Amedeo Modigliani Head Sculptures 1909

On the verge of returning to Paris, Amedeo Modigliani, did not throw all of what represented several months artistic work (as we shall see, there were originally five sculptures) into the canals of Livorno, the so-called “Fossi Medicei”. The propagation of this episode, so pragmatically irrational as to border on the absurd, is based on a totally false and fanciful rumor, reported many years later by the Romanian writer Peter Neagoe in a work published in New York in 1965, in a book without any pretense to historical reliability; in fact the title page declares it to be a novel based – with infinite freedom and invention of dialogue and situation – on the life of Constantin Brancusi.

Extremely far-fetched! In fact many witnesses declare that that in 1909 up until the destruction of the war, the waters of the canals of Livorno were crystal-clear, the bottom of the canals being regularly and carefully dredged. Had Modigliani really thrown his sculptures in they would have been on permanent show like an open-air museum. Moreover, since the canals were regularly dredged the sculptures would inevitably have ended up in the sea together with the rest of the rubble.

Given their weight (a single sculpture weighs about half hundredweight) and size, transporting them to Paris would have been difficult and expensive, but at the same time the artist had to leave the studio he was renting. So he asked Roberto Simoncini, a greengrocer who worked in the Mercato Centrale (the Central Market), to clear out his rooms in Via Gherardi del Testa and to keep the sculptures we’ll be talking about in this page at his home. And that is just what Roberto Simoncini did: he took the five sculptures to his house, as well as a trunk which Modigliani had left in his rooms in Via Gherardi del Testa.

The trunk contained some books that convincingly support the authenticity of the sculptures in question. In fact one of the books – an eighteenth-century edition of the Opera Omnia by Virgil - contains handwritten notes by Amedeo Modigliani, who wrote annotations in the margins; the handwriting has been confirmed as Modigliani’s by a skilled calligrapher appointed by the Court of Florence.

Moreover there was another book, entitled “Rettili Umani” (“Human Reptiles”) by Alberto Costa (edition of 1900); the book is stained, as if browsed through by someone with oil color stains on his fingers. Hair is visible to the naked eye, as are fingerprints - blueish - similar to the tone used in the portrait of "The beggar of Livorno" (1909). This is a portrait of Roberto Simoncini, who loved to sit in the sun (hence his nickname “Solicchio”) and who also enjoyed taking friends out hunting.

The presence of a 1898 exhibition catalog – the year in which the young Amedeo was at the peak of his illness - is perhaps explained thanks to the testimony of the artist’s mother as collected by Paul Alexandre in the course of a lengthy exchange of correspondence with her - with the help of her daughter Margherita - after her son’s death. Lastly, an album with prints of paintings which, however, does not seem to be of relevance.

It seems obvious that the trunk, the books and the sculptures remained in the same spatial context, kept first by Simoncini at his home and then Carboni, at the premises where he worked as a coachbuilder.

Piero Carboni was born in Livorno on 05/28/1925. He attended the“Antonio Benci” primary school from 1931, in Via degli Scali Olandesi n° 8 (ex scali Ugo Botti). With both parents at work, Piero Carboni spent most of his younger days at his uncle’s house (family Domenici - Simoncini) in the same street as his school. An elderly gentleman also lived in the same house. This was Roberto Simoncini (1852-1938), who was to grandfather of Piero Carboni’s cousins. "Solicchio" was to Piero Carboni like the grandfather he had never known. He told him many stories about his life, including those about an artist with whom he had become good friends in the early '900: Amedeo Modigliani. The chronicles, in fact, report that the artist had a studio at Via Gherardi del Testa, at the opposite side of the main entrance of the central market place in which Roberto Simoncini regularly went to work. He also told Piero that he had posed for the artist, who had left some of his works with him before leaving for Paris. From that time onwards Solicchio jealously guarded them, waiting for Modigliani to return. One day Solicchio, driven by young Piero’s curiosity, showed him - under the stairs of his home - the works left by the artist : 5 sculptures, a block of drawings and old books inside an old trunk

The following are some flashes of this story from Maurizio Bellandi's book: "Amedeo Modigliani 'the stumbling blocks' - The story of the real heads of Modigliani" Sillabe Editions.

Livorno 1909 - 1938:

Roberto Simoncini kept the sculptures entrusted to him by the great artist until his death in 1938. He kept them in the basement of his modest house in Scali degli Olandesi (Scali Ugo Botti at that time), telling whoever asked their provenance (including grandchildren Leonetto and Luigi Domenici, and their cousin and playmate Piero Carboni) that they were the work of an artist who had arrived in Livorno from Paris and who had portrayed him in a painting.





Livorno 1943:

During the Second World War, Piero and his family were "displaced" in Versilia, to escape the bombing; however he had to return to Livorno in August 1943 to undergo a medical examination required for recruitment in the armed forces. The city of his childhood had been destroyed; hemet with the scourge of looting and the risk of unexploded bombs - the area around the Central Market -dubbed the "black zone"- was off-limits. Before going to the Military District, now in Via degli Avvalorati (the previous one having been destroyed by bombs), Piero went to Via Mentana to see what was left of his house: it was completely destroyed. He carried on to nearby Piazza XX Settembre, to his Aunt Adalgisa's house: the building was intact, but the door had been broken down and the house had been ransacked. From there he headed to the "Scali Ugo Botti" (now Scali degli Olandesi) to see what was left of the house where he had spent his youth with his cousins. This building too was semi-destroyed, with debris extending to the Fosso Reale (the Royal Canal).

Rooting through the rubble he was able to find 3 of the 5 sculptures and much of the other material shown him by Solicchio. Respect for the old man, sensitivity or simply instinct led him to find a wheelbarrow, load the sculptures and other materials left by the artist and take it all to aunt Adalgisa's house, where he put them on a small balcony overlooking the Fosso Reale. Whilst doing this he was stopped by two soldiers, but he showed them his call-up card and told them that he was saving family effects (being recruited into the Italian army, Piero Carboni had free access to the “black zone”). Later, after he returned with his family from Versilia, he retrieved the three sculptures from his aunt’s house as well as old Simoncini’s big wooden trunk, in which only three books were left.

Livorno 1944 - 1984:

At the end of the war Piero Carboni began his activity as coachbuilder / vehicle bodyshop and in the years to follow he always kept the sculptures on view in all the various workshops he moved to, clearly visible to all his clients and completely unaware of their real value. This is how he came into contact with Giuseppe Saracino .
What prompted Piero Carboni to dig the three works out of the rubble? What instinct led him - a boy of just eighteen, of no great culture, in a humble job – to seek out a wheelbarrow, load the sculptures on it and take away the material left by the artist? The theory is that the young man, although endowed with a certain artistic sensibility as are many of Leghorn's citizens, had heard the call of authentic works of art is probably suggestive but quite likely not far from the truth, given his childhood passion for sketching and his later, original method of painting pictures "by spray" which blossomed right inside his workshops, thanks to his experience with the spray gun heused for painting his motorbike and, later, cars under repair.

Livorno 1984:

In 1984 a modest Modigliani exhibition was set up in Villa Maria and it was on that occasion that Piero Carboni came to understand that in all probability the sculptures he had saved were the work of Amedeo Modigliani. His certainty increased when he saw a photo displayed in this exhibition, showing Via Gherardi del Testa as the place where Modigliani had sculpted during the summer of 1909. Piero Carboni contacted Vera Durbè - head of the project to dredge the canals of Livorno – who, however, did not pay much heed. This – as we shall see – represents a further confirmation of the incompetency of those who authenticated the heads found in the Livorno canal as authentic works of Modigliani.





Piero soon realized why….

The Modigliani exhibition had very little success, both in terms of critics and visitors, particularly when compared with another exhibition – on butterflies - that was being held at the same time ...); in order to attract visitors, Vera Durbé and her brother Dario (who was, at that time, Superintendent of The Gallery of Modern Art in Rome), in collaboration with the city council, decided to dredge a small stretch of the Livorno canals in search of the sculptures which, according to urban legend, Amedeo Modigliani had thrown away in the summer of 1909 after his artist friends in Livorno had made fun of him.

It is worth noting that Livornese writers (the first of whom was G. Razzaguta), placed this episode at the time theartist last stayed in his hometown. So why were "the architects of the miraculous fishing" looking for the sculptures said to have been thrown away in 1909? (in-depth studies in this regard are included in the bibliographic sources).

The events that characterized what is commonly known as the "Hoax of 1984", are mentioned by the author in his book, reporting unpublished testimony contained in a documented and registered statement by Angelo Froglia (creator of two of the sculpted heads) made on 4/10 and 5/10 1992 to lawyer Nino Filastò.

As is now well known, that was the year of the fake heads of Modi’. Many art experts were covered with ridicule when it was revealed that two of the heads foundhad been prepared ad hoc by a Livornese artist, Angelo Froglia, and another by three student pranksters!
However, one expert and art collector from Crespina (Pisa), Carlo Pepi, spoke out against the heads found in to the canal. At that time Pepi was a member of the “Modigliani Legal Archives” at the direct behest of Modigliani’s daughter Jeanne. Pepi not only claimed that the sculptures were fake but that they had been sculpted by different people. He had also spoken out against the exhibition at the Villa Maria, as in his opinion there were two fake works on show: a sculpture (included in the Ceroni publications and identified as Ceroni XIV) and the portrait of Picasso, which Jeanne Modigliani also considered as a forgery.

Pepi's dissent was reported in an article entitled "who applauds and who condemns".

Given the incredible scandal that arose after the Modigliani affair of 1984, Piero Carboni, a shy person and with no connection to cultural or political circles, realized that he had been deliberately ignored so – demotivated – he returned to work in his bodyshop.




Livorno September 1991, and later dates:

Assisted by Giuseppe Saracino, Piero Carboni came forward and publicly presented the three sculptures in his possession. Journalists flocked to Livorno attracted by the important news and the two men attempted through the media to stimulate, naively, the Italian institutions to recognize the authenticity of the works.However the blow suffered by the experts not many years before, the result of the Hoax of '84, was still too fresh in their minds and none of them dared to stick their necks out regarding the sculptures. Articles 17/09/1991: 1 - 2 - 3

The same article reports news of the seizure of an entire exhibition in Viterbo, curated by Osvaldo Patani, of 79 drawings attributed to the young Modigliani. This seizure by the Guardia di Finanza was the outcome of an intervention by Carlo Pepi during the inauguration of the exhibition, when he stated that the drawings were all fake, or rather, wrongly attributed: by a relation of Amedeo Modigliani, yes, but not by Amedeo himself.
Some drawings attributed to Modigliani exhibited at Viterbo in 1991: 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 -7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - 11 - 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17 - 18





Returning to the statues, the pseudo “Modigliani experts” of the art world were obviously silent, but one voice arose from the choir in favor of the authenticity of the works: that of Carlo Pepi. In 1990, the expert had resigned from the “Modigliani Legal Archives” as he did not share the organization’s modus operandi,and had also left the artist’s “Casa Natale” (birthplace) which he had founded and directed.

Initially Pepi claimed to be impressed by the sculptures saved by Carboni when he saw them on slides in a lawyer's office in Livorno but did not intend to express any judgment until he had actually seen them.
The most damaged sculpture was brought to Carlo Pepi's home, but since it was damagedthe expert did not express any kind of judgment and asked to Carboni to leave it with him so he could rebuild the missing parts with modelling wax and study the complete body of the work. His Modigliani expert’s judgement was published in the newspapers the following day. Articles: 1 - 2 - 3

A few days later Pepi was able to inspect the other two sculptures, reconfirming his positive opinion of all three heads by drawing up a certificate of authenticity.
Articles: "I challenge the world: this is Modì" ( 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 ) + ( 1 - 2 - 3 )

A considerable number of researchescarried out in order to collect the elements necessary to reconstruct the history of the 3 sculptures led to numerous witnesses who were able to declare that the three heads were to be seen in Piero Carboni’s garages from the 50’s onwards.One of the witnesses was a military police officer, one of the two who had stopped the teenage Piero in the "black zone" in '43 while he was pushing the wheelbarrow with the objects left by the artist.

In March 1992, since the so-called ‘experts’ did not come forward with their opinions, the Superintendence of Pisa was asked for exportation forms for a sculpture, this obliging the State to decide. All the vicissitudes, charges, etc. against the Superintendence are reported minutely and chronologically inside the book.

In the same year a calligraphic expertise was carried out by an expert of the Court of Florence on the notes in the margin ofthe book by Virgil, comparing them with Modigliani's autographed letters written from differing periods. On September 10, 1992 the expert's answer arrived with a detailed report (15 pages) confirming that the notes were written in the hand of the artist, confirming what Pepi had declared as soon as he had seen them.




In addition to the evaluation of Carlo Pepi, the sculptures were examined In August 1993 by two eminent names: Wayne Vesti Andersen, Professor of History of Art,Theoryand art critic withthe Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and James Beck, Professor of History of Art at Columbia University in New York and President of Art Watch International, both of whom agreed that the three sculptures were authentic, the work of Amedeo Modigliani.

Investigations by the Carabinieri of Livorno led to new testimony by twelve people who had known Roberto Simoncini; one witness was able to indicate exactly where the fruit vendor had his work place in the Central Market: this person was shown the painting of "The beggar of Livorno" and he immediately recognized Roberto Simoncini.

In September 1993 an exhibition of over 400 unpublished drawings by Modiglianifrom the Paul Alexandre collection, opened at Palazzo Grassi (Venice). Among these works Pepi recognized three sketches withnovel features, recognizable also in the three sculptures saved by Piero Carboni. As he had advised ANSA and as was reported in the press, Pepi had predicted that they would be found. Unbelievably the Modigliani Legal Archives and Osvaldo Patani raised doubts as to the authenticity of the Alexandre works (Corriere della Sera, 14th January 1993). Perhaps the problem was that such a large number of authentic drawingswould make a mockery of the myriad of fakes, light years from the unmistakable mark of the great Modigliani...
Article: 1 + Catalog Alexandre + ( 1 - 2 - 3 )

In realitythe beautiful Venice exhibition was also fundamental in reconstructing the artist's life story, so often wrapped in mystery and legend, especially the years he spent in Livorno. This finds support in the bibliographic sources with specific details concerning the "Hoax of 1984".

On October 24, 1993, Carlo Pepi received a letter from prof. Enzo Carli declaring as more than credible the paternity of the Modigliani sculptures owned by Piero Carboni. In this important document (quoted in the book for the first time) Enzo Carli congratulated Pepi for his intervention at the Viterbo exhibition, and also explained the reason he was deceived by the Hoax of 1984.

On September 1, 1994, Carlo Pepi was appointed as Director of the Fakes and Forgeries section of Art Watch International, thanks to his remarkable work in identifying fakes and forgeries and his commitment to unmasking them.

On October 13, 1994, La Nazione published an article in which all three sculptures were declared to be fake despite the fact that the expert appointed by the Special Superintendence of Rome had seen only one of them, i.e. the one deposited with the Fine Arts Commission in Pisa.
Articles: 1 - 2

On 5 September 1995 two sculptures were seized by the Carabinieri of Rome from Piero Carboni's house. Of the third head, which was in the possession of Saracino, all trace was lost since the latter made very sure that it could not be found.

At Easter 1998, Piero Carboni died following a heart attack. He would never see the law acknowledge the truth he was seeking.

On September 18, 1998, a large criminal association aimed at marketing fakes and forgeries was unmasked by the Guardia di Finanza. This operation, called "Operation Modì", was triggered by an entrepreneur who had bought a drawing for 40 million Lire, sold as a genuine Modigliani. Unconvinced of his purchase, the entrepreneur turned to Carlo Pepi for his opinion, only to be told it was a fake.

December 14, 2000 marks the beginning of the proceedings against Giuseppe Saracino, charged with the same crimes as Carboni (against whom the charges had been dropped, he being deceased) and against Carlo Pepi for having authenticated the three sculptures: FOR HAVING EXPRESSED A POSITIVE OPINION ATTRIBUTING PATERNITY OF THE THREE SCULPTURES TO MODIGLIANI! In a "normal" country the so-called "experts" who had acclaimed the sculpture fished from the canal of Livorno, would have received the same treatment ... yet instead they remained comfortably in their places, indeed some of them have improved their position and prestige and only Dario Durbé was dismissed his the post as Superintendent in Rome.
The five hearings are reported in the book in a summarized form, from the transcripts of the minutes up to the final ruling (reported in full) which upholds the motion of both the defense AND the prosecution, concluding with the FULL ACQUITTAL of the defendants.

The autumn of 2007 marks the end of the civil suit fought between the heirs for the ownership of the sculptures. The agreement reached also includedthe third head which had been returned by a relative of the deceased Saracino.

Excerpt from the TV program "La storia siamo noi" by Giovanni Minoli "The Mystery of Modì".

Maurizio Bellandi