Michele PanebiancoBIOGRAPHY

Michele Panebianco.
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Born in Messina in 1806, Michele Panebianco is one of the most significant figures in the artistic panorama in Sicily in the 1800s. Basically self taught, after an extremely brief period at the School of Painting of the Royal Carolino College, run by Letterio Subba, in 1828, thanks to a grant from the Council of Messina, he moved to Rome where he attended the Accademy of Saint Luke (winning the School’s first prize for a naked opera he did that very year).He spent time at the artistic studios of both Vincenzo Camuccini and Natale Carta, tending towards a clearly classical, accademic style of painting.


After his return to Messina, Carmelo La Farina commissioned various  copies of alterpieces to be hung  in  many of the churches of the city in 1832, due to the fact that the originals had just been transferred to the Civic Museum in  Messina. He thus won the esteem of local patrons, and was able to appease the request for a more accademic style subsequently becoming a much sought after portrait painter by the aristocracy and the wealthy bourgeoise.

There are historiographic references to over three hundred  portraits by Panebianco. Among the many which clearly depict his ability in this  genre,  is the  family portrait of   Baron don Venerando Pennisi of Floristella, which belongs to a private collection. Several preparatory drawings are preserved along with this work.

In 1842, during Ferdinando II of Bourbon’s visit to Messina, for the solumn festivities  of the  Madonna of the Letter, Panebianco does several “transperancies”,  which were much admired by his contemporaries. These were to be exhibited along the main streets and depicted the return of the ambassadors of Messina  from Jerusalem as well as the ambassadors as they receive the Sacred letter. They have been brought down to us  today  through  Panebianco’s friend Tommaso AloysioJuvara’s copperplate engravings.

Between 1845 and 1846 Panebianco takes a long study tour of  Naples, Genua, Milan, Venice and Rome, where he meets Francesco Hayez and Luigi Sabatelli. He is also able to meet

painters of the  Purist Group and befriend  the scupltor Pietro Tenerani.The ramifications of  these meetings and the influence the Roman purists had,  are captured in the paintings he did on his return to Sicily, particularly those which depict sacred images, as well as in  the  curtain of  The Saint Elizabeth Theatre in Messina, painted in 1852  and destroyed in 1908 due to the tragic earthquake.

Director of the School of Drawing of the  Royal University of Messina and member of various  accademic circles, including the Pontificial Academy of Fine Arts and Letters of the Virtuous of the Pantheon, Panebianco was particularly active until his death, as can be seen by the  numerous  works found in a number  of churches in Sicily and in Calabria.


Michele Panebianco was born in 1806 in a Messina “which was protected by the English allies for ten years until 1815”. He was born in a city where families of the British community remained for more than a century, influencing part of the society, economic, financial and commercial practices common at that time. It is to no surprise then, that the artist worked for and befriended some these families.

J. I. Hittorff,
Veduta del porto e della città di Messina, 1835

The artist was  born  at a time when the  damage caused by  the earthquake in 1783 was still visible and during the  period when the priviledges of the free port which attempted to  bring life back into the city  after the calamity, co-existed  with insurrections, cholera epidemics, social uprisings and retaliation from the government of the Reign of the two Sicilies and last  but not least, at the time  of the ferocious Borbonic bombardment from the fort of the very port of Messina itself.

Panebianco grew up in Messina during the slow  re-construction and partial urban transformation which apeared to be a “new city” and definitely a city full of building sites to the  eyes of the cultivated nineteenth century traveller.  (Jakob Hirtoff)

The decision to demolish and subsequently rebuild the famous Palazzata on the port waterfront, damaged by the earthquake at the end of the 1700s, was an opportunity for partial urban redefinition. However, it was also a reinterpretation in other artistic styles  and proportions of that constructed, urban manifesto which had synthetically defined this  city of work, of revenue, of nobility and of commerce to travellers, merchants, to the port dwellers, to the artists  and to the population itself.

Panebianco lived to see the rationalization of important historical venues in his  city, the creation of the  new Ferdinanda thoroughfare, later called Via Garibaldi, where he lived until his death in 1873. Moreover, he saw  the new Municipal building go up in 1820, both the demolition and re-building  from 1809 to 1830, the laying of the foundation stone of  the new Saint Elizabeth Theatre in 1842, its opening in 1852 and the creation of the Villa Flora Gardens on  Saint John’s Esplanade.

It is therefore clear that  Michele Panebianco, academic who travels and develops his artistry in the cities of Italy but who returns to Messina as a well-known artist and  Director of the School of drawing of the University,  is a contemporary of the  city’s reconsideration of the historic events which effected it so much.Thus, the redefinition of  squares and open spaces, the  new direction the  city  took towards the north and towards the central plain, but  also  the weaving  of gardens and treed walkways in the city centre and along the waterfront as well as the development of a new type of  new-concept buildings are all experiences which Panebianco draws on:a long and laborious reconstruction which surrendered the  ancient city along with that of the emerging bourgeois city, to the devastating earthquake in 1908.


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