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LOCRI EPIZEPHYRII



Salvatore La Rosa
WWW.LOCRIANTICA.IT Welcome to Magna Graecia ARCHAEOLOGICAL FINDS

 
THE STATUE OF PERSEPHONE

 

Introducing this section dedicated to the statue of Persephone I wish to thank Prof. Gaudio Incorpora, fond expert of the historical and archaeological heritage of our region, who since more than fifty years still carries on his struggle of showing the true origin of the statue of Persephone and avoiding that it's real story may be forgotten.

I wish to thank him for the chance he gave me of consulting his rich private archive, build patiently during many years of researches, and for his willingness to give me every explanation I needed regarding the key points of this vicissitude, allowing me to create this section and to learn facts I was totally ignoring.

The Statue Of Persephone
THE STATUE OF PERSEPHONE
(Image source: Prof. G. Incorpora's private archive)

With the publishing on the internet of this which, I'd like to point out is just a little part, a summary, of the vicissitudes of statue of Persephone, I simply hope to let more people know the forgotten (or, as you will better understand reading this article, the ignored) story of one of the most beautiful archaeological finds which Magna Graecia handed down to us.

 
INTRODUCTION
 

If you have recently visited the Alt Museum of Berlin (Staatliche Museen section of the German capital city dedicated to the Greek-Roman finds) don't be too surprised to read here that this magnificent statue of an enthroned goddess, the Persephone (as it will be called from now on) has Locrian origins, as was already theorized in 1917 by various German scholars (such as the archaeologist and numismatist Behrendt Pick, one of Theodor Mommsen's favourite pupils), which found in the statue a typical model of the Locrian colony.

The story of the Persephone is probably one of the many vicissitudes which involved, between the end of the XIX century a.D. and the beginning of the XX century a.D. a large part of the Italian historic and artistic heritage, harmed by too many stealing and looting. But in this story, the theft of the Persephone, can be found another element, maybe much more sad than the stealing itself for who has the destiny of the ancient Locri at heart, and that element is the attribution of other origins to this wonderful statue; as a matter of fact every text of archaeology or art-history which you could read and in which the Persephone is represented you will surely see the name of Taranto as her place of origin.

But, why Taranto? The story is long and complex and it's even difficult to find a starting point to begin its narration. It's better then to establish a certain fact: the attribution of the statue to Taranto was made by archaeologist Paola Zancani Montuoro in the beginning of the 1930's and from then on, regardless many facts and researches which seem to contradict this attribution, the statue was indicated as coming from Taranto.

 
THE PLACES IN WHICH THE STORY DEVELOPED
 

Between the end of the XIX century a.D. and the beginning of the XX century a.D. the archaeological heritage of the ancient Locri Epizephyrii was constantly harmed in part by the ignorance of common people that found in the remains of the ancient city some easily collectable material to reuse in the building of poor houses, and in part (the bigger) by the smuggling of artistic heritage done by the local squires which saw in it a fast and easy way to profiteer, since buyers (private or institutional) mostly foreigner abounded and the offer was really wide: from statues to even entire columns.

Even the famous archaeologist Paolo Orsi (to whom Locri will always be thankful for having discovered and preserved as much as he could its great historic and archaeological heritage) was informed of those circumstances and in one of his letters he brought precise charges particularly against the Scannapieco brothers which he called "traders of foodstuffs and fancy goods and, at the right time, even of antiquities" and remembered the magnificent treasure formed by lances, rings, coins, shields, amphorae and many other finds which they held in their property "partly in the countryside and partly in Gerace", hoping for a rapid institution of laws "provident and strict for the tutelage of the monuments and against abusive excavations".

But such laws still weren't available; it's just the beginning of the XX century a.D. and even the city of Locri (which, in those years, was called Gerace Marina) was formed not long before and the control of the territory by the authorities was little to none.

After this dutiful introduction to make you understand better the places in which the story developed we'll now follow in detail the evolution of the vicissitude which involved the Persephone.

 
THE STORY OF THE THEFT
 

The 16th December 1915 the statue was exposed at the Royal Museum of Berlin; the German experts, with the already cited Pick, immediately theorized a Locrian origin. But how did it get to Germany?

Until the 1921 all the story was enveloped in mystery and silence; but in that year prof. V. Casagrandi published a book in which he reported in detail the theft of the statue and invited the cultural forces of the place to claim back the sculpture. With the publishing of such book the story become much clear and outlined. It began at the beginning of 1905 (date discovered, thanks to an eye-witness, only in 1966 and so completely ignored by Casagrandi who thought that the statue was discovered in 1911 and immediately sold - This particular, of lesser interest at first sight, is instead of extremely high importance as we'll see later on, and probably it has been decisive for the troubled story of the Persephone).

In that year, during some works in a vineyard owned by the Scannapieco family, the statue was discovered. Vincenzo Scannapieco, the owner of the land, hid the sculpture in an oil mill waiting for the right time to sell it to the best buyer, and there the statue was left until 1911, year in which a German buyer sealed the deal.

The precious find was firstly carried to Gioiosa Marina where, thanks to a coast with deep waters, was embarked on a boat with Taranto as destination. There the statue was hid next to the arsenal waiting to be embarked for Germany. But events didn't go as it was planned since the sculpture was discovered by some diggers which didn't imagine to have by the hands a real treasure and sold it for a crust of bread to the Marquis F. De Maldč who moved it to Eboli where it was studied by the famous Palermitan antiquarian Virzě.

Some years later the statue went through the customs as a "baroque garden statue" and ended up in the hands of the Bavarian antiquarian Hirsh, who exposed it in Paris in 1914.

That was the year in which began the First World War; therefore the French authorities confiscated the statue since it was property of an individual of German nationality, and so an enemy.

After that the Hirsh, as a last desperate attempt to avoid losing the statue, tried to make his friend Virzě, the already cited Palermitan antiquarian, to intercede for him with the French authorities. Virzě, who was also an Italian Consul in a Southern American Republic, thanks to his office and to the fact that in a troubled age the French authorities wanted to have the best possible relationships with Italy, was able to retrieve the statue stating that he was the real owner.

But obviously the sculpture never went back to Italy; from France it was moved to Switzerland and there the Hirsh, who took again the ownership of the statue, offered it to the German authorities for one million marks (a really big amount of money, it's the 1915). Even if the Hirsh was asking a lot of money, the Germans immediately collected the requested amount and also the Emperor participated to the collect giving about an half million of marks for the sculpture.

Finally the story of the theft reaches an end; the statue (which, as it is pointed out in Prof. Casagrandi's book, was recorded as "Persephone in throne from Locri”") found its final place at the Royal Museum of Berlin and for Italy, for Magna Graecia there was nothing left if not only controversies.

 
THE CONTROVERSIES
 

And there were a lot of controversies, even violent ones; mostly due to the book of Prof. Casagrandi, who on one hand brought a decisive contribution to let the Italian cultural world know the story of the theft of a so precious treasure, and on the other hand insinuated absurd suspicions regarding the fact that at the time of the discovery and of the theft of the sculpture the director of the archaeological excavations in the area of Locri Epizephyrii was Paolo Orsi, who according to Casagrandi had to know of the statue and so (always according to Casagrandi) had to be in some way an accessory in the theft.

Obviously these suspicions were false and groundless and Orsi didn't deserve them for all the good he did for this region. Suspicions which probably were made (sadly as it has always been) out of envy and with the will to discredit the Orsi to remove him from his Office in favour of someone else.

The only effect of these charges was terribly harmful for the story of the Persephone and its aftermaths are still visible nowadays: the opening of a clash between the scholars which were for or against Orsi. This clash led to false and groundless assertions such as the one of Prof. Galli who, attempting to defend his friend Paolo Orsi, tried even to assert that the statue was a false. In the controversy took place also Prof. Paola Zancani Montuoro, at that time in charge of the Tarantin Archaeological Office, who after a long chain of polemical letters, also against the already cited prof. Galli, was able to make his theory prevails above all the others; theory which stated that the statue was from Taranto.

And that's why those controversies were terribly harmful; controversies which hadn't the need to exist if Casagrandi had known that the statue, as already has been said, was discovered in 1905 and not in 1911. In 1905, as a matter of fact, Orsi wasn't in charge of the Office for the area of Locri Epizephyrii, Office which he will occupy only from 1908; hence, if still there was the need, he couldn't have been the object of the charges moved against him regarding the theft of the sculpture.

Obviously, no one can say this for sure, but almost certainly if Casagrandi hadn't call into question Paolo Orsi starting a controversy between scholars, especially between those that were ready to lie (even asserting that the Persephone was a false) to protect the famous archaeologist from Rovereto, probably nowadays the Persephone would still be an exile, but everyone would look at her as to an exile daughter of Locri.

 
THE TESTIMONY BY GIOVANNI GIOVINAZZO
 

In 1966 a new element, absolutely extraordinary for its importance, enriched the story with a new chapter.

Thanks to the patient research work made by Prof. Gaudio Incorpora, fond expert of the historical and archaeological heritage of our region, about the troubled vicissitude of the Persephone, was found an eye-witness of the facts happened sixty years before.

He was an old farm-worker who worked for Vincenzo Scannapieco and witnessed the discovery and the theft of the statue. He decided to speak of what he knew only after his nephew, a priest, freed him from a silence oath that he made sixty years before to his old master.

The name of the old farm-worker was Giovanni Giovinazzo and in 1966 he was almost in his eighties, but his memories were so clear that it seemed that he had lived them just few days before, and he was also able to point with precision the places where, at the beginning of the century, the facts happened.

Giovanni Giovinazzo
GIOVANNI GIOVINAZZO
(Image source: Prof. G. Incorpora's private archive)

The sensation which was caused by the narration of the facts was so great that other than the national press even the television with its national news was interested about the story. Here is a small summary of the words that the reporter, Mr. Paolo Cavallina, used in the commentary of his report on Giovanni Giovinazzo made for the news program of the 25th June 1966 on the Italian State Television (RAI):

"Giovanni Giovinazzo from Locri is a man of his word. Even too much. He swore to keep a secret and kept his oath for more than sixty-one years. If it wasn't for don Giuseppe, his nephew and parish priest of Moschetta which freed him from that oath, from his mouth the name of Persephone wouldn't have ever been pronounced with great harm for the archaeology". The report goes on with a summary of the story of the theft followed by some words of Giovinazzo himself while he guides the reporter and other journalists on the place where sixty years before was made the discovery: "Vincenzo Scannapieco (It's the Giovinazzo that is speaking) was a good man; when he died he left all his properties to the City, meaning that he was repentant for having sold Persephone. (And, let us add, many more archaeological finds, thinking again at the already cited words of Paolo Orsi's letters). Yes, Persephone was down here - where the old man beats with the stick - and this was the winch used to take it up and it took a lot of patience and a lot of fatigue! And these were the chains needed to put it on the wagon". Then the narration of the reporter starts again: "It's a convincing speech. Now the archaeologists could establish again the truth and give again to Persephone, Goddess of the good and of the evil, her true homeland which probably was Locri and not Taranto. The old man which kept the silence for sixty-one years asks: - What difference it makes?"

Briefly summarizing the testimony of the old farm-worker, which caused a lot of sensation on the press, on the radio and on the television, must be underlined the essential details: the clear indication of the year in which the Persephone was discovered, the 1905 (with the information regarding the way in which it has been brought to light and a couple of names of the farm-workers which were involved in the discovery); the hiding of the statue until the 1911 in an oil mill in Quote district and, finally, the transfer from its hiding-place, that same year, to be carried with a wagon to Gioiosa Marina where it would have been embarked on a boat for Taranto.

Then this is the testimony and its validity cannot be questioned by anyone since it was made official by a legal act, an inquiry (whose acts nowadays can be found at the archive of the Court of Locri) done in 1966 by the Republic Chief Attorney of the Court of Locri of that time, Mr. Domenico Palermo, who took the testimonies of all the people involved in that vicissitude.

During that time it was believed that an happy end of the story was close but, after the first time of euphoria, the vicissitude felt again in the silence and in the indifference of the people and, the worst of all things, of the academic world.

 
THE ATTEMPTS TO BRING THE STATUE BACK TO ITALY
 

Anyway, in 1966, thanks to a visit in Locri by the then President of the Italian Republic Mr. Giuseppe Saragat and to the recovered interest of the Locrian people for the history of their past and for the fate of the Persephone (caused by the extraordinary testimony by Giovanni Giovinazzo), the Locrian cultural world understood that it was the right time to awake from a too long time of inactivity and charged the City administrators with the request to involve the National Government in an attempt of obtaining by Germany the return of the statue, even asking a direct interest in the vicissitude by the Republic President.

The request was accepted and the Public Instruction Ministry (which, at that time, was the one deputed to the Cultural Heritage) started immediately an inquiry which led to a really fast answer sent to the Locrian administrators.

In that answer, dated 11th July 1966, the Ministry said that, analyzed the situation, the vicissitude of the Persephone had to be counted amongst "the much greater problem of the artistic heritage thefts happened during various ages and for various reasons between many countries". Obviously it was a bureaucratic answer which meant "we are sorry, we know the situation, but we can do nothing about that"; it all came to nothing then, but that answer was however important because it was referred, as the subject of the matter, to the "return of the Persephone, stolen in Locri"; for the first time, then, even the Ministry underlined the Locrian origin of the statue.

This fact must be added to another one; the Ministry inquiry went on and there was another request, dated 9th September 1966, this time made by the General Office for Antiquities of Rome to the Superintendence of Taranto to view the acts in their possession related to the Persephone. The 16th of September the Superintendence answered sending to Rome a detailed report in which it was said that many excavation tests had been made in the place "where the statue was found without, anyway, reaching any positive result". So, there were no archaeological evidences to prove that the site where the Persephone was found was also her original place; on the contrary it was strengthened the theory which wants Taranto just as a transit location but not the place of origin of the statue.

With this last request and the following answer between the General Office for the Antiquities of Rome and the Superintendence of Taranto, ends another chapter of this story, a chapter in which the Persephone was again at the centre of the attention and which started with the attempt to bring the statue back to Italy and that ended up with a clear and undeniable institutional position which saw Locri as the place of origin of the statue.

The silence felt again on the vicissitude even if a couple of other attempts were institutionally made to bring the Persephone back to Italy, but they had no luck.

In the following years some parliamentary initiatives have been made, even recently, trying to throw light on this vicissitude. As a matter of fact from 1984 to 2004 in the archives of the Chamber of Deputies can be found at least six questions in Parliament made by Calabrian Deputies and addressed to the person in charge of the Ministry deputed for the Cultural Heritage. Of all of them only one, dated back to 1997 (N. 4/07682 of the 19th February 1997, session n. 154 of the XIII Legislature) and made by Hon. Fortunato Aloi, received an answer and it was a very disappointing answer given by the then Minister for Cultural Heritage Hon. Walter Veltroni. In fact he, just to give an idea of the answer, was able to claim that "it's not possible to start an action to obtain the return of the statue" to avoid the compromising of "the already undergoing collaboration" with the German authorities "for the return to Italy of goods for which our requests have much better foundation"; we'd like to ask to the former Minister a question about which had to be those much better foundations since, doubtless, the sculpture comes from Magna Graecia and was stolen and smuggled (and so it wasn't legally sold) to Germany in the beginning of the XX century a.D.

Maybe the former Minister with his "much better foundation" answer wanted us to understand that the Persephone didn't have a lot of attention from the Italian academic world and that, then, no one would have cared too much if the statue would have remained in Berlin.

And, sadly, the Persephone "zu Lokroi" never had this kind of attention from the academic world. As a matter of fact bringing on the theory of the Locrian origin of the Persephone, backed by proofs, historical analysis, temples and cults, archaeological finds and more then convincing testimonies, would mean contradicting prof. Zancani Montuoro, one of the mythical figures of the Italian archaeology, risking this way to stain his own name in the academic world; than it's better to let it be without trying to venture in difficult and hard researches, neither for reaching an historical truth finally sure.

But this is of less to none interest for us; it's not the matter of this site to establish truths or lies, to give merits or faults. The objective of this section dedicated to the Persephone is to let the people know, as it was said in the beginning, the forgotten story (or, better, the ignored story) of the theft of the Persephone from the place were she laid for more than two thousand years to her landing place (by this time, we fear, final) to the Alt Museum in Berlin.

 
 


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