December 31, 2012

Our Top Ten Posts of 2012

A look back at some of our favorite moments of 2012: (L-R) Feast of Santa Fortunata (Bensonhurst, Bklyn.), Feast of San Paolino and Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Williamsburg, Bklyn.), Feast of Saint Rocco (NYC), Feast of Sant'Antonio da Padova (NYC), and The Associazione Culturale Pugliese's Christmas Extravaganza (Bensonhurst, Bklyn.)
01 The Coming of the Cro-Magnon
02 The Unacknowledged Prejudice
03 La Mattanza and the Price of Progress
04 The Legacy of Pietro Montana
05 Parentalia—Honoring Our Ancestors and Family
06 Corrado Alvaro: An Introduction to His Life and Works
07 "The Orpheus of Apulia"—Guitar Virtuoso Mauro Giuliani
08 The Sicilian of the Sicilians
09 Shadows Across My Screen
10 Remembering Civitella del Tronto
(L-R, Top) Feast of the Madonna Addolorata (Carroll Gardens, Bklyn.), Feast of the Three Saints (Lawrence, Mass.), Feast of San Gennaro (NYC), and the Feast of Saint Rocco (Astoria, Queens). (L-R, Bottom) Feast of San Gerardo Maiella (Newark, NJ) and the Feast of Santa Rosalia (Bensonhurst, Bklyn.)
Close, but no cigar:

Plato's Stepson and An Interview With Author Anthony Di Renzo deserve honorable mentions. Perhaps if these pieces had as much "air-time" as some of the other posts they may have made our Top Ten list.

Still making the rounds:

01 Cesare Lombroso's Barbaric Legacy
02 A Measure of Posterity: Gunnery Sgt. "Manila John" Basilone Finally Gets His Due
03 Discovering The Riace Warriors

Click here to see last year's results

Photos by New York Scugnizzo

December 29, 2012

Discovering the Blue Vase of Pompeii

The Blue Vase, Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli
(Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
By Giovanni di Napoli

Discovered at Pompeii on December 29, 1837, in the presence of King Ferdinand II, the Blue Vase is regarded by many to be the Naples National Archaeological Museum's most prized possession. Considering the institution's vast collection of antiquities from Pompeii, Herculcneum and Stabiae (not to mention the famed Farnese collection) that's quite a claim. 

Close-up of the Blue Vase
(Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
The Blue Vase is said to have been found in the House of the Mosaic Columns during a Royal inspection. Some have suggested it was planted to impress the noble visitors. Apparently, it was not uncommon for excavators to inhume their finds and wait for an opportune time to unearth the treasure in order to keep their patrons excited and the funds coming in.(1)

Extremely fragile, Imperial Roman cameo glass vases are terrifically rare; only a handful survive. Perhaps the most famous specimen is the so-called Portland Vase in the British Museum. 

They were made by fusing different colored sheets of glass together in a furnace. After cooling, the top layer was etched away, creating designs that stand out from the contrasting background. As with the Blue Vase, the most common color combination was the use of an opaque white over a translucent cobalt blue. 

Beneath each handle of the Blue Vase the iconography depicts a group of pudgy putti gaily harvesting grapes for winemaking and playing musical instruments. Separating the two scenes are highly elaborate grape vines bearing clusters of fruit and some birds. The vines appear to be springing like antlers from the head of Silenus, the trusty companion of Dionysus, the god of wine. Circling the vessel's base are flora and fauna from the Mediterranean. Fittingly, the glass vessel is shaped like a wine amphora.

Undoubtably the work of master craftsmen, this priceless masterpiece was truly a wonder to behold.

(1) See Robin Brooks, The Portland Vase: The Extraordinary Odyssey of a Mysterious Roman Treasure, Harper Perennial, 2005, p. 221

* * *

Other highlights from the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli include:
(L-R) King Ferdinand IV as Minerva, patron of the arts by Antonio Canova
and the Apotheosis of King Ferdinand and Queen Maria Carolina,
ceiling fresco in the Great Hall of the Sundial by Pietro Bardellino
(Photos by New York Scugnizzo)
Silverware from the House of Menander
(Photo courtesy of Niccolò Graffio)
The so-called Sapho portrait
(Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
(L-R) Dancing Faun and Aphrodite of Capua 
(Photos by New York Scugnizzo)

December 28, 2012

The Day the Earth Moved

The 1908 Messina Earthquake Remembered
Earthquake damage at Messina, Sicily
By Niccolò Graffio
“Many people have told me that there were three separate and quite different movements of the earth in that awful minute.  The first was backward and forward, the second upward, the third seemed to be circular.  It was the second that destroyed Messina.  Its violence, the fugitives say, was appalling.  The noise, one man told me, was exactly like that made by a fast train in a tunnel.” – Robert Hichens: After the Earthquake: The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine; pg. 932;  MacMillian & Co. April, 1909   
Archaeologists tell us that in the roughly 2,000 centuries our species has walked the earth we have only enjoyed the "creature comforts" of what we call civilization for about 60 of those centuries.  This transition certainly did not occur overnight, and if one goes by the headlines, there are those who still have yet to become civilized.

Certainly civilization has heaped many benefits upon us as a species.  For starters, there are many more humans on the earth today than at any other time in history.  As civilization has progressed technologically, human life expectancy has increased along with it.

Yet this progress comes at a terrible price.  Civilization, by its very definition, requires numbers of humans to huddle together in large cities.  The earth is not a stable place.  Though we have broken the sound barrier and split the atom, though we have eradicated dreaded smallpox and made once-fatal diabetes a treatable condition, we are still largely at the mercy of the forces that help shape our planet.  When these forces assert themselves as they are wont to do periodically, the end result is often what we like to term disasters and catastrophes.

Not all disasters and catastrophes are the result of nature run wild.  Many are the result of human error.  The nuclear meltdown in Chernobyl, USSR and the Union Carbide chemical spill in Bhopal, India stand as two glaring examples of boneheaded human actions and the horrifying results.

As bad as these are in terms of loss of human life, however, nature is still one up on us.  Tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and plagues can and have killed many more than any man-made disaster, wars notwithstanding.

Of all the natural disasters that afflict us, few come more frightening than earthquakes.  They can come with little or even no warning.  They can last mere seconds yet to victims it seems the ground is literally opening up to swallow them.  In their wake they can (and have) left tens of thousands dead and many more destitute.
Refugees awaiting transportation at Messina, Sicily
As it stands, our ancestors picked a great spot, geologically-speaking, to build a civilization, because Southern Italy is one of the “hot spots” for both volcanic and seismic activity on this planet!  Several active volcanoes (Aetna, Vesuvio and Stromboli) sit within our borders.  In addition, Southern Italy sits on top of the border between the European and African tectonic plates that are part of the earth’s crust.  Geologists claim these two plates are moving closer together, guaranteeing a number of earthquakes in that region’s future.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that our beloved Due Sicilie has seen its share of natural disasters.  In fact, one of the greatest earthquakes (in terms of loss of human life) in recorded history occurred there not too long ago.  Sadly, like so many other things, good and bad, that have happened to our people, its anniversary goes unrecognized.  This is unfathomable to me, and for good reasons.

It changed the course of the history of two countries – Italy and America!  Many who are now reading this had ancestors who fled to America from Italy as a result of it.  For those reasons, and to pay respects to the memory of the dead, it is worth remembering.   

Messina, Sicily is a picturesque port city filled with landmarks that reflect its centuries-long existence.  Founded by the ancient Greeks, it passed into the hands of the Romans after being fought over by Carthaginians, Greeks and Mamertines.  When the Western Roman Empire collapsed in 476 AD it was briefly ruled by Goths before being seized by the armies of the Byzantine emperor Justinian the Great in 535 AD.  

Subsequently it passed into the hands of the Arabs before being captured by the Norman forbears of the first sovereign of the Kingdom of Sicily, Roderigo II.  

Messina traded hands numerous times over the following centuries until it became a port city in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies where it remained until that nation was destroyed in 1860.  Today it is one of Sicily’s most popular tourist destinations with a permanent population of over 240,000.

It was here in this sleepy but picturesque city that the Fates would deal a cruel hand in 1908.  Sixteen years earlier, on November 16th, 1894, another earthquake had damaged the city, but the Sicilians quickly rebuilt and life went on without a thought.  The passage of time dulled the memory of that quake, and thus the stage was set for December 28th, 1908.
Earthquake victims recovery at Messina, Sicily
At about 5:20 AM on that morning the mightiest earthquake in Europe’s modern recorded history struck!  The bucking and bolting of the earth’s crust was over in about 40 seconds; in its wake the sounds of thousands of buildings, many of them ancient, crashing to the ground, followed by the shrieks and screams of the wounded and dying.

Many survived the initial quake but were inundated by the tsunami it kicked up mere moments later when a wall of water up to 39 feet in height came roaring ashore from the sea.

The epicenter of the quake was the city of Messina itself, but Reggio di Calabria was hit hard as well.  The quake was felt as far north as Naples.  Modern seismologists estimate the intensity of the quake at 7.1 on today’s Moment Magnitude Scale (MMS), which measures the release of an earthquake’s energy.  To put that in perspective, the Great Hanshin Earthquake, which devastated the southern part of the Hyogo Prefecture, Japan on January 17, 1995 (causing over 6,400 fatalities and an estimated $100 billion worth of damage) was “only” a 6.9 on the same scale.

Wireless communications were nonexistent in those days.  Further compounding the problem was the fact telegraph lines in many parts of Southern Italy were thrown down by the quake.  Rail lines and in many cases railway stations were destroyed.  News of the quake was carried by Italian torpedo boats to Nicotera in Calabria where the telegraph lines were still working.  Eventually newspaper headlines across the globe carried the grim news.

King Vittorio Emanuele III of Italy hurriedly visited the area with his wife Queen Elena in tow.  The Italian army and navy were dispatched to assist in the search for survivors as well as to care for the sick and wounded.  Eventually they also assisted in removing refugees from the area to other parts of Italy.

Reaction from the international community was swift, as well. The nations of Russia, France, the UK as well as others dispatched ships to the area, and their assistance was laudable. The “shining star” of the entire operation, however, was unquestionably the United States of America.  

Lecture on the Messina earthquake 
by Dr. Salvatore J. LaGumina at 
the Italian American Museum
(Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
Then-President Theodore Roosevelt had commissioned a battle fleet of 16 destroyers (divided into two squadrons) along with various escorts to circumnavigate the globe in an unabashed display of U.S. naval supremacy.   The fleet had departed from American shores on December 16th, 1907.  The fleet had been dubbed “The Great White Fleet” by the press owing to the fact the hulls of these ships had been painted a stark white.  

When news of the quake reached Washington, Roosevelt ordered the fleet rerouted immediately to the afflicted areas.  It arrived in Messina on February 22nd, 1909.  It is well worth mentioning this was the same Theodore Roosevelt who 18 years earlier had said the infamous New Orleans lynching of 11 Sicilians was “rather a good thing.”  How ironic, then, that a man who never expressed any affection for Italians in general (and especially Sicilians) was now in the position of being their savior.  

Cynics (myself being one of them) would argue the copious amounts of aid Roosevelt dispatched to Southern Italy was in keeping within his aim of projecting U.S. naval power and prestige abroad, rather than any genuine display of altruism on his part.  If that is true then so be it.  A helping hand is a helping hand, regardless of the motives of the one extending it.  It is also worth remembering that old adage, “Beggars can’t be choosers.”

In spite of all the aid from the international community, the fact of the matter was a huge number of people on both sides of the Straits of Messina were now homeless.  The Italian military relocated as many of them as they could to other parts of Italy, where undoubtedly their descendants still reside.  Still others, however, took the opportunity to join many of the paesani in the Southern Italian Diaspora.

The actual death toll from the quake and accompanying tsunami has never been accurately recorded.  Conservative estimates put it at around 72,000 with more liberal ones going as high as 110,000 (or more).

Dr. Salvatore J. LaGumina's book
"The Great Earthquake: America 
Comes to Messina’s Rescue"
One notable effect of the quake was the warming in relations between Italy and the United States.  After the infamous New Orleans lynching of 11 Sicilians (who had just been found “not guilty” in a criminal trial, by the way), things became quite chili between the two countries and would remain that way until the outpouring of aid re-opened the lines of communication and trust between them.

Humankind has had to put up with more than its share of disasters and catastrophes (man-made as well as natural) since the infamous Messina earthquake.  Two world wars, a global economic depression, Communism and Fascism have all left scars on the collective human psyche.  On December 26th, 2004, the day after Christmas, a monstrous earthquake of 9.2 on the Moment Magnitude Scale struck the Indian Ocean, kicking up a mega-tsunami that is believed to have killed almost 240,000 people! 

In light of all this it is tempting by some (especially the “lovers” of our people) to dismiss the Messina earthquake as just another page in the history books.  For them, that may be true.  For us, however, it would be a mistake to think likewise.  After all, that quake is responsible for many of us residing where we do today.  It is partly responsible for what we are as a people today.  It, like so many disasters before and since then, is also an eternal reminder of just how tenuous our hold is on this thing we call life.

Further reading:
• Salvatore J. LaGumina: The Great Earthquake: America Comes to Messina’s Rescue; Teneo Press, 2008

December 26, 2012

The Eighth Wonder of the World

Frederick II Hohenstaufen King of Sicily; Holy Roman Emperor

Federico II di Svevia, Palazzo Reale, Napoli 
(Photo by New York Scugnizzo)
By Niccolò Graffio
“It is very obvious, and no more than natural, for princes to desire to extend their dominions, and when they attempt nothing but what they are able to achieve they are applauded, at least not upbraided thereby; but when they are not able to compass it, and yet will be doing, then they are condemned, and indeed not unworthily.” – Niccolò Machiavelli: The Prince, III, 1513
The Kingdom of Sicily, founded by Roderigo (Roger) II on Christmas Day, 1130 passed to his fourth son Guglielmo (William) I upon his death on February 26th, 1154.  Growing up, Guglielmo had little expectation of ever becoming king.  Over the period of 1138-48 his three older brothers (Roderigo, Tancredo and Alfonso) all died under different circumstances, dramatically changing his fortunes.

Alas, Guglielmo had never been prepared for the rigors of kingship, and so his reign was but a shell of his father’s.  His time on the throne was marked by foreign invasions (in which he lost his father’s North African possessions) and by intrigues and revolts at home.  His last years were peaceful, him having made his peace with Pope Alexander III, who was installed in the Lateran Palace in November, 1165 under the protection of Norman guards.

With Guglielmo’s death on May 7th, 1166 his kingdom passed to his second son, Guglielmo (William) II, called the Good.  Though this Guglielmo was only 11 years old when he ascended the throne, and preferred to spend his time holed up in his palace devoting himself to carnal pleasures, his reign was markedly more aggressive, both diplomatically and militarily, than that of his father. Continue reading 

December 25, 2012

Buon Natale!

Photo by New York Scugnizzo
On behalf of everyone here at Il Regno, I want to wish all of our readers a very Merry Christmas! Peace and joy be with you all.

In celebration I'm posting "The Old Manger" from Prayers and Devotional Songs of Sicily, edited and translated by Peppino Ruggeri.(*) The accompanying photo of the life-size Nativity was taken outside the historic Shrine Church of Saint Anthony of Padua (154 Sullivan Street) in NYC. 

The Old Manger

I recollect the old manger at Christmas fest
built by my father, his soul in peace may rest,
the grotto, the straw and the baby poorly dressed
attended by Saint Joseph and Mary blest,

The well, the gleaming houses, the grist mill,
the sheep that grazed the grass over the hill,
a frightened man, at center, a blacksmith on the right,
a shepherd standing, with his old shack in sight.

A comet, resplendent brightly like a star
over the cardboard fashioned into a cave,
guided the adoring kings from afar.

And I, enchanted, watching stood, as I was playing,
sweet angels, shining stars, clouds and songs;
I still do now, the old manger my memory recalling.

(*) Reprinted from Prayers and Devotional Songs of Sicily, edited and translated by Peppino Ruggeri, Legas, 2009, p. 43

The Seeds of the Kingdom

Detail of Christ Crowning Roger II
from the Church of La Martorana, Palermo
By Niccolò Graffio
“For God’s sake let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings.” - William Shakespeare: Richard II, Act III, Scene 2, 1595.
Walking along the streets of Palermo, Sicily, one gets the feeling of being in a nexus of worlds. Whether one gazes at the Teatro Massimo opera house (the largest in Italy and third largest in Europe), strolls through the Church of Santa Teresa alla Kalsa (an outstanding example of Sicilian Baroque architecture!), walks along the ancient streets of La Kalsa with its many vendors, or peers at the mosaics in the Palazzo dei Normanni, one cannot help but notice the many cultural imprints left by this city’s former rulers.

Equally striking, however, is the level of poverty that exists there! Heavily damaged by Allied bombings during World War II, many of this city’s most majestic buildings remain unrepaired. The reasons? Neglect by both local government and Rome. Resources (financial and material) are severely limited on Sicily. The stranglehold of the Cosa Nostra on the economy is another reason. With most of Italy’s economic wealth concentrated (and kept!) in the North, there simply isn’t enough left to maintain these historic treasures, which are sadly left to crumble. It’s hard to believe less than 1,000 years ago this city was one of the wealthiest, if not the wealthiest, city in the Mediterranean region. Such, however, was the case. Continue reading

December 23, 2012

Saint A's Christmas Extravaganza

Just a few of the night's many stars
(Photos by New York Scugnizzo)
By Giovanni di Napoli

Outstanding! Heartwarming! Jovial! There is no shortage of positive adjectives to describe yesterday's Christmas gala at Saint Athanasius School in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. The Associazione Culturale Pugliese Figli Maria SS. Addolorata truly outdid themselves this year as Saint A's auditorium was transformed into a veritable Winter Wonderland.
Models head down the runway
For nearly seven hours we were entertained by a multitude of singers, dancers and performers. At times, it was hard to believe that we were watching amateurs and volunteers. The set design was magnificent and the kids did a terrific job re-creating the Nativity. DJ Lorenzo Venuto and Master of Ceremonies Gennaro Della Gatta did a commendable job keeping the show rolling.  
(L-R) Some highlights from the fashion show
I especially enjoyed the Christmas Fashion Show. Models dressed in spectacular neo-Baroque style outfits designed by Lucrezia Nardulli paraded through the hall, up the catwalk and onto the stage where they dazzled us with song and dance. 
(L-R) Dancers and singers wowed the crowed
During intermission, Monsignor David Cassato gave a touching speech about the importance of Faith, Family and Community; especially in the wake of the recent tragedies of Hurricane Sandy and the senseless shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families.
(L-R) Santa's helpers and some "mischievous" elves
After the break the show picked up right where it left off with more singing and dancing, including some fabulous renditions of Southern Italian and Holiday favorites by the children. There was a much-deserved award ceremony recognizing notable society members for their hard work and dedication to our community. 
Pauline Brunetti played an excellent Befana
Finally, La Befana and a troop of "mischievous" elves heralded Santa's [Babbo Natale] arrival, which sent the little ones into a state of elation. It was a great show for the entire family.

Move over Radio City, there's a new Christmas spectacular in town!  
Organizers Lucrezia Nardulli and Joann Perrone enjoying the fruits of their labor

December 21, 2012

Happy Winter

Photo by New York Scugnizzo
The winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. The occasion signifies the coming increase in sunlight and the slow return of spring. In honor of this wondrous cycle I would like to share a poem by Giuseppe Rosato (b. 1932 – Lanciano, Abruzzo) from Dialect Poetry of Southern Italy: Texts and Criticism (A Trilingual Anthology) edited by Luigi Bonaffini, Legas, 1997, p.58.

Snowfall

Suddenly, skies darkened
clouds swarmed
and a burst of snow
enwhitened the world.

Upon that cottony silence
time stopped to catch its breath,
and forget to pass.

You could feel the embers of your thoughts
dying. Outside, a pack of children,
cut loose, rejoiced.

(Translated by Anthony Molino)

December 20, 2012

Pietro Montana's 'James Edward Pope' Up For Sale

James Edward Pope
by Pietro Montana
(Photo courtesy of
Renaissance Man Antiques)
It has recently been brought to our attention that a gilded bronze portrait bust of "James Edward Pope" by Sicilian-American sculptor Pietro Montana is currently up for sale by Renaissance Man Antiques at 1stdibs.com. We thought it would be of interest to some of our readers.

"James Edward Pope"
Very Fine Gilded Bronze Bust by Pietro Montana (1892-1978)

Beautifully crafted in gilded bronze, this extraordinarily handsome portrait of a young man, 15 years of age, was sculpted by Pietro Montana in 1932. Complete with its original base indicating the name and age of the sculptor's subject, this piece virtually glows with the confidence and beauty of youth. Montana won a gold medal from the National Academy of Design, contributed to Radio City Music Hall in New York City, and sculpted a number of monuments, including the sensuous "Dawn of Glory" war memorial (1924) in Brooklyn.


Condition: Excellent

Wear: Minor wear consistent with age and use

Measurements:
height: 20 in. (51 cm)
depth: 7 in. (18 cm)
width/length: 7.25 in. (18 cm)

Specifications:
Number of items: 1
Materials/Techniques: Gilded bronze and wood base
Creator: By Pietro Montana

Location:
Renaissance Man Antiques
349 So. 47th St.
Philadelphia, PA, 19143
Phone: 215-463-7575
E-Mail: info@renmantiques.com

Ref. : LU8651738569

For more info visit 1stdibs

December 19, 2012

Reviewing 'Sicilian Sex Ghosts,' a lecture by Dr. Paul Koudounaris at Morbid Anatomy Library

'Sicilian Sex Ghosts' at Morbid Anatomy Library
(Photos by New York Scugnizzo)
By Lucian

Recently we advertised a lecture at the Morbid Anatomy Library (543 Union St., Brooklyn, NY) by Dr. Paul Koudounaris entitled “Sicilian Sex Ghosts.” The December 11th event appeared related to Southern Italian folklore and the Cult of the Dead, so we thought it might be of interest to some of our readers.

Then on Dec. 4, 2012, in an interview with brooklynpaper.com, Dr. Koudounaris was quoted as saying that everything in Sicilian society was “permeated with sex and violence” and that the stories he retells were a reflection of that. This upset some people, even though from the context it wasn’t clear if he meant now or centuries ago. The ghost story that was mentioned before the quote was used as a warning against certain sexual acts, so my first thought after reading it was that if sexual repression is considered as obsessive as sexual glorification then you could say that about almost any ethnic or demographic group. Since I was planning on attending the lecture anyway, I wanted to meet the speaker in person to hear what he had to say.

The venue was interesting; I'd never been to the Morbid Anatomy Library before. The room filled and soon it was standing room only. I watched and listened to Dr. Koudounaris as he interacted with others before the event and did not get the impression that he was a particularly bad fellow. I can't remember his exact words, but early on he stated that the Sicilians were a passionate people and that this was reflected in their culture and legends. When put that way it didn't sound hostile or nasty in any way. Dr. Koudounaris was eccentric but easy going. He wasn't exactly politically correct, which was fine with me, but he wasn't looking to offend anyone either. Satisfied with this, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and relaxed and enjoyed the lecture.

Dr. Paul Koudounaris
What drew me there in the first place was that the stories were focused on the remains in the crypt of the Monastery of Santa Maria Della Pace in Palermo, Sicily. I had previously written about the Neapolitan Cult of the Dead, and know that their ideas and practices are more widespread. I thought it possible that, through the lecture, I might find out more about Sicilian variations of that practice. What I found was indeed related, but came from a different direction. Dr. Koudounaris' PhD is in Art History (UCLA), and this needs to be remembered if you acquire a copy of his book Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses, which contains his photographs from similar locations around the world. It is very good and was created from an artist's perspective, not solely a spiritual or anthropological one. His lecture included a slideshow of some of his photos; they were excellent.

At the beginning of the lecture Dr. Koudounaris stated that the Sicilians do not call them "sex ghosts," that is just a term that he uses for them. There are other ghost stories in Sicily but for his lecture he focused mostly on those with a sexual nature that were connected to the remains. It's actually a good thing that he stated they were sex ghosts because the stories were very descriptive and not entirely suitable for all audiences. However, they were very entertaining and I could imagine hearing them from the Sicilians that he heard them from, in language that was casual and spoken among friends. I would not have invited my mother, but if she were there she probably would have found it amusing, and laughed at my discomfort over her presence.

In the stories I could see some of the parallels to the way Southern Italians have culturally viewed and cared for the dead. The themes of retribution, bargaining and family bonds are evident. In one story the wayward ghost's widow was enlisted to control him, because he wouldn't listen to anyone else. I will not recite the stories because they would be difficult to verify, especially on short notice, and because I feel that Dr. Koudounaris has put in the time and effort to gather them from Sicily, so he should be the one to tell them.

A question and answer period followed the lecture and was interesting in its own right. Someone asked him about the position of the Catholic Church in connection to the stories, which described a rather strange exorcism, and I got the impression they might be fishing for something negative. Dr. Koudounaris replied that the Church does not officially promote the regional differences in worship or practices concerning the dead, but sometimes goes along with it to appease the faith of the locals. His answer seemed to reflect my own research pretty well, although there are occasional pushes to conform the flock that are usually resisted or ignored.

Dr. Koudounaris has traveled the world to gather material for his book Empire of Death, so he must have come across more than a few stories about his chosen topic. I brought this up and asked why he chose Sicily for his lecture. His response was the abundance of material. I'm not sure if it was because Sicilians had more stories or because they were more willing to talk about them.

Food and drink were available after the lecture and the people were friendly and interesting, but we had little time to linger. Overall I was happy with the way the evening turned out. Every culture has darker aspects, so while his stories were not for the squeamish I would still welcome the opportunity to hear more of them.

December 17, 2012

Celebrating Southern Italian Art at the Met

The Metropolitan Museum of Art's 
Annual Angel Tree and Neapolitan crèche installation 
(Photos by New York Scugnizzo)
By Giovanni di Napoli

With the bulk of my Christmas shopping already done, I took the opportunity to enjoy some free time by visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art. As always, I wanted to see the museum's Annual Angel Tree and Neapolitan Crèche installation. It is without a doubt one of my favorite holiday pastimes.
A detail of the presepio
Prominently displayed in the Medieval Sculpture Hall (Gallery 305), before the wrought-iron choir screen from the Cathedral of Valladolid, the towering blue spruce is adorned with over 50 angels dating from the 18th century. Circling the base is an elaborate Nativity scene featuring an array of realistic and diverse characters by some of Naples' finest Baroque sculptors, including Giuseppe Sanmartino, Salvatore di Franco and Giuseppe Gori. I was happy to learn that pictures of the tree and crèche are finally allowed.
Ivory Oliphants 
Not far from the tree, in the Medieval Europe Gallery (304), is a small collection of ivories and stone sculpture fragments from Southern Italy. Gallery highlights include two 12th century oliphants and an ivory writing box with copper alloy mounts from Amalfi.
Ivory writing box
Beneath the showcase stands an amazing stone relief panel with lion family from Campania. The slab is believed to have been part of a Roman sarcophagus and recarved in the early Middle Ages (ca. 800-1000). What really makes this piece so interesting is the lioness and nursing cub. During this period, lions were often used to symbolize Christ so it's extraordinary to find one depicted with a family.
Relief panel with lion family
Before moving on to the Bernini: Sculpting in Clay exhibit (Galleries 964-965), I stopped by the Robert Lehman Atrium to see the Renaissance maiolica (Gallery 950). The museum has a fantastic selection of apothecary jars and vases from Naples and Castelli, a small town in Abruzzo famous for its painted ceramics. I especially liked the 15th century pharmacy vase from Castelli depicting Apollo and Daphne in period garb.
15th century maiolica vase with Apollo and Daphne
Earlier this year I discovered two Southern Italian paintings I was unfamiliar with in Lehman galleries: The Adoration of the Magi attributed to the Neapolitan School and Saints John the Evangelist and Mary Magdalene by Roberto d'Oderisio. To my surprise I stumbled upon another. While admiring Botticelli's Annunciation I glanced to my right and noticed The Virgin Annunciate by Andrea Delitio (active ca. 1440-80), one of Abruzzo's great Renaissance painters. My photo does this exquisite piece no justice.
The Virgin Annunciate by Andrea Delitio
(Tempera on wood with gold ground)
After a lite lunch, I decided to visit the Arms and Armor Department, which is currently celebrating its centennial. Normally I like to look at the Medieval and Renaissance armor and weapons, but this day I spent most of my time in the European Hunting and Sporting Weapons Gallery (375).
A pair of flintlock pistols made for Ferdinand IV, King of Naples and Sicily
While looking at the impressive assortment of ornate firearms I was excited to see a pair of flintlock pistols made for King Ferdinand IV of Naples and Sicily. Produced in the Royal Arms Manufactory at Torre Annunziata, the pistols are believed to commemorate the royal wedding with Maria Carolina of Austria in 1768. Emanuel Esteva and Michele Battista, two leading gun makers from Spain working at the factory, made the weapons.
Close-up of the pistol shows portrait of King Ferdinand IV
Making my way through the various galleries of the European Sculpture and Decorative Arts Department, I stopped by the Italian Eighteenth-Century Decorative Arts Gallery (508) to see the Museum's superb collection of porcelain. Among my favorites was a hard-paste porcelain sculpture of Hercules Resting from His Labors. Produced at the Royal Porcelain Manufactory in Capodimonte, Naples, ca. 1765-70, the work shows an exhausted hero relaxing against his club. I find it amusing that such a rough and powerful character is portrayed in such a delicate medium.
Hercules Resting from His Labors
An assortment of works related to Southern Italy can be found in the Italian Baroque Sculpture and Decorative Arts Gallery (550). On display are clay model statues of Saints Peter and Andrew by Giuseppe Picano and Saint Vincent Ferrer by Giuseppe Sanmartino. There are also small silver statuettes of Saint Felicity and The Blessed Catherine after originals by the preeminent Palermitan stuccoist Giacomo Serpotta (1656-1732) and a silver statue of Saint Michael from Naples, probably by Gaetano Fumo (active 1737-59). However, what really caught my eye was an elegant gilt bronze and silver statue of Virgin of the Immaculate Conception after a model by the celebrated Neapolitan sculptor Lorenzo Vaccaro (1653-1706).
(L-R) Saint Michael by Gaetano Fumo; statuettes of Saint Felicity and The Blessed Catherine after Giacomo Serpotta; and Virgin of the Immaculate Conception after model by Lorenzo Vaccaro
Whenever I visit the Met I make it a point to explore the museum's famed collection of European paintings on the second floor. I always discover something new and this time was no different. The recently acquired painting of Medea Rejuvenating Aeson by Corrado Giaquinto is now on view in Gallery 822. Inspired by Ovid's Metamorphoses, the painting depicts the enchantress Medea rejuvenating her ailing father-in-law, Aeson. Pluto, "the shadowy king," and his "stolen bride," Proserpina, look on as Medea performs her sacrificial rite to appease Hecate and Youth.
Medea Rejuvenating Aeson by Corrado Giaquinto
An inscription on the back of the canvas identifies this fascinating painting as a model for a tapestry. In 1753 Giaquinto was appointed First Painter and head of the Royal tapestry factory, Real Fábrica de Tapices de Santa Bárbara, in Madrid by King Ferdinand VI of Spain. He served until 1762, when he returned to Naples. Unfortunately, the tapestry was never produced.

Needless to say, my day at the Met was very rewarding and full of some wonderful surprises. I never tire of seeing so many magnificent works of art. For me these folk-oriented excursions (along with lectures, concerts, Feasts, etc.) serve to pass on our traditions. For those of us concerned with maintaining and developing our heritage it's our duty to support these invaluable institutions.

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The incredible Bernini: Sculpting in Clay exhibit (Galleries 964-965) will run through January 6, 2013.