Paolo D'Agostino



painter, sculptor and restorer was born at Graniti (Messina) in 1924.

After World War II he moves to Rome where he befriends fellow artists Mario Mafai, Antonietta Raphaël, Corrado Cagli, Afro and Mirko Basaldella, Giuseppe Capogrossi, Father Ambrogio Fumagalli, Enrico Accatino, Father Tito Amodei, Salvatore Meo, Stelvio Botta, Pupino Samonà, Giuseppe Mazzullo, Renato Guttuso, Mimmo Rotella. He becomes the pupil of Mirko Basaldella from whom he learns the art of metal embossing and collaborates in the execution of the Cancellata delle Fosse Ardeatine. Sergio Donnini introduces him to restoration and after graduating from the Istituto Centrale del Restauro he works as a restorer at the Museo delle Arti e Tradizioni Popolari in Rome. Among his restoration works we mention the reconstruction of the Hut of Romulus on the Palatine, various paintings in the Church of Santa Maria Nova ( where he also made a copy of the Madonna of Santa Francesca Romana commissioned by Cardinal Eugène Tisserant) and in the Church of San Sebastiano; the Madonna in the Santuario Santa Maria at Picciano and artefacts from the Museo Archeologico at Atina.

He exhibited his work in Italy and abroad at solo and collective exhibitions. In 1949, he participated in various collective shows presenting abstract artwork. In 1953, he took part in the Mostra del Mezzogiorno, presenting a series of ornamental artefacts made by using the medium of metal embossing. In 1954, oil paintings and drawings were exhibited at the “Creative Gallery” in Philadelphia.
In 1956, he took part in the VII Quadriennale d’Arte of Rome and in the competition ‘’Premio di Pittura Via Frattina’’, Rome. In the following years his works were shown at various national painting exhibitions. Among them : Biennale of Milan, 1957; Premio Modigliani, 1957; Premio San Remo, 1958; Biennale of Nuoro, 1957-59; solo exhibition Galleria d’Arte “La Grafica del Lavoro”, Rome 1960; XI Premio “Città di Terni”, 1960; II, III, IV, V Rassegna Nazionale d’Arte tra il personale delle Soprintendenze alle Antichità e Belle Arti, 1963-69; XIV and XV Salon interministériel Musée d’Art moderne, Ville de Paris, 1966-67; VI Mostra di Arti Figurative “Roma Viva” Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome 1968; Mostra nazionale di pittura “V Premio Grottammare” (Ascoli Piceno), 1968; collective exhibition Galleria “La Sula”, Rome 1968; solo exhibition Galleria d’Arte “La Scogliera” at Vico Equense (Naples), 1969; solo exhibition at Monopoli (Bari), 1969; collective exhibition “Piccolo Formato” Galleria L’Etrusca, Rome 1969-70; solo exhibition Galleria d’Arte “La Sula” Rome, 1970; collective exhibition “Arte artigianato e cattivo gusto “ Sala 1 Scala Santa, Rome 1971; collective exhibition UCAI Centro artistico culturale “ La Pigna”, Rome 1971 - 1975; collective exhibition Galleria “La Forma” 1975; solo exhibition Museo delle Arti e Tradizioni Popolari, Rome 1987.
His works are in art collections in Italy and abroad (United States, Israel, etc.)

Paolo D’Agostino died in Rome in 1985.


All Works


Paolo D'Agostino

(Review by Jacopo Recupero)

  In 1959, when I moved from the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna to the Museo delle Arti e Tradizioni Popolari , I would meet Paolo D’Agostino almost every day. Peppino Mazzullo had told me about him. He discovered him at Graniti, their native village near Taormina, convincing him to follow him to Rome. Sergio Donnini spoke to me of him as well. Around 1954, he hired him to restore artefacts from the Museo di Etnografia italiana , soon (thirty years ago) to be known as the Museo delle Arti e Tradizioni Popolari, hosted in one of the E42 buildings in the newly-created EUR district of Rome. Mirko , on my visiting his studio in Monteverde, populated with sculptures like a museum of an ancient, though extremely modern civilization, had also praised his work with words of affection and esteem. Meeting Paolo regularly at the museum, revealed to me a completely unknown side of his personality – that of a shy, instinctively modest man, alien to any intimacy but with a desire for communication, as to obtain the confirmation that he was in the right, that the path he had chosen was the good one.

On my arrival at the Museo delle Arti e Tradizioni Popolari, Paolo had no longer his friend Donnini by his side, under whose direction he had learned the art of restoration. Working closely, month after month, they would discuss the complex issue of art with which both were, though in different ways, so much in love. Donnini, with regret, since he had to give up its practice in the difficult years following World War II, just as he started to savour art’s stirring joy thanks to his master Rosai’s righteous advice. Paolo, instead, as an enthusiastic neophyte, lost in dreams of a harsh, perhaps remote, yet certain achievement. My presence made him realize that he was not alone, that he still had someone to talk to about the beloved topic of art, someone to confide in, being sure to be understood. Therefore, in 1960, he asked me to present one of his exhibitions. That year in fact, he was holding a one-man show at the Galleria ‘Grafica del Lavoro’ and on that occasion I had my first, real contact with his artwork. An extensive production was now adding itself to the few pieces I had previously seen at various exhibitions. He showed it to me without a comment, waiting for my opinion. It was an amazing bulk of work, as though his hands, from the moment he discovered his talent, had never stopped creating. Along with the enormous amount of drawings, water-colours, and canvasses – the latter showing different periods of investigation ranging from the interpretation of nature to abstract art and, again, to his first, admiring enjoyment for natural phenomena - I discovered some embossed metal plates that soon revealed to me his true field.

The years with Mirko were not spent in vain. Mirko, outstanding master of the art of embossing metal, extraordinary goldsmith of our times, comparable only to the great creators of the Renaissance. At this magician’s studio, Paolo had learned a unique lesson ‘stealing’ daily, with his sky-blue eyes, the secrets of an extremely refined technique, of a craft as precious as the metals it would give shape to. The master, immediately aware of the unappeasable hunger for learning of this Greek-Sicilian, born near Naxos, the most ancient Greek colony of Sicily, initiated him to this art’s skills, suggesting models from the classical world : those cameos that Antiquity had bestowed on us as a heritage of beauty. Days and months Paolo practised with utmost care and orderly steadfastness, as it probably had occurred in ancient workshops. And time did not seem to matter considering the daily progress he would make in this difficult and challenging craft where no mistake is allowed.

When I visited his last studio in order to select the works for the present exhibition, upon discovering some small embossed plates in a box, I seemed to relive those days when the young pupil would enrich his craft with technical devices and, most of all, spiritually experienced the mystery of his master’s creative act, trying in turn to transfer it onto the small copper rectangle he was practising on. The tiny plate, laid on the leather pillow, became his world ; his will and imagination would draw from it that form which the plate’s flat surface refused to host. A thousand clever hammer strokes, now gentle, now heavier, accurately measured, would ineluctably bend the metal into the preconceived shape. Little by little, constantly verifying the plate’s recto, the form would take shape and the surface came alive, losing its stiffness, through a manifold intersecting of lines, a succession of dots, an alternation of light and shade, a degradation of planes, transforming itself, stroke after stroke, into an eye-catching and elegant three-dimensional image. The first jewels started to be executed : gold and silver replaced the humbler copper and the patterns, suggested by the whim of the moment, moved onto the shiny plates, materializing in a melting of free ornamental elements, enhanced by the sudden sparkles of precious stones.

This was the time when the artist most deeply felt the influence of the Roman artistic milieu in which he was developing and that was almost entirely dominated by abstract art, as to reaffirm by force his right to a more complete freedom of expression. Also, the innate love for the natural world, the memory of the early attempts as an apprentice, that desire for narration made up not only of pure forms, led him to experiment with naturalistic figurative style on the tiny surface of a ring setting, of a brooch, or a charm. This was a fortunate moment in which he knew how to wrap reality in imagination. Thus, the small artefacts where mythical animals like those created by Romanesque lapidaries – pegasuses, chimeras or fantastic monsters - came to life, tell us about a world of his own. Here, a classical taste for elegant forms, the need to overcome the realistic element by the acceptance of myth, the unpretentious universe of popular art, inventor of images, and an underlying mysterious component, completely personal, primitive and naïve, were harmoniously combined. His artistic expression was the result of his mastering his sources of inspiration. Firstly, an art synonymous of perfection that, leaving aside the early apprenticeship experiences, reached him through hidden and unexplored paths. Secondly, the free recreation of natural elements according to models proposed by those artists surrounding him, together with the spontaneous adhesion to the pure language of the objects he handled as a restorer. Finally, the heritage of his native, close-to-nature world, instinctive and almost wild.

At the end of the 1960s, abandoning almost completely the production of jewellery, he tries to find new approaches to his art ; this is a turning point in his search, resulting in a personal and touching synthesis of his various influences, already perceived in earlier works. It either addresses itself to the admiring contemplation of the untainted and marvellous nature of flowers and grass, which he subtly investigates with loving care, or directs it towards a completely unusual and somehow unpredictable trend : the innermost religiousness, made of love and sharing, he carried inside his whole life. This finds its expression in one image – the Christ crucified or the scene of Crucifixion that will become, until the premature end of his career, the main, though not unique, theme of his art.

Since the earliest productions, about 1968, one realizes the emotional charge that the artist transposes onto the figuration, with tones of such an expressiveness and intensity comparable only to the passionate and pure language of primitive masters. I believe, indeed, that the feeling that made Paolo work does not differ much from the pietas that moved the ancients. By freeing his soul from the load of sorrows anguishing him and the rest of humanity, oppressed by everlasting pain and by the apocalyptic terror of an eternal threat, he succeeds in communicating his passion lyrically and effectively through that body bent in the spasms of martyrdom. This is, in my opinion, the reason why, leaving aside the complexity of the crowded scenes, as his style becomes barer and essential, the embossed metal sheet acquires an absolute formal meaning, as though, rather than a verse, with its words grammatically, syntactically, and poetically arranged, only a cry comes out, whose meaning is determined by the way it is created.

Perhaps, this is what an ancient art historian meant when, to celebrate the ineffable quality of an extremely delicate work of art, he wrote : ‘made … of breath’.
Rome, Easter 1987 Jacopo Recupero