Antonio Mancini: portraits of harworking children

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.

Antonio Mancini, "Prevetariello in preghiera" - "Praying Altar Boy"

"Praying Altar Boy", 1872-73, oil on canvas, private collection

Antonio Mancini, "Il chierichetto" - "The Altar Boy"

"The Altar Boy", 1872, oil on canvas, De Mesdag Collectie, The Hague

Antonio Mancini, "Il giornalaio" - "The Newspaper Boy"

"The Newspaper Boy", 1872-75, oil on board, Museo nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci, Milan

Antonio Mancini, "Lo studio" - "The Study"

"The Study", ca. 1875, oil on canvas, Galleria nazionale d'Arte moderna, Rome

Antonio Mancini, "Il bambino con il salvadanaio" - "The Boy with the Bank"

"The Boy with the Bank", 1872-76, Collezione Juker, Milan

Antonio Mancini, "Bimbo che legge" - "Boy Reading"

"Boy Reading", ca. 1885, oil on canvas, private collection

Antonio Mancini, "Il ciociaretto portastendardo" - "The Banner Carrier from Ciociaria"

"The Banner Carrier from Ciociaria", ca. 1884, oil on canvas, Musée Isabel Gardner, Boston

"Boy with Guitar", 19th century, oil on canvas, private collection

Antonio Mancini, "Giovane violinista : Luigino Gianchetti" - "Young Violinist: Luigino Gianchetti"

"Young Violinist: Luigino Gianchetti", 1878, oil on canvas, private collection

Antonio Mancini, "Ragazzo con violino e tamburo" - "Boy with Violin and Drums"

"Boy with Violin and Drums", ca. 1900, oil on canvas, private collection

Antonio Mancini, "Riflessi", - "Reflexes"

"Reflexes", 1918-20, oil on canvas, Fondazione Cariplo, Milan

Antonio Mancini, "Scugnizzo con chitarra" - "Scugnizzo with Guitar"

"Scugnizzo with Guitar", 1877-78, oil on canvas, Galleria d'arte moderna Ricci Oddi, Piacenza

Antonio Mancini, "I piccoli saltimbanchi suonatori" - "Young Acrobats and Musicians"

"Young Acrobats and Musicians", 1877, oil con canvas, private collection

Antonio Mancini, "I due saltimbanchi suonatori seduti" - "Two Sitting Acrobats and Musicians"

"Two Sitting Acrobats and Musicians", 1877, oil con canvas, Collezione Rossello, Milan

Antonio Mancini, "Il saltimbanco" - "The Acrobat"

"The Acrobat", 1879, oil on canvas, Philadelphia Museum of Fine Art

Antonio Mancini, "Il piccolo giocoliere" - "The Young Juggler"

"The Young Juggler", 1872, oil con canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

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