reported to be spoken into the eighteenth century and official documents still contained Greek spellings and names. Professor Astarita doesn't consider this Greek influence to have been a significant factor differentiating it from any other "Latin" Calabrian town.
The area of Pentidattilo is hot in summer, deforested, earthquake prone and contains only seasonally flowing rivers. Despite this there were many small peasant holdings which produced grain, olives and fruit. The economy was self sufficient and only entered international markets with the introduction of mulberry trees for silk production and later in the 1700's with citrus fruit production.
At the time of the story Pentidattilo was still a self sufficient organic community and the villagers were highly dependent on each other for survival. There were no deep economic divisions between it's citizens. Outsiders, better described as persons of undetermined integrity were suspect. Is this the negative "characterization" Professor Astarita doesn't reject? However, in the author's words:
"...The villagers shaped a lively, autonomous culture which long maintained its own values, rules, and traditions. Personal honor and achievements,which were reflected in each villager's reputation, remained more important than inherited wealth or status within the local community." pg XVII
"...Village culture was characterized by a practical attitude, and when villagers took a negative view of their neighbors, it happened less on the basis of abstract notions of morality than because someone's actions endangered the stability or well-being of the community. Judgment was much more severe with outsiders than with well-integrated members of the village." pg 139
The small size of Pentidattilo enabled it to maintain a surprisingly democratic form of governing by all male heads of household. Larger and more prosperous areas soon developed an oligarchy based on wealth.
"The village was administered by two mayors (sindaci) and four or five eldermen (eletti) who all served one year terms..." pg 130
The crime in question, at the center of this study, was murder by poisoning. Domenica Orlando was accused of poisoning her husband with the help of a neighbor and friend Anna de Amico, ten years her senior, and Pietro Crea, her lover. The accusation of poisoning and also abortion was brought by the victim's brother.The circumstances of the death and a subsequent investigation of the body by the local "barber" indicate that a poisoning did occur. There was further testimony by a young girl who fetched the arsenic which was in use locally to control rodents.
The trial was held in a feudal court as opposed to a royal court. In cases such as this appeal could later be brought to the attention of the royal courts.
"Like many noble landowners throughout Europe, Neapolitan lords enjoyed the right of jurisdiction over practically all inhabitants of the villages and towns enfeoffed to them. Until the abolition of the feudal system in 1806, the term vassals was indeed used for all those subject to their lord's jurisdiction in the Kingdom of Naples. The Neapolitan feudal lords (known also as barons) were, however peculiar both in the extent of their jurisdictional powers and in the percentage of the kingdom's population subject to those powers." pp. 48,49
The trial was conducted by a feudal governor appointed by the baron. The governor in charge of this case had no training in the law and was therefore assisted by a counselor. A scribe from the town wrote out the record of the proceedings as well as assisted in the translation and interpretation of the local dialect.
"...Neither the governor nor his counselor, in keeping with laws and traditions, was a native of Pentidattilo or belonged to village families." pg. 47
This governorship sheds light on the sophistication of the feudal system. The baron was required by law to appoint a governor to oversee all administrative and judicial matters and could not interfere. This was an attempt at fairness by the neutrality of this intermediary position. Villagers could bring grievances against the governor after his term had expired. Counter to the impression that many have of feudal society and justice there was a true desire for the truth to prevail.The character of witnesses was also weighed as was the potential bias of friends and enemies.
"...Jurists insisted that the questioning not be leading or in any way suggestive and that the witnesses always be asked de causa scientiae, that is how they knew what they knew..." pg.60
After giving initial testimony the three defendants were tortured, but not in a manner and for reasons many would assume. The most common form throughout Europe at this time was suspension by rope with the hands tied behind the back.
"...When, as in most cases the defense failed to sway the court, and when the crime was punishable with corporal or harsher penalties (which was the case with a large number of crimes), the judge could order the torture of the defendant in order to obtain a confession. The use of torture was justified not only by the concern with the repression of crime but also the very emphasis on avoiding the arbitrary decision of the judge on creating absolute, objective standards of proof. Torture was carefully regulated in law and doctrine, as to duration and method. Unlike its twentieth-century incarnation, early modern torture was a regular, thoroughly structured part of criminal procedure. Because it could not simply be applied until the defendant confessed, torture could therefore be resisted."
"The defendant was to be encouraged and threatened until the very last minute before torture and throughout its duration, in the hope of diminishing the infliction of pain. A medical examination was necessary before torture could be applied, and a physician was to attend the torture, in order to prevent life threatening pain. To avoid excessive pain and vomiting, torture had to be inflicted several hours after the defendant had eaten. Certain categories of defendants, such as the old, the infirm, the very young, or pregnant women were exempted from torture, as were at least for most crimes, privileged groups such as priests, nobles, and -perhaps unsurprisingly- judges and illustrious jurists."
"...Torture could usually be applied up to three times in separate days, though again for grave crimes it was possible to continue further. A confession given under torture had no validity unless ratified the next day by the defendant. Refusal to ratify, however usually resulted in renewed torture. Although we do not know much about the effectiveness of torture, it seems to have been, if not a "relatively mild ordeal," certainly not as effective as legislators might have hoped." pp 62,63
Although there was no formal jury,
"...Public opinion and the reputation of the parties involved in a crime were, as we have seen, essential elements in early modern judicial practice...when it came to the final assessment of what the events had meant the court turned to the men of Pentidattilo, to solid citizens, to give confirmation and legitimation to, and offer a commentary on, what the court had done and learned. In this sense, these seven witnesses played a role not unlike the Greek tragic chorus." pg. 78
In spite of this or maybe because of it, Professor Astarita claims that family connections often determined the outcome of trials. As the older of the two female defendants Anna de Amico was considered to be more responsible for the crime and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Domenica Orlando fled the village but was also never convicted. Perhaps the villagers, who knew intimately the character of the two women, determined that the younger Domenica was put up to the crime. Pietro Crea was also released.
"Village Justice" by Professor Tomasso Astarita is a highly recommended study from primary sources, and should be read by every student of southern Italian history.
(Reprinted with permission from Southern Italian History, Culture, and Genealogy Blog)
December 6, 2010
Upcoming exhibit at the Kimbell Art Museum in Forth Worth, Texas
December 12, 2010–March 27, 2011
The history of art has known many rebels, but none quite like the 17th-century Italian painter Salvator Rosa (1615–1673). Fiercely independent and powerfully inventive, he charmed noble and princely patrons only to spurn them; he explored dark and brooding subjects that ran counter to mainstream tastes; and he risked numerous enemies with his biting satirical poems. Through it all, he created some of the most evocative paintings of his age—landscapes, fanciful portraits, scenes of witchcraft and magic, altarpieces, and subjects derived from classical literature. He is most widely known for his landscapes, with their craggy ravines, crumbling towers, and suggestive light effects, but there is much more to Rosa, as this exhibition demonstrates with 36 of his best paintings, covering all his favorite genres. This is the first major exhibition of his art held in the United States.
Rosa’s career path was winding—both in geography and in its pattern of successes and failures. He was born in Naples, where the praise given his landscapes and battle paintings encouraged him to try his luck in Rome. There, he quickly landed commissions from local cardinals and faraway kings; but his sharp tongue made him the enemy of the great sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini, so he fled to Florence and the protection of the Medici family. The next nine years were hugely productive, as Rosa turned his attention to classical themes and painted his first pictures of witches—but he detested being bound to his patrons. He bolted to Rome, where he regained his professional footing only to risk it with one controversy after another, including a particularly stinging pictorial satire—the Fortuna, now in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles––that caused him real problems with the papacy. His admirers never stopped growing in number, however, and by the time of his death he had earned an artistic reputation matched by few painters in the city.
The works in the exhibition will be grouped by theme, beginning with self-portraits and fanciful heads. One of the anchors of this section is Self-Portrait with a Skull, in which the long-haired Rosa meditates on death. Landscapes come next, and among the star attractions is a coastal scene that Rosa painted for King Philip IV of Spain. Rosa’s paintings about magic and the natural sciences are some of his most spellbinding works and include Jason and the Dragon, which inspired J. M. W. Turner in the 19th century. The exhibition concludes in stunning fashion with a selection of his intense and eccentric figure paintings.
Salvator Rosa: Bandits, Wilderness, and Magic is organized by the Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, and the Kimbell Art Museum. It is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
Source: Kimbell Art Museum calendar of events