The Strange Case of Garofalo's House

Written by  Gian Antonio Cibotto
Even though the artist was born in Ferrara, the locals consider him to be a native son who strayed "far from home".
If you take the coast road that runs from Bologna to Padua, after Ferrara - or better, after Pontelagoscuro - the road faithfully follows the course of the Po, at least for a good stretch. As you travel along this road, crowded with trucks and cars, you come across towns that emanate a sense of times gone by, where the rhythms of life are still sweet, nobler sentiments resist the spreading wave of eroticism, and friendship is still considered something worth preserving.

One of the most curious and extraordinary places, huddled on the banks of the river that every now and then awakes furious to cause disasters, is without a doubt Garofalo, whose fame is linked above all to the name of a great painter: Benvenuto Tisi. To tell the truth, documentary evidence makes it abundantly clear that the artist was born in Ferrara in the year of grace 1481, but in the Polesine district, and in Garofalo in particular, the fact that his family originally came from there has always induced the locals to think of the painter as a native son who simply strayed "far FROM home".

And so the folk of Garofalo have always claimed the great Benvenuto as one of their own, conveniently overlooking the details of the birth, the debt to Domenico Fanetti, and a life spent at the court of the Este family. Nor are they prepared to give ear to certain "revisionists" who, starting with Burckhardt, have separated Garofalo from the group of the elect, whose number includes Mazzolino, Ortolano and Dosso, classifying him as «a provincial latecomer passed off as a fashionable personage».

For them he will be always be one of the great masters, a worthy disciple of his beloved Giorgione, with the result that for at least a century in these parts the talk in church and in the local hostelry alike has frequently returned to their illustrious son and the need to save at least his house.

During the Fascist epoch, a high ranking Party official had decided that the good name of the area was at stake and so a deal was struck with the Beghi family, the owners of the house, and the town council of Canaro: in exchange for a hay barn, the Tisi house would become part of the public patrimony. Flying on the wings of enthusiasm, the Accademia dei Concordi in Rovigo undertook at its own expense to have the modest and poor-looking little building renovated and put in order, with results that were close on miraculous.

Unfortunately, the council authorities forgot to have the exchange of property registered and so, following Italy's defeat in the last war, when someone finally recalled the matter of Benvenuto Tisi's house, the legal problems had become insurmountable. Proof of this lies in the fact that Garofalo's house has remained in a state of abandon ever since. The sight of it brings a pang to the soul. It is hard to understand why it is that no one has gone through the old records in an attempt to find a solution which, for the time being, seems to trouble only the parish priest of Garofalo - monsignor Bernardino Merlo.
The moral of the tale is that it's high time Garofalo's ancestral home was restored and, perhaps, transformed into a small museum for art lovers - a far more numerous breed than Italian scepticism would have us believe.

By way of conclusion, it is worth recounting a little-known anecdote that concerns the painter and not the house: it seems that the Rovigo branch of the Guf (the Fascist student association) had scored high points at the Littoriali (the Fascist-sponsored university athletics competition), after which the team was invited to Rome.

The leader of the group was Anteo Zamboni who, after explaining his association's plans for the future, announced - visibly moved - that before the end of the year the Guf intended to organize an exhibition dedicated to Benvenuto Tisi, better known as Garofalo. Upon the mention of an art exhibition, Mussolini, straightened up and with head tilted back, demanded in imperious tones: «Has he joined the Party yet?».