After learning about the straordinario Maceo Angeli in a guided visit to his medieval home (January 2023), I was taken over by a veritable “Maceo passione.” I simply needed to know more about this extraordinary assisano (who had died in 1991).
I now often ask any middle-aged or elderly assisano I encounter, “Conoscevi Maceo?” I recently asked elderly retired blacksmith, Roberto as we sipped espressi at the same cafe’ counter.
Signor Roberto replied with a beam, “Certamente!” recounting his memories of joining Maceo in the mid-1950’s in the song brigades celebrating the arrival of spring and the welcoming of May with songs accompanied by lutes, mandolins and other medieval instruments – an ancient tradition, “lost in time” as the Italians would say.
With Mayor Arnaldo Fortini, in the late 1920’s, the singing in of May had already become a festive Assisi event, though wandering song brigades were not in costume.
As of 1954, they are.
In Assisi’s early May medieval festival celebrating the first days of May, Calendimaggio, Roberto remembers Maceo as an exuberant enthusiastic, protagonist of the May celebrations every year….and has special memories of the festive events of the 1950’s.
The festival then re-created the medieval rivalries between two sections of the town but in una sfida canora (“challenge of song”) with Lower Assisi (la parte de Sotto) challenging Upper Assisi (la Parte de Sopra).
On a recent visit to Ginevra, Maceo’s daughter, and her husband, Umberto, Ginevra showed me the two pale green ceramic pitchers Maceo had crafted – probably in the 1950’s – depicting a musician gleefully guzzling wine as he rode a donkey, drum latched onto the saddle.
One pitcher celebrated la Parted de Sopra, with their tall tower bearing the two gatti mammoni – rural mythological creatures – (symbol of la Parte de Sopra):
On the pitcher of la Parte de Sotto, the bearded rider seated near his drum is holding a banner bearing a tower, symbol of la parte de Sotto:
As we visited, Ginevra talked nostalgically about those past Calendimaggio festivals – celebrated by her father and other assisani – as simply a joyous festa canora (song festival). Nowadays, the four days of celebration include banner-waving contests, crossbow challenges, a medieval choir competition, medieval dance and theater..and much more. Glorious and I never miss it, often sharing the magnificence with enthralled tour guests.
And from now on, at every Calendimaggio, I will think about Maceo, grateful to him for his role in launching the splendor.
Ginevra talked about her father’s love of all music – he once had a collection including 7 organs, over 70 violins, and an array of medieval instruments.
His love of music joined with his ebullient sense of humor in many depictions I saw that day in the rich Maceo ceramic collection.
The mandolin-strumming figure on a donkey on one side of a charming duck-shaped pitcher might have been Maceo himself…
The playful musician appears on ceramic plates Maceo made, too: on one, he rides that omnipresent donkey, guitar in one hand and a wine carafe in the other. On another plate, that bearded musician (Maceo?) is oblivious to growling dogs with teeth bared, as he plays his violin:
Ginevra and Umberto showed me comical tiles painted by Maceo too. On one, a smiling dog walks near the donkey bearing a bearded figure wearing glasses, wine cask tied to his waist and out for a hunt, perhaps, though a bird perches on his gun.
On another tile, a grinning priest rides the donkey, wine cask in one hand and a plucked bird in the other. The same smiling dog trots alongside the donkey.
On a long-necked vase painted in delicate green tones, a donkey dashes with a smiling man in striped suit riding him while grasping both a chicken and a wine cask:
Ginevra showed me another of her father’s comic ceramic pitchers, a figure on a donkey – that ubiquitous wine flask nearby – on the front,,,,
…and on the there side of the pitcher, the rider is kicked by his donkey, his hat sent flying, as his dog looks up – in glee or in horror?
On another vase – also in yellows and greens – a singing figure (perhaps his wine has brought him cheer?) exhuberantly prances along, his hat flying off, flask in one hand and guitar in the other as his donkey beams at the scene:
Flask and mandolin are held by the running figure, bitten by a dog, on Maceo’s “attenti al cane” (“beware of the dog”) ceramic plaque:
And that Maceo humor brought a smile when I spied on the wall the “Long live the wedded” (“Viva gli sposi”) plate. A buxom bride rides the donkey with her sposo, that omnipresent wine flask tied to the donkey, a small trunk and a larger wine jug on the back. A pair of playful dogs accompany the happy couple:
After viewing all the art – painted, sculpted and ceramic Maceo masterpieces in home of Ginevra and Umberto, I will treasure more than ever the two Maceo pitchers we have on our mantel, works of that great artist:
I had purchased the one on the right above a few years ago at an outdoor monthly street market of artisan crafts and used goods in Santa Maria degli Angeli near Assisi:
The vendor had asked for 70 E for the pitcher. I turned it over and saw “Maceo Assisi 1949” painted on the bottom and wished to purchase it for Pino’s birthday (born July 1949).
I asked if 50 E would be acceptable. “Venduto!” (“Sold”).
I had called Ginevra months ago to tell her about the pitcher and she exclaimed “Quanto sei fortunata!” (“How fortunate you are!”), adding that she would have loved to include that pitcher in the book on Maceo, had she known when the book was coming together.
Neither Pino nor I remember how, when or where we purchased (or were given) the other pitcher. I had not even realized it was a Maceo artwork until flipping it over while dusting it some weeks ago a
I recenty took those pitchers to Ginevra’s home to show her:
She noted right away the motif of the smiling faces topping mythological figures on our blue pitcher:
….and told me that “il motivo del sorriso appareva spesso nel lavoro di mio padre” (“The motif of the smiling face appeared often in my father’s work”)…as she pointed out that faccia sorridente (smiling face) to me on various Maceo ceramic gems:
Ginevra had no idea why Maceo favored that face in particular but showed me various containers bearing the face. On one long-necked pitcher, the face topped a mythological figure.
Miniature ceramic figures spread out below that vase.
….and on another shelf, three miniature pitchers were backdropped by a Maceo carafe painted with a crow perched on an extinct volcano:
Ginevra told me that her papa’ had loved miniatures and not only painted them but collected them.
She pointed out to me miniature ceramic objects in their bookcase where precious family books are lined about above the treasured black bucchero objects made by Maceo as well.
While holding a Maceo ceramic carafe, Umberto showed me with evident pride another bucchero masterpiece created by his esteemed father’-in-law Maceo:
In this note, I’ve shared just a glimpse at the Maceo ceramic masterpieces.
I recently asked Ginevra if that bearded figure on the donkey with a musical instrutment and/or wine flask nearby appearing on so many Maceo works was her father.
“Certamente!” she told me with a grin.
Mille grazie, Ginevra and Umberto, for a memorable visit.
And for sharing with me, too, his paintings, sculptures and treasured books.
Meriting another note.
Read about – and see –my first visit to Casa Angeli.
See a video made during a Casa Angeli visit (and about Maceo’s role in Holocaust salvation)
See my video on Calendimaggio.
..and simply SEARCH “Calendimaggio” on my blog for countless notes on this festival.