Tributes to the Painter Domenico Fiorentino, Sorrento, Italy

The tributes are pouring in to the City of Sorrento and to the family of Domenico Fiorentino, who died on April 4th.  Numerous eulogies have also been published in local and Neapolitan newspapers, as well as appearing in online sites. The Italian, realist painter was much-loved by the citizens of Sorrento, well-known throughout Italy, and was cherished by those of us who were fortunate to have met him while visiting the City.

In the last post I mentioned our students from the Maryland Institute, College of Art, who painted with Domenico in and about Sorrento.  One of these acolytes, Drew Bacigalupa, was not a young art student, but an alum who graduated from MICA in 1952!  He participated in our program in 1992 and was certainly one of the most productive and enthusiastic group members.  Drew became fast friends with Domenico, his son Antonino, and the Fiorentino family, returning to the City to visit several times.  He was instrumental in arranging for Sorrento to become a “Sister City” with Santa Fe, NM, where Drew lives and works in his studio on Canyon Drive.  He wrote an encomium of Domenico which he sent to the Honorable Mayor of Sorrento on the day Domenico died. He said:

Honorable Mayor Cuomo,

“As a dear friend of — and actually feeling like a member of their family — the Fiorentini of Sorrento, I wish to express my deep sympathy for the passing today of your city’s great painter Domenico Fiorentino. I’ve spent many days with him in the past, sharing painting outings in the towns of Penisola Sorrento as well as sailing crafts on your blue Mediterranean Sea. I add to my own salute to Domenico that of the City of Santa Fe, for many of our citizens in Sister City exchanges have visited, enjoyed and hold fond memories of your exceptionally charming and gracious, hospitable community. Domenico’s numerous paintings of that community are beautiful tributes to the city he loved.”
Andrea Bacigalupa
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The Italian Senator and long time friend of Domenico Fiorentino,  Senator, Prof. Raffaele Lauro, paid public tribute to the artist on the 5th of April:

“ Deeply saddened, I wish to express my public condolences to the friends
Rosario, Antonino and Michele for the painful death of their beloved father,
Domenico, unique figure as an artist and an authentic expression of the
spirit of Sorrento.
I cling to them and the whole family with a fraternal embrace. I have
always been a secret admirer of paintings by Domenico Fiorentino,
who could translate, on the canvas, the fascinating charm of light, colors
and even the perfumes of our land. His painting, characterized by magic
realism, is a valuable cultural heritage that deserves to be kept by public
institutions and offered to the admiration of future generations.

The Senator’s printed, complete message, in both Italian and English can be read at:

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A press release was put out by the Office of the Mayor of Sorrento on the 4th. To view this message in English and in Italian see:  press_release_of_press_office_of_Sorrento_mayor_4th_aprile_2012
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A message from Sumiko Osugi , First Segretary and Cultural Attache and Head of Press and Cultural Office of the Embassy of Japan in Italy, Rome:

“On this sad occasion, expressing my high appreciation for the work of the artist FIORENTINO, I offer my deepest condolences to you and all your family.
Sumiko Osugi ”

Italian :

Le invio il seguente messaggio da parte dell’Addetto Culturale e Capo Ufficio Culturale e Stampa dell’Ambasciata del Giappone, Primo Segretario Sumiko Osugi:

“In questa triste circostanza, manifestando tutto il mio apprezzamento per l’attività del Maestro Fiorentino, porgo le più sentite condoglianze a Lei e a tutta la Sua famiglia.
Sumiko Osugi”

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From Prof. Erik Edvardsen, on 4th April 2012, Director, Ibsen Museum, OSLO, Norway

“What a sad message to receive. Your friendly, nice and talented father, a real gentleman and artist. I will pray for Domenico and think about him and you all, when the funeral takes place tomorrow on Thursday.

It is a great loss for us all.

Remember all the nice and  wonderfull things you that you have experienced together.
We are all happy to have met  him and known him.
Sincere  Erik Edvardsen ”

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The Ties That Bind: Domenico Fiorentino, Sorrentine Painter and Baltimore

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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