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.

Milan remained your city, throughout your life. Praised in every museum in the world, an acknowledged master of what was perhaps a figurativism out of step with the times, but honest and vital, technically impeccable, you brought this city with you even when you showed in Philadelphia or St. Petersburg, Paris or Tokyo, Vienna or Washington, alongside Arp, Brancusi, Epstein, Giacometti, Laurens, Moore, Picasso. Even your most famous work, the dying horse in front of the RAI headquarters in Rome, brings something of this city with it. The wild horses of the Argentine pampas, seen ten years earlier, had remained in memory. You imagined a stallion mortally wounded in a battle of love. You couldn’t sleep at night, in your studio in Brera there was no way to work on the armature. You moved to an enormous space inside Fonderia Battaglia, behind the Cimitero Monumentale. You worked in the cold, damp space, with tons of wet clay, on scaffolding. Maybe you felt, really and truly, like a classic artist. A Leonardo designing his equestrian monument, a Donatello, a Mochi. Never Michelangelo, whom you studied with infinite devotion. Whenever possible you went to the new museum in the Castle, done by BBPR, where Michelangelo’s last work was on display, the Pietà Rondanini, purchased with funds raised by the citizens of Milan.

Since your youth you spent time in cemeteries, and made funerary monuments. You always knew that death had to be considered while still alive. You wanted a studio that was also your mausoleum. You wanted it while still alive. You found the ruins of the church of San Sisto. Far from Via Cesariano, from the area of the Arena Civica, where you lived. It was at Carrobbio, the Roman quadrivium, a place of passing trucks and markets, on the way to Porta Ticinese. The war had destroyed the area, and the economic boom was rebuilding it, anew, forgetful of its past, ready to jettison its urban legacy. But San Sisto had even been founded by the Longobards, and in the distant past it had been a Benedictine monastery, shut down by St. Charles for the dissoluteness of the monks. His cousin Federico, the one in The Betrothed, had it rebuilt. Richini designed the facade. Then it was deconsecrated, transformed into a military warehouse, bombed. Art that is born, dies, rises again, in a series of plot twists of History, as in a novel. Your natural, objective correlate. You donated one hundred of your works to the municipality, and transformed the church into your own museum, while you were still alive. You had reached the top of the volcano, you could look down into the crater, without fear. And think back on your life.

To recall, perhaps, that day almost fifty years earlier, in one of the saddest years of your existence, at the bedside of Arturo Martini, rushed to the Fatebenefratelli hospital, dying. You were there, with Marino Marini and Giacomo Manzù. The four Ms of Italian sculpture, people said back then. The charm of names in Milan is strange. There were also Luciano Minguzzi and Fausto Melotti, it would be like a fairy tale for children, where all those letters “M” in a circle looked like a crown, around the artist who had recently announced the death of sculpture itself. But you did not believe in the death of your very life. You knew that in another hospital in Milan, at Ca’ Granda, your group of statues of “St. Charles Granting Pardon to the Hospitaller Deputies” established a silent dialogue with the group sculpted by your mentor, “Francesco Sforza and Bianca Maria Visconti offer Pope Pius II the design of the Ca’ Granda.” Works done in parallel, barely ten years earlier, when everything was still happening. And they are still there, those sculpted stones, to the left and right of the entrance portico. Beyond yourselves, beyond your tumultuous lives, as an admonition and a memory for all the people of Milan.