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 born poor, desperately poor, Francesco. Your father took you away, with the whole family, from a Sicily scarred by hunger. He dreamt of America, but he stopped at Genoa. What remains for you of Linguaglossa, on the slopes of Mt. Aetna, except the myth of a homeland, the nostalgia for something you never knew except in the words of your parents? All your art was an art of nostalgia, a desire to return to the poised forms of an ideal classicism. Greece. But you still couldn’t know about this, when you lived a few steps from the house of Paganini and wandered the narrow back streets of Genoa, hungry, trying to make ends meet. You started working when you were just a boy. Hard work, with craftsmen, amidst marble and laborers even more statuesque than the stones themselves. You studied in the evening, at the Confederazione Operaia, looking for a way to harness your volcanic talent. Just past childhood, not yet a young man, you were already sculpting stone for the cemetery of Staglieno, Genoa’s open-air museum, and you watched Marinetti and Futurism with adolescent enthusiasm. One of the few such instances in your life, basically always distant from any trends or currents.

You always knew you were an artist. In Genoa people noticed it when you were just sixteen, in an exhibition of works – at the “Società Promotrice delle Belle Arti” – you later destroyed because they no longer met your standards. You raced through your life, Francesco, trying to climb back from the abyss of your ancestral poverty, to reach the top, towards the mouth of the volcano, to look down into it, afraid you wouldn’t have enough time to make it, or enough talent. Your story seems romantic, the narrative of a passionate, 19th-century life. Hard work by day, encounters in the evening, when you were just twenty, with Eugenio Montale or Camillo Sbarbaro, the nighttime for studying, when you weren’t fighting with your father, frustrated by a life that had wounded his pride. In Genoa Montale taught you about music, and it was thus – worthy of a feuilleton – that you met Bianca, at the Politeama. The most beautiful woman in the world, in your eyes. Still young, though you were much younger, married to an older man. Your worship of her echoed with “dolce stil novo.” Throughout your life she was an emblem of beauty, to reach, to conquer. Your love was both sudden and patient. It lasted a lifetime.

You met Milan for the first time on the way to Venice, to the tables of the Florian, on St. Mark’s Place, where the Novecento group gathered during the days of the Biennale. You listened, quietly, hungry for life, as they discussed things. The cavernous voice of Carrà asked you who you were, what you were doing there. Two years later, at the age of twenty-one, always ready to forge ahead, you too showed work, together with them, at the Biennale gardens. Do you remember when that austere looking man approached you, and asked you who had made that bronze of the Dead Christ? “It is mine,” you replied. He kept his council. Then, whispering in your ear, he simply said: “you’ve done it,” and vanished. He was Adolfo Wildt. It was as if the Milan of art had officially adopted you. You began to spend time in that city: Brera, the galleries, the art foundries. And Arturo Martini, at the “Prima Mostra del Novecento Italiano,” in the Palazzo della Permanente, where you showed a self-portrait. He was older than you, and for many artists of your age he was already a mentor. Just as in a serial novel, Martini was a friend for excursions, the unbridled genius, ready to wake you up in the middle of the night to show you a just completed work. He was courtly with Bianca, affectionate to the point of tears with your mother. Carrà advised you to study the tradition, while Martini, restless, started to lose faith in statues. You followed Carrà’s advice and found yourself occupying, a few years later, in 1932, the lecturer’s post at Brera that once belonged to Wildt. Martini never forgave you for that.