Studio Museo Francesco Messina

Francesco Messina

Artist | Porta Ticinese | The period after World War II


Sicilian, from Linguaglossa (1900), Franceso Messina moved to Genoa when he was very young. Self-taught, he focused on the tradition. He held the chair in sculpture at the Fine Arts Academy of Brera from 1934 to 1971. He won many important prizes and honors, including the Prize for Sculpture at the Venice Biennale in 1942, honorary Milanese citizenship in 1975, and appointment as an honorary member of the Academy of Fine Arts of Moscow in 1988. Important commissions included the statue of Christopher Columbus in Chiavari and the Minerva in Pavia. In the postwar era he created the Via Crucis of San Giovanni Rotondo, the dying horse sculpture of the RAI, the monument to Pius XII in Rome. He died in Milan in 1995.

You were outside the regime, not as much of an opportunist as many of your colleagues, in those years. You hastily joined the party to keep that teaching job. You were just happy to have some economic wherewithal, some social prestige. Your opinion of the Duce was what everyone thought and no one said. Except for Medardo Rosso, a Turinese in Milan, a Milanese in Paris, already venerable, who was honored with an exhibition organized by Margherita Sarfatti at the gallery “Bottega della poesia.” Mussolini himself presided over the opening. Do you remember, Francesco, when Rosso nonchalantly put his arm around the Duce’s shoulder? “Dì un pu, Benito,” the sculptor asked wryly, “te sonet semper el viulin? Te fé ben, te fé ben. L’è püssé impurtant de la politica.” [Tell me, Benito, do you still play the violin? Good for you. It is more important than politics.”]

These are recollections you have imprinted in your book of memoirs, Francesco. Because you always liked writing, especially poetry, and spending time with writers. Even better, with poets. Salvatore Quasimodo, first of all, another emigrant, like you, from the land of myth, hermetic Sicily, employed by the public works office of Sondrio. Four hours by train from Milan to get there, four to return, every day. Time entirely devoted to reading, and to translating the classics. And then hours stolen from slumber, to meet with you at the tables of Savini, with Sinisgalli, Solmi, Gatto, Marussing, De Grada, Cantatore…

They made you the director of Brera, and you made monuments to the glory of the regime. The dying dictatorship named you to the Royal Academy of Italy. Then, in the end, everything collapsed. The war set your life back to zero. You were purged, pushed away, scorned. You had lost everything except Bianca’s love. You two had married, during the bombings. Only a few close friends remained: Vanni Sheiwiller or Vittorio Barbaroux, both upstanding antifascists, Lucio Fontana, who generously let you to do his portrait for the exhibition you were organizing in Buenos Aires. He also lent you money, to cast some of your bronzes. You left Italy without credit, you returned triumphant from South America, as is only fitting for a serial romance.