Senigallia loses a piece of its history with the demolition of Mario Giacomelli's house

A piece of history and art going away: in December, the house of photographer Mario Giacomelli was torn down in Senigallia. An affair that has had only local resonance but deserves wider reflection.

Thedemolition of the house of the great photographer Mario Giacomelli ( Senigallia, 1925 - 2000) in Senigallia had only a local echo: and yet, for exactly one month Italy has no longer had the place where one of its most illustrious photographers of the last century developed his projects, a place he himself helped to create, and whose loss is all the more serious when one considers that shortly after Giacomelli’s death the historic printing house on Via Mastai that saw the birth of his works had already been dismantled. In the house on Via Verdi in Senigallia was the workshop where the artist developed his photos before entrusting them to the printer Lucchetti, and also in that house the artist continued to print the proofs.

Giacomelli’s villa, dating from the 1970s, had been purchased in the summer from a private individual. It had long been uninhabited, although there was talk in town of making it into a museum. A museum, however, that could never be born again. The villa was not protected, and being private property, nothing could be done to intervene, since the choice to demolish it was legitimate: as a result, now the city can only regret a piece of its history going away. The chorus of protest was unanimous, starting with the Senigallia FAI group: “In the city of photography,” they wrote in a note, “we learned with great dismay and pain that Mario Giacomelli’s house has been torn down. Reckless action, equal to the dismantling of his historic printing press immediately after his death. A regional law favoring the protection and opening to the public of the homes and studios of the preeminent personalities of our territory is urgently needed. This will make it possible to make known this heritage, where culture has the form of home and its illustrious inhabitants still speak to us through the rooms, works, personal and work effects preserved. The loss of this place of memory makes the Fai Group of Senigallia support with even more vigor the opening of a museum dedicated to Mario Giacomelli, worthy of housing his works and all those already preserved in the Musinf.”

The place of preservation of Mario Giacomelli’s memory in the city is precisely the Musinf-Museum of Modern Art, Information and Photography in Senigallia, which also has its own association of supporters, the Friends of the Musinf, who have in turn expressed “deep unanimous dismay at the news of the demolition of the private home of the master Mario Giacomelli and with it the places where his works were processed and printed.” The association, despite claiming to be “aware of the legitimate autonomy of management of private property,” nevertheless appealed to the city administration to work to “understand whether there are ways to preserve at least the materials related to the Maestro’s darkroom.”

According to art historian Anna Pia Giansanti, “With this dastardly episode the city of Senigallia has demonstrated, once again, that it has not been able to respect its historical memory and value Mario Giacomelli as it deserved. It has failed to safeguard an artistic and cultural heritage that not only has identity value for the people of Senigallia but would have had cultural tourism interest for those who are not Senigallians.”

Culture Councillor Riccardo Pizzi said that “Since it is a private building I cannot go into the merits of the choices made but one thing is certain: making memory is important. So welcome a law, as Fai suggests, to support symbolic places.” As for the possible museum dedicated to Giacomelli, Pizzi added that “Part of Palazzo del Duca already houses a permanent exhibition of Mario Giacomelli, where his photographs are displayed in rotation. We have also reactivated the Musinf, at the site of the former hostel, and it is our intention, thanks also to the Region’s support for Senigallia City of Photography, to give it more and more prominence.”

The most touching memory, however, is that of Simona Guerra, the artist’s granddaughter, who spoke on the subject from her Facebook profile: “Today, with a weight in my heart, I went to say goodbye to Mario Giacomelli’s house. A huge monster with the face of an evil dragon was gutting it, crumbling before my eyes in a deafening inhuman roar. Here’s a thump and the bulldozer opens a wall of the TV room like it was butter. I spent many afternoons in that room, together with my cousins Simone and Neris and also with my uncle. There were five armchairs and the cats would jump on my lap when I least expected it making me jerk. Again the bulldozer slams violently against a wall and I see the ceiling of the fireplace room crack. In the cabinet of that room Aunt Anna kept the sweets she used to offer me when I was little. It had two entrances and of one of the two doors I remember the velvet that I touched with my face and hands. In that room I remember my grandfather Henry reading the newspaper; I remember the uncomfortable but beautiful armchairs where he played as a child with my sister. I remember the liquor corner where I didn’t have to go and a large painting with a strange face, which scared me, stuck up at the top: when I grew up I found out it was a work by Enrico Baj. I have so many portraits Mario did of Mom in that room: beautiful and young. Here is another shot and now I can see part of her darkroom, in the big attic. The shot vibrated seems to me stronger than the others. The staircase to get to that floor, made of wrought iron, twists in on itself like the irons Mario photographed. In that attic I laughed, dreamed, chatted, discovered authors, photographs, talked whole hours with Mario. There I read hundreds of private letters, saw auditions, smelled paper. I even tried smoking a cigar one day; I was about to die of a cough, with Mario laughing and saying I was just a curious little girl who didn’t know her place. On one floor was a collection of old keys that I loved to break down as a child and then put back in order. That house had been designed by him. From absolute nothingness, working like a donkey for years, he had managed to finish it. I remember some letters to photographer friends in which he wrote how hard he was pulling at his belt to see it ready and give his family a safe roof. I remember everything. I remember the smells, more than the rest, and of course the images: close-ups, details; images sometimes sepia-toned, others rough, black and white or grainy, disjointed, blurred, overlapping. Endless. It does not seem possible to me that all this is being destroyed, that it is really becoming just a past memory, a photograph I take now with my hands numb to the cold; a failure to cherish, a decay, a lack. With my cousin Simone - we said to each other - we will not pass on that street for a long, long time to come.”

An affair, then, that ends with the loss of a piece of the city’s history and art, and that has had a narrow resonance, but perhaps deserves more extensive reflection to prevent similar episodes from happening again.

Images: Anna Pia Giansanti/Simona Guerra

Senigallia loses a piece of its history with the demolition of Mario Giacomelli's house
Senigallia loses a piece of its history with the demolition of Mario Giacomelli's house

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