Back in 2005 I started work on a series of paintings based around a small group of people who have been living and working in Barga for generations, but now as a group are close to extinction – the nuns of Barga. I wrote an article then which included the following text:
Their numbers can be counted on one hand, and they always seemed to move around in a group.
Just what is the collective noun for a group of nuns .. a flock of nuns, a gaggle .. a pride maybe ?
Very rarely is it possible to spot a single nun in the streets of the city.
The main group comprising of three very aged women, all diminutive in stature, and all three of formidable character.
Local residents, describe these three nuns, as always appearing aged. It would seem that nobody can remember them as young women. And there lies the problem, the young Italian women are no longer becoming nuns.
It is very difficult to find recent data on the precise number of nuns living and working in Italy but their numbers are decreasing rapidly and even the new novices coming in from Africa and Asia can no longer fill the gap.
Shortly, this compact group of dark clad women moving ghost like through the streets of Barga will be just that – ghostly memories
Giornata di addii,ieri.
Keane l’ha sottolineata a suo modo e secondo il suo stile.
Stille di artista,di interprete puntuale e appassionato della frazione di tempo che condividiamo,qui fra le mura di Barga.
Hanno lasciato l’ombra del suo studio e sono comparse in Piazza del Comune una serie di tele,sagome nere di Suore ritratte di spalle,in movimento.
Come se Keane fosse pronto per questo appuntamento di addio.
Proprio così : da 2005 Keane aveva preso a fissare sulla tela il passaggio da Piazza del Comune delle Suore dell’Asilo Donnini.
Presagiva che fra non molto queste figure sarebbero scomparse dalle nostre vie.
Si sarebbe chiusa un’epoca e il Borgo avrebbe perso una sua nota caratteristica.
Corsa contro il tempo, per fermarlo nella memoria collettiva.
Così è stato: le Suore sono partite. Proprio come Keane l’ha ritratte. Sulla via del ritorno. – Graziella Cosimini
In 2012, Suor Carmelina died in Rome in her retirement home at the Casa Madre delle Suore Giuseppine di Chambéry where she has been resting since 2008. (article here)
Suor Carmelina Ippolito was for more than 60 years the driving force behind the Conservatorio di Santa Elisabetta here in Barga Vecchia.
The convent was founded by Michele Turignoli of Barga in the 15th Century for young women who wished to enter the Third Order of St Francis. In 1787, it was transformed into a school for young girls (conservatorio) by the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo who ordered it to be amalgamated with the Dominican convent in Barga situated near the church of the Santissima Annunziata on the street now known as Via di Mezzo.
The school, which was run by nuns of the Order of St. Joseph, provided an education for girls from less fortunate families, who could study there right up to the level of a teaching certificate.
Giovanni Pascoli defined the school as a: “…fucina di maestrine di montagna…” (a forge for hilltown teachers).
This week comes the official news that the remaining nuns will shortly be leaving Barga for good after 101 years of being a part of Barga society, the Convent it to be shut and the remaining nuns to return to Casaletto in Rome.
The end of an era.
Final salute to the Nuns of Barga
question: ” The first question really ought to be about the painting which some people claimed has the “Dorian Gray effect” … what is going on here?
Keane: ” first off, just let me say that Barga is a small city – in fact it is the smallest city in Italy – once rumours start, it’s very difficult to know where they originated from but this has to be one of the most bizarre of recent times. So to facts – yes I do have a painting that I have been working on for the last two years. It has been a work in progress right up until it was taken to the framers last week. It shows two nuns, seen from behind with the one on the right turning slightly towards the nun on the left in what could be a conversation. For most people outside of Barga it is simply two nuns but for many people in the city, the figure on the left is unmistakable one of the nuns who left Barga two years ago. It is a work in progress because over the last two years I have been gradually painting that nun out of focus. The nun on the right is sharply defined and in focus – as time goes on, the one on the left has becoming less distinct and out of focus. It is meant to a pictorial rendition of the passing of time and the effect of memory. No magic – no “Dorian Gray effect”, just a simple painterly device.”
The nuns do occupy a particular place and role in this community. As the community changes so too does their position and relevance to Barga and its citizens. I wanted to explore and document that fragile moment of change. These are not Disneyesque characters but real women in a changing world. The furthest thing from my mind would be to simply make caricatures of them.