July 16, 2009

Masaniello and the Revolt of Naples, 1647-1648

Tommaso Aniello by Onofrio Palumbo
"The Revolution, like Saturn, devours it's children"
– Georg Buchner
The Revolt of Naples began on July 7, 1647 when the fruit-vendors of Pozzuoli refused to pay an excessive tax on produce imposed by the Spanish crown. The rebels' leader was Tommaso Aniello d'Amalfi (1620-1647), a poor fisherman from the slums of Vico Rotto al Mercato. During a mock battle between the Neapolitan lazzaroni (lumpenproletariat) and “Saracens” enacted in honor of the upcoming Festa della Madonna del Carmine, Masaniello, as he became known, and his lieutenants dressed in Muslim garb instigated a riot among the participants. Crying, "Long live the king and down with bad government!” they set fire to the hated tax station in Piazza Mercato.  
Other disgruntled tradesmen soon joined the insurrection, and like a spark in a tinderbox the revolt quickly spread throughout the province. Reprisals were meted out to the most abusive lords. Amongst those targeted by the mob, was the reviled Don Giuseppe Carafa (d. 1647). Torn to pieces, his mutilated corpse was dragged through the streets. The violence was immortalized in a painting by renowned Neapolitan artist, Domenico Gargiulo, better known as Micco Spadaro (1609-1675). 
Appeals were made to King Philip IV of Spain (1605-1665), but money was desperately needed for the war against France. The Spanish Viceroy, Rodrigo Ponce de León (1602-1658), the 4th Duke of Arcos, and his retinue took refuge in the Castel Nuovo. In fear of losing the Kingdom the Duke conceded to the Neapolitans' demands and abolished the tax. Masaniello was elected Capo del Popolo and the riots were momentarily quelled.
The murder of Don Giuseppe Carafa by Micco Spadaro
At first the modest fisherman appeared to be the right choice for leader. When offered a gold chain by the Viceroy, Masaniello graciously refused: "I thank his Excellency, but this is not a thing for me, because, once this business is over I want to go back to selling fish." On another occasion, when a group of curious nobles wished to see the popular leader up-close he reportedly threatened them: "Gentlemen, leave here, otherwise I will have your heads chopped off because I want no other company than simple barefoot people, like myself." (1)
However, after meeting with the Duke of Arcos again, Masaniello soon changed his tune. He began making outlandish demands and behaving irrationally. Mad with power (or, as some believe, from poison) the people's captain was struck down and beheaded on July 16th by his own supporters. His body discarded, Masaniello’s head was impaled on a stake outside the Fosse del grano. Believing the threat was over the Viceroy prematurely revoked his concessions. More rioting ensued and Masaniello's body and head were recovered and given a funeral fit for a hero. "They have become so insolent," complained the Viceroy, "that they took him to be buried that very night according to the rituals that are reserved for deceased generals; and they even took him before the windows of the palace." (2)
The Punishment of Thieves at the Time of Masaniello by Micco Spadaro
Unable to put down the rebellion, the Duke of Arcos was replaced by Juan José de Austria (1629-1679). After bombarding the city, the new Viceroy fought the insurgents to a stalemate. On October 17, 1648 the rebels, drunk with power and grossly overestimating their position, declared the end of Spanish rule and naively appealed to the Kingdom of France for help. Five days later, under the leadership of Gennaro Annese (1604-1648) and the inept French Duke of Guise, Henri II of Lorraine (1614-1664), the short-lived Neapolitan Republic was born.
Spanish reinforcements soon arrived with another new Viceroy, the Count of Oñate, Iñigo Velez de Guevara y Tassis (1597-1658). Exhausted and without able leadership, the populace offered little resistance to the Spanish tercios. Appeasing the people, the Count of Oñate cut taxes and granted amnesty to the rebels. Predictably, he broke his promise and had the leaders of the revolution, including Gennaro Annese, executed. Henri of Guise remained imprisoned until 1652 before being allowed to return to France.
Thus ended the revolt of Naples. 
~ Giovanni di Napoli, July 15th, Feast of Santa Rosalia
The Sellaria Fountain in Piazzetta Grande Archivio, Napoli, commemorates the suppression of the Neapolitan revolution by Viceroy Iñigo Velez de Guevara
Photo by Andrew Giordano

Masaniello's Wife

by Ferdinando Russo (1866-1927)

The Spaniards now are back in town,
the good times are finally through;
now the young girls walk forlorn
down Marinella avenue.
And the queen of the eight days
is reduced to being a maid
cares and worries are here to stay
a tax on fruits now must be paid.

That fine dress, all inlaid
with fine silver and with gold,
our good queen has had to trade
for the tattered dress of old.
The splendid crown in gold-wrought lace,
what is now? a crown of thorns!
All the sequins of her necklace
are no longer being worn.

The Spaniards now are back in town
yet more scornful and arrogant,
among the soldiers she is known
as the queen of mendicants.
And they give her a light hit,
and they let word go by,
and they pull her skirt a bit...
All alone, she starts to cry.

Darkened bread and bitter tears,
bitter tears and darkened bread
walk in step and go in pairs
like monks marching in their stead.
From the Palace then she came
behind Borgo and now sells love;
she's acquired a bad name
but it's pain she's dying of!

In the slum of the poor woman
now the regiment is moving;
her good luck is finally gone,
and an evil wind is blowing.
She became so wholly mired
in a hungry and wretched life,
she who once was so admired
as Masaniello's wife. (3)

(1) Quotes from Representing the King's Splendour by Gabriel Guarino, Manchester University Press, 2010
(2) Quoted from The Revolt of Naples by Rosario Villari, Polity Press, 1993
(3) Quoted from Dialect Poetry of Southern Italy edited by Luigi Bonaffini, Legas, 1997

Amended June 10, 2021

Vincenzo Gemito

Il Pescatore at the Museo Civico
in the Maschio Angioino, Napoli
By Giovanni di Napoli
A year before his death the great Neapolitan sculptor Vincenzo Gemito wrote, "If the artist lacks knowledge of the past, he will never be able to make masterpieces." (1) As with art, this rule also applies to people. Without historical memory there is no shared identity or vision. This is why we study our history and keep our ancestral folk traditions alive. A people cut off from their past are enervated. Those who don't know their history will never be able to fulfill their destiny. Gemito's genius is a source of inspiration and a reminder of the potential that is still in us.
Vincenzo Gemito was born in Naples on July 16th 1852. Abandoned at the wheel of the Santissima Annunziata by his mother, with only his ear pierced for protection against the evil eye (Jettatura), the charitable sisters of the foundling hospital took him in and named him Vincenzo after a nearby piazza. The child was given the surname Gemito, meaning “to whimper,” because of the pitiable mewling sounds he made.
An excerpt from Ferdinando Russo’s (1866-1927) poem, The Wheel at the Annunciation reveals the pervasiveness of child abandonment at the time:
   Night and day one went and another came;
   never did that wheel ever tire!
   It turned always... always it turned and turned... (2)

Giuseppe and Giuseppina Baratta, a poor couple grieving the recent loss of their infant son, adopted him on July 30th. A former monk, Giuseppe worked as a house painter, but died when Gemito was only six-years-old. To help support his foster mom the young scugnizzo sold coffee in the streets. Giuseppina eventually married Francesco Jadicicco, another poor house painter, with whom Gemito had a loving relationship. He affectionately referred to his new stepfather as Masto Ciccio.
The boy worked with Francesco as a house painter until the age of nine when he became an assistant to the sculptor Emanuele Caggiano (1837-1905). Astounded by the boy's natural ability, Caggiano encouraged Gemito to pursue further art instruction. In 1864 Gemito enrolled into the Real Istituto di Belle Arti (Royal Academy of Fine Arts) where he became lifelong friends with the Roman painter Antonio Mancini. Together they studied in the workshop of Stanislao Lista (1824-1908), a prominent artist whose realistic style significantly influenced contemporary Neapolitan sculpture.
Testa di ragazzo at the Museo Civico in the Maschio Angioino, Napoli
During this period Gemito joined a colony of artists who set up a workshop in Sant'Andrea delle Dame, an abandoned monastery in the old city center. He would often explore the Via San Gregorio Armeno — famous for its workshops producing figurines for the Neapolitan presepe (Nativity scenes) — and the coast of Posillipo, observing the young scugnizzi at work and play. Naples' street-urchins were a popular subject with Gemito, one in which the artist would often return to in his career. In addition to the inspiration he found in everyday Neapolitan life, he'd often visit the Museo Archeologico to study the Greco-Roman sculpture excavated from Pompeii and Herculaneum.
At sixteen Gemito presented his Il Giocatore, a wonderful rendering of a young card player, at the Promotrice di Belle Arti in Naples. The statue was so well received that King Vittorio Emanuele II of Italy purchased a bronze cast for the Museo di Capodimonte, a former Bourbon palace and one of Europe's great museums.
Museo di Capodimonte, Napoli
The young artist quickly gained a reputation as a master portraitist. While only 22 years of age he cast the now famous bust of Giuseppe Verdi, capturing the brooding composer in a moment of deep contemplation. Gemito's love for his people was reflected in the many portraits he did of the Neapolitan peasantry. His Il Malatiello (The Sick Child) is a wonderful example of the artist's ability to fuse Classicism with Realism. Among Gemito's most celebrated works are his remarkable portrayals of his friend, the great Neapolitan painter Domenico Morelli (1823-1901) and the Spanish Romantic painter, Mariano Fortuny y Carbo (1835-1874). Perhaps his most famous portrait is his stoic Il Filosofo (Bust of a Philosopher), said to be inspired by the Hellenistic bronze Pseudo-Seneca discovered at Herculaneum. It is presumed that Masto Ciccio was the sitter for this piece.
In 1873 Gemito met Mathilde Duffaud, a Parisian model who posed for several of the artist's friends. Although nine years older than him they fell instantly in love and moved in together. He modeled at least four sculptures of her. They traveled to Paris (with Mancini) in 1877. The following year Gemito presented his Il Pescatore, a statue of a Neapolitan fisher boy securing his catch, at the 94th Paris Salon. His success won him international recognition.
Another look at Il Pescatore
During his stay in the French capital, Gemito befriended the celebrated artist Jean-Louis Ernest Messonier (1815-1891) and was given space to work in the Frenchman's atelier on the Boulevard Malesherbes. Gemito modeled two portraits of his host, a bust and statuette, as well as exquisite life-sized studies of Messonier's hands, holding paintbrushes, a rag and part of a palette.
After three years in France, Gemito returned to Naples. With the help of a wealthy Belgian industrialist, Baron Oscar de Mesnil (1855-1897), he set up a foundry for lost-wax casting on the Via Mergellina. The quality of work produced at the foundry is considered his finest. An imposing bronze bust of his patron (said to have been completed in just twelve hours) can be seen at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Bust of Baron Oscar de Mesnil at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
In the spring of 1881 Mathilde died from tuberculosis in Resina. She was 38 years of age. Deeply upset over her death Gemito went to the Isle of Capri to recover. He produced several drawings and a silver portrait of a local peasant girl, which he later named La Caprese.
That same year he created Il Acquaiolo (The Water Vendor) for Francesco II di Borbone, the exiled King of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Worried that Queen Maria Sophia would be upset by the statue's nudity, the King asked Gemito to tailor a pair of silver pants to cover the figure. In 1882 Gemito presented a second version — con pantaloni (with trousers) — at the Paris Salon. In 1885 the statue, plus several portraits, won him a first class medal at the Universal Exposition at Antwerp, Belgium.
In 1882 Gemito met Anna Cutolo working as a model in Domenico Morelli's studio. She is believed to be the sensual figure immortalized in Morelli's Dama con ventaglio (Lady with a fan) now housed in the Museo Diego Aragona Pignatelli Cortes in Naples. They quickly married and in 1885 their daughter, Giuseppina, was born. Anna was the subject of many drawings, including the hauntingly beautiful Coserella. In 1886 he rendered a terracotta portrait of Anna from which, several bronze and marble versions were made. Masterfully executed, it is a deeply personal piece exuding the tender love the artist felt for his wife.
At age 35 and at the height of his career Gemito was commissioned to sculpt a marble statue of Charles V, which stands in the facade of the Palazzo Reale in Naples. The work troubled him greatly and upon its completion he suffered a nervous breakdown. He entered the Fleurant clinic in 1887, but soon withdrew into isolation in his apartment on the Via Tasso. He was unable to complete the silver Trionfo da Tavola, an elaborate table decoration incorporating allegorical figures of Naples, commissioned by King Umberto I of Italy. For over two decades the troubled artist abandoned sculpting, devoting himself entirely to drawing. Anna supported him until her death in 1906.
Charles V Palazzo Reale, Napoli
Gemito resumed sculpting in 1909. His taste developed towards a more Classical aesthetic, best represented by his La Sorgente (The Source), an idealized version of the artist's Acquaiolo motif. Although many of his works from this period depict mythological (The Young Neptune and The Sibyl) and heroic characters from antiquity (Alexander the Great), he continued to draw inspiration from the people of his native city. His magnificent Busto di Fanciulla Napoletana (Bust of a Neapolitan Girl) and Acquaiolo Storto (Crooked Water Vendor) are notable examples.
In his later years Gemito spent much time between Rome and Naples, visiting his daughter, Giuseppina, and four grandchildren, Annita, Bice, Carlotta and Alessandro. In Rome he studied the works of Renaissance and Baroque masters, sketching many of their famous masterpieces. He was especially fond of Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571), even going so far as to try and acquire the Florentine's workspace underneath the Castel'Sant Angelo in Rome. Producing fewer and fewer sculptures Gemito dedicated his time mostly to drawing and smithing highly prized small-scale pieces in precious metals, including a silver relief of the great cosmocrator and gilded head of the gorgon, Medusa.
Vincenzo Gemito died on March 1, 1929. Old black-and-white photos in the Museo Pignatelli collection show thousands of people attending his funeral procession along the Piazza San Ferdinando in Naples. He was admired by many of his contemporaries, most notably the warrior-bard Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863-1938) and poet Salvatore Di Giacomo (1860-1934), who wrote the artist's first biography, Vincenzo Gemito: La vita, l'opera (Life and Works), in 1905. Gemito is considered by many to be the most important Italian sculptor and draughtsman of the late nineteenth century.
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
(1) Quoted from A Chisel and a Brush: Vincenzo Gemito 1852-1929, Antonio Mancini 1852-1930, from the Gilgore Collection, 2000, p. 58
(2) Quoted from The Bread and the Rose edited by Achille Serrao and Luigi Bonaffini, Legas, 2005, p. 146
The following sources proved invaluable to this post:
• Vincenzo Gemito: Drawings and Sculpture in Naples and Rome by Emanuela Ricciardi, Kate Ganz USA, 2000
• A Chisel and a Brush: Vincenzo Gemito 1852-1929, Antonio Mancini 1852-1930, from the Gilgore Collection, 2000
• Vincenzo Gemito: Drawings by Bruno Mantura, Trinity Fine Art, 2008

July 13, 2009

Il Regno and Friends' Weekend of R&R

One of many mushrooms we discovered on our "hunt"
WARNING: Do NOT forage for mushrooms without expert supervision.
Some mushrooms can KILL you
Members of Il Regno (NYC) took to the hills this weekend to escape the hustle and bustle of the urban jungle.

Saturday — Under the attentive supervision of mycological experts we spent a pleasant day foraging for mushrooms and learning about edible plants and roots. Excursions into sylvan tranquility, such as these, always makes this city-slicker feel more in tune with nature and closer to God.

Unfortunately, inclement weather cancelled our planned evening boat trip on the Hudson River. However, the rain did not dampen our enthusiasm because we were able to enjoy good company, some fine wine and, of course, our fungi (cooked to perfection in a wild mushroom frittata).
A musician from Caserta and folk dancers at the Westchester Festival

Sunday — NYC not being the haven for Southern Italians it once was means sometimes traveling to ethnic enclaves outside the metropolis to celebrate our culture and heritage. We visited the annual Italian Heritage Festival at Kensico Dam Plaza near Valhalla, Westchester. We were treated to a enjoyable day of food, folk music and dancing.

If all this wasn't enough, upon returning to Brooklyn we stopped by the Feast of San Paolino di Nola and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Williamsburg, for zeppoli and espresso to cap off our relaxing weekend.

The Giglio and Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Photos by New York Scugnizzo

July 4, 2009

The Garibaldi–Meucci Museum

Portrait bust of Giuseppe Garibaldi (left) and Antonio Meucci monument
July 4, 2009 marks the 102
 anniversary of the day Antonio Meucci’s cottage, now the Garibaldi-Meucci Museum, was moved to its present location on Tompkins Avenue in Rosebank, Staten Island. The museum is a National Landmark owned and operated by the Order Sons of Italy in America.
My recent visit to the Staten Island Garibaldi-Meucci Museum did little to improve my opinion of Giuseppe Garibaldi. In fact, it confirmed a lot of what I already thought about the so-called "Eroe dei Due Mondi" or "Hero of the Two Worlds," and if anything, it actually lowered my opinion of him, something I thought impossible. 

Not surprisingly, there was very little pertinent information about the Risorgimento, the forced unification of Italy, on hand. It was mostly the usual hyperbolic comparisons with George Washington and discredited propaganda about “liberating the South” and “Italian independence.” There was no shortage of illustrations, plaques and medals glorifying the exploits of the Red Shirts and their famous leader.
Masonic medal of  Giuseppe Mazzini (left) and Antonio Meucci's death mask
The museum also doesn't hide the fact that Freemasonry played an important part in Italian unification but does little to explain its subversive character. As usual, there is absolutely no mention of Southern Italy’s hardships and oppression following unification.

To the museum’s credit it actually has a few artifacts that belonged to Garibaldi. His red shirt and Turkish fez, along with a rifle, bayonet and saber from that period, are on display.

The museum's other namesake, Antonio Meucci, was a far more interesting figure to me, if only because I knew so little about him. The Florentine was a brilliant inventor, engineer and chemist, and according to the museum it was Meucci rather than Alexander Graham Bell who really invented the telephone. (Personally, I'm still not convinced.)

Like Garibaldi, Meucci was a Mason and conspirator in the Italian Unification Movement. He was imprisoned in 1833 and 1884 for revolutionary activities. In October 1835 he and his wife Ester fled Florence to Havana, Cuba. They left Cuba in 1850 for Staten Island, New York, and eked out a living as candle makers. It was here that Meucci befriended the exiled Garibaldi before his fated conquest of the independent and sovereign Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. 
Masonic memorial plaque for Giuseppe Garibaldi
Photos by New York Scugnizzo
The museum also offers Italian lessons, which in itself is not a bad thing. Many people could benefit from them. However, it reflects a greater problem at large: so-called “proper” Italian is replacing the vernacular of Southern Italians. Often dismissed as vulgar dialects — Sicilian, Neapolitan, Calabrian, etc. — they are all in danger of becoming dead languages. It is simply another example of the cultural leveling taking place in modern Italy.

With all that said I would also like to point out that the history of the Meucci homestead and the relics it contains are interesting. The staff was courteous and professional. I only wish that they were more objective about Garibaldi and the Risorgimento.