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Discover Piana degli Albanesi: Pietro Petta the painter.

Another important piece is included in the section Discover Piana degli Albanesi and it is a writing by Professor Stefano Schirò on the painter Pietro Petta. This important writing that for the first time highlights this almost anonymous painter who was a pupil of Giuseppe Patania was strongly desired by Salvatore Vasotti, in the quality of group leader of the FAI group of Piana degli Albanesi, to spread and enhance the important figure of painter unknown to many.


Salvatore Vasotti

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Pietro Petta, painter from Piana degli Albanesi and pupil of Giuseppe Patania

(by Stefano Schirò)

... art reflects the species, the high species of which Giacomo Leopardi speaks.

Indeed, we believe that a part of the admirable Renaissance light - similar to that of the Hellenic civilization - resides precisely in this: that men then needed art as much as the sun, nor could they live without it so as not to be disheartened.


The work of an unprecedented 19th century painter from Piana degli Albanesi cannot be overlooked: a certain Pietro Petta. There are two local sources that mention it; the scholar Schirò: "Among the Greek churches existing in Piana the one, now almost dilapidated, but which we hope to restore soon, is noteworthy, first dedicated to the Madonna of Loreto and then to S. Antonio Abbate, rich in interesting paintings of the sixteenth century from which, a few years ago, a fresco by Novelli was removed, by order of the Superintendence of Monuments of Palermo, representing that holy hermit of the Thebaid, which can now be admired in the parish church of S. Giorgio, and of which he has a very valuable copy of the peasant painter Pietro Petta, a pupil of Patania ”.


Pietro Petta, S. Antonio Abate (copia da Pietro Novelli), secolo XIX. Piana degli Albanesi, chiesa di S. Antonio.


On this copy (fig. 1), of course we can use the same words that critics have used for the original: "The purely Renaissance layout in the full-length frontal view from the underside, the S. Antonio presents the solemn solemnity and iconic fixity of the Greek Saints of the Matrix but also of John or Luke the evangelists, as well as the same tenuous colorism, based on the gray-blue background of the sky and the outdoor setting, with a hint of a landscape with trees and rocks on the bottom, characteristics which therefore place the unpublished work roughly coeval with the aforementioned frescoes of the Matrix in which Novelli, as Scuderi recently affirmed (1990, p. 25), makes use of "all the classicist Michelangelo to Domenichino… that the pictorial moment, the peculiar client church hopes, can really be considered as a great Renaissance cycle ”.”.

When Costantini describes the various altars of the Odigitria church in Piana degli Albanesi, he informs: "The one with the crucifix is ​​adorned with red marble columns. In front of this altar there is another, where there is an oil painting that represents the souls in Purgatory. A painter from Piana (Pietro Petta) copied this picture from a valuable work by an artist whose name I don't know ”. Schirò still handed down that in the same church of Odigitria "... in 1610, a Congregation of Purgatory was also founded, still existing, to which the cleric D. Lorenzo Petta was left in legate, for the celebration of masses, onze two annually, as appears from his will of 9 September, 11th Ind. of that year, to the deeds of notar Pietro Sciales da Piana. From what has been reported, it is clear that Pietro Petta, a pupil of Patania and a pianist artist, was an admirable imitator of Novelli's works, so skilled in copying them as to deceive even the superintendent A. Cuccia himself who in 1976, in the catalog sheet of the canvas of the Holy Souls (fig. 2), he wrote: "The work is to be attributed to Pietro Novelli, for what can be seen in the upper area of ​​the canvas, from the figure of the Eternal to the Vandykian cherubs and in general to the high tone of painting. The lower area with the holy souls is to be referred to the school. The painting depicts the Holy Souls leaving the flames of purgatory with the help of angels. In the upper register the Eternal, among curious cherubs, gives consent to salvation. The bad conservation reveals the browns and blues of the Novellian type ”. It needs urgent restoration. The altar of the Holy Souls is in red montecitorio and gray marble, measuring approximately 430x300 cm, as evidenced by A. Cuccia (1976), the steps are missing, having been recently removed.



Pietro Petta, Le Anime Sante (part.), secolo XIX. Piana degli Albanesi, chiesa dell'Odigitria.

The same labels it as “Work of good craftsmanship of the seventeenth century. It is made up of columns on plinths and volutes, joined at the top by an architrave and a broken pediment. The table is decorated with mixed marbles with bas-relief depicted: the Holy Souls. " The latter, also from the 17th century, depicts two souls in the flames. “The foreshortening and the plastic sense are remarkable. The work is hard to read due to the strong abrasions it presents "(A. Cuccia, 1976). Also note how the plinths of the columns are softened by the Schirò family crest: a stylized helmet with feathers and a rampant lion wielding a sword, within a trefoil shield surrounded by a calibrated game of scrolls, a tribute to medieval cavalry, certainly a learned allusion to the Greek etymology of this surname: whoever belongs to him does not lack a can similar to a lion and if he was a man of arms he could never commit felony. Returning to the fresco, it is worth noting the Masaccesque may, by Michelangelo of naked bodies, with evident plasticity: on the left an angel clings to a soul seen from behind and with sculpted buttocks (fig. 3); this pair and the one next to it, slightly set back, are extracted from the iconography (bottom left) of the Paradise by Pietro Novelli, it is also found in the Mass of suffrage for the souls in Purgatory (Church of S. Oliva di Alcamo) by the same author . The Eternal Father Blessing with a thick white beard - as well as the angelic crowd that surrounds him - can be traced in many works by Pietro Novelli: S. Benedict distributes the "Rule" to the monastic and knightly orders (Church of the Abbey of S. Martino delle Scale), The Trinity sends the angel Gabriel to the Virgin (Naples, National Museum of Capodimonte (inv. 563)), Mass of suffrage for the souls in Purgatory (Church of S. Oliva di Alcamo); Annunciation of the church of SS. Annunziata di Piana degli Albanesi and that of the Diocesan Museum of Palermo; identical also for the angels surrounding the figure of the Father and caught in the same gestures at the Eternal of the Annunciation by Pietro Novelli (Palermo, Regional Gallery of Sicily (inv. 171)). Also noteworthy is the Annunciation by Andrea Carreca in the Mother Church of Chiusa Sclafani. Analyzing the lower register we can discern three figures gracefully portrayed and drawn with wisdom, especially the male figure praying in profile, as noble as those of Pisanello's medals; the same fiery atmosphere unites it to S. Biagio intercedes for the purgative souls of Pietro Novelli in the cathedral of S. Lucia del Mela. But the most interesting is the woman, with her arms crossed over her chest, her wavy and very long hair: nobility of the design, invaded by the shadows generated by the somersaults of the fire, plump lips, half-length transposition of the sumptuous Magdalene by Pietro Novelli (in La communion of Mary Magdalene, Palermo, Regional Gallery of Sicily (inv. 5181)). It is appropriate to reiterate that: "With the affirmation of the particular devotion to the Souls in Purgatory, many brotherhoods were founded devoted to their cult ... The cult for the Souls in Purgatory was strengthened due to those disputes arising from the dispute raised by the Lutheran Reform to the value indulgences, recognized by Catholicism (Mâle, cit. p. 81) on the basis of the testimony of the Book of Maccabees, which states: "It is holy to pray for the dead, in order that they may be freed from their sins" (II, Macc. 12, 43) ". Pier Pettinaio, quoted by Dante in canto XIII of the Purgatory, took this warning, in fact with his holy prayers he helped the Sienese Sapia Salvani, who thus addressed the poet:


«... and it still wouldn't be

my duty for stupid penance

if this were not the case, that I remembered

Pier Pettinaio in his holy prayers,

to which of me for charity increased. "


I have always liked to identify the woman depicted in the canvas of the Holy Souls - the one with the same shape as the novellesque Magdalene - precisely with Dante's Sapia Salvani. Here more than ever we can therefore proudly assert ut pictura poësis, resorting to another sublime parallelism that only Dante can offer us, this time extrapolating it from Canto XXVII of Purgatory (vv. 6-30):


"... how the happy angel of God appeared to us. 6


Out of the flame stood on the shore,

and sang 'Beati mundo corde!'.

much more in voice than ours alive. 9


Poscia "You don't go anymore, if you don't bite first,

holy souls, the fire: enter it,

and do not be deaf when singing there ”, 12


he told us how we were near them;

for which I became such, when I understand it,

what is he who is placed in the pit. 15


Up the man committed I stretched out,

looking at the fire and imagining strong

human bodies already seen on. 18

Turn towards me good stocks;

and Virgil said to me: "My son,

here it can be torment, but not death. 21


Remember, remember! What if I

over Gerion I led you safely,

what shall I do now nearer to God? 24


Believe for sure that if you are inside alvo

a thousand years of this flame,

it could not make you of a bald hair. 27


And if you perhaps believe that I am deceiving you,

make yourself towards her, and make believe

with your hands on the edge of your clothes. "


"The monuments of art do not speak, they sing; therefore they are intended only by those who have a sense of poetry ”(M.J Friedländer). “Only poetry - pure art in the highest sense of the term - can provide us with the synthesis. So the interpretation must lead to a new creation of our ego, it must make the latent strings of our soul convibrate in unison with those of the painter. ". And the hidden "strings of our soul" vibrate in the presence of this work of art, joining those, hitherto silent, by Pietro Petta.


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