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Le donne del digiuno contro la mafia

Fotografie di Francesco Francaviglia

Uffizi Gallery , sala dell’ex chiesa di San Pier Scheraggio

10-13-2014 | 11-09-2014

There are two works in the Uffizi that preserve the tangible memory of the Mafia bombing of 27 March 1993. They are memories left for future visitors to the Gallery with no notion of the tragedy of that night. Indeed, our time is one that tends to forget. And there are no guarantees that this inclination will change in the future. In any case, it is perhaps understandable that the mind instinctively closes itself to the memory of extreme suffering. However, that is what poets are for: elevating crude events (even the most dramatic ones) to the suspended atmosphere of devotion.

Halfway down the stone stairs that lead from the West Corridor to the aerial walkway that Vasari designed to connect the Uffizi to Palazzo Pitti – in the brief stretch where the steps are interrupted – hangs the Adoration of the Shepherds, painted between 1619 and 1620 by Gherardo della Notti for the apse of the Church of Santa Felicità, whose counter-façade can be seen from the Vasari Corridor. The canvas – not lacerated by the exploded glass, but scoured by the violence of the blast – immediately appeared irremediably and entirely damaged in the light of the photocell. The sense of loss did not diminish with the arrival of dawn. On the contrary, the devastation was self-evident and the monumental painting risked being relegated to the museum’s storerooms forever.

However, following months of extensive restoration, the painting attracted new attention: in the darkness of a Caravaggesque sky, which the tissues applied immediately after the bombing seemed to suggest had been totally destroyed, an intact area emerged that continued to expand, allowing a glimmer of hope for its recovery. Consequently, work was commenced, which led to the recovery of almost half the paint. Unfortunately, this half was random, and detracted from the focus of the composition, commencing with the infant on the bed of straw that was originally the source of light that illuminated the faces of the Virgin Mary and the figures summoned by the angels in the darkness.

This surviving fragment still shows the reverberation of that light (just as a star continues to shine for light-years after it has burned out). The poetry is no longer that of a finished text, but it is nonetheless perceptible. Indeed, it is perhaps even more touching: like a mutilated epigram, which the reader’s head and heart piece back together, deeply moved. Consequently, whoever visits the Vasari Corridor is touched by that Adoration, accompanied by the words of Mario Luzi engraved in stone: an indelible memory of the crimes of which man is capable, but also the sign of a desire for liberation.

The same spirit suffuses the gilded bronze by Roberto Barni that was placed on the outer wall of the museum, overlooking the spot where the bomb exploded. A life-sized man walks on a blade plunged into the wall more than 20 metres above the ground. Upon his body walk the five spirits of those who lost their lives – innocent victims of chance. This chance, however, was generated by the despicable minds of those who wished to hit the state (annihilating its heritage), without heeding the deaths that would ensue. The golden man walks with his companions, high above the ground, and the sunlight makes him gleam in the eyes of those who look up. When night falls, a light comes on, drawing a luminous eye on the wall, with the man as its pivot. Throughout the day and night, anyone who stops in the little Via dei Georgofili and is touched by reading the epigraph set in the plaster of an adjoining house, rebuilt after its collapse, can look up and recognize in the bronze sculpture a warning and at the same time a message of hope for those who campaign for peace.

Today, Francesco Francaviglia’s photographs allow us to see the faces of some of those campaigners. Faces of courageous women who, 20 years or so ago, scorned evil (including that which could turn on them in retaliation) and openly made a stand against the ruthless, brutal organized crime that was causing so much bloodshed (and continues to corrupt and bloody today). Faces that the passage of time has furrowed with wrinkles, but nonetheless remain beautiful, infused with an ancient dignity. Their features are inevitably changed, but precisely because of this are able to testify to the fact that the daringness, rebellion and resistance are just the same.

After all, courage and generosity are virtues that flourish in the female soul. The episode that followed Christ’s death comes to mind almost instinctively. Defeat, fear and the futility of everything that had been said and done pervaded the hearts of the men who only shortly before had been with Jesus, bewildering them and causing them to flee. Yet they had heard what they would have to face directly from his mouth. Nonetheless, they were overwhelmed by their inability to fully understand his words and the shock of that scandalous death to which they were unable to resign themselves. Not the women, though: they felt the power of the blow inflicted, but they withstood it.

They did not flee. They accepted what had happened, confident that the promises would be kept. They went to the tomb and found it empty. The angel told them what had happened and, after a moment of inevitable bewilderment, they believed the miraculous news. It was the women who revealed the humanly impossible truth of the Resurrection to the hesitant and fearful men, instilling new hope in their vacillating hearts.  

Today I imagine the faces of those women of the Holy Land, weakened by the grief of their unbearable loss, yet driven by unfaltering courage, with the severe countenances of the “women of the fast” that Francaviglia has impressed on his portraits vibrant with lyric poetry.

Curated by

Tiziana Faraoni
Audio project Giuditta Perriera e Carlo Gargano

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