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Reviving the Forgotten Artistry of New York's Unsung Heroes: The Piccirilli Brothers

John Freeman Gill's recent New York Times article, "How Six Italian Brothers Shaped the Story of New York," brings to light the tale of the Piccirilli brothers, whose remarkable craftsmanship altered the streetscape of New York City. Their enduring legacy, spanning from the 1890s, is a testament to the profound impact immigrants can have on a city's cultural and architectural evolution.

Gill's article begins by highlighting the ubiquitous presence of the Piccirilli brothers' sculptures in New York. From the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House to the George Washington figures on the Washington Arch and the lions guarding The New York Public Library, the Piccirillis' artistry is woven into the very fabric of the city.

Eduardo Montes-Bradley
The New York Times. October 15, 2023

These six Italian immigrants, including Ferruccio, Attilio, Furio, Getulio, Masaniello, and Orazio, were more than just skilled artisans. They were also accomplished sculptors in their own right. Their studio in the Bronx served as a hub for creating original works and executing the visions of renowned sculptors like Daniel Chester French.

What's remarkable about the Piccirilli brothers is that they played a pivotal role in translating the visions of sculptors into stone, a skill vital for monumental projects like the Lincoln Memorial. The brothers' contributions extended beyond mere craftsmanship; they were integral to the art production ecosystem, transforming plaster models into magnificent stone sculptures.

Eduardo Montes-Bradley, a filmmaker, recognizes the Piccirilli' extraordinary talents and is working on a documentary titled "The Italian Factor." Montes-Bradley aims to shed light on the brothers' exceptional artistry and pivotal role in shaping the city's public art. Through this film, he seeks to portray the Piccirilli not as unskilled laborers but as gifted artisans who left an indelible mark on New York's cultural landscape.

The Italian Factor
Eduardo Montes-Bradley. By Brittainy Newman for The New York Times

The story of the Piccirilli brothers is not just a tale of craftsmanship; it's a testament to the enduring impact of immigrant talent on the city's identity. These artists, with their roots tracing back to the Italian Renaissance, were instrumental in establishing New York as a center for art production. They worked with sculptors like Daniel Chester French and left their mark on countless monuments and sculptures throughout the city.

While traditional sculptors of the time sent their plaster models to Italy for translation into marble, the Piccirillis revolutionized the process. They provided a local solution, allowing sculptors like Mr. French to see their visions come to life in New York. Their studio resembled the studios of the great Italian masters of the Renaissance, making New York an epicenter of artistic production.

Attilio Piccirilli, in particular, was a sculptor whose art evolved from the academic figurative style to a more modernist approach. His works, such as "The Joy of Life," showcased his willingness to experiment and move beyond the confines of American sculptural tradition.

Eduardo Montes-Bradley
The New York Times. October 15, 2023

In a poignant turn of events, Attilio's sculpture "The Outcast" reflects the brothers' experiences as Italian immigrants during widespread anti-Italian sentiment in the United States. The statue speaks of the artist's alienation despite his success and wealth, a feeling many immigrants can relate to.

Gill's article is a captivating tribute to the Piccirilli brothers, whose contributions to New York's art and culture deserve to be remembered. It's a reminder of the transformative power of immigrant talent and the enduring legacy of artists who left their mark on a city and a nation.

In the words of Attilio Piccirilli, "It is when you bury one you have loved in a country’s soil that you realize you belong to that soil forever." The Piccirilli brothers have become an indelible part of New York's rich cultural tapestry, and John Freeman Gill's article honors their legacy.

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