Antonio Mancini: portraits of harworking children

Antonio Mancini,

"The Altar Boy", 1870, oil on canvas, Museo nazionale di San Martino, Naples

Painter Antonio Mancini (Rome, 1852-1930) was charmed by folk life and by the show that reality performed in front of his curious eyes day after day.

After studying in Naples, he was inspired by the great tradition of 17th-century Partenopean naturalism. The streets offered him copious material, with all the faces and bodies of a people who – as coeval writer Matilde Serao (1856-1927) noted – “loves bright colors, decorates horse carts with tassels big and small, dresses up with multicolor hackles on holidays, wears scarlet handkerchiefs around the neck, and places tomatoes on top of bags of flour, just to achieve a certain visual effect…”

A people “who loves music and plays it, singing with love and malincolia songs that melt the heart and evoke an invincible nostalgia in those who are far away; a people with an outgoing sentimentality that imbues musical harmony.”

A people that includes “hundreds of boys and girls who crowd, roll and tangle in every street, from the most aristocratic to the most common.”

Serao invites us to “try to listen when a Neapolitan worker talks about her children. She calls them ‘creature’ with such malincholic sweetness, such motherly care, such painful love, that you can acutely feel all the intensity of her misery” (translated from M. Serao, “Il ventre di Napoli”, Rizzoli, Milan 2011).

Here are some of Mancini’s portraits of Neapolitan “creature”. They are hardworking children – students, seminarists, jugglers, acrobats, musicians – caught in the simplicity of their daily activities.

February 16, 2016