Carlo Pisi, Sculptor
Carlo Pisi was born in Poviglio (Reggio Emilia), in the lower Po Valley, to a peasant family on 27 October 1897 and spent his childhood in Brescello.
The village doctor, who was treating his seriously ill father, seeing small masterpieces modeled in clay and left to dry in the sun, immediately recognized the lively talent of that five-year-old child and recommended not to neglect his education. The parents followed the advice and as soon as Carlo was nine years old and not yet completed the elementary school they sent him to Parma at the sculptor Giuseppe Leoni to learn the secrets of marble and the working technique.
Unfortunately, the precarious economic conditions of the family did not allow him to attend the Paolo Toschi Art Institute in Parma, but the young man, with his first savings, bought some tools to work on his own, bought some art books and in the clippings of time he frequented the Palatine library, where he studied and got to know the great classics of the past and his self-taught culture was formed.
In Cogozzo (Mantua) there is the great Pietà of 1914, his first important work: he was only 18 years old.
Military life with its rigid discipline was particularly burdensome for the artist. Perpetually distracted, Carlo Pisi was unable to follow the instructions given to him. He soon experienced the rigors of punishments and, right in his cell, to overcome boredom, he got some clay with the complicity of a fellow soldier and sketched the Portrait of the Colonel . When he saw the work, he was so impressed by the young soldier’s talent that not only did he leave him free to work quietly, but he made an orderly available to him. Only after five months was he sent to the operation area in Trento and subsequently to Albania. Also this time the clay saved him as he painted the much appreciated portrait of the Commanding Admiralof the base of Vallona. This is how his entire military life unfolded.
The young man naturally possessed the popular joviality typical of his land, the same that transpires from all his portraits, including those of the most aristocratic figures, which does not escape a careful observer.
Pisi worked mainly in marble and bronze. For the marble works he first created the clay models, of the size requested by the client, then in plaster, a phase in which he further refined them and then sent them to Carrara where they were transposed into marble.
His work, in addition to being imbued with human participation, remained mainly linked to an academic modus operandi .
At the age of 23 he won his first competition, launched by the Provincial Administration of Reggio Emilia, for the execution of three monuments to the fallen of the 1915-1918 war in the municipalities of Boretto, Poviglio, Guastalla and others in neighboring municipalities.
From 1920 to 1933 he worked a lot for the provinces of Reggio, Parma and Mantua where his first works are located. In the cemetery of Brescello there remains a valuable chapel entirely designed and built by him.
After these first works, which he called “sins of youth”, the commissions multiplied but, both due to the inability to manage their own interests and the crisis of 1930-31, he was forced to leave Brescello to move permanently to Rome with the wife Giuseppina and two daughters Gigliola and Vincenza.
In the capital, life was not easy. The early days were particularly hard also because he almost always refused to be paid or asked for ridiculous fees, but he managed to overcome them also thanks to the support of his wife. The artist, still late in life, used to say that he owed the great merit of his success to his beloved “Pinì”. He never lost his verve and, even in the most difficult situations, his tempered character on the great river Po supported him.
In Rome he worked under the guidance of Anselmo Bucci and was a pupil of Angelo Zanelli, who at the time was engaged in the sculptures of the Altare della Patria in Piazza Venezia.
The work that received perhaps the greatest acclaim is the statue of John XXIII (1969), in Sotto il Monte, the pope’s native town, venerated and adored by millions of faithful; the sculpture reinvigorates the memory of the “good pope” for the great physiognomic fidelity combined with an intense psychological penetration. There is no pilgrim who does not wish to have a souvenir photo next to the bronze of Pope John. All the magazines publish the photo of the statue but hardly anyone knows that the author is the sculptor Carlo Pisi who, often, did not sign his works.
In May 1978 he completed another large statue: that of Padre Pio , commissioned by Fra ‘Daniele da Pietralcina, founder of the “Casa del Fanciullo di Padre Pio” in Palermo, where the work is still preserved today. When Fra Daniele saw it, he exclaimed: “We have about twenty statues of Padre Pio, some of which are due to famous chisels, but the one made by Pisi is the most beautiful of all”.
Certainly the characters of Padre Pio and Giovanni XXIII were those most congenial to him, where the realism of his art explodes.
Also of interest are the numerous bas-reliefs in which the sculptor totally brings out the figures from the background. In many of them the artist generally portrays himself in profile, taking up the ancient way of making himself present at the creation of the work but avoiding signing it.
His fame crossed national borders and had several commissions from abroad. In fact, his works are found in different parts of the world, from the United States to the Philippines, India, Malta, Palestine.
In 1964 on the occasion of the conciliation between the two Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches sanctioned by the meeting between Paul VI (the first modern pope who went to Jerusalem) and the patriarch Athenagoras he sculpted a large bas-relief for the church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
In 1973, in Washington, where he had gone for the inauguration of his statue, the widow of Robert Kennedy, killed in Los Angeles in 1968, asked him to make the bust of her husband. Carlo Pisi sketched an extraordinary portrait of the senator using the photos at his disposal.
In the history of his life, the meeting with Paolo Pace, a native of Gozo, who married his eldest daughter Gigliola, was very important. Paolo was a cousin of the Bishop of Gozo, Mons. Giuseppe Pace who commissioned the sculptor to create various works for the churches on the island. Thanks to this bond, Paolo Pace became the intermediary of Pisi in the Maltese islands and in fact, immediately after the end of the Second World War, the artist was commissioned to create the War Memorial located in Victoria (Gozo). The work was completed in 1947 but was inaugurated only in May 1954 by Queen Elizabeth II.
After the ceremony, the sovereign of England wanted to meet the author and had words of praise for the Italian sculptor and added: “if you come to London, let me know; I could also pose for a portrait “. Carlo Pisi did not understand the importance of the royal promise and answered only with the only two known English words “thank you”.
The War Memorial is undoubtedly one of the most famous works by Carlo Pisi in Gozo.
On April 3, 1949, Bishop Pace blessed the Via Crucis in the parish of San Giorgio in Victoria.
The sculptor’s production for Malta, which began in 1940, continued uninterruptedly until 1970. Most of his works are concentrated there.
Carlo Pisi has always worked in humility and silence. He has never done an exhibition in his life.
To the first journalist who “found” him and interviewed him, he asked if “it was worth it to have bothered”.
Despite his life spent reserved and far from the spotlight, he was awarded the Knighthood of the Holy Sepulcher, an honor linked to artistic merits. And in 1970 the Union of the Golden Legion of the Italian Committee of NGOs at the United Nations awarded him the Prize for industriousness in art.
Cesare Zavattini, journalist, writer and poet, could not fail to notice this great artist of ours; in a letter sent to the sculptor’s daughter, Gigliola put it this way:
“It is enough for me to have seen the statue of Padre Pio to understand, appreciate the strength, naive or not, of Carlo Pisi, the strong naturalness in the purest, almost isolated meaning of sculpting in the Po Valley, outside any school, but modern because it is fraternal with the object it must represent… of works expressed with a fundamental coherence of style and affection for people known or unknown, by Pisi. He is so in solidarity with his neighbor, always, at least from the examples that I have under my eye, we see how at the moment of sculpting he does not pay attention to where he is, he has no plans other than to pull the humanity of his out of the stone. template. Humanity is a somewhat out of use word, especially in artistic circles. Pisi lives it with an independence and modesty that become creative. It seems inconceivable that an artist of the caliber of Carlo Pisi,to whom monumental works were commissioned by statesmen, high religious exponents, well-known Associations and Institutes, famous men all over the world, has been ignored by official critics and remained unknown, as they say to insiders. I haven’t found a single line about him in the specialized press.
The way to honor Pisi does not need flashiness. It must be the recognition of his solitary effort, the story of one of the many men who could and should have received greater satisfaction in life. It is not an original story, but those who have lived it, even if they are now away forever, tend to relive it, to summarize it in the places where they hoped and suffered so much “.