This painting is called “The Vucciria” and is by Renato Guttuso. The original – which is absolutely huge – hangs in Palazzo Steri in Palermo – at various times the former seat of the Spanish Inquisition, palace, Moorish pottery factory, community food storage warehouse, government office and prison.
It was painted in 1974 and Palermo University had it hidden away in a private room for years, imagine that!
The man in the yellow jumper is Renato Guttuso (the artist) himself, and the old woman in black is his wife: in the picture he showed her as much older than she really was. The three women in white, red and green dresses are all his mistress, shown from three different angles, and portrayed as much younger than she actually was. In reality she was the same age as his wife.
Guttuso lived most if his life in Rome and missed a lot of the foods you can only get in Sicily, so he had a phase of painting food along with women, his two great sensual pleasures.
This market was founded by the North African invaders of Sicily over 1,000 years ago and flourished like a chaotic souk for ten centuries. Sicilians say “It was a vucciria” the way we in English say “It was bedlam” or “It was a madhouse”.
Very recently the Vucciria has become lacklustre and quite empty, but there are other street markets in Palermo, as old as the Vucciria, which are still a frenzied mass of people buying fruits, vegetables and fish and meat, men on motorbikes piled high squeezing through the crowds delivering more merchandise to the stalls, and men shouting out to sell their wares.
Palazzo Chiaramonte-Steri, Palermo
Guttuso exhibition in London
If you live in London, there’s a Renato Guttuso exhibition going on until April at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art.
If you go there, let me know what it was like, OK?