February 25, 2011

The Good Italian

Benedetto Croce: The “Soul” of Italy
Benedetto Croce
By Niccolò Graffio
“Unless a capacity for thinking be accompanied by a capacity for action, a superior mind exists in torture.” – Benedetto Croce
Benedetto Croce was born in Pescasseroli in the Abruzzi region in the ruins of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies on February 25, 1866. The disaster which befell his homeland did not have much of an impact on his family, as they were people of considerable wealth. The Croce family had so much wealth, in fact, that from the day of his birth to the day of his death, Benedetto Croce never had to engage in any form of manual labor in order to survive. In that, he differed considerably from most of his countrymen.
Devout Roman Catholics, his parents sent him at an early age to Naples to be schooled in the tenets of their religion. By the time he reached mid-adolescence, however, Croce had decided he had no use for Catholicism, or any religion, for that matter, preferring instead a type of spiritualism of his own making to which he adhered for the remainder of his life. In 1883, while on vacation with his family in the village of Casamicciola, Ischia, a strong earthquake struck the area, destroying the home they were living in and tragically killing his parents and sister. He was buried (severely injured) under the rubble for several hours until rescuers were able to free him. Continue reading

February 24, 2011

Titan of the South: Il Cavaliere Calabrese

Mattia Preti, the Knight from Calabria
Saint John the Baptist Preaching
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
By Giovanni di Napoli
Mattia Preti was born on February 24, 1613 in Taverna, a small town on the slopes of la Sila Piccola in Calabria. In 1630 the young artist followed his older brother Gregorio to Rome (who arrived two years earlier), where they studied painting at the Accademia di San Luca. There, he became familiar with the works of Caravaggio and his followers. His initial paintings are reminiscent of the dramatic chiaroscuro style of the Lombard master. 
The success of Preti's early works opened up many opportunities for him and he soon acquired important commissions in the Duchy of Modena, most notably the frescoes for the apse and dome of San Biagio. In 1641 or '42 Urban VIII admitted him into the Order of St. John of Malta as a Knight of Obedience. This earned him the moniker Il Cavaliere Calabrese, or the Knight from Calabria. According to his often-quoted biographer Bernardo De Dominici, Preti also traveled to Venice, Spain and the Netherlands, broadening his techniques and developing his skills. Many historians, however, doubt the validity of these travels. Continue reading

February 23, 2011

Giambattista Basile and the Literary Fairy Tale

Giambattista Basile 
Photo courtesy of il portal del Sud
By Giovanni di Napoli
"Whoever reads Basile's tales can't fail to see the direct ties they have with southern Italian folklore. And we should remember with pride the debt that the European imaginary owes to both our culture and Basile. But we should remember above all thatThe Tale of Tales is more, and to this it owes its present and perennial greatness." — Carmelo Lettere (1)
The distinction for composing Europe's first collection of literary fairy tales belongs to Giambattista Basile, a Neapolitan soldier, poet and courtier. His Lo cunto de li cunti, overo Lo trattenemiento de 'peccerille (The Tale of Tales, or Entertainment for Little Ones) contains the West's earliest literary versions of some of the most celebrated fairy tales, including "Cinderella," "Rapunzel," "Sleeping Beauty" and "Hansel and Gretel." Sometimes called Il Pentamerone, the collection was written in the early seventeenth century and published posthumously in 1634-'36. Basile's Tale of Tales predates Germany's renowned Brothers Grimm by nearly two hundred years.
Because he wrote his tales in Neapolitan, Basile's magnum opus remains fairly unknown today. After Italian unification in 1861 Neapolitan was officially replaced with the so-called "Italian language" (i.e. the Florentine vernacular) and undeservedly relegated to the rank of "dialect." The literary works written in the languages of the South have suffered as a consequence and Basile's Tales fell into obscurity. Neapolitan, like the other regional tongues of Italy (e.g. Sicilian), continue to decline in importance due to the cultural leveling taking place in Italy. Continue reading

February 22, 2011

Zampogna: The Soul of Southern Italy (DVD)


Zampogna from the Metropolitan Museum of Art
(Photo by New York Scugnizzo)

Zampogna: The Soul of Southern Italy. A feature length documentary film about Southern Italian culture told through its indigenous folk music. The film focuses on how these traditions are dealing with the rapid changes in local economy and the homogenizing effect globalization has on local culture. Filmed by an Italian American rediscovering his family's roots, the film takes the viewer on an odyssey through remote regions in Sicily, Calabria, Campania and Molise introducing the people who carry on these ancient traditions that most Italian Americans are completely unaware of. The Zampogna - the Italian bagpipe is the physical manifestation of this culture, its music represents the spirit and vitality of the Southern Italian.

Reviews:

(Reprinted from Zampogna: The Soul of Southern Italy press release)

February 20, 2011

Celebrating Carnival with the Deer Man

"The Hunt"
Lucanian era tomb painting, Paestum (Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
By Lucian

The Catholic religious season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and lasts for forty days until Easter. During this time Catholics and some other Christian denominations are supposed to commemorate Christ’s fasting in the wilderness by giving up meat and other popular foods such as dairy and eggs.

The question inevitably arose about what to do with all this food before it spoiled, especially in medieval times when food was scarce and could hardly be wasted. The obvious conclusion was to eat it all, and what better way than with festivals and celebrations. The English term Carnival originates with the Latin term carne levare (translated literally as remove meat). The festival season begins on the Epiphany (January 6th) and lasts until the beginning of Lent. The final day is called Martedi Grasso (Fat Tuesday) and is celebrated in different forms throughout the world, including the famous festival in New Orleans in America. In the United Kingdom they call it Pancake Tuesday, because it is said that pancakes were an easy and delicious way to devour all the dairy and eggs before the fasting began.

Il Cervo (Courtesy of www.uomocervo.org)
Different countries and the regions within them have different ways of celebrating, and many incorporate their own ancient legends and folklore into the festivities. Southern Italy is no exception.

In the town of Castelnuovo del Volturno (Molise), they celebrate the last Sunday of carnival with a tradition of obvious pre-Christian origins. It’s called the rito del cervo, or Red Deer Man ritual.

It begins with the sound of cowbells approaching from the woods and the Janare (witches) running throughout the town. The Deer Man and Woman arrive covered in hides, acting wild and uncontrollable. The Deer Man then chases the villagers with his antlers, causing havoc.

The Martino (Faerie wizard of the mountains) comes to calm the wild beasts. He is dressed in white with a conical hat and carrying a staff. After a time, he succeeds and puts a rope around the Deer Man and his mate. They do not remain calm or tied together for long; soon the Deer Man becomes aggressive again and escapes his bindings. The Hunter then appears and kills them both, saving the village from the beasts, but with their death the people feel a great loss.

Zampogna from the MET 
collection (New York Scugnizzo)
The villagers grieve for the Deer Man and Woman, and the Hunter slowly approaches the slain couple and blows into their ears, bringing them back to life. The Deer then run back into the woodlands, and the witches return and dance around a fire to the music of the zampogna and other instruments.

The zampogna are the Italian bagpipes, and this in concert with the Deer Man and hunter reminds me of Cernnunos, the antlered Master of the Wild Hunt in Celtic mythology. It also brings to mind the white stag of various European legends.

Detail of Gundestrup Cauldron showing Cernunnos (Courtesy of Wikimedia)
The witches are called Janare, which is derived from the name of the Roman Goddess Diana. She is identified with Artemis, the Greek Goddess of the hunt and wild animals. Deer are sacred to Artemis.

Many people believe that Carnival (and St. Valentine’s Day) are Christian adaptations of the Roman festival Lupercalia or wolf-festival. The central figure of this event was Lupercus, linked with the horned god Faunus and the Greek god Pan, who appears as a satyr.

Terracotta head of Artemis, 
Tarentine, 3rd century B.C. 
(New York Scugnizzo)
Whether intentional or through osmosis, elements of the old ways survive in many modern Christian celebrations and I believe that this is a positive thing. The Deer Man ritual is very old and very special. The themes of hunting, fertility, death and rebirth are all present and are consistent with similar rituals throughout ancient Europe and the rest of the world. Animal symbolism is also common in Christianity, so it isn’t surprising that this beloved ritual has survived until modern times.

As I learn more about my culture and my ancestral past, many things that I took for granted have acquired deeper meanings. This year, and in all years to come, I will celebrate Carnival with the Deer Man, no matter where I might be.

February 16, 2011

To the Shores of Tripoli

The Story of the Unsung Hero of the First Barbary War
Burning of the frigate USS Philadelphia
in the harbor of Tripoli, February 16, 1804,
by Edward Moran, painted 1897
By Niccolò Graffio
“It would be unjust of me, were I to pass over the important services rendered by Mr. Salvatore Catalano, on whose conduct the success of the enterprise in the greatest degree depended.” – Lt. Stephen Decatur: writing in his official report on the burning of thePhiladelphia; February, 1804.
Piracy is an ancient plague of mariners and coastal-dwelling peoples. For as long as men have taken to the seas in the name of commerce there have been those who have taken it upon themselves to prey upon them. The earliest mentions of pirates in history are found in the chronicles of the ancient Egyptians who spoke of the depredations of the “Sea Peoples” which disrupted the shipping lanes of the Eastern Mediterranean in the 13th century BC. Continue reading

Lessons from the bella ‘Mbriana

Visitation III painted by Aldo Lira
By Lucian
Naples is a very old place and has many legends and spirits associated with it. Of the two most famous spirits in Naples, the bella ‘Mbriana is certainly the more positive one. The other is Munaciello, a much darker and frightening entity that I intend to write about some time in the future. The two are often mentioned together when the topic of Neapolitan ghosts or spirits arises.
I have found the customs surrounding the bella ‘Mbriana to be more than just quaint, they seem to be similar to at least two different pagan Roman traditions and the more I thought about her, the deeper her meaning became.
Said to be a princess that became extremely distraught due to an unhappy love affair, she would wander the city like a lost soul. Her father, the King, would give anonymous gifts to the families of households that looked after her. Her spirit has become associated with the protection of the household, and good fortune is supposed to come to those who pay her respect.
The bella ‘Mbriana only appears for an instant, as a reflection in a window or through a curtain swaying in a breeze. She is described as a beautiful young woman with a gentle face, and there is brightness about her. Her name derives from the Latin “Meridian;” the brightest hour of the day. This is significant because Southern Italians are referred to as Meridionali, a word that has the same Latin origin and refers to the people of the midday sun. The gecko is supposed to have a connection to ‘Mbriana. The lizards are found all over Naples and Southern Italy. Neapolitans believe that they bring good luck.
A gecko at the Villa Rufolo in Ravello (Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
The Bella ‘Mbriana is said to be very powerful, bestowing luck upon those within the home she has chosen and taking revenge on those who offend it. Some claim that she prefers not to be referred to directly, others invoke her name for luck. The legends say that when inside the home one should never complain about the house being too small or dark, or speak of moving to a different one; for ‘Mbriana may feel slighted and punish you for it. If such things are to be discussed, it is better to do it outside of the house.
‘Mbriana also loves order and cleanliness, so it is wise to complete household chores to avoid irritating her. In this respect she reminds me of my own mother, who was also the heart and protector of our own household.
In the past it was the custom to set an extra place and chair at the table for ‘Mbriana to come in and rest among the family. The practice of the empty chair was also part of the ancient Roman ritual of Parentalia, which took place from February 13th to the 22nd. The Roman celebration included remembering the importance of family, honoring their ancestors and visiting their tombs.
The Catholic Church adopted part of the tradition, but switched the focus from family to Saint Peter, and celebrated it on February 22nd, the last day of Parentalia. Another celebration of St. Peter existed and was held on January 18th, but in 1960 the church abolished it in favor of the February celebration. The event is now known as feast of the chair of St. Peter (cathedra). It is also called the Bishop’s chair. The symbolism of the empty chair appears in cultures around the world, but the most plausible connection to ‘Mbriana is pagan Rome’s Parentalia and its Christian counterpart, the chair of St. Peter.
‘Mbriana’s connection to the physical home, and her role as guardian is also reminiscent of the Lares Familiaris of Roman household worship. The observation of rituals and the taboos associated with her also bear a distinct similarity to this spirit among others in the ancient Roman household, and also the spirits of the field and the dead.
“Here it will be most relevant to try to draw a picture of the Lar familiaris, as he was generally conceived. He is the guardian of the house and is looked on as a kindly and benevolent spirit, who watches over the fortunes not only of the family, but of the whole household, including the servants, from generation to generation.” (From Phases in the Religion of Ancient Rome by Cyril Bailey, p51) 
“The spirits of his house and his land and his own Genius were friendly powers, all of them of the greatest importance for his life and his work, and their claims were attended to with regularity and devotion… there was nothing to fear if they were carefully propitiated; and his daily life and comfort depended on this propriation… ” (From The Religious Experience of the Roman People, by W. Warde Fowler M.A., p.92) 
“The normal conception of the 'spirits' in Roman animism would seem to be that of neutral powers, who might be hostile, if neglected, but, if they are duly placated and receive the offerings which they require, will be friendly and give the worshipper health and prosperity.” (From Phases in the Religion of Ancient Rome by Cyril Bailey, p40)
My description of ‘Mbriana as a benign spirit may seem in doubt when I discuss her penchant for punishment and revenge, but it must be remembered that the world of our ancestors was difficult and often brutal, and it still is. Unlike us, our ancestors were more likely to face its unpleasantness instead of hiding from it. The bella ‘Mbriana, like the legends in Greco-Roman mythology or the lessons from Aesops fables, teaches us something about ourselves and offers insight to human nature without censoring its more disturbing aspects.
It is clear that ‘Mbriana commands respect not only through benevolence but also through fear. People of today’s era will probably be appalled at the idea of modifying behavior through fear, but such ideas continue to permeate many aspects of our lives. It really is no different in modern times; we fear eternal damnation if we break the laws of God, and we fear imprisonment or execution if we break the laws of man. One can claim that it isn’t the same thing, but it clearly is. Fear of consequences has more to do with people’s behavior than their perceived morality. If you doubt that, just watch what people do when they think they can get away with something. Even if only a few people take the opportunity, it is enough to prove my point.
‘Mbriana was probably used as a threat to get children to do their chores, and she isn’t the first figure used in such a way. Throughout Europe there are tales of fairies and other characters who are also used for such encouragement, these are just a few: The Slavic Domovoi (a house spirit similar to ‘Mbriana), the terrifying Celtic hobgoblin Rawhead and Bloody Bones, and Krampus (Santa Claus’ assistant and the Germanic answer to his naughty list). Historical figures were also used; the name of Abu Tabela is invoked in Peshwar to this day for similar reasons, and while it is not in Europe, Abu himself was a Neapolitan.
Domovoi
The lessons of ‘Mbriana might be reinforced with fear, but are still important to learn. Let’s examine how the different aspects of her presence influence the atmosphere within the household.
The concept of something always watching us, spiritual or otherwise, can be disconcerting, especially to someone like me who values privacy. However, acting as if something is watching has a significant effect on a person’s behavior, and while it can be stressful, the changes are not always negative. Laws and cultural niceties are more likely to be followed, and we are more careful of what we do, and how we do it. Even if something out of the ordinary is done, the person doing it is more likely to make it appear normal, and be less careless about it. These habits make it easier for people to survive and function in any society, especially repressive ones. Traditions that instill this type of caution and general awareness would be particularly valuable in conquered and exploited regions, such as Southern Italy after the Risorgimento.
‘Mbriana’s taboo about complaints and negativity concerning the house make it easier to have more productive conversations at home. Complaining can become habit forming, it is better to do something about a problem than complain about it endlessly. Those mentioning ‘Mbriana only indirectly are forced to act as though they were doing things for their own benefit instead of the spirit’s, encouraging them to actually feel this way. After work, I do my best to leave the stress from my day outside my door, and appreciate what I have at home. After all, if you can’t appreciate what you have, you won’t appreciate having more.
‘Mbriana likes a clean and orderly house; this is an incentive to keep the household clean and in good repair, promoting a healthier environment for everyone living in it.
‘Mbriana demands respect, just like parents and other figures of authority. Growing up with that concept in the household can help put life outside it in a more realistic perspective. I certainly don’t like everyone that I’ve had to answer to and disagree with many political leaders, but all of us have to answer to someone and we always will. There is always a hierarchy within any group, even if you disagree with it or are fighting to change it. Respect is part of this, and just recognizing that reality allows you to make better decisions.
Life isn’t easy, but it never was. Our ancestors came home after work just like we do, and struggled with similar problems. Spirits like “Mbriana and her predecessors are projections of our own needs, and give people a reason to behave in their own best interests, even when they don’t feel like it. Whether or not you leave an empty chair for the bella ‘Mbriana, it is worthwhile to consider the lessons that she gives us.
References:
Managing Existence In Naples: Morality, action and structure, by Italo Pardo, published 1996, ISBN 0-521-56227-9 hardback, ISBN 0-521-56665-7 paperback
The religious experience of the Roman People, by W. Warde Fowler M.A. published 1911, reprinted 1971. ISBN 0-8154-0372-0.
Phases in the Religion of Ancient Rome by Cyril Bailey, published 1932, reprinted 1972 ISBN 0-8371-4759-X
Church’s Liturgy by Michael Kunzler ISBN-10 0826413528
The Genius of the Roman Rite: On the Reception and Implementation of the New Missal by Keith F. Pecklers ISBN-10 0814660215

February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day (Lupercalia)

Venus and Mars (Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
In the spirit of Valentine's Day I'm posting 'Ngiulina (1) by the great Realist poet and playwright, Raffaele Viviani (Castellammare di Stabia 1886 – Napoli 1950). The accompanying photo of Venus and Mars with their sons Cupid and Formido (taken at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli) is a 1st Century Imperial Roman fresco from the House of Mars and Venus in Pompeii. Some believe Saint Valentine's Day sprung from the Roman Lupercalia (Feb. 15th), an ancient "wolf festival" celebrating the coming spring.

Raffaele Viviani
(Courtesy of Wikipedia)
'Ngiulina

Ogne vota ca veco 'Ngiulina
sciacquà 'e panne int' 'a tina, acalata
m'aggia fa 'na mez'ora 'e guardata,
e 'o penziero cammina cammina!...

Accummencia a lavà d' 'a matina
ogne gghiuorno se fa 'na culata
'a vunnella 'ínt' 'e scianche scurciata
cchiù s'accorcia cu 'a capa 'int' 'a tina!

E io ca stongo 'e rimpetto,int' 'o vascio...
levo l'uocchie ma l'uocchie là vanno...
guardanno guardanno m'accascio...

Nu suspiro e lle dico - 'Ngiulì!...
essa ride, e 'nfunnenno 'nu panno,
cchiù se move per farme suffrì!

Angiolina

Every time I see her bending,
rinsing clothes in her tub,
I abide for hours,
and my mind strays.

She starts washing at dawn —
every day she scrubs and
her skirts hug her legs,
rising as she leans
over her tub...

From across the courtyard
I look on high, try
to loft my sights but
they always focus there...

Gazing, gazing, I slump,
sigh and moan, "Angiolina!"

She laughs and rinses
her dirty laundry...

Then she wriggles
to make me suffer...

(1) Reprinted from The Bread and the Rose: A Trilingual Anthology of Neapolitan Poetry from the 16th Century to the Present, edited by Achille Serrao and Luigi Bonaffini, Legas, 2005, p. 193)

February 13, 2011

A Matter of Honor

In Days Of Old When Knights Were Bold….
By Niccoló Graffio

Actors recreating the legendary ‘Challenge of Barletta’.
(Photo courtesy of www.DisfidadiBarletta.net)

“Whoever would not die to preserve his honor would be infamous.”
– Blaise Pascal: Pensées, III, 1670.

History and Geography were always my two favorite subjects in school. No doubt the fact I was so good in them was a factor (I never received less than an “A” in either of them). The overriding factor, though, was my lifelong fascination with peoples and places from the past. I must confess to having a special attachment to Greco-Roman history, but given the enormous contributions of ancient Greeks and Romans to the history of Western Civilization, it should be understandable.

In my salad days I was introduced to those periods in history known as the Middle Ages and the Renaissance by attending a Renaissance Faire in upstate New York (Sterling Forest, to be exact). This is not to say I did not learn about these periods while in school. I did, but they were such quick and dry reading (thanks in large part to the politically correct curricula of the New York City Dept. of Education), they really didn’t pique my interest. Standing there in Sterling Forest, however, surrounded by medieval trappings (melded with the crass commercialism of modern-day America), opened up a whole new world for me. Continue reading

February 11, 2011

"Terroni": How Italy was Unified 150 Years Ago


Pino Aprile (Photo courtesy of i-Italy)

By Luca Delbello and Letizia Airos (February 10, 2011)

Presented at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute Pino Aprile's book sheds an alternative light on the meaning of the Italian unification. "'Meridionalismo' is a kind of construction by the winners"

"Enthusiastic reactions or latent irritation" are the words Niccolò d’Aquino uses to describe the reception of Pino Aprile's "Terroni: All That Was Done so Italians of the South Would Become 'Meridionali'" (Piemme, 2010), an essay published recently in Italy. The America Oggi journalist praised Aprile's popular and narrative abilities, explaining the annoyance of being accused by many as anti-Northern League and Borbonic.

The book presentation took place at the John D. Calandra Institute, a research center of Italian-American studies at the City University of New York. The Dean of the Institute Prof. Anthony J. Tamburri and Prof. Peter Caravetta of Stony Brook were also present for the round table.

The so-called 'southern issue' surfaced with many facets, also with an approach that at certain times went beyond the Italian context.

Carravetta spoke describing the author's work as "measured and passionate, without falling into the trap of racism". "Prejudices result in ideological creations" according to the Stony Brook professor; therefore some northerners created a condition of superiority building a "subordinated mentality", according to which a large number of southerners reacted and react today by denying their roots and identity. Continue reading

Also see:

February 10, 2011

Flying the Flag

Stadio San Paolo (Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
On February 20th, 2011, at the Stadio San Paolo in Naples,

members of several meridionalisti organizations will be mobilizing a massive demonstration at the Serie A match between S.S.C. Napoli and Calcio Catania.

Rinascita del Sud, Neoborbonici, Giovani per il Sud, V.A.N.T.O., Contro Vento and the Partito del Sud are asking all tifosi to participate and fly the former flag of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in opposition to the state sponsored celebrations for Italy's up-coming centocinquantenario (150th anniversary).

The protest aims to draw attention to the crimes committed during the Risorgimento and the persistent injustices against the South perpetrated today. The demonstration is part of series of protests designed by organizers to expose the unsavory truth about Italian unification.

Avanti Sud!

By New York Scugnizzo

February 9, 2011

Remembering a Titan — Frank Frazetta

Some Favorites: Sun Goddess, Death Dealer, and Against the gods
By Giovanni di Napoli

For as long as I can remember, I've been drawing. One of my earliest memories was a water color painting I did of the Red Baron's triplane soaring through the sky. It was nothing special, but my parents made so much of a fuss over it that I never forgot. I was fascinated with soldiers and war and as I grew older, my pictures grew more graphic and detailed.
Self Portrait
An early influence in my life was Frank Frazetta. I'll never forget the first time I saw his work. A friend showed me the cover of his uncle's Molly Hatchet album featuring Frazetta's "Death Dealer", a fierce warrior mounted on a nightmarish black steed. It was like an epiphany. I sought out other works by the artist, which led me to the jacket covers of several science fiction and fantasy novels, sparking my interest in the stories of Robert E. Howard (Conan) and Edgar Rice Burroughs (Tarzan).
Imitating Frazetta, my own renderings became more fantastic, yet more realistic because I began to focus on anatomy. I also started to include scantily clad damsels in distress to my drawings which, predictably, got me in trouble on several occasions in Catholic elementary school.
Frazetta's images depict aesthetic beauty and unapologetic virility, and as a healthy, idealistic adolescent boy they appealed to me on some primal level. Not just pretty pictures, they served to transmit archetypical ideals—valor, strength, beauty—traditionally passed on through myths and legends. It is said a picture is worth a thousand words; Frazetta's spoke volumes to me.
Triumphant Heroes: 
Pompeii's Theseus and the Minotaur and Frazetta's Conan the Barbarian
It wasn't until I started high school that I received proper art training. I was lucky enough to have a teacher who took me under her wing and helped nurture my gift. She introduced me to the works of many artists (including Salvador Dali and Auguste Rodin—still among my favorites) and new mediums (it was the first time I worked with terracotta and made pottery). Of course, as I went on to college and grew older my tastes and interests broadened, and I developed a style all my own, but 'til this day the art of Frank Frazetta inspires me. Its heroic message is eternal.
My limited edition signed print 
from the "Women of the Ages" portfolio
Frank Frazetta was born on February 9, 1928 in Brooklyn, New York. He was the oldest of four children in a tight-knit Sicilian family. A child prodigy, he was only eight years-old when he enrolled in the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Art under the tutelage of Michael Falanga.
By sixteen he was apprenticing for John Giunta at Bernard Bailey Studio and published his first comic work, Snowman. He soon moved on to Fiction House Comics, then to Standard Publishing, where he continued to hone his craft working under the direction of Ralph Mayo. Turning down an offer from Disney Studios, Frazetta worked in comics in various capacities until about 1961.
He met Eleanor Kelly in 1952 and fell madly in love. They married four years later. Ellie helped promote her husband's career by selling reproductions of his work. She would later be the driving force behind the Frazetta Museum. They had four children together: Frank Jr., Billy, Holly and Heidi. Ellie died of cancer on July 17, 2009.
Indomitable
With the decline of the comic industry and struggling to provide for his growing family, Frazetta found work drawing for adult themed magazines, including Playboy's titillating comic strip, Little Annie Fanny. When opportunity knocked he moved on to illustrating book and magazine covers, changing forever the fantasy/adventure and publishing industries with his dramatic portrayals of Conan the Barbarian.
In 1964 his caricature of Ringo Star for Mad Magazine caught the attention of United Artist Studios. They hired him to do the movie poster for the Peter Sellers film, What's New Pussycat? (1975), thus beginning a long lucrative relationship with Hollywood. This eventually led to his collaboration with director Ralph Bakshi on the animated sword and sorcery film Fire & Ice (1983). Although the movie didn't fare well at the box office, Frazetta's movie poster, depicting the heroes Darkwolf, Larn and Teegra fending-off "Nekron's dogs," is among his best.
Fire and Ice
During the 1970s Frazetta won all kinds of accolades from his peers, including the Award of Excellence in 1972 and 1974 from the Society of Illustrators. In 1975 Bantum books published The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta, the first of many retrospectives of his most popular paintings. Reviews were overwhelmingly positive and according to artist Arnie Fenner, "his seductive oils, were immediately compared to Rembrandt." (Icon, 1998) With over 400,000 copies printed to meet demands, the book was a huge success.
In 1998 he was elected to the Illustrators Hall of Fame by the Society of Illustrators. Two years later the third incarnation of the Frazetta Museum opened in Bushkill, Pennsylvania, making his life's work accessible to his fans. Painting with fire, a definitive documentary spanning the course of his illustrious career, was released on DVD in 2003.
After battling illness for several years he lost the use of his right hand. Instead of giving up he taught himself to draw with his left. Frazetta suffered a stroke and died on May 10, 2010. He was 82 years-old.
In another time and place, it’s not hard to imagine Frazetta's work gracing the naves and domes of Europe's monumental cathedrals and palaces, or (traveling still further back) the walls of Roman villas. Princes and popes would have courted Frazetta's talents just like modern art directors did. They would have marveled over his amazing speed and bravura the same way they did with the great Neapolitan painter Luca "fà-presto" Giordano (1634-1705). Many of Frazetta's most popular pieces were painted in just a day or two.
Ellie Frazetta
Whether you like his art or not, the fact remains that Frazetta was one of the most original and influential illustrators of the twentieth century, defining the fantasy genre and inspiring generations of artists. In addition to comics, movie posters, books and album covers, he created fine art as well. Frazetta's personal paintings are among the artist's best. The portraits of his wife and family are wonderfully executed and have been compared to the works of the great American painter John Singer Sergeant (1856-1925).
I have a decent collection of art books in my personal library and I'm not ashamed to to say that among my assortment of biographies Frazetta is well represented. Admittedly, this has more to do with availability than by design. I wish I could find more than one book dealing with Bernardo Cavallino, Francesco Messina or Vincenzo Gemito, let alone find a single book about Francesco Solimena, Corrado Giaquinto or Giuseppe Sanmartino. Southern Italian artists clearly do not get the same attention as their northern counterparts. Perhaps this shows how influential the Sicilian from Brooklyn's art really is. When talking about the history of illustration Frank Frazetta cannot be ignored.
Bibliography:
Frank Frazetta: The Living Legend, Frank and Eleanor Frazetta, 1981.
Icon: A retrospective by the Grand Master of Fantastic Art, Frank Frazetta edited by Arnie & Cathy Fenner, Underwood Books, 1998.
Legacy: Selected Paintings & Drawings by the Grand Master of Fantastic Art, Frank Frazetta edited by Arnie & Cathy Fenner, Underwood Books, 1999.
Testament: The Life and Art of Frank Frazetta edited by Arnie & Cathy Fenner, Underwood Books, 2001.

Paolo de Matteis

Andromeda and Perseus (ca. 1710) by Paolo de Matteis
(Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
By Giovanni di Napoli

Paolo de Matteis was born in Piano del Cilento, near Salerno, on February 9, 1662 in the Kingdom of Naples. According to the Neapolitan biographer Bernardo De Dominici (1683-1759) the young Paolo showed great promise as a painter. His parents encouraged him, providing him with art instruction, though his father wanted him to pursue a more distinguished career in liberal arts. Brought to Naples he studied philosophy and mathematics under the guidance of some of the Kingdom's leading intellectuals, including Lionardo di Capoa and Tommaso di Cornelio. Paolo's natural talent, however, was painting and he was allowed to return to it.

At first he studied under Francesco di Maria, but his father pulled some strings and secured a place for him in the atelier of Luca Giordano, who, at the time, was one of Naples' most influential and respected painters. Inspired by his master's Roman drawings, de Matteis travelled to the Eternal City as part of Don Filippo Macedonia's entourage to see the masterpieces first hand. In Rome the Marchese del Carpio, Spain's ambassador to the Papal States, took the young artist under his wing and sent him to study in the workshop of Giovanni Maria Morandi, a follower of Carlo Maratta. Under Morandi's influence, the Neapolitan began to fuse Giordano's vigorous idiom with Roman classicism.

In 1683 the Marchese del Carpio was appointed Viceroy of Naples and de Matteis returned with him back to Giordano's studio. At first the youthful painter's Roman training predominated his work, but after Giordano's departure to Spain in 1692, de Matteis began to emulate Giordano's style, possibly to satisfy the taste of his patrons. The artist's reputation began to grow and he received many important commissions, not least among which was the vault for the Certosa di San Martino, where he painted the magnificent St. Bruno Interceding with the Madonna for the Suffering.
The Certosa di San Martino overlooking Naples (New York Scugnizzo)
De Matteis visited France in 1702 at the invitation of the Count of Estrées, where he served in the court of le Grand Dauphin. Among his distinguished patrons were Antoine Crozat, the Marquis de Clérembaut and the Duc d'Orléans. In addition to decorating some of the most stately palaces and galleries of Paris, de Matteis also painted the vault for the Augustinian royal convent. In gratitude for his refusal to accept payment for the work, they granted him, his wife and eight children honorary membership into the order.

On his return to Naples de Matteis composed brief biographical accounts of the lives of eighteen Neapolitan painters at the request of a French historian. The profiles were intended for an encyclopedia of European painters, which never came to fruition. Thankfully, De Dominici included them in his Vite de'pittori, scultori ed architetti napoletani (1742-45), a valuable, if somewhat imperfect, source of information about the lives of Neapolitan artists.

Not surprisingly, after the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714) de Matteis was commissioned by the Kingdom's new Austrian rulers (1707-1734), most notably Count Wirich Philipp von Daun, the Imperial Viceroy of Naples, and Emperor Joseph I. Perhaps the artist's most interesting piece during this period was his Self-portrait with Allegories of Peace, a large canvas celebrating the peace treaties of Utrecht (1713) and Rastatt (1714), and the transfer of power over the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies from Spain to Austria. Only a fragment of the work survives (Capodimonte Museum), however an extant bozzetto gives us a clue as to what the finished painting may have looked like.
Bozzetto for Self-portrait with Allegory of the Peace of Utrecht and Rastatt
In 1712 the third Earl of Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley Cooper, hired de Matteis to paint Hercules at the Crossroads Between Virtue and Vice (Ashmolean Museum). The painting depicts the great hero contemplating the choice between sybaritic pleasure and a virtuous life (represented by allegorical figures). The work is considered, by some, to be an emblematic example of the artist's evolution from Giordano's baroque style towards the more refined classicism he studied during his time in Rome and Paris.

In the same year he gained the prefecture of the Corporazione dei pittori napoletani (Neapolitan Painters Guild). He also completed The Annunciation (Saint Louis Art Museum) and Adoration of the Shepherds (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts) for the Duchess of Laurenzano, Donna Aurora Sanseverino, an important patroness of the arts and a founding member of the Neapolitan Arcadian Academy.
The Annunciation
Canvases were sent to Lecce and Grottaglie, acquiring him more prestige and commissions. Traveling to Apulia he continued his synthesis of styles, decorating, among others, the Monastero di Santa Maria delle Vergini in Bitonto and the Chiesa di San Giacomo in Bari. Some credit him with a series of frescoes in the chapel of Saint Cataldo, in the transept of the Cattedrale San Cataldo in Taranto, the "City of Two Seas."

After his success in Apulia the artist returned to Naples and started working alongside the versatile Domenico Antonio Vaccaro (1678-1745) in the chapel of St. Joseph at the Certosa. He completed a series of paintings and frescoes highlighting the saint's life, culminating with the marvelous St. Joseph in Glory. In 1723, under the patronage of French diplomat Cardinal Melchior de Polignac, de Matteis made another journey to Rome. He stayed for three years, distinguishing himself with many works for the clergy and Roman nobility, including two popes—Innocent XIII (1721-24) and Benedict XIII (1724-30).
La morte di san Giuseppe by Paolo de Matteis
(Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
Back in Naples de Matteis executed extensive work for the Chiesa delle Crocelle ai Mannesi, the church where he wished to be interred. Still in great demand, the aging artist's fame travelled well past the city's walls. He continued to receive commissions from the Kingdom's provinces, as well as internationally, and among his last known works was a canvas (possibly two) shipped to Messina, Sicily, and a group of paintings depicting biblical scenes to Bergamo in Lombardy. 

Shortly before his death in 1728, he started goldsmithing and making models for sculpture in silver.

According to De Dominici:
"He also took delight in sculpture for his own amusement, and he modeled many heads and half-length busts; and on a bet with some sculptor (I know not whom) who wanted to criticize him, he carved some half-figures of marble; especially beautiful was a Madonna with the Child in her arms which was executed with such tender care that it seemed not of marble but of soft flesh. But due to an accident in the polishing of the face of the Blessed Virgin, a little black spot is apparent right on her left cheek that lessons the value of so beautiful a work." (Quoted from the Golden Age of Naples: Art and Civilization Under the Bourbons, 1734-1805, Volume II, p. 420)
Unfortunately, the only known sculpture by the artist is a half-length bust of Saint Sebastian, rendered in silver by Gaetano Starace.


The following sources proved invaluable to this post:

• A Taste for Angels: Neapolitan Painting in North America 1650-1750, Yale University Art Gallery, 1987.

• Golden Age of Naples: Art and Civilization Under the Bourbons, 1734-1805, Volume II, The Detroit Institute of the Arts with The Art Institute of Chicago, 1981.