Where it all began.
Julie and I have been street painting for quite a while now. Me for about 15 years, and her for about 25, I think. We’ve heard and told, many stories of where street painting began. Whether it was to new festivals, workshop students, or for an interview, the story always the same…500 years ago in Italy, artists began street painting as a way to make money. Some injured veterans, some just wanting to share their work for a bit of spare change. The days of busking and donating time and creativity in exchange of a bit of street to paint on are still part of a long history of this Italian folk art, especially in Europe. But over the 500 years since it’s inception Street painting has evolved immensely. Today it can be seen all over the world as self expression, promotions, advertising, and exhibition. Just look at what we do for a living. We have a company dedicated to offering this art form as a service to events and companies all over the world.
Because of such an increase in interest and activity, street painting festivals have cropped up all over the country and through-out the world in the last 20 years. But where did the ‘festival’ idea come from. Well, the idea of an ‘organized festival’ began in Mantova, Italy where once a year on the holy day of the ascension, artists would spend 24 hours painting a beautiful religious image on the streets in front of the church. The wonderful thing about this event is that each artist, regardless of status, style, or popularity, is awarded a monetary stipend and medallion at the end of the event. This not only shows an appreciation for the work the artist has done but also gives them a small fund to cover their expenses for the day.
From the beginnings of man, we have found a way to create imagery in some way or another. Whether it be cave paintings by primitive beings, or stunning canvas works by Dutch Masters…we have a desire to tell our stories and share our dreams with stunning visuals. The same can be said about street painting. In the 1500’s, Italian artists began painting images of the Madonna and Child on the streets outside of churches and cathedrals. They lived off the donations tossed onto their works in appreciation. Once complete, the artist would collect their coins and soft pastels and move on to another town or city to create a new artwork. Each painting left to wear away over time with footsteps, wind, and rain.
In 1425, the first fair dedicated to the Mother of God on the day of her assumption was recorded. A day of community, culture, and enjoyment, was infused with the work of Madonnari. The First ‘Madonnari’ (Italian for Street Painter) Festival was performed on August 15th, 1973 when a researcher of folk traditions, Gilberto Boschesi wanted to recognize the value of the art created by these artists over hundreds of years. Together with the Mantua Tourism Board and the City of ProLoco Curtatone, Journalists, and Art critics, named the painters and peddlers of ‘Sacred Images of Madonna and Child,’ “Madonnari.” The artists present created Christian inspired images in the hopes of claiming the title of “Maestro Madonnaro” and a gold medal. A display of technique and creativity, artists work is on display as they work from the evening of August 14th, after the blessing of the chalk by the Bishop of Mantua, until 6pm on the evening of August 15th. 24 hours of work and attraction as people stroll through the night air to view the works of over 200 international artists.
The Festival has continued to take place at the Santuario Grazie Di Curtatone every August 14-15th. Prizes are still awarded in each of their 3 categories of participation…
Semplici (Simple, beginner), Qualificato (Qualified), and Maestro (Maestro, Master). Prizes range from Gold, Silver, Bronze medals, to honorable mentions. (Julie and I both have won several medals at this event including the top honor.) It remains one of the most respected and coveted events in the world. Now with artists traveling from all over the world, every street painter dreams of attending. It is the Original, from which events all over the world have imitated. And we thank them for being our inspiration and guide.