In the former refectory of the Dominican convent in San Miniato, five fresco scenes made by the painter Dilvo Lotti (San Miniato, 1914 – 2009) in 1934 were brought to light.
The frescoes by Dilvo Lotti in the hall of Italian Youth of Littorio of San Miniato (1934) today the Museum of Memory
When Dilvo told me about this commission he had received in 1934, I was amazed. Having known him for a long time and knowing his work, I was surprised that he had never mentioned them in the exhibition catalogs and there was no mention of them in any of his biographical notes published from the 1930s to today. Dilvo Lotti had not forgotten or denied that experience, we can say that he had “archived” it.
To frame the period and the context in which these figures were requested, we can quickly say that at the beginning of the 1930s the totalitarian policy of fascism aimed to involve and use the Arts for its own propaganda purposes. The first to be involved was Architecture, seen as an emblem of the organization and efficiency of the State. Later other disciplines will also be involved such as sculpture, painting, mosaic and the so-called “minor arts”. In 1933 the text of the young painter Corrado Cagli (Ancona, 23 February 1910 – Rome, 28 March 1976) with the emblematic title “Walls of the artists” appears on the pages of the magazine “Quadrante”. This article will open a debate, actually already existing among the experts, which in a short time will become a real tug-of-war between the painters and architects of Rationalism. Rationalism, a new style that pursued an “architectural linearity”, wanted the buildings and interior spaces to be “clean”, “free” from excessive and unnecessary decorations. Environments where the protagonists had to be the rigor design and the used materials. So if architects had been recognized as having their own role, the painters were trying to achieve it by placing themselves as architects of the recovery of the great Renaissance tradition of the fresco technique. Just as the painters of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance were entrusted with the walls of in the Public Palaces, headquarters of local governments, so the painters of today claimed the walls of the new architectures of power.
It was therefore in the general climate of adherence to the new directives of the political party towards the arts that in 1934 in San Miniato some walls were entrusted to the artists to commission the frescoes for the Littorio Italian Youth Room which had its headquarters not in a modern rationalist architecture but in an ancient refectory of the Dominican friars. Perhaps it was precisely as a result of what was happening with regard to the involvement of the arts that in October 1933 the “First Exhibition of the Samminiatesi Painters” was organized in the Palazzo del Fasso in San Miniato, in via 4 Novembre. The exhibition was not only an encouragement to local arts, but also a first “census” on the spot on the forces available in the artistic sector. Among the names of a certain notoriety present in the exhibition were the Canon Francesco Maria Galli-Angelini and Ippolita Briccola, while among the young people who had undertaken regular artistic studies, the names of Giuseppe Fontanelli (Bissietta) and Dilvo Lotti stand out.
The young Dilvo Lotti was the choosen one: at the time he was just twenty years old and he was signed up to the last year at the Porta Romana Art Institute in Florence.
The various awards on his works at that time, probably influenced the choice on him, such as the second place obtained by Lotti in 1932 in a regional competition in Siena with the assignment of the Silver Medal of His Highness the Prince of Piedmont, and his paintings purchased from the Monte dei Paschi bank. Furthermore, in those years, Dilvo is increasingly distinguishing himself for his very personal way of painting.
Twenty-year-old Dilvo Lotti is asked by the Opera “Balilla” to create five scenes with the good fresh technique with the theme of boys who wear various uniforms according to their age: Sons of the wolf, Balilla, Young Italians, gymnastic essays, the Duce on horseback. Dilvo, for his testimony, painted the frescoes in the summer of 1934, during the summer holidays. The five figurations created and re-emerged today remain the only testimony in San Miniato of the period of “walls of the artists”.
“The generalized and prevalent NO – writes Dilvo in a letter – – came from the right-thinking: how could one accept compositions where the red of the Pompeians, the reminiscences of Andrea del Castagno or Pontormesche, boiled mixed in the cauldron of a grotesque, congenital to the character of author, served, realized in a whole that cannot be assembled to the apology of the party. (…)”
Dilvo did not collect the sum of 400 lire that had been agreed and no article in the newspaper came out: only one of the frescoes was chosen to make a postcard.
“(…) the following year, 1935, the magical year of the mural of Cigoli and the Interprovinciale Toscana in the parterre, I was taken under-shot and pushed to the fore by Mario Tinti, Aniceto del Massa and Ardengo Soffici (1940), decades that have followed one another up to us have done their part dear Luca, and I with them.”
What has re-emerged of the frescoes during the works for the Museum of Memory is very damaged by the interventions that over the decades were necessary to modernize the rooms from the point of view of the systems. The traces made for the electrical systems have crossed the compositions in several points causing them to lose the compositional whole. Only two frescoes can be consider intact. In one of these the face of one boy has disappeared, which seems to have been deliberately “scratched”. A complete restoration must be carried out as soon as possible.
Gymnastic exercises and a parade in uniform on an urban background
The fresco that we mark with no. 1 we also know it for the photograph of a postcard which helps us to better understand its composition. There are boys intent on performing gymnastic exercises while others, in the background, parade in uniform and musket on an urban background. The painting focuses on the figure of a young man in the act of performing an exercise with a pole. To the right of the young man there are two figures, while to his left there are young people in uniform and musket, in the background appears an urban landscape. The figure of the young man is set in a dynamic pose that divides the composition. With his left hand he seems to be holding a rod which is the line – frame of the fresco itself, while with his right hand he seems to be holding a stone. The figure behind seems caught in the act of picking up a stone from the ground.
The fresco no. 2 appears very damaged. . Lotti represents a man on horseback who overwhelms another man lying on the ground. The knight with cloak and sword is the Duce. The young Lotti does not follow the example of the great compositions with the same subject as Primo Conti’s painting “The First Wave” of 1929 and others. On the contrary, it does not exalt the head of fascism, creating in this case perhaps one of the most poetic representations of this subject. The painting appears very damaged.
Young fascists, little Italians, balilla, children of the she-wolf
Frescoes 3 and 4 are the only ones to have been fully preserved. In no. 3 and in no. 4 the figures are set on a Pompeian red background (as he wrote in the letter) on which the blacks of the uniforms stand out. In no. 3 depict children and young people with the uniforms of the “Sons of the she-wolf”, the “Balilla”, the “Young Italians”. Change the compositional system we now have a vertical box
Young people with gymnastic uniforms
In no. 4 young people wear gymnastic game uniforms. Three young athletes gesticulating in their gymnastic actions are the protagonists. The young man on the left is faceless, the features of the head seem to have been erased.
Avant-gardists and Young Fascists in the streets of the town
In the last fresco, also very damaged, the subjects are still young in uniform on the backdrop of an urban setting.
These frescoes, in addition to being the first public assignment in Dilvo Lotti’s rich artistic career, are in San Miniato the testimony of works created following the debate on the usefulness of returning to entrust the walls of public places to artists.