“An artist capable of stretching with reason and imagination as far as the point where Nature could give him precious suggestions or in the pages of sacred texts”
Tommaso Paloscia, art critic
Ferruccio Vezzoni was born in Corvaia, Seravezza, province of Lucca, in 1908, the son of Italo, a renowned sculptor and ornamentalist, and Lavinia Federici. He learned the basics of art in his father’s studio, along with his brother Ferdinando, an exceptionally gifted sculptor and painter. He moved to Milan at an early age, where he worked in the field of cartoons in the advertising office of Cavalier Roatto for several years. He acquired and improved his drawing skills and confidence. He started his own business, developing contacts and professional relations in a variety of directions, but continued to attend evening school. After twenty years, he returned to Tuscany: first to Florence, then to Versilia, in Vallecchia and Pietrasanta, where he married Maria Vittoria Corbellini. In 1937, in Eritrea, he worked as a cartographer. He worked for Ala Littoria (the ancestor of Alitalia), but continued to devote himself to his passions – sculpting and painting – opening a small studio. He worked extensively as a portraitist during these years, especially for officers and soldiers of the expeditionary force in East Africa: in the majority of cases, his studio was in the open air, on the beach of Assab, consisting of an easel, paints, paintbrushes and a long queue of people waiting their turn for a painting.
During World War II he was in Asmara, where his wife and son had joined him in the meantime. He was recruited as a military-civilian in the Air Force and was entrusted with cartography and camouflage tasks. He was wounded during a bombardment of Asmara airport. After the city was occupied by the Allied Forces, he also worked as a designer of funerary monuments. In the early 1940s he divided his Studio with Carosone, a musician from Naples, and Onesti, an illustrator from Milan. During this period, he also worked as a cartoonist for a boys’ adventure magazine. At the end of the forties he was invited to teach Drawing and History of Art in Italian pedagogical and technical high schools in Asmara (in the latter he taught technical-construction Drawing). He held his teaching position both under the British military administration of Eritrea and subsequent civil administration. During these years he developed an accomplished and mature technical-artistic identity and was highly acclaimed by both the public and critics. He was the author of an extensive range of paintings and sculptures, the most famous of which were the busts of Generals Lorenzini and Baldissera, the portrait busts of King Faruk of Egypt and his ministers, and of King Saud of Yemen.
Among his paintings still preserved in the Middle East and in East Africa, the most important are the large painting of Maria Goretti in the Cathedral of Asmara, the painting of Don Bosco for the Salesian brothers, the large temperas on canvas for the M.A.P.E. exhibition and the African landscape paintings of far-reaching and fascinating effects that decorate the American clubs of Asmara and Massaua. Following the crisis due to the annexation of Eritrea to Ethiopia, Ferruccio Vezzoni returned to Italy in 1952. After settling in and turning down teaching positions in state schools, he fully devoted himself to his artistic career. He opened a studio in Pietrasanta and widened his interests, for example towards mosaics. Although his works had attained excellent levels of expression, the majority were of a commercial nature, since many were portraits commissioned by the US market. Alongside these, however, he produced highly significant and far-reaching works; among the most important: the marble high-relief on the “Altare del Sacrificio” in the Cathedral of La Spezia; the “Monumento ai Caduti del Mare” at the Genoa Fair; the large altar pieces, Chiesa di S. Antonio, Rome; “Via Crucis”, Chiesa di Don Bosco, Viareggio and Chiesa del Corpus Domini, Massa; the altar-pieces portraying the “Flight to Egypt”, Chiesa di S. Antonio, Pisa; the marble stele of the Nasser Mausoleum in Tripoli; the life size statues of the Kennedy Brothers in Franklin Park, New Jersey; a mosaic depicting the entire History of America (3 x 60 metres) for Forest Lawn on Hollywood Hills; altars in Padua and Siracusa, further statues and a mosaic tondo of Saint Olga of Ukrainian Catholics placed on the right altar of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City, inaugurated by Pope John Paul II in 1989. After a life spent practicing his artistic profession with great devotion, Ferruccio Vezzoni died in 1992 while he was still working.
The photographs published in the TimeLine were taken from the Museo dei Bozzetti website www.museodeibozzetti.it