Ciccone's Padre Pio
Padre Eusebio Notte
ANTONIO CICCONE'S PADRE PIO
There are countless books about Padre Pio. In the course of history few figures have been devoured by the press to the extent he has.
Every author claims to be original, to reveal previous unknown aspects of the Friar's character. More often than not, however, the books are simply repetitive, if not actually fakes, and the "scoop" exists only in the imagination of these would-be biographers, who effectively present "their" Padre Pio, immensely different from the Padre Pio of history.
And so it is that the polyhedric figure of the Friar of the Gargano is still waiting to be discovered, and beyond that, to be deciphered. ANTONIO CICCONE'S PADRE PIO is truly an exception. It soars above the bedrock of these biographies, presenting us with a "real" and "live" Padre Pio, the one who actually lived in the friary of San Giovanni Rotondo, and whom many people have seen in person. I am one of those people, having lived beside him for a good five years between 1960 and 1965.
Each of us preserves the "lineaments" of Padre Pio, engraved in the shrine of his own heart and in the treasure chest of his intellect. We strive to protect them against the ravages of time, and against the superimposition of images, which threaten to blur their clarity, or alter the distinctive features.
This is not fanaticism, but a passion for the truth, since the face of Padre Pio has always formed part of our genetic heritage, on the strength of that spiritual kinship which binds us to him and which makes us his sons.
Small wonder then that many rebel against monuments that make Padre Pio into a prodigy, films that are almost a parody and caricature of this man, who has the gift of originality and uniqueness at both the human and the spiritual level.
Antonio Ciccone, on the other hand, almost by magic presents a Padre Pio who is alive, who suddenly appears in front of you and is interested in you. He looks at you with those eyes lit by the Immense, and rebukes you, embraces you, encourages you and smiles at you. There is no need for you to ask: "Speak to me, Padre," because the words that come from his half-open mouth are perceived by the heart and not the ears.
In certain portraits the artist has almost managed to violate the privacy of the Padre. He has caught him in attitudes of ecstasy while he is conversing with the Lord, during Mass for example, or when he is suffering with Him the residue of that divine Passion, which man can only taste but not fully savor.
This global overview of Padre Pio, man and saint, is not due solely to artistic inspiration, but rather these are "stolen" gestures recounted by the artist in the role of witness.
The art, the feeling, the faith and all the rest have merely revived images that were dormant, translating them into pictorial terms, with a startling realism and an almost inspired touch, to be found only in the work of the man who will go down in history as "the painter of Padre Pio."
I can confirm this, I who have contemplated that face, those hands, that failing body, those sandals, that whole Padre Pio. I who have watched him, kissed him, consoled him and supported him, as I accompanied him daily upon his various engagements, and as in the evening I helped him into bed, being careful not to touch the many wounds in the various parts of his body.
I can confirm, without fear of contradiction, that in Antonio Ciccone's portraits I rediscover Padre Pio in his entirety, and he arouses in me the feelings I had then, "and shipwreck in this sea is sweet."
Antonio, too, was struck by the same impressions on his trips back to San Giovanni Rotondo to visit Padre Pio. I was able to observe the affection and the solicitude which the old Padre Pio had for the young artist. For Antonio he was father, master, admirer, and˛without wishing it, also a model. And this was the reason for the artist's insatiable desire to "catch" his Padre Pio, in a thousand different ways, and in profound detail. I don't think that any artist has ever portrayed a "model" as often as Ciccone has Padre Pio of Pietrelcina.
I leave to the art critics the task of analyzing this "passion," of scrutinizing its various aspects. For me it is enough to see the frequency, and the result. Using a musical analogy, I would venture to say that here we are dealing with variations on a theme - variations that are not tediously repetitive, but rather authentic revelations of the new horizons over which the Padre's gaze wandered and within which his thoughts came to rest.
Through his art Antonio Ciccone has succeeded in representing "the man of two worlds" (heaven and earth) in all his vitality. This ranks him first on the list of those who, over the years, have attempted with varying degrees of success, a representation.
Ciccone offers us a book of refined and matchless portraiture of the Friar of the Gargano. It is, variously, a book of encounters with the Padre, of discussion, of argument, and of prayer with that Friar who stands before you and shares your pain (look at the face of Padre Pio before that distraught mother, who is in fact the painter's wife. I have seen so may scenes of this kind with Padre Pio).
Returning to look at one of these faces every time we feel the need, with the faithful persistence of those who went up the Gargano to meet him in person, means that sooner or later we will wring from these works a ray of hope through which Padre Pio himself will reconcile us with life.
Herein lies the merit of this book, provoking and spiritually and artistically stimulating as it is.
All that remains is to thank the author for having managed to consign to history the true portrait of the man who has been a protagonist of this twentieth century, and whom many will wish to know.
Anyone who wants to speak of him or "with him" cannot ignore Antonio Ciccone's book.
Leafing through it, fixing upon those eyes through which you feel as though you can see God, the observer will share those same feelings which yesterday were simply a manifestation of affection toward a Father, and which now represent feelings of devotion toward the most famous saint of our time.
Ciccone has forgotten to paint the saint's halo around the head of Padre Pio; then he didn't yet have it.
And it is better that way: we feel him closer to ourselves, as he was then, when he was not relegated to an altar, but walked among us.
For this, too, we are grateful. To them both.