Carlo Levi was born in Turin in 1902, where he spent his adolescence and youth. A strong friendship binds him to Piero Gobetti and other young people inspired by the same principles of freedom, united around the ideals of the Liberal Revolution.
Graduating in medicine, the same year he exhibited his paintings at the Venice Biennale and was part of the first groups of tenacious opponents of fascism. The coherence of his ideas led him to give political weight to painting, which he considered as an expression of freedom. For this precise cultural position, he openly sided against the rhetoric of official art, increasingly subject to the regime, poorly concealed by the hypocritical modernity of futurism and the conformism of the twentieth century. His anti-fascist spirit pushes him to organize the first clandestine groups including Giustizia e Liberta, of which he himself is founder. Imprisoned several times, he was definitively confined in 1935 to Aliano, in Lucania, where he lived an interior experience in contact with a population abandoned by history, with a very ancient and hidden world, to discover a different civilization.
His human sensitivity pushes him to denounce on his masterpiece “Christ stopped in Eboli” the inhuman living conditions of these people crushed by social injustices and political indifference, poor peasants forgotten on the margins of the State, to whom not even the word of Christ never seems to have come. Another illustrious “guest” in the “land of confinement” was Camilla Ravera.
In 1939 they found him in France, but in 1943 he was arrested again in Italy. He takes an active part in the Resistance as a member of the Liberation Committee of Tuscany. Director of the Tuscan newspaper “La Nazione del Popolo” and, in 1945, in Rome of “LItalia free”. Senator of the Republic, he died in Rome in 1975. By his will, he is buried in Aliano, where the artist had found the authentic human values that had supported and comforted him in the most dramatic moments of his life and in the darkest years of history Italian. In 1952, he wrote: “The capital of the peasants is hidden in the caves of the Sassi, the hidden heart of their ancient civilization. Anyone who sees Matera cannot fail to be impressed by it, its expressive and touching beauty is so touching ”.
The Foundation that bears his name preserves all the copious collection of pictorial works with an unmistakable style and trait that the artist wanted to donate to the city of Matera. They are exhibited in Palazzo Lanfranchi, together with the large mural “Lucania 61”, suggestive and disturbing, which summarizes and transmits many emotions to the visitor and puts him in contact with a distant and metaphysical reality. He intensely lived the cultural moments of the city, when the difficult living conditions of the last inhabitants of the Sassi were denounced by him to the world as “national shame” and when the city itself was able to seek a new human and social dimension, during and after the trauma of emptying the old quarters, with the conscious choice to sink the roots of its future in the secular values of its ancient civilization.
From the book
“Christ stopped in Eboli“:
– “I arrived in Matera, he told me (his sister speaks, ed) around eleven o’clock in the morning. I had read in the guide that it is a picturesque city, that deserves to be visited, that there is a museum of ancient art and curious houses troglodyte …
A little further away from the station, I came to a road, which was lined with old houses on one side, and bordered a precipice on the other. In that precipice is Matera.
… The shape of that ravine was strange; like that of two half funnels placed side by side, separated by a small spur and gathered at the bottom in a common apex, where you could see, up there, a white church, Santa Maria de Idris, which seemed to be stuck in the ground.
These inverted cones, these funnels, are called Sassi. … They have the form with which, at school, we imagined Dante’s hell …. in that narrow space between the facades and the slope pass the streets, and they are together floors for those who come out of the houses above and roofs for those below. … looking up I finally saw the whole of Matera appear like an oblique wall.
… It is truly a beautiful, picturesque and impressive city. “-
Rocco Scotellaro, the mayor-poet of Tricarico, a small agricultural center in the province of Matera, very close to the peasants during the tragic days of the occupation of the lands, as well as a personal friend of the Piedmontese artist, defined the book as follows:
“The most impressive and cruel memorial of our countries” … where “there are deaths and lamentations to make the holy martyrs pale by the force of truth”
From the first lines of the book
“We are not Christians. Cristiano means, in their language, man ”
Fear of Freedom – The Clock – Words are stones –
The future has an ancient heart – Double night of lime trees –
All the honey is gone – Contadini and Luigini