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The well-known Italian realist painter, Domenico Fiorentino, of Sorrento, Italy died a few days ago on the 4th of April. What a tremendous loss for the art world–both here and in Italy.  The Baltimore artist Jim Hennessey and I have known Domenico since 1992, when we met while directing a summer program in Sorrento for the Maryland Institute, College of Art.  We led a small group of American students to Italy in order to paint the lush landscape of the South.  I was the program art historian, and my husband Jim was the painter.

Domenico Fiorentino was introduced to us by his son, Antonino, an energetic and enthusiastic connoisseur of the arts, who orchestrated our encounters with this amazing artist.

Our students met with Domenico in the streets of Sorrento where they set up their French easels to paint the buildings and busy market stalls.  On several occasions he joined us on the beach and docks of Massa Lubrense, a small picturesque fishing village where they painted the boats and the rocky landscape.  

Domenico didn’t speak English and the students’ Italian was rudimentary at best and so during these forays Jim acted as translator.

When Antonino–who works as a functionary for the City of Sorrento–had time to join us he spoke with his father about the students’ experiences.  After the long days in the sun we all shared drinks at a nearby bar to cool off before our return by local bus to our hotel and studio.

It was during these encounters that first summer that a link between Baltimore and Sorrento was forged.  It continued and strengthened for several summers, with contact between our young students and the accomplished, Italian master.  When we left the MICA program after 5 years, our saddest moment came when we realized that we wouldn’t be able to interact with Domenico the next year, something we had come to expect and treasure at the same time.

One of the most amusing experiences with Domenico Fiorentino was the day that he and Jim Hennessey proposed a portrait challenge.  They faced off in an upstairs room in Pollio’s ice cream parlor, in the center of town, where the walls were hung with many of Domenico’s paintings. The two artists stared at one another with drawing boards propped on the table and pencils at the ready.  While Antonino and some of the students and I paced the floor, watching the progress, Drew Bacigalupa filmed the encounter.  You can see a few minutes of the challenge on Drew’s youtube video:

Domenico Fiorentino was born in 1923, and he spent his life painting his beloved town of Sorrento and the surrounding landscape. He studied early on at the Sorrento College of Art and then in Naples at the Accademia di Belle Arti.  He came to the attention of the Neapolitan painter Luigi Crisconio early in his life. Domenico’s family owned the pensione “Rosa Magra,” which attracted artists from around the world.  When Crisconio stayed in Sorrento at ” ZI TERESA,” a restaurant and pension in front of the house where Domenico lived, the little boy followed the artist about when he ventured out to paint.  Crisconio befriended the boy and later when he was Domenico’s teacher at the Accademia he encouraged this prolific, committed artist. Fiorentino continued to produce his realistic works that included insightful portraits, as well as the documentary landscapes.

By the time we met Domenico in the early 1990s, he had become an established member of the Sorrentine Plein Air School of Painting and was best known for his landscapes of the region. We were lucky enough to see many of his early portraits when we were shown a large group of his paintings by a local collector.

Domenico generously gave us one of his paintings of the town center. When the artist presented us with his gift we promised that we would frame the painting immediately upon our return to Baltimore.  It hangs today in our living room with other precious works done by artist friends.

The impact that Domenico Fiorentino had on Baltimore and Baltimore artists would be difficult to trace, but I know it was significant.  This kind and gentle man, a devoted painter who took out precious time to interact with our young students, met with more than 40 of them through the years.  He passed on his knowledge and love of painting and also demonstrated to them his devotion to the arts and his life-long work ethic. He will be sorely missed by many of us.

A biography of the artist can be found at this website:  http://reocities.com/Athens/parthenon/8708/prodf.htm

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