Art News Roundup: Mamma Mia Edition

Please forgive my Tuesday silence, gentle reader, but I was home in bed with the first man-flu of the season. Thanks to those of you who posted and sent encouraging messages while I wallowed in my misery. Being cooped up for three days, I had plenty of time to read on various art topics in-depth, and this particular story about a monument that hasn’t even been built yet was simply too good not to share.

Last year Chirlane McCray, the wife of New York City’s current mayor Bill de Blasio, spearheaded a project called “She Built New York”, with the goal of putting up more monuments to women who contributed to the history of the city. As part of the effort, a poll was launched in which the public were allowed to nominate candidates to be honored. Of all the women nominated, the one who received far and away the most nods was St. Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850-1917), the first American woman to be canonized a saint.

Mother Cabrini, as she is more popularly known, was an Italian-American immigrant who arrived in New York in 1889, and went on to found schools, hospitals, and orphanages to care for the immigrant poor in New York, and later in cities throughout the country, from Chicago to Seattle. The vote on putting up a statue to her wasn’t even close. The second most popular nominee, new urbanism theorist and activist Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) – who BTW definitely deserves a monument for her efforts to fight the atrocities of the man who tried to destroy the city, urban planner Robert Moses (1881-1981) – received less than half the nominations that Mother Cabrini did. However, for reasons which I will leave to the reader to muse upon, Mother Cabrini was left off the final list, despite her runaway popularity with New Yorkers.


As one might imagine, Italian-Americans in the city were furious, but perhaps chief among them was Nicholas DiMarzio, the present Bishop of Brooklyn. For you see, his Excellency is not only an Italian-American himself, and the bishop of the borough where Mother Cabrini was based in New York, but he has kept a small statue of Mother Cabrini on his desk for the past 50 years, having a great devotion to her. Not surprisingly then, the Diocese announced that since Gracie Mansion had no interest in honoring Mother Cabrini, it would start its own fundraising campaign to put up a public monument to the saint near Brooklyn’s Borough Hall.

As part of the effort to raise awareness and donations, Bishop DiMarzio recently led a procession from the park in Brooklyn named after Mother Cabrini to a nearby parish which she would have known in her lifetime, where he celebrated Mass. Said parish is actually a merged community of two former congregations, as the former Italian-American parish of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary – where Mother Cabrini and her sisters had worshiped – was, ironically, bulldozed by the aforementioned Robert Moses in 1941 in order to build an expressway, despite the loud protests of many Italian-American New Yorkers. Yet stay with me, gentle reader, for this rather opera buffa-like story doesn’t end there.

Now it seems that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, himself an Italian-American, has stepped into the fray, and announced that New York State will be donating the funds needed by the Diocese to erect a monument to Mother Cabrini in Brooklyn, since Mayor de Blasio won’t be stepping up to the plate. Meanwhile, after being chewed out on-air during a radio call-in show by actor Chazz Palminteri – a native New Yorker, Italian-American, and devout Catholic – the Mayor seems to be back-pedaling a bit. Mr. de Blasio indicated that the city may well put up its own statue to Mother Cabrini in a “second round” of monuments, once the first seven selected by Mrs. Hizzoner get their plinths. Thus, it’s entirely possible that New York will end up with two sculptures honoring America’s first saint, rather than one.

For some of my readers this story may seem very, very strange, particularly since the subject of the as-yet-unbuilt monument was a lady of devout piety who cared for the poor. However for those of you who, like me, are personally very familiar with how people of Mediterranean origin tend to work out their differences, this all reads quite a bit like what tends to happen at the family dinner table. Only now, it’s been thrust out onto the public stage.

In the meantime, I plan to keep an eye on the proposals for the monument(s), since one assumes that there will be a competition for the design. Personally, I would go for whatever another Italian-American, sculptor Anthony Visco, proposes, if there’s going to be a competition. Stay tuned!

Park Perspective

Staying in New York for the moment, those of you who are interested in landscape architecture will want to pick up a copy of a beautifully illustrated new book by Cynthia S. Brenwall, “The Central Park: Original Designs for New York’s Greatest Treasure”, which is the subject of a very interesting review published this month in Antiques. It never really occurred to me before that, thanks to the tear-down-and-build-bigger mentality of developers and the (again) machinations of Robert Moses, most of Victorian-era New York has vanished, with the exception of Central Park. Although some elements that were proposed for the park were never built, and others have disappeared due to decay or neglect, much that is old remains, even if surrounded today by, as reviewer James Gardner puts it, “buildings taller than the citizens of the nineteenth century could have conceived in a fever dream.”


Meadows Maravillas

Heading south to Dallas, the Meadows Museum at Southern Methodist University – which I really must get down to see at some point – has two new exhibitions of interest to those of you who, like me, love Spanish art. “El Greco, Goya, and a Taste for Spain: Highlights from The Bowes Museum” runs through January 12th, and is the first-ever visit to these shores of treasures from the Bowes in County Durham, including works by Claudio Coello (1642–1693), Juan de Valdés Leal (1622-1690), and of course El Greco (1541-1614) and Goya (1746-1828). Just down the hall, “Sorolla in the Studio: An Exceptional Loan from an Important Spanish Collection”, which runs through January 12th, focuses on a female nude by Joaquín Sorolla (1863–1923), and the artist’s working method at the beginning of the 20th century. The piece was Sorolla’s response to the “Rockeby Venus” by Velázquez (1599-1660), now in the National Gallery in London, which in turn was a response to the Uffizi’s “Venus of Urbino” by Titian (c. 1488-1576), which itself was inspired by the “Sleeping Venus” by Giorgione (c. 1477–1510), now in Dresden. Eat your Wheaties, and learn your art history, kids.


Franco’s Favorite

Sticking with things Spanish, as Spain removes the remains of the late dictator Francisco Franco from the Basilica at the Valle de los Caídos– where he never wanted to be buried anyway – to a cemetery in suburban Madrid, Art & Object has an interesting overview on the life and work of painter Ignacio Zuloaga (1870-1945), a Basque artist whose work you’ve probably never heard of (except for when I occasionally write about him.) The article riffs off the fact that Zuloaga was much appreciated by Franco, a man admittedly not known for his good taste, though as is usually the case with people writing about the Spanish Civil War this piece is lacking in nuance. Still, it’s worth reading, as Zuloaga’s work has not really been examined closely by English-speaking art critics, at least not yet.

On a personal level, for many years I was turned off by many of Zuloaga’s mature period portraits of rather vampy women, who to me often look like morphine fiends. Yet as I grow older I’ve come to appreciate some of his earlier paintings, such as that shown below, “Woman of Alcalá de Guadaíra” (1896), which is reminiscent of the best of the fin de siècle Catalan artists such as Ramon Casas (1866-1932) and Santiago Rusiñol (1861-1931). Having seen this very beautiful painting in person, I can tell you that both the robin’s egg blue jacket and the white muslin skirt of the model positively shimmer in the light.



Before we close, just an update on what might be called our “Home for a Hermit” project: thanks to those of you who have already donated, and who are keeping the effort in your prayers. Steady progress is being made toward our goal of finally raising enough to purchase a permanent home for the Little Portion Hermitage, so if you or someone you know might be able to help, please consider joining us. I thank you in advance for your kindness.

3 Comments on “Art News Roundup: Mamma Mia Edition

  1. Yay! Another vote for Anthony Visco, artist of artists!! If you have not seen his amazing work at his home parish of the National Shrine of St Rita of Cascia in South Philly, you MUST go! It is simply amazing!! Also, his work at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe is amazing, although I have not yet seen it in person. Oh, heck. Everything he does is amazing. 🙂 GREAT synopsis of the story, Billy!! I hope you feel better soon!! 🙂


  2. Pingback: Art News Roundup: Don’t Mess With The Nonnas Edition – William Newton

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