Costantino Proietto Paints the Timeless Glory of RomeIn April 2012, Kelli Malone of Lindale, Texas wrote to me about an oil painting that she had recently purchased at a garage sale in her area. Kelli wrote, “East Texas has many flea markets, garage sales and trades days, which I love to attend. My husband and I were out one Saturday, looking for unique things that people have to sell. It was getting late, but I convinced my husband that we should stop at one more garage sale.
I spotted the painting right off and just loved it. It was not a typical oil painting but had texture and a beautiful scene of buildings alongside the water. I purchased the painting and then found your website while researching the artist, C.Proietto. I would appreciate any information you can give me about the painting, including if it is an original C.Proietto.”
According to Nunzio LoCastro, the first cousin of Costantino Proietto, the artist was prolific. On his business card, he listed his German title as “Kunstmaler”, which translates into English as “production painter”. While stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army between 1951 and 1953, LoCastro regularly visited his Cousin “Tino” in Stuttgart.
Nunzio LoCastro tells us that Tino Proietto could finish a small painting in a day, while it might take two days to complete a larger work. After an eighteen-year, unpaid apprenticeship to an art restoration specialist in Randazzo, Sicily, Costantino Proietto settled in Germany before World War II. By the early 1950s, Tino had both an apartment and a separate atelier, where he painted. He produced paintings of “what people wanted to buy”, which included landscapes of well-known Italian and Swiss scenes.
Until Easter each year, Costantino Proietto painted six or seven days each week. In the early days, he would then load up his automobile and peddle unframed paintings to individuals and galleries throughout Germany. After his spring sales trip, Costantino would again paint daily until fall. He would then repeat the mobile sales process, with much of his fall collection sold to holiday shoppers.
From the 1940’s until the 1970’s, Tino Proietto kept up that pace. By the 1960’s, he joined exhibitions of framed art at various Allied military bases throughout West Germany. Although he died in 1979, Costantino Proietto continued to paint until at least the mid 1970’s. If C.Proietto painted only 100 pictures each year for forty years, that would bring his total to 4000 original oil paintings. My guess is that 4000 paintings would be a minimum, with the possible number of C.Proietto works at least twice that high.
The artist, who did not care about fame, priced his works within the reach of soldiers and citizens. According to Nunzio LoCastro, Cousin Tino was an energetic and dedicated artist who regretted nothing in his life. With each newly discovered C.Proietto painting, we learn more about the artist and the pleasure that he brought to so many people around the world.
In order to authenticate the Malone C.Proietto painting, I looked first at the signature. As is characteristic with all known C.Proietto paintings, he used a palette knife to execute his signature. Note the strong horizontal lines on the letter “C”. The “dot” is in line with the finishing stroke of the “C”. The “P” is larger than the “C”. The lower horizontal line within the “P” appears as an oval. The “i” is un-dotted. The crossing of the “tt” becomes an upward-rising slash. The bottoms of the letters in “Proietto” form a near-perfect horizontal line. Since these signature characteristics appear in all authentic C.Proietto paintings, I felt certain that the painting was genuine.
The content and style of the Malone C.Proietto are consistent with the artist’s other known works. The scene features both water and sky. It also contains strong architectural elements in the middle ground and background. The aspect ratio of the painting is similar to standard 35-mm photographic film. Using photographic prints as models C.Proietto almost always painted in his studio. If you observe the basilica and its outbuildings, you will see a masterful use of texture, color and form.
Convinced of its authenticity, I offered to purchase the painting from Kelli Malone. In mid-June, a UPS parcel containing my new C.Proietto masterpiece arrived. The only obvious flaws on the painted surface were a chip of missing paint below the bridge and some cracks in the painted sky. According to Nunzio LoCastro, the painter was a chain-smoker. To accelerate aging of his works and perhaps anticipating later smoke damage, Tino Proietto often mixed his cigarette ashes into the paints on his palate. This pre-aging appears around the Archangel Michael atop the castle.
Not recognizing the scene in the painting, I displayed it for guests at a recent dinner party. One individual immediately recognized the scene. In the foreground is the Tiber River, in Rome, Italy. The bridge is the Ponte Sant’Angelo, once the Aelian Bridge, completed in 134 AD, by the Emperor Hadrian. On the right bank of the river is the Mausoleum of Hadrian, completed in 139 AD, one year after the death of Hadrian, himself. Today, the imposing structure is the Castel Sant’Angelo, featuring a statue of the Archangel Michael by the 18th century Flemish sculptor Pieter Verschaffelt atop its ramparts. From the fourteenth century onward, various popes used the mausoleum as a fortress and castle. In the background of the painting is a timeless image of the grand dome of Basilica San Pietro, in Vatican City.
Costantino Proietto painted in a Stuttgart studio that featured large windows and northern light. As he painted, light would shine through the canvas from behind. Depending on the effect that the artist desired, he would leave some portions of the canvas almost free of paint. This technique allowed more or less light to shine through from behind.
Hoping to discover what Costantino Proietto intended while painting this iconic Roman scene, I placed a lamp behind the picture. Utilizing my crude backlighting technique, the original afternoon scene turned to dusk. The current of the Tiber River reflected back to me in fading light. Horizontal lines on the buildings and the bridge glowed, as if lit from within. Reflecting his genius as a master of the palate knife, alternate images may appear on a single C.Proietto canvas.
Many thanks to Kelli Malone for helping to advance our knowledge of twentieth century impressionist master,Costantino Proietto.