The Partisan at the Museum of Modern Art Ca’ Pesaro in Venice
When visiting the museum of modern art in Venice, in the palace that used to be the gorgeous mansion of the Pesaro family on the Grand Canal, in one of the last rooms you will meet her, the Veneto Partisan Woman.
The violent brilliant colours in the shining ceramic surface of this large statue won’t leave you indifferent. Screaming eyes, her open mouth gasping for air while she runs across the bushes, wearing heavy military boots, holding a rifle on her shoulder, ready to reach the battle and fight, and then her red scarf swinging in the wind. And yet as fragile as only ceramics can be.
This is how Leoncillo originally imagined his tribute to the women in the Veneto region that fought during the last years of WW2 against the Nazi and Fascist dictatorship.
An irregular army fighting on the side of the line where the enemy had the full control of the area, arranging guerrilla attacks, hiding from the authority, supported by the locals as well as betrayed by the ones who stood for fascism: partisans powerfully contributed to the liberation and to the end of the conflict. The decision to remember the role of women in the movement in Venice however was not taken before 1957. And that’s when the sculptor Leoncillo was commissioned the work we can see in the Ca’ Pesaro Museum of modern art. It was meant to be placed in the public gardens in Venice, where today the Biennale art exhibition space opens its gates.
But why is the statue in the museum?
I reached the Giardini on a sunny day. Children played around and the park was quite a refreshing touch in this city of hidden gardens. There I found it, the pedestal meant for Leoncillo’s statue. Designed by Carlo Scarpa. Showing the damage of the bomb put by terrorists in 1961 that destroyed the statue. Wait… A bomb? Well, yes. The committee had disliked the red scarf the partisan was wearing as it emphasized the communist and socialist political ideas of some partisans, but did not represent all of them. So a second statue was commissioned to Leoncillo, without that political detail. That’s the one that got destroyed by the bomb, while the original Partisan by Leoncillo ended up in the Ca’ Pesaro museum.
Fascist terrorists put the bomb under this ceramics statue of a woman fighting for the liberation of her country the night on the 27th of July in 1961. The event moved the population and afterwards a major demonstration in Venice took place.
A different new statue was ordered to Augusto Murer and was ready in 1969. She lies along the sidewalk, not too far from the gardens, where the other statue was. Along that sidewalk on August the 3rd in 1944 seven political prisoners (three of them were partisans, a fourth maybe, too) were shot by Nazis to revenge the death of one German soldier drowned the night before –later on, it was found out nobody had killed him. A very emotional space, with a powerful view over st Mark’s square, the island of San Giorgio, the lagoon and the boats passing by, this is the actual setting.
Murer imagined his partisan woman in a very different way from Leoncillo’s. Bronze, as a weapon, as a warrior. But her wrists tied, her long hair covering the face while the waves wash her dying body gently. Her legs slightly apart as if she were portrayed when falling on the ground.
The memory is controversial and cannot be otherwise. How can we make sure we don’t forget? And what do we want to remember? This is a story where it seems to me art managed to tell the different viewpoints, intellectually and emotionally. And in the end in their multiplicity both works remind us how fragility and courage ran intertwined in the veins of these women to whom we owe our democracy today.
If you are interested in a tour of the Museum of Modern Art in Ca’ Pesaro or a tour of Venice during WW2, please contact me.