AG INTERVIEWS: SIMONA DE CRESCENZO

Ilaria Sferrazza and and Sabrina Pasquale from our Rome satellite team interviewed Simona De Crescenzo about a recent project that saw the collaboration between the Vatican Library and the artist Francesco Parisi

How did the idea of the book BIBLIOTHECA SIXTINA LITTERARVM CVLTORIBVS RESTITVTA, with the woodcuts by Francesco Parisi,on the occasion of the first anniversary of the re-opening of the Salone Sistino to scholars, come about?

The idea of making this book arises from a fortuitous or, I would say better, lucky encounter with Francesco Parisi during the collective exhibition Perentoria figura organized in April 2017 at the Istituto Centrale per la Grafica in Rome. Impossible not to be captured by the beauty of his works, by the elegance of his figures, by the passion he communicates through every single sign and by his very high technical skills!

I was especially interested in his book Fuoco nero su fuoco bianco, the illustrated edition of the Hebrew alphabet with original woodcuts, finely printed in 2016 in the printhouse linked to TIPOTECA ITALIANA FONDAZIONE.

In this artistic work, which has the form of a book, I was struck by Parisi's ability to make the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet come "alive" through the representation of their original symbolism.

A few months after the reopening of the Salone Sistino, we thought about proposing this type of interpretation also for the different alphabets and their 'Litterarum Inventores' represented in the pillars that divide the room in two naves. Thanks to Parisi’s graphic narrative, these twenty-six characters "came back to life" after a period of forced immobility, a period in which they were no longer ‘guardians’ of the letters contained in the books, but instead they were housed in wardrobes or open on desks, mere object of admiration from curious visitors who crossed the endless corridors of the Vatican Museums. The artist turned the characters into "talking" figures, in a renewed dialogue with the scholars of the Library.

How did Parisi confront a place like the Salone Sistino?

Parisi is an artist with a consolidated and tasteful imagination, while the Sistine frescoes are based on canonical compositional schemes. He did not compare himself to the frescoes: he did not try to imitate them, but instead, by elaborating a completely original language, he reinterpreted each figure in a more dynamic and modern way, while maintaining the main attributes that helped to identify the frescoes.

"the Library is an institution that promotes contemporary art" (Simona De Crescenzo)

Which was the reason behind the choice to organise an exhibition with the materials of the book? What message did you want to share with the public?

The exhibition was organized because we thought it was important to make the compositional process of the work visible, especially to allow the public to better appreciate the work of the artist which was not limited to the simple act, so to speak, of carving wood. The study of the figures was long and laborious, subject to second thoughts and reconsiderations shared with the customer. And this is quite evident if one observes the preparatory drawings displayed next to the final prints. Furthermore, to show the very small molds gives the measure of the challenge that Parisi had to face, because he had to “translate” in a very reduced format figures that in the frescoes are actually quite imposing. And visitors can make this comparison with their own eyes, because the exhibition took place right in the Salone Sistino.

By opening this magnificent space to visitors (and not only to scholars) during the exhibition, we first wanted to share with them our satisfaction in returning this place to its original destination: Pope Sixtus V (1585-1590) wanted this to be a library, and had it built by the architect Domenico Fontana between 1587 and 1589. And the library remained such until the end of the Nineteenth century.

We also wanted to promote an aspect of the Vatican Library, which perhaps people are not very aware of: the Library is an institution that promotes contemporary art, by commissioning graphic works of art on the occasion of events of particular importance at the Vatican. This was for example the case of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, when the Library commissioned the Forma Urbis Romae, a monumental plant entrusted to the invention of Riccardo Tommasi Ferroni and to the engraving ability of Patrizio Di Sciullo and Giuseppe Greco.

In 2007 the same artists, together with Pierluigi Isola were ask to create the Civitas Vaticana to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Pius XI (31 May 1857), as well as the imminent recurrence of the eighty years of the foundation of the Vatican State (1929-2009); two years ago, in 2016, Isola and Di Sciullo were asked to use the print Misericordia Vultus to create an symbolic image for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy announced by Pope Francis at the end of the previous year.

Are there any other projects of this kind for the future?

We do not have anything planned yet, but next Jubilee in 2025 could be an occasion to draw inspiration from. In the meantime, however, I am pleased to mention what is being prepared right now: a series of drawings for the frontispieces and the portraits of the ‘Prefetti’ who served as head of the Vatican Library from the 15th century to the present. These images will to illustrate the volumes of the history of the Vatican Library. The project was launched in 2009 and offered to Filippo Sassoli, an active figure in the Roman art scene, already celebrated for his images of different personalities belonging to the world of culture and journalism.

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