From February 9th to March 19th, 2023, Palazzo Medici Riccardi hosts in the Sale Fabiani the exhibition dedicated to the anti-fascist intellectual Carlo Levi.
The exhibition, promoted by the Metropolitan City of Florence under the patronage of the Tuscany Region, the City of Florence and the City of Turin, organized by the Giorgio Amendola Foundation in collaboration with the Carlo Levi Foundation, the UNESCO center and Associazione Mus.e, is curated by Pino Mantovani on a project of the Carlo Levi Foundation, will be exposed 34 works and drawings as well as a reproduction of the famous Lucania ’61.
The exhibition is dedicated to the Florentine stay of Carlo Levi (1941 – 1945), during the years of war and the Nazi occupation up to the Liberation struggle, to the resumption of democratic public life in the city liberated by the Resistance under the autonomous government. In Florence, Levi wrote in the last year of the war his first and best-known book,Cristo si è fermato a Eboli, in which he recalled faces, stories and characters known during his confinement in Grassano and Aliano in Lucania: a shocking experience that led him to the discovery of another Italy, peasant and archaic Italy that lives outside the cycles of history and that struggled to relate to the imperial mythology imposed by fascism. In the first room are exhibited the works painted during the confinement in Aliano (1935-1936, Tonino, Dietro Grassano, La strega e il bambino, La figlia scarmigliata della Strega) are the background on the basis of which the novel will reconstruct the meaning of that experience that will mark the future life of Levi as southernist writer, painter and politician.
All around a gallery of portraits, the mother, the women he loves and friends; Paola Levi Olivetti, loved and evoked many times on the telero, for whom he decides to move to Florence abandoning the hypothesis of an expatriation in America. Then Anna Maria Ichino, the generous partisan who welcomed him into the shelter in Piazza Pitti 14 who loved him in a disinterested way for a short period.
During the “Florentine confinement”, Levi portrays and weaves relationship with the great protagonists of the anti-fascist intellectual world, concentrated in Florence: the sculptor Alfieri, the painter Colacicchi, the literati Montale, Bazlen and Cancogni, the psychiatrist writer Mario Tobino, and Leone Ginzburg who will die in the summer of ‘44 due to Nazi-fascists. In the backdrop of these tragic years there is a oppressed world that the painter evokes with a skinned goat lying on a beach (La guerra partigiana), with desolate landscapes reddened by the fires of war, with heaps of piles of corpses lying in a presentiment of Holocaust (Nudi. Il lager presentito).
In the summer of 1945 he moved to Rome, where he remained until the end of his life, to direct “L’italia Libera” while the fall of the government’s Parri took place which produced the dissolution of the “Partito d’Azione”. In the early 1950s he made a number of travels to southern Italy where he breathed the climate of civil passion, of the struggles of the peasant-workers who were by now aware of their miserable condition and were demanding social improvement. So it begins his work of social denunciation, of an explicit neorealist orientation, which shows the bodies of women deformed under the weight of fatigue, children’s eyes hollowed out due to malaria, men’s faces marked by the disease. A painting that the observer rejects due to its “unpleasantness” but which at the same time becomes an experience making him a witness of what is happening. The link that has been established between Levi and the south over the years is now consolidating. And here are Contadine rivoluzionarie, Il nonno, La contadine calabrese, but also the protagonists who fought for justice, such as Salvatore Carnevale, a trade unionist Sicilian killed by the mafia, and the sociologist-activist of non-violence Danilo Dolci. That “lyrical” story that began with Cristo si è fermato a Eboli finds its culmination in the creation of the telero Lucania ‘61, commissioned to the artist by Mario Soldati to represent Basilicata in the Pavilion of the Regions exhibition in Turin due to the centenary of the unification of Italy. The work summarizes all of Levi’s vision of the so called “southern question” filtered by the story of Rocco Scotellaro, “the poet of rural freedom”, to whom Levi owes his understanding of farmer struggles and southern thought. That common feeling of “exile”, that same feeling shared with the Lucan farmers, are in Levi’s memory and lead him to be once again close to the most vulnarable, to the emigrant population who leave their homes to move somewhere else. Works such as L’addio dell’emigrante, L’icerberg, Il naufragio and Ancora galleggiante are a witness to this. In 1967, with Paolo Cinanni, he founded FILEF, the Italian Federation of Migrant Workers and Families, an organization that allows immigrant workers to represent their interests supported by social and trade union associations represented in all countries of the world. And finally in 1974 Levi returned to his Christ illustrating seven passages with as many lithographs (he will die after a few months).
The Telero Lucania ’61
«Here is the picture let us now look at it together in its parts in a simple and direct way as I hope to have painted it. Here before us is Lucania with its content of humanity, of ancient pain, of patient work, of courage to exist. An entire country lives in this work in the events and faces of its characters. Starting from millenary immobility, out of history, these people face existence and their path, like that of the painting, is, in a short space, very long like the passing of the centuries.
The leitmotif of this journey is Rocco Scotellaro, the poet of rural freedom. He appears to us as a boy with a freckled face, full of melancholy hope; man in the square, with the companions of a world that has opened up, dead in the cave where the times begin. We are in the green cave, in the presence of death.
The women stand around the white dead man, with a white face, huddled together in the ancient lament: two mothers mourn their dead son. The two mothers, the earthly and the celestial, weep and recount the life of their son, with their ancient faces, filled with love and pain. They tell of the birth of poverty, of life spent for others, of goodness, of poetry, of unripe death. With the mothers are the women wrapped in the veils of their costumes and the young girls in tears or closed in the blackness of mourning and life and with the solitary figure of the bitter old deputy mayor and the old woman who seems to be prophesying; all around the great spiral of female figures similar to a black flight of birds, up to the sorceress, above, where the sky is shown. From the opening of the cave a distant valley appears: it is the cemetery and the tomb of Rocco. In the cave, between the family and the animals, the lament fades away and turns into sleep.
A large peasant woman with skin parched by the sun and earth holds the sleeping child in her arms.
In the green shadow of the cave, in the sleep of the donkey that scrapes, among the tools and the instructions, among the bread and the lambasciuni, next to the old woman who proclaims, a little girl with a bandaged leg looks with her intense black eyes. And look at the little monk dressed for vows and the women who watch over sleep and sighs; the children are squeezed into the beds, lying down, crossed or in the arms of the women and the goats discover the hanging cradle where an infant sleeps. And the darkness of the cave teems with shapes.
But the hours pass, outside it is high day, the life of the neighborhood goes on in the alley; feet move and pass; who carries on his head who sits working in front of the door, who breastfeeds, who feeds the child, who hangs out the laundry, who speaks, who listens. A large pregnant woman, white in her aprons, under the eyes of her bustling companions and of the melancholy-faced children leaning against the doorposts, rises above the bare landscape, next to the boys, the young adolescent Rocco. Time flies. The shadows advance, the peasants go up as they do every evening towards the already dark village. Long queues with donkeys and goats, as if tied to a motion that has always been repeated, every day as the animals go, the space of their footsteps, the sound of the mules’ hooves on the ground, the threads of the harnesses, the swaying packsacks and baskets. A farmer precedes the beasts, the woman, the son: here is the gold of the velvet, of the muddy clothes, of the earth. His woman is high on her back with her child like a flight into Egypt: white as the clay of desolate mountains; and behind comes the long black line: goats, women, sheep, clays and shadows. Below, the deserted fields, towards the square.
The square is full of people listening to Rocco speak; at the window, distant and isolated, the great dead of Lucania, the ancient southerners, look out from time: Fortunato, Nitti, Dorso. Below them, on the low wall, the curved line of the unemployed and the old men remains, men waiting, without hope, down to the stubble-colored unemployed who closes the line and the painting at the bottom, and to the dog who sleeps as if dead. On the square in the shade of the church, the old men speak the eternal speeches in groups or alone, they lean on their sticks in still time.
And the men wait with their faces on their hands, with their hands clasped or resting on their knees, the useless hands that can’t find work. But in front of them is another world that is born: on Rocco’s face sparkles the light of an internal energy that expresses itself new: around that luminous center unfolds the great spiral of men who find meaning for the first time in words and the value of existence. Here they are all, the comrades and brothers, the characters of the story, the real protagonists.What does Rocco say? Is his a rally, a political speech or is it a poem that he underlines with the wave of his hand? Perhaps both together, perhaps he says his verses, the peasant Marseillaise. The heads of the brigands still stick out from the posts, / and the cave / the green oasis of sad hope: / clean, keep a stone pillow…/ But there is no turning back along the paths. / Other wings will flee from the straws of the brood, / because along the perishing of time / the dawn is new, it is new.
Dawn is new for these men: here they are, young and old, shepherds and workers and children intent on listening and listening to each other, witnesses and protagonists: here they are, the peasants and the poets, and among them the eldest, Umberto Saba and in the crowd the he author and the characters of Christ Stopped at Eboli and those of Uva puttanella, a growing crowd, which becomes infinite: a world is born with the word and the image». Carlo Levi