April 27, 2011

The Heretical Radical

Antonio Gramsci of Sardinia
Antonio Gramsci
By Niccolò Graffio

“I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.” – Antonio Gramsci: Letter from Prison (December 19th, 1929)

Prior to the epiphany that launched me on my journey down the road of ethnic consciousness, I, like so many others, had been inculcated by the American public and private school systems (as well as the mass media) into believing that almost everything great that had ever been done under the sun was done by people with light hair, eyes and skin. Beginning in kindergarten, a long procession of these people from Christopher Columbus to Neil Armstrong and from George Washington to George S. Patton, Jr, was paraded before me. Great minds from the likes of Isaac Newton to Carl Friedrich Gauss and from Thomas Jefferson to Woodrow Wilson were, as well.


Even back then I wondered what, if anything, people from my area of the world, the Mediterranean, had done to compare with the accomplishments of these people. Though Columbus was originally from Genoa my educators were quick to point out his ancestors had come from farther north in Europe. In fact, the people who wrote my textbooks in school (and directed the movies I watched) would have had me believing all the greats of the ancient Mediterranean world bore a striking resemblance to Northern Europeans. Who reading this, for example, hasn’t seen a Hollywood epic showing ancient Greeks and Romans with British looks and accents (at least among the upper classes, anyway)?

To this day the mighty Alexander the Great of Macedon is portrayed with blond hair and blue eyes, in spite of the fact the earliest painting of him still extant shows a man with decidedly different features. For centuries painters have portrayed the great Jesus Christ as a man with unmistakably Nordic features, though most modern historical scholars would have a serious problem with that one.
Detail of the mosaic discovered at Pompeii showing 
Alexander the Great at the Battle of Issus
Perhaps the height of ludicrousness occurs in the realm of physical anthropology. Throughout the 20th century physical anthropologists like Giuseppe Sergi and Carleton S. Coon taxonomically categorized most of those who lived around the shores of the Mediterranean Sea as members of the Mediterranean race (or sub-race, in the case of Coon). Beginning in the later part of the 20th century, however, a movement began (“Race is a social construct!”) to do away with such typologies, in spite of the growing genetic evidence to the contrary.

Thus, while in the minds of many if not most we are not “White”, we also do not merit a classification of our own, even though critics of the concept of a Mediterranean sub-race continue to admit to the existence of distinctive features of Mediterranean populations. In a sick sort of way, we do not exist!

Armed with the knowledge I have accrued in my lifetime, it has become apparent to me why this is so. Once I began my saunter down the long road which led to the awakening of ethnic awareness within me, I soon began to realize just how worthless those textbooks and movies really were in terms of their historical value.

A good part of that journey was in discovering and documenting the existence of members of our ethnos who could rightfully be considered great. One question, though, I must answer before I continue: how do you define “great” or “greatness”? This is important because these words can mean many things to many people.

Before I offer my opinion (and it will be only that, my opinion) it must be noted you will probably never find a person universally regarded as great. One man’s saint is another man’s demon. One man’s intellectual giant will be another man’s talented provincial, or worse. The best, therefore, one can hope for is a consensus of opinion.

For purposes of this discussion, a good definition I have found comes from the American Heritage Dictionary. It goes as follows:

“important; highly significant or consequential.”

When reading this article it behooves me to urge you, dear reader, to keep this definition fresh in your mind. This is because the subject matter is a man who in life was a highly controversial individual, and who remains so to this day. When I was first asked to write about him I must confess I had misgivings due to my own antipathy towards Marxism and its adherents. With apologies to no one, I make no secret of my disdain towards totalitarian philosophies, of either the Left or Right, as nowhere are the pages of history so soaked in blood than in those written by the followers of these movements.

Giovanni Gentile
After careful thought, however, I realized I must set aside my own personal feelings in the interests of historical veracity. For just as Giovanni Gentile, “the philosopher of Fascism” deserves a page in the history books of our people, so does Antonio Gramsci.

In Gramsci’s case there is a double controversy due to his Sardinian/Albanian background. Many if not most in the Nuova Patria Meridionale movement do not regard Sardinians as true Southerners. Many Sardinians, I’m sure, share this feeling. I do not share it. If we ever manage to reclaim our independence from the pseudo-state monstrosity known as Italy and the Sardinians wish to join us, as far as I’m concerned they should be more than welcomed to do so. Again, though, that is only my opinion.

As for his Albanian background? Anyone who has done a study of the history of Southern Italy already knows that communities of ethnic Albanians (dubbed Arbëreshë) have dotted the landscape for centuries, especially in places like Calabria. Though these people have maintained a distinct ethnic identity down to modern times, no doubt many of them assimilated into the general population.

Antonio Gramsci was born January 22nd, 1891 in the small town of Ales on the island of Sardinia. He was the fourth of seven children born to Francesco and Giuseppina (née Marcias) Gramsci. His father, born in Gaeta in 1860, was the son of a colonel in the Bourbon gendarmerie of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Some of his paternal ancestors had emigrated there from Albania in 1821. Giuseppina Marcias, a native Sardinian, was born in the town of Ghilarza in 1861.

From birth some of the many health problems that would plague Antonio his entire life were already evident. A frail child, at the age of four a servant dropped him. His family would later claim his physical deformities (among other things, a hunchback) resulted from this. His childhood was marred by poverty and hardship. Upon reaching adulthood he stood less than 5’ tall.

In 1898 Francesco Gramsci was arrested and convicted of embezzlement, then shipped off to prison. This reduced the already impoverished family to destitution. Giuseppina was forced to move the family back to Ghilarza and Antonio (affectionately called “Nino” by his mother) had to abandon his schooling to help out the family until his father was released from prison in 1904. This fact in no small measure affected his attitude towards his parents. People who knew him well commented on how he never felt particularly close to his father. He regarded his mother, however, with a deep affection and credited her humor and wisdom with getting him through the rougher parts of his childhood.

Antonio’s first exposure to Socialism was through his older brother Gennaro, with whom he lodged while completing his studies at secondary school in Cagliari, a city in Sardinia. Gennaro had previously served in the Italian military and his time on the mainland transformed him into a militant socialist. At this time, though, Antonio was less interested in Socialism than in trying to improve the lot of impoverished Sardinian miners and peasants.

In 1911, Gramsci won a scholarship to study at the University of Turin. It was here he would meet his future friend and Marxist cohort Palmiro Togliatti. While at Turin he developed an interest in linguistics. At this time the city of Turin was undergoing rapid industrialization, with many workers pouring into the factories from poorer regions of Italy, including Gramsci’s native Sardinia. With the establishment of trade unions, Turin became a hotbed of radicalism. In 1913 Antonio Gramsci joined the Italian Socialist Party (PSI).

Financial constraints coupled with poor health and an increasing commitment to politics caused Gramsci to abandon his studies in early 1915. By this time, though, he had amassed an impressive knowledge of history and philosophy. His talents and keen intellect did not go unnoticed. In 1916 he became co-editor of the Piedmont edition of Avanti!, the official organ of the PSI. Ironically, previously the editor of the paper’s main edition in Milan was the man who would later become Antonio Gramsci’s political archenemy - Benito Mussolini. By late 1917, Gramsci was a member of the party’s Provisional Committee and the editor of Il Grido del Popolo (It: “The Outcry of the People”), a socialist newspaper.

In April, 1919, Gramsci, together with his friend Palmiro Togliatti, Angelo Tasca and Umberto Terracini set up a weekly newspaper called L’Ordine Nuovo (It: “New World Order”). Later that same year the PSI voted by a large majority to join the Third International, a global association of Communist groups. It was around this time that Gramsci and his cohorts came to the attention of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, Communist usurper of Russia, who viewed their faction as being closest to the Bolshevik spirit. By giving them his approval, the status of Gramsci and his circle greatly increased in the eyes of Italian radicals.

Gramsci’s main rival at this time in the PSI was a man named Amadeo Bordiga. Bordiga, unlike Gramsci, was a strict anti-parliamentarian who favored overthrowing the Italian government by force and using force to establish “a dictatorship of the proletariat”. Though the two men were often at odds, Gramsci joined Bordiga in establishing the Communist Party of Italy (PCI) on January 21st, 1921. This was done mainly because the two felt the PSI was becoming too centrist in its outlook.

Though subordinate to Bordiga in the PCI, Gramsci almost immediately began locking horns with him. In spite of being an anti-parliamentarian, interestingly, Bordiga opposed the militant anti-fascist Arditi del Popolo (It: “People’s Squads”) while Gramsci and Lenin favored them. Gramsci felt the groups were needed to protect socialists from the terroristic depredations of Mussolini’s Blackshirts, as well as to oppose the rise of Fascism in general in Italy. Bordiga, on the other hand, opposed the Arditi due to the presence of non-communists in its ranks. In the end, Gramsci and his comrades in the L’Ordine Nuovo group would follow the non-violent, legalist strategy of the PCI.

In 1922 Antonio Gramsci ventured to Moscow as a representative of the PCI. While there he met Julia Schucht, a young violinist. They would later marry and have two sons: Delio and Giuliano.

While Gramsci was in the Soviet Union, dark clouds quickly gathered over Italy. Powerful industrial interests in Northern Italy, fearful of growing Marxist influence in the country, threw their weight behind the National Fascist Party of Benito Mussolini, which caused a surge in its ranks. From October 22-29, 1922, Mussolini staged his “March on Rome”, at the invitation of King Victor Emmanuel III, who appointed him Prime Minister.

Now de facto ruler of Italy, “Il Duce” moved quickly to consolidate his power. Throughout 1923 he passed repressive measures against opposition political parties, throwing many of their members in jail, including Amadeo Bordiga. By 1924 Bordiga was expelled from the PCI and Antonio Gramsci was recognized as its head. Forces beyond his control, however, worked to make his command a short-lived one.

In that same year he was elected to the Chamber of Deputies for the Veneto region. In his one and only speech to the Chamber, Gramsci delivered a memorable oratory condemning Fascism. His fate was sealed.

I’ve always believed the truest measure of the worth of a man can be found, not in the opinions of his friends, but of his enemies. In November, 1929 Mussolini and the Fascists completed their eradication of Italian democracy and then paid Antonio Gramsci a supreme compliment – they openly violated his parliamentary immunity by having him arrested! At his ‘trial’ the prosecutor (a Fascist official) told the court, “For 20 years we must stop this brain from functioning.” He was immediately given a sentence of five years which the following year was increased to the 20 promised. He was thereafter dropped off in a dungeon in the town of Turi, near Bari.

Apologists for the Fascists will point out (correctly) that Mussolini merely had Gramsci imprisoned, whereas someone like Hitler or Stalin would most likely have had him executed. My retort is that caging someone in a rat hole like an animal for the ‘crime’ of espousing unpopular political opinions is a slim improvement over having them shot!

In 1932 an attempt by the Fascist government of Italy to swap political prisoners (Gramsci included) with the Soviet Union went nowhere. His health, which was never good in the first place, declined rapidly in prison. In 1934 he was granted a conditional freedom. On April 27th, 1937 he passed away at the age of 46 at the “Quisisana” Hospital in Rome. He was buried in the Protestant Cemetery.

Throughout his adult life Antonio Gramsci was an avowed atheist. Yet some years after his death, Archbishop Luigi de Magistris, the former head of the Apostolic Penitentiary of the Holy See, which deals with confessions, indulgences and the forgiveness of sins, claims that on his deathbed Gramsci “returned to the faith of his infancy.” He further alleged Gramsci took the Sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church and even kissed an icon of Jesus Christ. Others, however, point out Italian state documents show no religious official was sent for or received by Gramsci while he was in the hospital. The reader is left to wonder what is the truth.

Benedetto Croce
It is worth noting the three most influential Italian philosophers of the 1930s (Antonio Gramsci, Benedetto Croce and Giovanni Gentile) were all Southerners. Each however, chose a vastly different place on the political spectrum. Gramsci became the consummate Marxist, Croce the aristocratic liberal, while Gentile embraced the Fascism of Benito Mussolini.

Of the three, Croce was the only one who would die in his bed of a ripe old age. Though lionized after the war for his resistance to Mussolini and Fascism, he would live long enough to see both himself and his brand of liberalism become increasingly irrelevant. In a free society the unfettered flow of ideas constantly challenges pre-existing ones, and the post-war era saw Croce’s theories attacked by a new generation of philosophers led by men such as Umberto Eco.

Giovanni Gentile lived long enough to see his philosophy of Actual Idealism go down in flames with the Fascist Italy he had helped to create. His own life ended with an assassin’s bullet. Benito Mussolini, Gentile’s disciple (and lord and master) met a similar, ignoble end. Though Gentile and his philosophy have been largely forgotten, despotism appears to be a natural part of the human condition. It is not difficult to imagine that at some future date, another would-be autocrat will dust off Gentile’s writings to use as a blueprint and justification for his own tyrannical regime. Stranger things have happened.

In spite of the circumstances surrounding Gramsci’s end, his legacy clearly outshines that of Croce’s and Gentile’s. Of the three, his name is best known outside of Italy. He is chiefly remembered as being one of the most original thinkers in the Marxist tradition since Marx himself, and his central influence in shaping Western Marxism is undeniable. I have read a number of his works, and though I admit an antipathy towards Marxist thought in general, I cannot help but perceive the keen intellect of the author in the pages of his works.

One of my favorite works by him is his essay The Southern Question, an analysis and critique of the deplorable conditions of Southern Italy from the founding of the Kingdom of Italy up until his time. His assessment of the problems facing Southern Italy and their causes were spot on! Where I disagree with him was in his proposed solution, for he believed (perhaps naively) that only an alliance of Northern Italian workers with Southern Italian peasants had any hope of uplifting the deplorable conditions our people faced (and still face).

In this he shared the pan-Italian illusion of Benedetto Croce and Giovanni Gentile. The grim but undeniable reality is that Northerners (bourgeoisie and workers) are the source of many if not most of our problems in the first place! The pseudo-state of Italy was created for their benefit at our expense, and it is administered towards that end to this day! In spite of their outward call for ‘secession’, in actuality the anti-southern prattling of Umberto Bossi and the Lega Nord serves as the propaganda machine for this parasitic monstrosity.* Only a free and independent Repubblica delle Due Sicilie, ruled by us and for us, has any hope of alleviating the poverty and corruption afflicting our people.

Still, Gramsci’s essay The Southern Question should be read by every Southern Italian nationalist, and if you haven’t done so already, I strongly recommend that you do.

If he had only chosen a different path, what a wonderful Southern Italian nationalist Antonio Gramsci would have made!

Gramsci’s legacy remains controversial even in Marxist circles. Palmiro Togliatti, Gramsci’s friend and comrade in the PCI who ran the party after WW2, claimed the gradualist approach of the party was in line with Gramscian thought. Others, though, claim Gramsci was a Left Communist who would have been expelled from the ranks of the PCI if he had not been arrested and imprisoned.

His greatest contribution to Western thought, unquestionably, was in formulating his theory of cultural hegemony. In it, Gramsci proposed that a culturally diverse society (such as Italy) can be ruled or dominated by one of its social classes. As time goes by, the ideas of the ruling social class come to be perceived as the norm by society at large. They are believed to be universal and to benefit everyone, whereas in fact they only benefit the ruling social class.

Ironically, whether Gramsci ever truly realized it, the Risorgimento (which he believed in) was one of those ideas.

Marx believed the recessions and economic contractions inherent in Capitalist societies would ultimately provoke the workers to overthrow the rulers of such societies and restructure existing institutions along Socialist lines, eventually transforming the society into a Communist one. To Marx, a society’s dialectically-changing economy determined and shaped its social and economic classes.

To Lenin, culture was subordinate to political objectives. Gramsci broke with both in stating that cultural hegemony by the proletariat was necessary before state power could be achieved. This hegemony could only be attained by making alliances and compromises with a variety of forces he termed a ‘historic bloc’. Failure to create this union of social forces, Gramsci argued, went a long way in explaining why, by his time, Capitalism was more firmly entrenched than ever before, in spite of Marx’s predictions.

Giambattista Vico
Gramsci’s Theory of Cultural Hegemony profoundly influenced the future of Marxism in Italy, and ultimately the West. Gramscian thought, to a much greater extent than that of Benedetto Croce (who Gramsci studied and critiqued), has permeated the Western political spectrum. Like the venerable Giambattista Vico of Naples (who by the way, influenced Gramsci’s forerunner, Karl Marx), in many cases the people influenced by him probably have no clue as to the source. Example: in the U.S. in the 1990s, right-wing Christian groups sought to win election onto school boards to influence the curricula in public schools. This is cultural hegemony in action!

Another example: at the Republican National Convention in 1992, rightist politician and syndicated columnist Patrick Buchanan spoke of a Culture War in describing the clash in ideologies between U.S. liberals and conservatives. Culture War is a Gramscian term. I wonder if Mr. Buchanan was aware of this fact at the time.

Even more incredibly, there is a movement afoot from people on the far-right side of the political spectrum to make Gramscian thought their own (“Gramcism of the Right”). Antonio Gramsci, the devoted Marxist, would no doubt have a serious problem with that if he was alive today.

Still, one could forcefully argue such intellectual influence is the truest measure of the greatness of a man.

(*) – “In these less than disastrous conditions, we witness day after day the imbalanced conflict between an Italy that aspires to become European with its head held high, creating a modern nation, democratic and civil, and the forces that orbit around the public machinery and are fed by it, the forces whose objectives are to become part of the African peninsula.” – Umberto Bossi

Further reading:
Santucci, Antonio et alii: Antonio Gramsci, Monthly Review Press, 2010.
Gramsci, Antonio: The Southern Question; Transl. and Intro. by Pasquale Verdicchio, Bordighera, Inc. 1995.

April 24, 2011

Movie Spoiler: Le Quattro Volte

By Giovanni di Napoli

Yesterday I took in a matinée at the Quad Cinema in the heart of Greenwich Village and finally saw the fascinating avant-garde Le Quattro Volte by Calabrese director Michelangelo Frammartino. Set in the idyllic town of Caulonia, perched high in the remote Serre range of Calabria, the film is based on the Pythagorean view of transmigration, where one's soul passes through four successive lives—human, animal, plant and mineral.

Pythagoras, of course, was a Greek philosopher and mathematician from Samos who settled in Croton, a Hellenic colony in Southern Italy, during the 6th century BC. He founded an influential school and is best remembered for his contributions to mathematics, particularly the Pythagorean theorem.

The film begins with an elderly shepherd, played by Giuseppe Fuda, attending his flock of goats. With the help of his faithful dog he grazes his animals across the picturesque hills surrounding the town. The old goat herder lives a simple pastoral life surviving on snails and his livestock. I don't want to give too much away, but the dog's antics during the town's Passion play is priceless and perhaps the movies most memorable scene. Except for the man's unremitting cough and the bleating animals, there is virtually no dialogue in the film.

Ailing, the solitary figure drinks diluted dust from the floor of the Chiesa dell'Immacolata each night before bed. He is one of the few remaining people who still believes in the magical properties of church dust. With an air of secrecy, the shepherd trades a bottle of fresh goat milk for a packet of powdery "medicine" with the church's cleaning lady. One night before going to sleep he discovers that he lost his package and heads to the church for more. Failing to acquire the therapeutic dirt because the building is closed, the superstitious old-man returns to his bed.

Coincidently(?), the shepherd passes away in his sleep. A small funeral procession solemnly carries his coffin to the chiesa to be interred in a mausoleum. As the tomb is sealed the screen turns black, but eerily we can still hear his heart beating.

The story quickly shifts to goats. The second episode starts with the birth of a kid falling from his mother's womb into a puddle of afterbirth. We witness the newborn's first steps and feeding, then eventually to some skittish roughhousing with the other newborn kids. When old enough he is brought out to pasture, but falling into a ditch he is separated from the flock. Wandering aimlessly across the countryside in search of the herd, the lost animal takes shelter under a towering fur tree, where he presumably dies.

After a montage of the majestic fur standing through the seasons, it is cut down and hauled off to Alessandria del Carretto by townspeople for the annual Pita festivities, an ancient pagan fertility rite associated with spring. With great fanfare, wine and the sounds of the zampogna, the tree is ritually shorn and raised upright in the town's square. Sharing many similarities with the Il Maggio festival of Accettura in the Lucanian province of Metera the celebration undoubtedly has common origins. Traditionally goats were hoisted up the tree so marksmen could shoot them, spraying blood down on the revelers. Today however, local products adorn the treetop and daring young men scale the Pita for prizes. At the end of the festivities it is toppled, and cheering villagers rush to get a sprig for good luck.

The fourth and final episode depicts the transmigration from plant to mineral. In it we see the felled tree chopped up and hauled away by local coalmen. The process of making carbonized vegetable matter is an old technique that dates back centuries and—thanks to the rapid industrialization of Italy—has led to the deforestation of large parts of Calabria's ancient woodlands. Lumber is neatly piled into mounds then covered with straw and turf. In a hole in the roof the pile is fired, then sealed. The coalmen keep watch for any cracks or leaks and plug up the holes with more soil. Heated in the absence of air the wood becomes charcoal, thus completing the cycles of life. The ppoiata, or parcel, is then delivered to their customers in Caulonia.

The film is about 88 minutes long. It won many awards, including the 2010 Europa Cinemas Label as best European film in Cannes Directors' Fortnight. It certainly isn't for everyone, but for someone like me who is fascinated with our Southern Italian ancestral folkways and dying cultural traditions it is a must see. When it finally becomes available, Le Quattro Volte will definitely be part of my DVD collection.

Photos courtesy of Lorber Films

April 21, 2011

Titan of the South: Francesco de Mura

Examples of Southern Italian treasures on display at the Met: Judith with the Head of Holofernes by Massimo Stanzione and Teasing a Sleeping Girl by Gaspare Traversi (Photos by New York Scugnizzo)
By Giovanni di Napoli

In recent years I've made it a personal goal to pay homage to some of my favorite Southern Italian artists on their birthdays by viewing their works in person. Somehow, this tradition makes me feel connected to the artists; their greatness is a source of inspiration and pride. It's a simple gesture on my part and I find it to be a very rewarding. 

Luckily for me I have easy access to a few of their works, thanks to the proximity of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Unfortunately, due to the museum's vast collection and limited space (which is mind boggling considering the massive size of the place), I was unable to view Francesco De Mura's preparatory sketch for The Assumption of the Virgin because it was out of circulation. A very helpful gentleman at the information desk told me that the museum rotates their collection, but sometimes it takes as long as three years before some works are put back on public display. He did, however, give me a phone number to request a special viewing of the drawings and prints in storage, but they need at least two weeks advanced notice.

Needless to say, it's impossible to stay disappointed for very long at the MET. The institution is home to one of the world's greatest art collections and I was not about to waste an opportunity to take some of it in. I made my way to the European Painting galleries on the second floor and leisurely wondered through its hallowed halls. Gazing in awe, I found myself surrounded by the esteemed works of some of Europe's most celebrated artists: Diego Velázquez, Rembrandt van Rijn, El Greco, Caravaggio, Anthony van Dyck, Nicolas Poussin, Jusepe de Ribera, et al.

Of course, some of the Titans of the South were represented as well. I made my usual pilgrimage to the R.H. Macy Gallery (room 10) and the Stephen C. Clark Gallery (room 30) to view the masterpieces of Luca Giordano, Mattia Preti, Francesco Solimena, Salvator Rosa, Corrado Giaquinto, Gaspare Traversi and Massimo Stanzione. It was almost like having a religious experience; I dreamed of being back in the land of my fathers again. Continue reading

April 19, 2011

Visiting “The Sixth Borough”

The Massacre of the Innocents by Pacecco de Rosa (Francesco de Rosa)
By Giovanni di Napoli
While doing research for an upcoming article about Vincenzo Gemito I discovered that the Philadelphia Museum of Art has in their collection a bronze portrait bust of Baron Oscar de Mesnil by the master sculptor. Excited at the prospect of viewing another one of the Neapolitan's masterpieces in person I packed my bags and headed two hours southwest to the "city of brotherly love."

Deciding to make a long weekend out of it I stayed a few days and took in Philadelphia's many fascinating sites and attractions, including the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and a multitude of historical monuments. I especially enjoyed the National Portrait Gallery, which houses about 185 paintings of America's "People of Independence." I even visited Benjamin Franklin's resting place, although I didn't toss a penny on his grave (as is customary) for good luck. Somehow I think the man of science who said, "a penny saved is a penny earned" would not approve of such a thriftless superstition. For lovers of American history this city is a must-see destination.
Monument to Mayor Frank Rizzo
Being a lover of art I couldn't miss an opportunity to visit the Rodin Museum, which boasts the largest collection of statuary by the great sculptor outside of France. Already familiar with his work, thanks in part to the impressive collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Brooklyn Museum of Art, I couldn't wait to pay homage at this magnificent temple dedicated to his genius. Unluckily, the famed gardens were under renovation, but this did little to dampen my experience. Among the 124 pieces on display were some of Rodin's greatest works, most notably the inspiring Call to Arms and the chthonic Gates of Hell. I was naturally drawn to The Sirens, a small, exquisite piece showing Parthenope and her sisters luring sailors to their doom off the coast of Campania. After visiting this museum it's not hard to imagine why—along with Francesco Messina and Vincenzo Gemito—Auguste Rodin is one of my all-time favorite sculptors.
The Sirens by Auguste Rodin
Of course I had to visit the city's Little Italy as well and make the obligatory trip to Geno's and Pat's famous cheesesteak restaurants. Unfortunately, due to my Lenten dietary restrictions I could not partake in the popular "Philadelphia tradition" and decide for myself who really makes the best Philly cheesesteaks. I will have to add this this to my long list of reasons to return.

Sadly, the so-called "Italian Market" (South 9th Street Market) is not very Italian anymore. However, the area around the beautiful Saint Paul's Catholic Church, located on Hutchinson Street, appeared to be a rock-solid Italian-American neighborhood with plenty of restaurants and cafes to frequent. I felt right at home.

The next day, after having breakfast in Philadelphia's famous Reading Market, I made my way to the museum. The Philadelphia Museum of Art is one of the largest museum's in the U.S. and definitely needs more than one day to properly take it all in. This might explain why back in 1999 when I first visited this wonderful institution to see the outstanding Goya: Another Look exhibit I missed Gemito's statue.
Portrait of Baron Oscar de Mesnil by Vincenzo Gemito
The statue of Baron Oscar de Mesnil was a lot larger than I expected. It stands 41 1/8" by 37" (104.5 x 94 cm) and completely dominates the room. The portrait depicts the wealthy Belgian patron who financed Gemito's bronze foundry for lost-wax casting on his return to Naples from Paris. It was executed in 1885 and is said to have been completed in just twelve hours. It perfectly captures the imposing physical characteristics of the sitter and clearly demonstrates the artist's ability to breath life and energy into his art. After seeing Gemito's masterpiece it's not hard to understand why some consider him to be "one of the greatest portraitists of the age, rivaled only by Auguste Rodin." (1)

In addition to being a brilliant sculptor, Gemito was also an accomplished draftsman, a fact becoming more readily acknowledged. The museum's collection contains a pair of graphite and crayon drawings of Laura Bertolini and The Bertolini Son on beige wove paper, but regrettably they were not on display.
(L-R) The Saltimbanco and Boy with Toy Soldiers by Antonio Mancini
Sharing the gallery with Gemito's impressive work were three delightful paintings by his longtime friend and verismo painter, Antonio Mancini. At the age of twelve the Roman born painter studied at the Istituto di belle Arti in Naples, where he befriended Gemito. Mancini's Saltimbanco and Boy with Toy Soldiers depict the Neapolitan scugnizzo, Luigi Gianchetti. Until now I was only familiar with Mancini's work through books and the Internet—so this was a special treat. [For more on Gemito and Mancini I highly recommend A Chisel and a Brush: Vincenzo Gemito 1852-1929, Antonio Mancini 1852-1930 from the Gilgore Collection (2000).]
Madonna and Child by Jusepe de Ribera
Afterword, I made my way through the various galleries, taking in the museum’s vast and enviable collection of Western art. Among my favorites were a beautiful Madonna and Child by the Spanish tenebrist Jusepe de Ribera, and a vivid interpretation of The Massacre of the Innocents by Pacecco de Rosa (Francesco de Rosa). A portrait of Emma Hart (Lady Hamilton) as Miranda by George Romney also caught my eye. Married to Sir William Hamilton, the British ambassador to Naples, she became a close personal friend to Queen Maria Carolina and a favorite at the Neapolitan court.
Emma Hart by George Romney
However, aside from Gemito's statue, viewing Luca Giordano's Saint Sebastian Cured by Saint Irene (c.1665) was the highlight of my visit. There is something about baroque painting that speaks to me; I have a special reverence for the Neapolitan school, particularly the oeuvre of Bernardo Cavallino, Francesco Solimena and Luca Giordano. A popular subject in Naples after the plague of 1665, Saint Sebastian is often invoked for protection against afflictions. The figures in the foreground were painted over an older composition by Giordano, which can still be seen in the center of the canvas.

My trip to Philadelphia was educational and quite enjoyable; it won't soon be forgotten.
Saint Sebastian Cured by Saint Irene by Luca Giordano
(1) Quoted from A Chisel and a Brush: Vincenzo Gemito 1852-1929, Antonio Mancini 1852-1930 from the Gilgore Collection, 2000, p. 23.

All photos by Il Regno