Giovanni Testori during a meeting (Photo: Archivio CmC Milano)

Towards the Meeting: Testori and the "sacred crash" of the Magdalene

On August 21 at the Teatro Galli, a show dedicated to the poems of Giovanni Testori, composed as a commentary on the most famous depictions of Mary Magdalene. From Giotto to Donatello, Masaccio to Caravaggio.
Giuseppe Frangi

Duccio, Giotto, Donatello, Masaccio, Beato Angelico, Raphael, Caravaggio, and then Hayez, Cézanne and Francis Bacon: there is no great painter or sculptor of the past – and not only of the past – who has not been confronted with the great figure of Mary Magdalene. There is a reason for this: in front of the figure of Magdalene, because of that intensity of love for the Lord, so many artists have felt challenged to give their best. Just think of Masaccio, who in his famous "Crucifixion" in Naples, depicts her from behind, her arms wide open towards Jesus in a gesture of extreme love. "As if she had wings, nailed to the adored Absolute," Giovanni Testori wrote, or rather "sung," in one of his 1989 poems with which he commented on the most beautiful Magdalenes in the history of art. He did so at the invitation of Francesco Maria Ricci, a great publisher of fine art books. Testori, instead of the essay he had been asked to write in support of the book in which about a hundred works with the Magdalene were reproduced, had counter-proposed to deal with the image captions. But these would be captions in verse, that is, short, dazzling poems capable of restoring the essence of the individual works. These are poems that adhere to those paintings and sculptures in such an unexpected and surprising way that they startle us, as precisely in the case of Masaccio.

The same happens when listening to them recited by a great actor like Valter Malosti, who for years has been offering, as a jewel in his repertoire, a show built precisely around those poems by Testori. He proposes them with a pressing rhythm, almost rock, while the images flow accompanied by Lamberto Curtoni's cello (the original music was written by Carlo Boccadoro). "Maddalene" is the title of the show that be offered at the Rimini Meeting (at The Teatro Galli on August 21, 9:30 p.m.). It is a show that restores Testori’s expressive energy with extraordinary immediacy, capable with his words of opening up the works that gradually flow on the big screen to our understanding. For one hour, we are invited to delve into the history of art, on a journey that takes us to the heart of a character like the Magdalene, with all the nuances with which artists have approached her over the centuries and made her their own.

Testori puts all his sensitivity into play, capable of touching the most secret chords of each of the works. As is the case with Duccio, whose Magdalene is "very thin/ Byzantine still.../ an endless embroidery/ of thorns." Or Donatello's dramatic masterpiece, which was saved from the 1966 flood: "It was the fourth of November/ day still of the dead. / Doubly/ belonging to the choir/ of the risen." Or Giotto, who in "Noli me tangere" gives body to the "new language/ the 'vulgar'/ here perfectly at ease/ cast in flesh-form."

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Sometimes Testori is amused by certain depictions of the Magdalen that he finds excessively aesthetical: in front of Bacchiacca's depiction he even wonders what she is doing in the book, because if it were up to him he certainly would not have included her. A matter of incompatibility, which Malosti emphasizes with his acting, wringing a smile from the audience every time. We end with the few lines dedicated to Francis Bacon's 1944 dramatic masterpiece, "Study for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion," from 1944: "a sacred crash," Testori calls it. "For he who painted you/ is an atrocious,/ yet Christian/ boast."