THE RED MAN. On Goliarda Sapienza Imagery

Francesca Todde

2017 - Ongoing


Goliarda Sapienza is now recognized as one of the most important Italian authors, yet she was during her life forgotten and opposed by the literary and political environment. Partisan, anarchist, anti-feminist but lover of women and precursor of gender issues, prepared for the heroism of the wartime but less at ease in the tranquility of the 80s, extreme to the point of ending up in jail for theft of jewelry; Italy was not ready to welcome such a contrasted figure.

At the time of her death in 1996, not even a page of her work was in bookstores.

Two years later, her husband Angelo Pellegrino, decided to publish “The art of joy” (600 pages) at his expense, activating a vital circuit that leaded to the publication of the book in France in 2005. Acclaimed as one of the masterpieces of the twentieth century, the book remained at the top of the charts for weeks and in 2008 Einaudi started publishing her whole work in Italy. Despite this success, Goliarda Sapienza remains, in my opinion, visually underestimated.

This project aims to give a representation of the imagery and mental universe of Goliarda Sapienza, looking for images that could talk about her identity, clarify her position and the visual strength of her writing.

“The Red Man” comes from an image of the Sapienza family archive: brothers and sisters and the same Goliarda at the age of 3, on the beach of Catania in 1927. One of the men is red colored with a childish trait, and on the back of the image is written Iuzza, the diminutive with which Goliarda was called in the family. Can we consider it a first trace of her individuality? Starting from this question, I decided to develop the project by going precisely to the places where Sapienza spent her childhood in Catania, her youth in Rome and Positano and her last years in Gaeta, to meet in various forms the visible and invisible traces of her presence.

I met Angelo Pellegrino, husband of Goliarda Sapienza, in their house in Rome, he gave me the access to their archive of images and we made together a map of her places. He's helping me during the development of the project, and I'm discovering at the same time the exceptionality of their relationship beyond time and death.

The project, started in December 2017, is ongoing.

A portfolio of the project has been published in August 2018 on M le Monde.

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  • Sapienza’s family and friends (Goliarda is the 3years child on the right), Catania 1927, © Sapienza Pellegrino Archive

  • The courtyard and stairs of Goliarda’s family home, Catania

  • Lachea Island, birthplace of the volcano Etna, Aci Trezza, Catania

  • Inside the workshop of the puppeteers Fratelli Napoli, Catania.

  • Map of Catania in 1941, “Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.”

  • Hands of the Sarcophagus of lovers, Etruscan Museum of Rome; Lachea Island.

  • Lachea Island, together with the cliffs of the Ciclopi, is the oldest volcanic product of Etna. The Islands of the Cyclops are mythically interpreted as the boulders launched by Polyphemus against the ship of Ulysses.

  • Statue of Androne, Sicilian musician, Bellini Gardens, Catania; Lachea Island, sedimentary substrate of marly clay covering the volcanic rocks.

  • Carriage for the procession of Saint Agata, Catania; Footprint on the lave of Saint Agata during martyrdom, Catania.

  • Devil in the atelier of the puppeteers Fratelli Napoli, Catania

  • Benedectine monastery of San Nicolò l’Arena in Catania; Elephant horn in the Natural History Museum of Catania.

  • The railway between the lava on the slopes of Etna volcano; Horse skeleton in the Natural History Museum of Catania

  • Liberation Day from Nazi-Fascism, Rome; Acting Classroom at the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia of Rome.

  • Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia of Rome.

  • Surroundings of Piazza della Croce Rossa in Rome; Portrait of Goliarda Sapienza © Sapienza Pellegrino Archive; Via Gaeta, Rome.