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Eolo's Iside

Posted by Suzanne on 11 Nov 2017

It was a subsided section of the A19 (the low slung highway which cuts through the navel of Sicily and runs between Palermo and Catania) and a consequent detour up through the Madonie mountains to Polizzi Generosa that brought Australian Sicilian artist Eolo Paul Bottaro to Polizzi in 2015. 

Emotionally drawn to Sicily, the island of his ancestors, Eolo returned to Polizzi in 2016 and is there now, fueled with an unstoppable passion and curiosity working on his latest art project The Polizzi Project- his recreation of  Polizzi Generosa's lost (deliberately destroyed) statue from antiquity held deeply in the psyche of the people.



A Three Headed Female Image and an Australian Artist Intrigued

Eolo stayed a night in Polizzi in 2015, ate well and came across a female image with three heads (it was holding two snakes in the left hand, and one face was that of a bearded old man), in the town’s archaeological museum, he said it was down low. 

He was both shocked and intrigued and the next morning headed to the town’s library, met with the Lord Mayor and asked him had any artist ever proposed to recreate a modern version of the lost statue seen in the image and to give her back to the people of Polizzi.

In the summer of 2016 I received a detailed and enthusiastic email from Eolo filling me in on his discovery and his idea of recreating the statue, and asking if we were interested in supporting such a project.

We met up in Polizzi in September of 2016, he stayed a couple of nights at The Sicilian House, organised a serious meeting with the town’s cultural group, La Naftolia and the town council and now the statue is being recreated by Eolo as I write this from my desk in Australia.


Who is Isis Minerva?

The image was of Isis Minerva (Iside) an Egyptian goddess said to have been worshipped in Polizzi in antiquity - pre Christian, a statue of Isis Minerva was angrily destroyed in Polizzi in the mid eighteenth century by an incensed bishop and then she was recounted in detail (with a drawing of Isis Minerva) in a formal protest letter about her destruction signed by 'forty three men of the town's governing body' .

This protest was, as writer Vincent Schiavelli notes in his book 'Many Beautiful Things' sent to both the church and state at the time. 

She was, he recounts, ‘the original patroness of the city’...and he notes that 'eighteenth century drawings of a four foot statue, dating from antiquity show the form of a woman with three faces'.

Isis, tells the American writer Theresa Maggio, was ‘the Egyptian mother goddess’ and ‘the protectress of the grain crops that had made Polizzi rich, the three-faced ruler of past, present and future and the three seasons of life: childhood, maturity and old age’.  

And as Theresa Maggio recounts her time in Polizzi in her 2002 book “The Stone Boudoir”- “The people of Polizzi still mourned for her. I saw her framed image in their bars, and offices nearly as often as I saw crucifixes”.

Today decorative plates and pottery pieces depicting the mysterious Isis Minerva can be found in the pottery studios of Polizzi and the town’s cultural group La Naftolia is simply passionate about her.

In Theresa Maggio's 'Stone Boudoir'  the orignal Isis Minerva statue was descibed  in 'loving detail'  by the protestors as made of  “ the whitest marble, her hair long hung loose over her shoulders and down her back, three faces bloomed from her long neck. The one facing front was of a young woman….her left face that of a bearded wizened man…her right face was of an androgynous child…she held a semi spherical object…a globe or a loaf of bread”.


Eolo Paul Bottaro Returns to Polizzi to Recreate Isis Minerva (Iside)

Eolo was so fascinated by the three headed Isis Minerva - the original life size marble statue is said to have been unearthed from a well in Polizzi near the old Jewish baths, in 1650. Theresa Maggio also notes that she was placed in the mother church, mindlessly destroyed in the mid 1700’s by an obsessive bishop who did not want the pagan goddess back in the town’s restored mother church where she had held up the baptismal font - and also by the heartfelt formal protest against the destruction written by the 'appalled' group of forty three men from the town’s governing body that he (Eolo) is now back in Polizzi recreating the mystery and beauty of Isis Minerva, in clay, in his Studio 96 on Polizzi’s main street, Via Garibaldi, just opposite The Sicilian House.

She was never forgotten by the people of Polizzi -  mourned and loved.  Eolo wants to return her to the people of Polizzi.

The town is thrilled, Eolo is passionately at work on The Polizzi Project and filmmaker Claudio Ceino is busy documenting the whole thing.

I long to see the work in person.


And to see Eolo’s Iside, Isis Minerva completed in the coming months, finished and painted beautifully and positioned somewhere fitting in Polizzi Generosa will be just fabulous.


An Isis Minerva (Iside) Festival

I can’t wait really and, I think… there could be reason for another wonderful annual festival in Polizzi all about a beloved pagan statue from antiquity smashed centuries ago, and a passionately recreated Iside.

A festival filled with lament, church madness, anger, paganism, youthful beauty, joy, protest, a renewed cultural significance and sheer Sicilian contradiction and devotion all because of the senseless destruction of a beloved ancient statue in the mid 1700's, a written protest about the appalling destruction and a curious and passionate Australian artist from Melbourne who happened to make the detour to Polizzi and decided to stay the night.






All photos are from Eolo Paul Bottaro and Luca Albanese

Sources: Theresa Maggio’s ‘The Stone Boudoir – In Search of the hidden villages of Sicily’ published by Review in 2002.

Vincent Schiavelli’s ‘Many Beautiful Things, Stories and Recipes from Polizzi Generosa’ published by Simon & Schuster 2002.

Giovanni D' Angelo from Ceramiche Artische D'Angelo is a technical advisor to Eolo: Giovanni is a local ceramicist and has helped with the supply of clay, technical advice plus the use of his kiln. 

The Sicilian House is very pleased to be a supporter of Eolo Paul Bottaro’s 'The Polizzi Project'.




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