Mentessi ( Ferrara 1857 - Milano 1931 )
painter, engraver and teacher. He was born into a peasant family
and lost his father when he was five. His mother managed to send
him to drawing classes at the Civico Ateneo in Ferrara, where
Gaetano Previati was his classmate, and then to the Accademia di
Belle Arti in Parma, where he studied decoration and stage
design. Between 1877 and 1881 he attended the Accademia di Brera
in Milan and was introduced by Previati into the circle of Gli
Scapigliati. His friendships with Emilio Longoni (1859-1932),
Cesare Tallone, Leonardo Bistolfi and the socialist lawyer Luigi
Majno date from this time. In 1880 Mentessi won a prize at the
Scuola di Architettura and became assistant to Luca Beltrami at
the Brera, beginning a lifelong career as a teacher of
architectural drawing and geometry. In 1887 he was appointed
Professor of Landscape Painting at the Brera and in the early
years of the 20th century he also gave courses at the Societ?
Umanitaria in Milan. Due to his friendship with the Swiss
painter Luigi Rossi (1853-1923), he acted as a consultant in the
commission for the teaching of drawing in the canton of Ticino.
He was also active in organizing exhibitions. In the 1890s
Mentessi painted landscapes and pictures dealing with social
issues, among them Our Daily Bread (1894; Ferrara, Gal. Civ. A.
Mod.), which was shown at the first Venice Biennale in 1895. The
theme of the painting is pellagra, a disease caused by
malnutrition that was widespread in the Ferrarese countryside.
Gradually he developed his own manner of depicting poverty and
suffering, central to which is the theme of motherhood, in
either a secular or a religious context. Apart from imaginative
compositions, he worked on engravings from the beginning of the
20th century. With Sad Vision (1899; Venice, Ca' Pesaro), a
large pastel exhibited in Paris in 1900, Mentessi began a series
of works on religious subjects in the Symbolist vein. With
Gloria (1901; Rome, G.N.A. Mod.), which was much acclaimed when
it was exhibited in Venice in 1901, the artist took up the theme
of anti-militarism. This he repeated in various minor works
during World War I. The triptych Passion Week (1914; Ferrara,
Gal. Civ. A. Mod.) has, in the scene of a massacre, intense
passages of raw realism.