Updated: Oct 11
A portrait of Giuseppe and Barbara Piccirilli
The story of the Piccirilli Brothers in New York is rooted in a remarkable origin and an enduring myth regarding the relationship between their father, Giuseppe, and their mother, Barbara Giorgi. This tale has been consistently enriched over time, especially through several interviews with Attilio Piccirilli. After Giuseppe's passing in 1910, Attilio assumed the fatherly role, ensuring the family's lasting legacy.
Every published article about the subject highlights the family's roots in Massa, often emphasizing the romantic nature of Giuseppe's first encounter with Barbara. This encounter is thought to have taken place in a bucolic field, a stark contrast to the bustling environment of the canteen owned by Barbara’s father. Giuseppe had stayed at this canteen for a few nights before joining Garibaldi’s army. The romantic lore suggests that Giuseppe, using mud, crafted a charming figurine to captivate the young Barbara. After all, Giuseppe was a sculptor, a graduate from the Academia di San Luca in Rome.
Giuseppe was the founder of The Piccirilli Carving Studio in the Bronx, and we recently learned of his contribution to The Four Continents at the US Custom House in New York.
I really like that story. It makes me think of the Italian painting I have in my bedroom from the time when Giuseppe and Barbara might have met. I used to think the people in the painting were them, the parents of the Piccirilli brothers who became famous in New York long ago. Yet, they were not. For months, I sought to uncover their true visages, longing to know their actual appearance.
During a recent visit, Joel Rosenkranz, a distinguished art dealer and connoisseur, shared with me several photographs found in The Piccirilli Studio in the Bronx after Attilio died. One image particularly intrigued me. Using previous references, particularly a photo of a seemingly younger Giuseppe and another of him much older, I was able to restore the image and identify the subjects as the parents of the Piccirilli Brothers, before embarking for New York.
Evidence of a Myth
With this photo, the old story feels real. This picture has given me some peace of mind after so long. The Italian Factor, a film about the Piccirilli brothers, will greatly benefit for about seven seconds on the screen, with this extraordinary finding, one that has brought much-needed closure, soothing many restless nights.
Last minute information concerning the photographer: The portrait was taken around 1880 by G. Caldi, a prolific and well known photographer from Piacenza. Several of the photos than make up the bulk of the collection own by Joel Rosenkranz were also taken by Caldi, or by one of Caldi’s assistants who, as they often did, traveled through the region offering their photo services. Aldi’s studio was located in Corso Vittorio Emanuele alongside several other studios which competed with one another. These were considered highly qualified studio artists as opposed to the so called 'peddlers' who flooded the town squares during festivals and 'side-show' performances. Other studio photographers who competed with Caldi in the vicinity of Piacenza were Sidoli, Antonio Morelli, the Gregori brothers, Gradassi, Lavezzi, Carlotti, Magnani, Jacona, Pomarelli and Fagnola .