Painter, architect, restorer, and writer. The Vietri Sul Mare artist shares with us how art elevates his spirit.
June 09th, 2023. By Vito Pinto
Antonio Forcellino is focused on applying a thin layer of blue and chrome yellow with his brushes on the council chamber walls of the Vietri Sul Mare municipality. “Discovering these frescos had been a real blessing. For me, it’s the first time I feel like I’m doing something for my kids, grandkids, and the generations that will come after,” he explains. “I’m also doing something important for the place where I grew up, making me even prouder.” Being a restorer requires a lot of patience. It asks you to listen to the voices of artists from the past that resonates in the artwork in front of you.
Antonio Forcellino was born in Marina di Vietri in a house full of books where, he says, he got the first taste of what it would be his life. “Our home was originally the house of a Bishop. It had paintings of blue skies with cherubs wearing flower garlands on the ceilings and pavements made of colorful tiles from Vietri. The house would overlook the Amalfi Coast sea, simply breathtaking.”
Changing his life in Rome
At seventeen years old, eager to discover the world, he decides to live far from his family and leave the places of his childhood behind. He chooses Rome, the eternal city, custodian of thousands of years of artworks. Here, in a town that welcomes everything without destroying anything, Antonio joins the youth movement of those years and learns about the Renaissance. He says: “Yes, it was an era of transformation…not only about material things but also for humankind. During that time, they understood that they could go beyond. True in the arts, with Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Raffaello, as well as in the political sense. Most of all, consider the Borgias and their desire to push through”.
From the Impressionists to Renaissance
Cesare Borgia, also known as Valentino, was the illegitimate son of Pope Alexander VI. Gone down in history as a reckless politician, ready to do anything to secure his power, Cesa-re is undoubtedly one of the most controversial characters of the Italian Renaissance.
A period of time that young Antonio Forcellino studied with a strong passion, so much to become one of the highest experts on the topic. He started with an interest in the impressionist’s paintings and then expanded to architecture studies since his family worked in the construction sector. “I was first drawn to the coating techniques,” he says.
So, what started as an interest in the arts became a degree in architecture. But even after that, Forcellino’s desire to go beyond remained. “During the Renaissance period, an artist would study everything, from architecture to sculpture and painting. I believe this is the right way to proceed, and that’s why I started with paintings, then I went towards architecture to come back to painting, focusing on restoring. I believe it’s easier to solve a problem by approaching it from various angles.”
Michelangelo and Raffaello
The restorer worked on the Moses sculpted by Michelangelo housed in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli in Rome; Pope Julius II commissioned it for his tomb. Thanks to Forcellino’s work, it was possible to recover Michelangelo’s signature on the Pope’s statue. “It was an experience that allowed me to enter a very secluded world to the general public.” After that, he restored Raffaello Sanzio’s fresco, “Sybils.” Raffaello painted it between 1512 and 1514 as a commission for the banker Ambrogio Chigi to decorate the interior of Santa Maria della Pace in Rome.
The artist treasures the past. He often dwells on the era he defined as the “Century of the Giants.” In his head, crowned by grey hair, the lives, faces, and eccentricities of those three significant figures he particularly admires are always present.
Thus, three volumes take shape to narrate about those who “were the firsts to understand that their creativity had a value. Before them, the artwork would be valued based on the amount of gold present or the rarity of the raw materials. After them, the work had value because of the artist’s genius,” Forcellino shares his thoughts.
In memory of Leonardo
Forcellino decided to unfold Leonardo’s life and artistic evolution, omo sanza lettere, in his new book, Leonardo, Genio senza pace (Genius without Peace). Leonardo was a brilliant man who showed more interest in rationality than mystery, and regarding this aspect, we recall an anecdote. It referred to when the artist was commissioned to work on the painting “The Virgin of the Rocks.”
Initially, in the contract signed by Leonardo, the remuneration was around 200 “scudi,” and the artwork required to include golden leaves and other specific aspects. As we know now, Leonardo never included gold details, never followed the directives, and even asked to be paid double the amount. He knew he had created a masterpiece, and the commissioners agreed. His awareness is one of many aspects that have made him one of the unique characters of our history.
The relationship with the art
In his artistic and historical journey, Forcellino also wrote “Vita inquieta,” the volume dedicated to Michelangelo. He wrote a book while restoring Moses and describes the artist as a man who “completely devoted his life to art. Michelangelo became his art because he was committed to translating his ideas on the world and humankind into his artworks.”
Antonio Forcellino also wrote “Vita Felice” on the life and artistic journey of Raffaello Sanzo da Ur-bino; he focused primarily on the artist’s ability to capture gracefulness and express it in the strokes with which he drew his Madonnas.
The three excellencies of knowledge
Three volumes had a structure that resembled a historical novel and an art novel: stories about three great characters determined to take their destiny into their own hands and have control over it. The novelist also writes about the political turmoils in those eras in Rome and Milan, Venice, Florence, Mantova, and Bologna.
In these cities, the most potent players tried to have control over territories and artists. So in these books, it’s also possible to read about Suleiman the Magnificent and his desire to conquer Europe, his love affair with the beautiful and lethal Roxane, or about Clement VII de’ Medici and his political incompetence or even about Vittoria Colonna’s mystical outbursts.
This an exciting context in which to read about Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raffaello, three Italian excellencies who “had the ambition and the drive to go beyond what other people considered as limits. Thanks to that, they were able to discover new worlds.” says Forcellino.
Writing, a hand toward people
In those pages, Forcellino’s love for the Renaissance is everywhere. A love based on a deep, fundamental knowledge of the historical period. “Art is the sublime coldness of the marble, the color coming alive after cleaning a fresco, the inspiration that brought those artworks to life.” He says, adding that art is also the silence that accompanies meditation.
When asked how he would like to be remembered, Forcellino said, “I’d like to be remembered as a writer because I feel it’s what I am today. I realize that what I have done until now has led me to write, and I think this is the art form that makes me feel closer to people”. The ultimate metamorphosis of a man who has spent his life following art.
(Translation by Michela Pandolfi)