Friday, April 12, 2013

Antonella da Messina's Portrait of a Man


Undoubtedly it will come as no surprise to you to hear that Italy’s economy is in dire straits, not to mention that it still doesn’t have an elected government although general elections were held nearly two months ago, and things certainly do not look encouraging for the near future.   Recent governments have slashed financing  for the arts, theatre and museums and one Minister of Economy said “You can’t eat culture”.


As anyone who has visited Italy knows, around every corner there is a famous monument or work of art that needs financing for its upkeep.   The Italian State, under normal circumstances, has always had a hard job finding the money to help restore and maintain its cultural heritage and now it has got to the point where the coffers have run dry and there is no money left.


Cefalù’s Mandralisca Museum has, up until now, been able to keep going with financial support from the Sicilian Regional Government but that contribution has also dried up.    The good news is that after a lot of umming and ahhhing some money was found to pay the staff who had been without salaries since June 2012, but were also willing even to work unpaid.  The bad news is the museum is now under serious threat of closure in the immediate future.


Our museum has an important art collection.   We have one of Antonello da Messina’s most famous paintings.    “Ritratto d’Ignoto Marinaio” which, together with “L’Annunziata” (normally found in Palazzo Abatellis in Palermo) were both on display a few years ago in New York’s Metropolitan Museum. There are also malacological, numismatic and book collections together with other artifacts of particular interest on display.  It also has one of the finest preserved Greek krater vases, among others, dating from 370 BC depicting the fisherman cutting and selling his tuna.



Selling tuna


Baron Enrico Piraino of Mandralisca was a philanthropist who decided to leave his private collections to the town population in a museum in the late 1800s, rather than hand them down to his heirs, and also institute the first high school in the town called Liceo Mandralisca.   Both were housed in his private home.  In those days the majority of the local population was illiterate and his wish was that the locals be better educated and also appreciate his treasures collected over a lifetime.


This has been possible for the last 125 years, although the prestigious Liceo is now housed in a new building.   On average 20,000 people a year visit the museum, mainly during the summer, and is a big tourist attraction to the town, not only to foreigners but also to Italians themselves.


Petitions have been signed to stop the closure from people as far away as Russia to Australia, but we will have to face up to the reality of the situation before long.  No more will there be a steady flow of money from the government into the Mandralisca Foundation’s purse.   We are going to have to look for sponsors, benefactors or philanthropists, or whatever they call themselves.


The famous Italian Cobbler, Diego della Valle (Tod’s Shoes), is sponsoring the restoration of Rome’s Colosseum in exchange for his logo printed on the entry ticket for the next 15 years.   The Fendi sisters (those handbag ladies) are sponsoring the Trevi Fountain and will be putting up a small sign near the fountain saying so.   Prada – who hasn’t heard of Prada?! – is restoring a baroque palace overlooking the Grand Canal in Venice.   Diesel, the famous jeans brand, is paying for the restoration of the Rialto Bridge in Venice.  Is this transforming culture into merchandise?   Probably yes.    But Italy’s monuments don’t really have much choice if they want to keep standing.


Ours is probably a lesser attraction and we are not expecting Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or Giorgio Armani to come forward – although if someone gives me their e-mail addresses, I could write!   But there must be a lot of people out there who don’t know what to do with their disposable income and I can’t think of a better and more worthy way to dispose of it!


It would be a sad and tragic loss for our community if the Mandralisca Foundation closes the Museum doors never to open them again.   Part of Cefalù’s heritage would be lost forever.   Our local school children would be deprived of an important out of school activity which has influenced many from an early age to follow careers in the teaching of art history or actually working in museums all over Italy.   Conferences and cultural activities are regularly held in the museum’s public conference rooms.    Cefalù is proud of its museum and it would just be unimaginable to be without it.


Culture may not fill our stomachs as the Minister of Economy said but it certainly feeds our mind and soul, which surely must come a very close second place.


Help save Cefalù’s Mandralisca Museum!

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