The rites of modernity
Rome, Caetani Lovatelli Palace
The painting of Titina Maselli over the course of a lifetime: from little girl exercises to death. This is the promise of the anthological exhibition that Bertolami Fine Art, in cooperation with the newborn Maselli Titina Archivededicated to one of the greatest Italian artists of the second post-war period.
Titina Maselli in the memory of her brother Citto
As often happens to younger brothers, when I was a child I adored Titina, who was almost a god to me. Suffice it to say that for having once said that she didn't like garlic and onion I have come to somatize that aversion for which even today that I am in my 90's I can't eat anything that is seasoned with those two vegetables. (Except to find out later, when I grew up, that she used to eat food with garlic or onion without problems).
When Titina began to paint, I stood in a corner looking at her, happy if she asked me to stand still for hours because she was doing a portrait of me. And happy when some of the important men and women who frequented our house paid her a compliment. In those days my father wrote about art and literature in "Il Messaggero" which, directed then by Mario Missiroli, was a bit like "the Republic" of today.
I was five years old and I remember precisely when he painted his first painting of a white porcelain candlestick with a candle stuck on a light background.
I remember that after some exercises that were still lifes with household objects, Titina started painting outside. In the streets. At night she was fascinated by the remnants of the day that occupied the sidewalks: shredded pieces of newspaper, folded Luky Strike packages, apple or banana peels. I remember that I often accompanied her, along with Aggeo Savioli and Luigi Pintor (Pintor then participated in the Resistance as GAP, while Aggeo was responsible for working with the average students in the underground Communist Party and my "leader" in the Roman Resistance). Sometimes also with Carlo Bertelli, Giorgio Bassani, Franca Angelini. Sometimes there were also my cousin Giorgio Pirandello and Tommaso Chiaretti, but I remember that when none of us could, Titina would go out alone loading herself with tape and canvas and quietly submitting to the jokes of the astonished and ironic young men who surrounded her.
There were a lot of people in love with her. In fact, in my memory as an enchanted and adoring younger brother, they all were. Even the "grown-ups" and academics of Italy such as Massimo Bontempelli who caught me wanting her in the kitchen of our house, while in the living room there were all the other unsuspecting guests in conversation. Yes, there were many in those years: from Paola Masino to Savinio, from Silvio D'amico to Alfredo Casella to Corrado Alvaro. But then there were the Gorresio and Pannunzio, Palma Bucarelli, Bellonci, Cagli, Alba De Cespedes and Guttuso, sometimes Casorati and Brancati.
Titina was passionate about theatre and took me to all the "premieres" of that particular revival that Gerardo Guerrieri, Ruggero Jacobbi and Enrico Fulchignoni impressed on Italian theatre between '39 and '42. There was always also our cousin Ninì, favourite of our grandfather Luigi and I think it was there that they met Toti Scialoja together with Vito Pandolfi in a very ensorian set design of John Gay's "Opera dei mendicanti". There was some trouble with the police before it went on stage because among the crowds painted along the lines of "Christ's entrance to Brussels" Toti had put up signs with provocative inscriptions such as "things have now taken a bad turn" which coincided with the days of the great turning point in Stalingrad.
In July 1943 there was the bombing of San Lorenzo and then the arrest of my father. In the period of the German occupation our house was at the disposal of the many militants who had to change house every night according to the rules of clandestinity, while some nights we received the screams of the comrades tortured by the Kokh gang in the then Jaccarino guesthouse that overlooked our backyard. I organized the average students while Titina typed flyers and - sometimes - articles for the underground unit. Then my "boss" Aggeo Savioli was arrested and I had to go and sleep outside, with Alberto Savinio's sister-in-law who was Jone Morino, a well-known actress in those days. In that last period of occupation, Titina was mainly involved in the "logistics" of the clandestine militants: the many night shelters to find and alternate, the boiled eggs to provide to the companions in certain packages to put in their pockets, to make them weigh as little as possible on the scarce resources of the families they went to. Together with the clandestine politicians, Titina and mamma also took care of the Jews who had escaped the raids of the Germans and the Fascists: this is how we met the painter Claudio Astrologo, in that glimpse of the warm and unforgettable Roman spring.
In May 1945 Titina married Toti Scialoja. And on the wedding day she "posed" for me. I was filming with a small 8mm camera my first short film about a man who walks the city streets in the evening looking at them in "subjective" and making several meetings. I asked Titina to play a prostitute: very well made up and sketchily dressed. But in order to have an evening light without the traffic and the coming and going of the people, I had to shoot at dawn and so in order not to wake up very early twice we decided to shoot that scene the same morning of the wedding. What happened, however, was that she didn't get changed in time and showed up at the church in that "prostitute's" outfit, as Toti said smiling: but unforgettable for me is the absolutely astonished look with which the poor priest who was going to marry her looked at her. Unfortunately, that little film that represented my debut in film directing has been lost. But it was then used to demonstrate my skills to the very young Antonioni who examined me for admission to the Experimental Centre for Cinematography.
The trucks came later, at Ponte Milvio. And in between there was New York with the two great exhibitions of '53 and '55 at the Durlacher Gallery, which had already exhibited Bacon. Even there he went out at night with his easel on his shoulder and in an environment ten times more alarming and dangerous than that of the Roman boys. I remember that I trembled when I received his letters with New York stories and I instinctively regretted the beautiful house with a view of the Trinità dei Monti that he had in Via Pinciana when he was still with Toti.
I had gone to settle in what had been his studio in our family home. I remember how she kept the smell of turpentine and turpentine sedimented, but also the ineffable smell of "vintage powders" that she had managed to find in certain extraordinary perfumeries when she had started to put on makeup and dress, or rather to disguise herself. It began when she had just turned seventeen and we were all soaked in the great French cinema of that period together with two previous presences: Dupont's "The cliff fortune" and all the Garbo of the early thirties: her silence, her cleavage, her divine forehead.
I always admired Titina for the courage with which she faced everything alone. Only because of the not easy relationships with theatre directors she asked me for advice (and I gave it to her trying to make her understand that a director is a bit the overall author of the shows she puts on and so she had to accept the directions and wishes). On these things I remember that she was perplexed, also because in reality she married all the creative work that a theatrical performance required.
She had worked until half past five in the afternoon to finish the last of her boxers she had focused on in the last few weeks. I had been called to consult days before on a viola that didn't convince her, but these calls were often a pretext for both of us to stay and chat in such a distracted and detailed way that was typical of her. She was in a serene moment of her life even though concerns about a pacemaker that had been badly and irresponsibly applied to her had led her to reflect on the possibility of a near death. She looked at her without problems because she considered with greater irritation and melancholy a physical decay that would increasingly reduce her doing and undoing, leaving and arriving, destroying and redoing, reaching a friend in New-York or leaving at night to catch a freighter that would take her with friends to Istanbul in time. Not to mention the continuous and methodical construction of her houses: from the one in ... to the last and beloved one in Trastevere, with the window on Santa Maria. We were having dinner at Lucio Manisco's when we got a call from a girl who worked with her. We found her lying on the bed, after finishing the last painting for her exhibition at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni. Alone that February afternoon...