At Atina, in the province of Frosinone, Italy, the small museum, Academie Vitti, traces the story of three innovative sisters who opened in Paris the first drawing and painting school dedicated for women.
The story begins with the first emigration into France from southern Italy towards the end of the nineteenth century at which time the male and female models from Ciociaria were very much sought after by painters, photographers and sculptors. It was the Grand Tour period and these models with their traditional dress were so fashionable that many of the portraits by famous painters in the most important museums in the world were inspired by Ciociarian models.
Cesare Vitti di Casalvieri was one of these models with his wife Maria Caira who encouraged the other two sisters Jacinta and Anna da Gallinaro to go to Paris. Many of the emigrants came from Val di Comino in which, after unity of Italy, they had found themselves in unfavorable conditions.
Although these models were nude for the most famous artists, there was a limitation: women painters could not portray naked men.
The sisters then had an idea that became reality thanks to their capriciousness and courage: to open a women’s art school where artists could have male models available plus all that they needed to be able to exercise their creativity.
The school was located in Montparnasse in the heart of the artistic district and was opened until 1914 when, upon World War I, the sisters decided to return to Comino Valley and settle in Atina.
Shortly after its inception, the school also admitted male artists and in its 25 years of activity many artists passed through its doors including the father of Sylvia Beach, the first publisher of Joyce’s Ulysses and the illustrator of Belle Epoque in Paris in the twenties. Sylvia also posed as a model in the school for Cesare Vitti, who was also a good sculptor.
Academie Vitti became so important and a point of reference for artists that it had among its teachers great names such as Paul Gaugain and Jacques-Émile Blanche, Proust’s portraitist.
When the sisters moved to Atina, they brought back all their belongings, works of art and sketches, furniture and objects of common use. Over the years many things have gone missing, but one of their heirs has gathered all that he has found and has set up a charming museum-house, the Académie Vitti Museum, in the building where the family had lived.
Entering catapults one into a world of the past with the walls covered with large sketches of naked poses executed by pupils of the school where sometimes masters’ corrections can still be noticed.