Sunday, July 26, 2015

Mysterious Museum Graffiti

Museum courtyard. the  graffiti are located on the upper loggia 
During a recent visit to the newly reopened  Civic Museum in Viterbo a series of  graffiti  caught my attention:  they include  designs and phrases scratched into the plaster  by a prisoner, one Nicolo, son of Francesco Bartoli, from the  town of Barchi, near  Fano in  the Marche.   
Etruscan heads welcome visitors to the Museo Civico 

 When the outside wall enclosing the  cloister’s upper level  was removed and the roof level raised sometime in the past  200 years, these graffiti were re-discovered but the area was closed off to the public until the most recent update a few months ago. 

See the photos of my recent presentation at the Museum. 

Etruscan sarcophaghi and bucchero ware 
The convent and adjoining church S. Maria della Verità have undergone many changes over the centuries: they were damaged  during the bombings of  World War II, and only a  short time ago, the Museum was closed down for  several years when a section of the ancient walls collapsed on to the street. 

Finding  graffiti in old Italian prisons is common,  for  the incarcerated had nothing  to do to  pass the  time and used the walls of their cells as a  canvas or diary.  Visitors to  the Doge’s Palace in Venice and  Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome can visit  graffiti filled cells and even my small city of  Vetralla counts  scores of graffiti  in abandoned churches, historic sites and the building used as a prison, many of which have been  studied by local paleographer, Carlo Tedeschi.

Viterbo’s  Museo Civico  graffiti are particularly interesting for the astronomical scenes depicting the  planets:  the moon is in the center and  Mars, Mercury and Saturn in outer circles. There are  Biblical scenes of  David with  his sling,  sheep and holding Goliath’s head in a bag. There are other probable  religious scenes  too:  an Annunciation with  a bird (Holy Spirit)  hovering over the  Madonna.  

the Museum's explanation of the graffiti 

Davidd (sic)  holding head of Goliath ? 
While awaiting further research on the graffiti, we can only wonder what crime the  young  Nicolo committed to  be imprisoned in Viterbo and why he created this fanciful  world  full of strange characters  such as the  enthroned  figure in baggy bloomers  (King/Pope?) flanked by angels.

Your clues, transcriptions and suggestions are welcome. Please share with friends who  work in this sector. 
a smaller piece of plaster  contains further designs and text

part of text
Visit  the Museum's website  here.

More stories and  information about
  central Italy on  my website  
For books about the  area and its history.


1 comment:

  1. Pierluigi Congedo wrote:
    I think the prisoner could be an independent and quite educated spirit - it was the time of Casanova in Venice and Cagliostro nearby San Marino, both accused of acting against the church


    Mary Jane Cryan I can see a novel coming.....


    Pierluigi Congedo smile emoticon


    Pierluigi Congedowrote: I do not joke, the references to various powers (saints and popes, kings, David v Golia, and the stars or zodiac signs) all play in favor of the idea that he might have been educated, in a place (Viterbo) where 99 per cent of the population were peasants attached to lands belonging to either cardinals / ecclesiastic properties or Roman princes) , the other 1% being priests or aristocrats - the Marche, as well Umbria, were much more open minded, influenced by the ideas that from France and UK spread through the pianura padana (Turin, under the Savoia, Milan, under the Habsburg, Tuscany, under the Habsburg-Lorena), ideas that were unable to reach Rome. Also Naples had a lot of rebel intellectuals, such as Giambattista Vico and, one hundred hear before, Giordano Bruno, burned at stake in Rome for heresy. Cagliostro, who was born in 1734,would have been arrested in Sanleo fortress, not far from Fano. Also, Urbino, not far from Fano, was a highly educated area. In XVI a jurist, Alberico Gentili da Fabriano, left for Germany and Oxford, accused of heresy, and became one of the first great professor of international law of the time.

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