Orneore Metelli

Orneore Metelli was born to a bourgeois family in Terni. Like his father, he worked as a shoemaker for most of his life, for which he received a variety of regional and national prizes. In those years, the Metelli shoe factory was known for high-quality, handcrafted shoes, and counted nobles, high-bourgeois, officers and prelates among its customers who considered Metelli a guarantee for flawless shoemaking excellence.

Metelli was also a keen musician. He played first euphonium in the municipal brass band, followed by first trombone in the Verdi Theatre orchestra. However, due to a heart condition that developed as he got older, he was forbidden to drink wine or to exhaust himself playing his instruments. This renunciation affected him a great deal, but he decided to direct his creative abilities towards painting, which he had taken up as a pastime in 1922. He was evidently not very proud of his work as he more or less kept it hidden.

In 1936, he met a young sculptor from Terni –  Aurelio De Felice – who was struck by the shoemaker’s originality and inventiveness, and promised to "make him famous". In the following years, the friendship and esteem between the two grew and, each time they met, Metelli gave his paintings to his friend, reminding him in jest of his promise. Metelli died in Terni on November 26, 1938.

Throughout his life, he had no relationship with critics, gallery owners or art experts but his friend De Felice, keeping the promise he made in 1936, began to show Metelli’s work in order to gage the reaction of the public.

The first unofficial test took place in 1942 at the Palazzo Carrara, during the retrospective exhibition organised by Ugo Castellani and Aurelio De Felice in Terni. The following exhibition in 1945 at the Galleria del Secolo in Via Veneto, Rome, was a great success, even if it was limited. An exhibition the following year, again in Rome, although not much appreciated by the public, attracted the unexpected attention of the press thanks to a competition for the best review, won by the poet Libero de Libero.

The competition brought an avalanche of articles, and the name Metelli became known internationally for the first time. In 1947, Kunsthalle Bern, followed by other Swiss cities, requested Metelli’s works for a posthumous exhibition.

The Swiss exhibitions were a success with the public and critics alike, and the Italian art press launched his name among those of the great artists.

On June 16, 1946, the journalist Zavattini wrote in the Roman newspaper "Il Minuto":

"Metelli always sublimates the thing, the person, the event, his own signature, with the style of memory, being one who remembers more than he sees and, even more precisely, who sees in order to remember."

His style is based on a vision of the world in which reality seems to be a scene in a theatre; Metelli himself wrote:

"... it seemed to me that the whole city was a marvellous, unseen stage, painted and bright, and full of a thousand forms and a thousand appearances and actions of that time similar to those performed in theatres."

The local history scholar Pompeo De Angelis, author of a mini-biography published in 1997, defines him as "progressive but sad", a "painter full of ideas".

The Terni State Art Institute and the city's municipal art gallery are named after him.

"The revolt against the tax agents"

The subject represented Private collection Zurich - oil on cardboard, 54x77 cm

The artist, Orneore Metelli, often draws inspiration from History. However, he disregards whether the facts described correspond to the truth or not, rather, they are fragments of a distant chronicle which are elevated to events of universal relevance by local pride.

"Nomen atque omen" opined Plautus in the comedy Persa, thus intending to affirm that a proper name - far from being a simple "flatus vocis" - sometimes assumes the value of an omen. A striking example is that of Liberotto Liberotti, the blacksmith from Terni and the protagonist of the "The revolt against the tax agents". Already powerful by virtue of the name that had been imposed upon him, Liberotto was a "libertarian" or, indeed, a libertarian twice over, if we consider that his family bore the surname "Liberotti".

Our blacksmith had the opportunity to implement the power he possessed in the aftermath of the devastation of Interamna (the ancient name of Terni), created by the hordes of Christian I (Archbishop of Mainz), chancellor to Frederick I Barbarossa. The prostrate city soon became a territory of conquest hounded by the neighbouring towns, the "serpent-brethren" of Spoleto and Narni. Forgetting their shared history, the two towns began to send their tax collectors to the inhabitants of Terni with meticulous punctuality. It was the year 1174. One day, in the square in front of the church of San Tommaso, where the tax agents were asking to be paid, Liberotto replied by raging, bringing down his club on their unfortunate heads. The people of Terni rose up in arms. In his painting, Metelli commemorates our "hero" in the shining moment of triumph. Standing on a barrel with an angry expression akin to thundering Jupiter throwing lightning from the top of Olympus, he harangues the crowd armed with shovels and pitchforks. He accompanies his words with the eloquent movement of a hammer and the sheet outlining a tax payment order, ripped from the hands of the tax collectors. A priest, dressed in his white surplice, can be seen on the threshold of the church, summoned there by the screams coming from the square, while he was performing a ritual or feeling pity towards the tax agents, who are piled lifelessly at the feet of the barrels. Metelli depicts his characters in a space that is structured in different sections, crowded in the foreground, with the multitude of men and women grouped in the form of a huge triangle, culminating at the top with the figure of Liberotto Liberotti.

In the background, beyond an empty space that gives "vastness" to the painting, emerges the church of San Tommaso, with the solemn cross and two bell towers at a distance, from different eras. The square is "contained" on the sides by the outlines of old buildings, where women screaming in horror crowd at the windows.