Alongside his sculptural production, as an instrument of communication – even intimate and private – Cattaneo always favoured writing, in the form of both letters and poetry. In his youth he turned to writing as a form of art, capable of embracing his vitalistic drive and uncertain existential transitions, while in his maturity it became a conscious instrument of the affirmation of his ethical choices.
A walk down memory lane
A walk down memory lane, a walk through distant emotions and sensations, reliving in a natural way a transposition in time, the accumulation of memories of a unique and almost poignant experience for me, after more than half a century: my story that was moulded and formed during the events just after the war when I attended courses at the Accademia Carrara with Achille Funi. I owe this inspiration to Claudio Nani and his urging; it is an inspiration that brings me back to my youth, with the shyness, fears and apprehensions that a young teenager back then felt. The impact with the environment of the academy, which suddenly – or almost – emancipated us, was a situation that rounded out our youthful emotions, and I would say also on a sexual level: less generic contacts with friendships, the explosion here and there of love stories with our female companions, a surprising look at what was happening around us.
I remember how embarrassed I was the first time I entered the classroom for nude art: the model Alba (stark naked!) realized I felt uncomfortable and, with a marvellous smile and a wink, she pointed to the position from which I was to portray her. It was the discovery of a dimension that differed from the behaviour for which our families prepared us. My friends often asked me if the models were really naked, completely naked.
We students felt special and we were experiencing a special moment, as the authors and interpreters of our roles, free in a setting that we could embrace thanks to the personality and the charismatic and international presence of Professor Funi. He gave of himself parsimoniously, his pipe in his mouth, his small beret on his head, and he was a man of few words. He would often take the charcoal out of our hands and make a few corrections on the drawing, letting us freely interpret the subjects: it was his way of letting ourselves be discovered and a chance to manifest our qualities.
These were difficult moments. The Commission of Bergamo nobles, which chaired the school at the time, didn’t have money to heat the classrooms. One year, in order to make it possible to hold classes regularly, all the students had to bring firewood from home to light the stove. Some arrived with a bag, others with a suitcase full of wood, and yet others would borrow an axe from the custodian Angelo Crotti and go cut logs in the nearby Val Verde, returning with bags full of wood.
The male and female models were paid very little and often weren’t there, so a number of students stood in for them. I had to do it too! I posed there, trying to roll down my undies in an attempt to show as much bare skin as possible, but keeping my socks on because of the cold. When the teacher came into the classroom, he stopped among the students and mentioned that, in his opinion, my legs looked like those on certain works by Donatello (that’s something I couldn’t possibly forget!).
Our teacher’s great personality, his peaceful authoritative presence, made our young life as aspiring artists linear and, I think, very profitable. Furthermore, his almost paternal attitude helped us develop great confidence.
During that period the classrooms were warmer in the afternoon, since the stoves were first lit in the morning, and after our lessons we would stay there with our female classmates, and some of the students flirted. One afternoon our teacher walked in unannounced and found us with our arms around each other, hugging. Grumbling, he immediately walked off and a short time later the custodian Angelo arrived, as the teacher had told him to keep the straw away from the fire: that was his only reaction, and we obeyed.
We students tried to engage with each other, all of us offering news and cultural information as up to date as possible, and this led to big discussions among us. My contribution was not only cultural but also athletic! I brought two pairs of boxing gloves and a football. That spring, between the models’ posing sessions, you would often see a lot of us throwing punches or setting up little football tournaments. Everything took place before our teacher’s good-natured eyes and every so often he would appear at the windows on the upper floor as, with a paternal air, he observed our joie de vivre. This was the period of my youth I remember most fondly.
I’m convinced that Funi considered his school – along with his sister Margherita – his family. For the upkeep of the school, he painted large frescoes with the help of his students. The first of these frescoes earned us two truckloads of coal and a little money to continue the courses decently. We knew that he basically worked for free, another demonstration of affection and willingness.
This walk down memory lane could continue with many other reminiscences.
The time came – early – for me to leave my teacher and the academy. Back then, childhood ended early, overwhelmed by the impelling needs of life and, moreover, I was driven chiefly by my passion for sculpture. Nevertheless, I kept the people around me very much alive in my mind: from Daniele Marchetti to Pino Pizzigoni, the dear and unassuming Angelo Crotti, Doctor Pipia and my fellow students, whom I run into less and less, but above all and more than the rest I cherish the image of the gentleman and great artist Achille Funi, my teacher.
Piero Cattaneo, 3 March 2001
Il toro ferito
secca di polvere,
ansima la narice,
più della luna,
la groppa irta,
tepore del sangue
che cola sulla rena.
solo un rantolo ora
il muggito che spaccava
il silenzio delle stelle
l’aria, il grande
mentre la mano fredda
ti schiaccia le corna al suolo
sempre più forte, sempre più forte,
finché resta immobile il dardo
delle tue immense pupille
non abbaiare alla luna
ch’è spenta dai secoli.
Scorri, linfa delle grandi
preludio vivo alla notte di dopo.
Tu guardi e abbai
al gelo, alla luce di latte,
al freddo antenato
che ti fermenta dentro,
abbai, ti muove.
Oh! freddo, luna, luce che agghiacci il tempo
mescendo il passato,
Enorme incostante occhio di piovra
e tu abbai
Vestita di danza
felice t’allieta, e gli Dei,
vortice di forme
spira che avvolge
il sangue vibra non giace