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A painting on Saint Joseph by the director of «The Gospel according to Matthew», Pier Paolo Pasolini

by Aldo Anziano

For the Catholic universe, Pier Paolo Pasolini unquestionably represented one of the most controversial figures of the 900th century. On the one hand the intellectual touched by the divine grace of genius, on the other the protagonist of scandals and violent controversies, of epochal trials - "moral" - to his private customs - and judicial - to his works. Lastly, the creature marked by a tragic and still mysterious end.

No man, it should be underlined, is born free from contradictions, and can truly be called a saint or a sinner, because such judgments are left only to God. What can certainly be said instead is that Pier Paolo Pasolini - beyond any forcing - was pervaded by an intense religiosity, a feeling that was outside the grammar of dogma and liturgy, but which remained equally powerful, perhaps precisely because it was perceived as a cry of tearing internal conflict. Atheist and manifestly anticlerical, Pasolini cultivated and expressed through his works a dramatic yet irrepressible tension towards the divine throughout the entire course of his existence. «I am a force of the Past - he states at the beginning of one of his poems - My love is only in tradition. I come from ruins, from churches, from altarpieces." «The story of the Passion - the author adds - is the greatest I know, and the texts that tell it are the most sublime that have ever been written».

It is the man who speaks of the scandals and of the films placed on the index, who notes: «Nothing ever dies in a lifetime (…) What survives are those famous two thousand years of “imitatio Christi” (…) Me, for me , I am anticlerical (...), but I know that there are two thousand years of Christianity in me. (…) I would be crazy if I denied this powerful force that is in me: if I left the monopoly of Good to the priests." But stronger than words are the images of "La Ricotta", "Accattone", "Mamma Roma" and "The Gospel According to Matthew", homages of unimaginable beauty to the message of Christ. In the first film Pasolini films a grotesque film set in which a clumsy director is filming a painting dedicated to the Crucifixion: all around technicians, actors and extras trample on the sacredness of the scene, marking the strident contrast between the era of consumerism and secularisation, and the evangelical story.

In “Accattone” and “Mamma Roma” the protagonists are the last of the Roman suburbs, the disinherited, the desperate, told through a constant iconographic reference to the figure of Christ. Finally, there is the pure and essential verb of the "Gospel According to Matthew", still today one of the most accomplished visual stories of the Passion, an absolute masterpiece in which Pasolini penetrates with his gaze to the deepest roots of Christ's message. In this uninterrupted spiritual tension, the figure of Saint Joseph also finds place. It is delivered to us by a small but precious oil on canvas sketch dedicated by Pier Paolo Pasolini to the figure of the putative Father of Christ. Retracing the history of this valuable fragment of art, we discover that the author, still very young - it was 1942 - was working in the Friulian city of Casarsa on a cycle of frescoes that were supposed to adorn the small church “Ecclesiae Reginae Martyrum Dicata”.

We find ourselves in front of a preparatory panel, just a sketch, in which nuanced shapes and barely sketched outlines predominate, chromatisms in shades of ocher and sienna. Yet, the image gives us a powerful and vibrant idea of ​​Joseph and Jesus. Both can be imagined walking in the middle of a tree-lined avenue. There is a father with a still young face, who with bowed head and severe gaze watches over the Messiah-child, and, standing close to him, transmits his strong and loving guidance to him. There is a child who turns his face to one side, and with curious, inquiring eyes, he opens up to observe the world.

Joseph unfolds his hand in a gesture to show his son what is happening between men, and with a vigorous nod urges him not to fear, to open up to his destiny of encounter and sacrifice for others. Finally, on the back of the drawing, he dedicates it "to Youth", which in the work is both effectively embodied by the God-child and by a Father who is little more than a young man. In this minute homage to the figure of Joseph we once again hear a subdued and painful call to the Almighty echo. it is the unresolved doubt, the eternal and silent question that stirs in the soul of a sinner pervaded by genius and at the same time by an irrepressible sense of the sacred. «God, are you with me?». The answer lies in Pasolini himself, living embodiment of the tortuous paths through which, at times, God chooses to express the sublime prodigy of his creative love.

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