The Vucciria by Renato Guttuso

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis 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

Here’s the map to Palazzo Chiaramonte-Steri on Google

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?


20 Comments Add yours

  1. He also did wonderful pen and ink illustrations for Elizabeth David’ s quintessential cookbook on Italy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes he did, and I recently bought myself a copy of that.

      I am trying to persuade the local Renato Guttuso art gallery to organise a permanent exhibition about this. I think it could be very interesting for tourists, tying it in with the local foods you can only eat in Sicily.

      I played about taking photos of the book myself…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Colin Bisset says:

        That’s a great project and good luck with it. I love my battered old Elizabeth David and its illustrations. Don’t they realise how many Brits of a certain age they could attract?! And the Vucciria is a great painting that really captures so many markets but especially the ones in Palermo. First saw it on some UKTV programme on Sicily.


      2. I keep telling them the tourist-attracting (and hence economic) potential, but they seem like bewildered children a lot of the time. Most Sicilians only go abroad for their honeymoon so they cannot really understand the mentality in countries where a large proportion of the population goes abroad every single year and a hard core of people classify “travel” as their hobby. They don’t understand how much money is out there and how easily we could make it come here!
        I met the local council minister for tourism and the mayor just this evening, and tried again. As I said once before on another post, I feel as if I am trying to teach a gerbil how to solve Rubik’s cube.


  2. A vibrant, teeming-with-life image. How could they have had it tucked away for years? A psychiatrist could have a field day with the back story on this painting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Everything about Guttuso is intriguing and seems mad.
      He had his wife and mistress living together in the same house for a while – just like English writer Graham sleazy Greene. When he died he left wife, children and mistress out of his will and left everything to his lawyer’s son, whom he adopted on paper shortly before dying. One does wonder if he had gone utterly senile by then, but he seems to have lived his whole life nuttily so maybe it was deliberate.


      1. Oh, now that’s an interesting tidbit. He does seem quite mad indeed.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Jules Brown says:

    Nice story and great picture. I remember my first time in the Vucciria – when the restaurant I was eating in ran out of something, they just dangled a basket out of the window and got the stallholder to fill it up…brilliant!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love the way they do that. I love the way the old women in my village buy their bread from the bread van the same way. They all keep a basket on a rope on their balcony.
      My Hubby won’t let me do that though! Apparently it’s “common” and we have to maintain middle class standards!!!!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. onomatopoeicbliss says:

    It is easier to just let a woman believe that her man strayed because she is younger/leaner/bigger chested/blonder, than it is to get it through her head that the size of the hips/boobs, hair color, and age simply do not matter.

    As always, thank you for bringing the island of my heritage to me, since Ima prolly never set foot thereon😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, you gotta come ere! You canna be real Sicilian ifa you never come ere, innit?

      Interesting observation about the wife/mistress situation and I think you’re absolutely right. But what about the fact he painted his mistress three times? Was he telling her he really wanted a harem?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. R says:

    Just visited the Guttuso exhibition at the Estorick last weekend, as we live close by. I only discovered him because we’re visiting Sicily for the first time (east side) this summer and I’ve been reading up in advance (which incidentally is how I found your lovely site!). The Estorick is a great gallery which has a fantastic collection of 20th century Italian art & there’s something new to see on each visit. But as it’s a relatively small space there’s only so much it can display for single artist retrospectives & therefore I didn’t feel I got a thorough grounding in Guttuso’s life and work. More of a tantalising glimpse. I do want to see ‘The Vucciria.’ A good reason to head over to Palermo when we hit the island!


    1. Thank you for reporting on the exhibition – MUCH appreciated. it’s frustrating when you feel you’ve had not quite enough of a good thing!
      It’s a pity Guttuso’s works are so dispersed around the world. The Vucciria is marvellous even though it’s the only work in Palermo, and the rest of Palazzo Steri, though it has nothing to do with Guttuso, is fascinating for other reasons. The biggest concentration of his work is of course the Guttuso Museum in Villa Cattolica in Bagheria, but the place is in crisis now: the director was stealing art work to sell and give away or keep in her own house, and getting about half a million euros a year in EU grants which she shared out among her friends – whilst the villa was often closed, for private wedding receptions among other things (yes, actually inside the art galleries among the paintings). Only in Sicily!!!!


  6. Anne says:

    Wonderful painting of the Vucciria, just seen it aired again on Sicily Unpacked, currently being shown again on BBC4. Going to Sicily in November to do a tour of the island with my cousin, can’t wait. We are foodies so will enjoy exploring the markets. Love your website!
    Anne, UK


    1. Sicily is paradise for foodies! Make sure you go to the Capo market or Ballaro for food mania! The Vucciria itself doesn’t have food any more, but both of those markets look like this painting!
      I’ve also made a page of foodie ideas…


  7. Leopoldo says:

    I read somewhere that the Guttuso painting of the Vecchia was painted in Rome and not in Palermo. Guttuso asked even a Roman Butcher to send to his atelier a full half of a beef to recreate the atmosphere.


    1. Ha ha! I can just picture that! I wonder if he ate it afterwards?
      Like other talented sons of Bagheria, Guttuso left and never came back (till he was dead.)


  8. Richard Brinton says:

    I have a fleeting memory of having seen dry point prints of Sicilian landscape by Guttuso- wonderful prints balancing subject, technique and a spiritual dimension of an inhospitable landscape. Can someone tel me where I can see these prints again?


    1. You need to go to the Guttuso Museum in Bagheria, Sicily (near Palermo) which is housed in Villa Cattolica.
      The 17th century villa is currently being restored (they need non stop maintenance) so it is closed for about 6 months or so.
      I’ll blog when it reopens, so if you subscribe you’ll get an email notification! 😀


  9. Philip says:

    If you want to know lots more about Guttuso and his interesting domestic arrangements, read “Midnight in Sicily” by Peter Robb. Actually, read it anyway , it’s great.


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