Ernani Costantini            
    Venice 12/02/1922-23/12/2007            
ernani costantini self portrait 1941, drawing
Study for self portrait, 1941, graphite on paper
photo of Ernani in 1942
Ernani, October 1942
  Ernani Costantini, was born in Venice, in the working-class area of San Girolamo in Cannaregio, the second child of a family of modest means. His mother Carolina, known as Giulia, a housewife, used to work as an embroiderer and impiraressa (bead stringer) to help make ends meet, while his father Giovanni, known as Giacomo, was a workman, who had been an invalid since losing a leg in the First World War.

A few years later the family moved to a new apartment in the Grimani area, in the Parish of Madonna dell'Orto. This was the environment where Ermani would spend his childhood and youth, and as he observed day to day Venetian life, he became fascinated by the paintings of Tintoretto, Giovanni Bellini and Cima da Conegliano displayed in the splendid fifteenth century church.
At the age of eleven, in 1933, having shown both passion and aptitude for painting, he was sent to the Carmini Institute of Art, where his teachers included Mario Disertori for life drawing, Ercole Sibellato for painting, Giorgio Wenter Marini for design and architectural composition and Giulio Lorenzetti for history of art.
aerial view of madonna dell'orto structure
View of the Madonna dell'Orto buildings, with the Grimani area to the left
  group of students of carmini art school    
    Group of students at the Carmini School (1939).
Ernani is third from left
    In 1942, he received his diploma from the Institute and immediately afterwards he was called up for military service; he left for Rome in January 1943.
On September 8th 1943, the day that the armistice between Italy and the Allied forces was declared, he was with his regiment in Gioia del Colle, Puglia, in Southern Italy. Isolated and without a commanding officer they were captured by the Germans but managed to escape. Then he entered service as a voluntary soldier in a unit destined for the front in the Italian Campaign and was assigned to the “Legnano” Division attached to the U.S. Fifth Army.
Between the 7th and the 16th of December 1943 he was involved in the bloody battle of Monte Lungo in Mignano, near Montecassino.

The following spring he fought in the battle of Garigliano which led to the liberation of Rome. He continued his military career in combat units for two years, moving up the Italian peninsula as far as the Gothic Line, south of Bologna.
During rare short breaks from combat he drew – using pencil and paper or pastels which he managed to obtain fortuitously – many portraits of his fellow allied troops. He would also occasionally sketch their wives or girlfriends, using the small photographs that the men carried with them as a guide.

He was eventually promoted to officer and posted to Syracuse in Sicily.
In December 1945 he was de-mobbed and returned to Venice.
group of italian soldiers at Garigliano river front
Group of soldiers from the Italian Liberation Corps just before the battle of Garigliano. Ernani is the first on the right.
Self portrait, 1949, graphite on paper   self portrait 1949, drawing            
    From 1946 he held a variety of jobs out of necessity, including as a scenery painter at the Scalera Film studio on Giudecca island, where he would meet Lina, and later as a designer for the Hydrographic Office in Venice.
In 1949 he was successful in the national recruitment process for art teachers, and was classified third among applicants from all over Italy. He began to frequent the studio of Felice Carena.
Lina and Ernani in a gondola on their wedding day   lina in wedding gown and ernani in a gondola    
front page of a leaflet with a mather and child painting
Leaflet from his first solo exhibition, Vittorio Veneto 1952
  In 1950 he married Lina and moved with her to Vittorio Veneto where he took up his post as a teacher. In 1952 he gave his first solo exhibition at the Terme Hotel in Vittorio Veneto. That same year he won the Cassa di Risparmio di Belluno Prize at the Regional Exhibition.
In 1953 he returned to Venice, having obtained a transfer to a school closer to home, first in Padua and then in Mestre, and many years later in Venice itself.
The family, which soon expanded with the arrival of two sons, Christiano and Giovanni, lived in a small house at San Marziale, looking out onto the Misericordia canal. Then in 1960 they moved to an apartment on the top floor of a tall block in San Canciano, where his studio was the only room with a view of the spires of Santi Giovanni e Paolo church. Finally in 1966 the family moved permanently to San Marcuola, their home once again looking out over the long and winding Misericordia.
portrait of lina 1950, painting
Portrait of Lina, 1950, oil on Masonite
front page of exhibition brochure with painting
Brochure from the exhibition at the Bevilacqua La Masa Foundation, 1957
  From 1953 Ernani began to exhibit his works in various locations.
Every year he participated in the collective exhibition at the Opera Bevilacqua La Masa, where he would also hold many solo exhibitions. He subsequently took part in exhibitions, shows and awards in Veneto, throughout Italy and abroad. He continued to display his works, in almost eighty solo and numerous collective exhibitions, all through his life up until his final solo exhibition in November 2007 at the Scuola Grande di San Teodoro hall, Venice. In 1956 he won the Venice City Council award at the "Premio Burano"; while in 1958 he won joint first prize at the National Exhibition "Pelizza da Volpedo", the prize at Vallombrosa for "Mountain Landscape" and first prize at "Premio Mestre".
            of Christ and the Communion of Saints, wall painting   Partial view of the first large mural in the church of San Gerardo Sagredo in Venice: Resurrection of Christ and the Communion of Saints, 1964, oil on wall
    From 1964 onwards he dedicated himself to working on large decorative cycles of paintings in the churches of Venice: San Gerardo Sagredo in Sacca Fisola island in 1964, the churches of Cuore Immacolato di Maria at Altobello between 1966 and 1968 and later in 1978; Sant'Agnese at the Cavanis Institute in Venice in 1968, and other large murals, canvases and mosaics which he worked on until 2005 and 2006 throughout Venice and the Veneto.   Renato Renosto architect, Ernani Costantini painter, Giovanni Urbani patriarch   The Patriarch of Venice Giovanni Urbani inaugurates the Altobello mural dedicated to San Girolamo Emiliani. From left, the architect Renato Renosto, architect of the church, and Costantini.
Ernani on the scaffolding during work on the mural in the apse of the church in Altobello, Mestre in 1978.   artist on the scaffolding beginng the painting of the resurrection      
    For over thirty years, first as a host and later as president, he worked for the Venetian Branch of the UCAI, and was also a member of its national council for over ten years, dealing with the organisation of important exhibitions, meetings and debates.
He founded the San Vidal Art Centre, where monographic and retrospective exhibitions of twentieth century Venetian and Veneto painting were held and, in 1997, with the support of Guido Perocco, Pietro Zampetti and Paolo Rizzi organised an important exhibition "Aspects of nineteenth century painting in Venice" a collection of works by the greatest painters of that era.
ernani costantini, paolo rizzi e piero zampetti
Ernani at a round table with Paolo Rizzi and Piero Zampetti at the San Vidal Art Centre, 1977.
    In 1980 he exhibited, in the context of a vast solo anthology exhibition of around 90 works at the San Vidal Art Centre in Venice, the cycle of paintings dedicated to the Song of Songs consisting of sixteen paintings inspired by verses from the books of the Bible, of which he also produced a set of three lithographs. It was the first of a series of pictorial cycles which he would complete in the following years, as well as canvases on various subjects and large Religious works in churches.
In 1983 he received an official award from the Ministry for Tourism and the Performing Arts at Gabicce-mare and won first prize at the "National Exhibition of Religious Art – A. Perotti Foundation" in Venice. In 1984 he won first prize at the "Premio Burano".
lebanon cedar tree, painting
Majestic like Cedars…, 1980, a work from the cycle Song of Songs
Ernani, winner of the 1984 "Premio Burano", next to Guido Perocco   Guido Perocco and Ernani Costantini  
    Between 1984 and 1985 he embarked upon a project which he had been considering for years, the painting of a cycle dedicated to the female characters of the Bible entitled From Eve to Mary.
This cycle of twelve large canvases was put on public display for the first time in Venice, from January to February 1987 at the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista, accompanied by a booklet featuring reproductions of the works with some preliminary sketches, some poems by Antonio Bruni and passages written by Pietro Nonis, Giorgio Segato, Giorgio Saviane, Luigina Bortolatto, Sergia Jessi Ferro, and Guido Perocco.
The cycle of paintings was exhibited again in December of the same year, 1987, in Padua at the Sala della Gran Guardia, then in March 1988 at the Palazzo della Gran Guardia, Verona, while in July of that year it was on display at the renovated Oratorio di Cervarese Santa Croce (Padua).
interior of the hall with Shulammite, Potiphar’s wife and Judith paintings
A partial view of the first staging of the exhibition From Eve to Mary at the Scuola Grande of San Giovanni Evangelista; Venice 1987
Presentation of Mary at the Temple, 1989, Madonna della Salute church, Mestre – Venice   Presentation
              of Mary at the Temple    
    From 1985 to 1986 he began the decoration of the Church of Madonna della Salute in Mestre which he would complete between 1989 and 1990.

In September 1988, he exhibited a cycle of paintings on the theme of Vivere a Venezia (Living in Venice) at the Scuola Grande di San Teodoro in Venice, an exceptional collection of paintings dedicated to Venice life which was the first in a series of cultural events organised in the city; it was accompanied by a short pamphlet about the collection featuring passages by Guido Perocco and Paolo Rizzi.

Ernani exhibited another important cycle in 1991 at the San Vidal Art Centre: Veneto Cristiano (Christian Veneto), a cycle of thirty canvases retracing the places, people and events which have been influential to the Christian tradition in Veneto. A publication edited the same year describes the premises, motivations and inspirations which led to the project with images, preliminary sketches and reproductions of some of the canvases.
  >Front Page of the exhibition catalogue, procession of marys   Front Page of the catalogue Veneto Cristiano, 1991
Ernani in front of the cartoon for the mosaic of God the Father for the church of Santi Fabiano e Sebastiano in Padua.   the artist before the cartoon of God the Father            
    December of the previous year saw the publication of Ernani's paper Arte Sacra. No [Sacred Art. No], a reflection on culture and art. In November 1995 a collection of Ernani's poems L'abbaino [The Garret] was published.

In 1991 he began work on the decoration of the Church of Santi Fabiano e Sebastiano in Brusegana, Padua, first with the interior paintings then in 1994 he started work on the series of cartoons for the external mosaics. Unfortunately the mosaics were only partially completed.

Between 1993 and 1996 he painted the Church of San Michele Arcangelo in Marghera.

In early January 1995, his wife Linda passed away suddenly.
portrait of lina 1972, painting
Portrait of Lina, 1972, oil on canvas
The Transfiguration and the Last Supper,
1993, acrylic on wall, Church of San Michele Arcangelo, Marghera, Venice
  the Transfiguration
              and the Last Supper, painting            
    In October 1996 the charm of Venice was once again on display in his solo exhibition Diario veneziano [A Venetian Diary] at the San Vidal Art Centre, with panoramas, situations, memories and emotions, as if in a kind of personal diary illustrated in an original way through paintings which reflected the artist's vast cultural knowledge.  
inauguration of the exhibition
Inauguration of the exhibition Diario Veneziano [Venetian Diary]
Resurrection, 1997, oil on canvas, Church of the Resurrection, Marghera, Venice   resurrection, painting  
book cover with painting
Personale a Venezia [Solo Exhibition in Venice], 1999, Marsilio, Venice
  In 1997 he painted for the Church of the Resurrection in Marghera and in 1998 for the Church of Santa Barbara at Gazzera.

In those years Costantini also consolidated his artistic output as a writer.
In 1999 Ernani had his first novel published: Personale a Venezia [Solo Exhibition in Venice]. May 2001 saw the release of his second novel: Quella lontana estate del ’45 [That far off summer of ’45]. In May of the following year, 2002, came his third novel: Ritorno a Monte Lungo [Return to Monte Lungo].
      book cover with soldiers   Ritorno a Montelungo [Return to Monte Lungo], 2002, Supernova, Venice    
    In May 2002 a vast 'Anthology Exhibition' was held in the Sant'Apollonia Hall in the Diocesan Museum at St. Mark's, Venice.

Ernani had turned eighty. His art had over time achieved a technical and expressive maturity demonstrated on this occasion in the fiftieth year of his artistic career.

That same year he received an award in recognition of his career from the Mayor of Venice.
  Paolo Costa and Ernani Costantini   The Mayor of Venice Paolo Costa presents Ernani with the Barovier Cup, 2002
Pious Women at the Sepulchre, 2005, sgraffito, Church of the Resurrection, Marghera, Venice   Pious Women
              at the Sepulchre, sgraffito    
    In 2005, at the age of 83, he climbed up the scaffolding one last time to complete his sgraffito Pious Women at the Sepulchre above the door of the church of the Resurrection in Marghera.

In November 2005 Ernani's fourth and final novel was published: Sst… è la luna, [Ssh… it's the moon].

In November 2007 Ernani prepared a new anthological solo exhibition at the Scuola Grande di San Teodoro, which featured works which had been displayed previously together with his later works completed between 2002 and 2006. Ernani Costantini was not able to attend the exhibition; the serious illness which had afflicted him for the previous two years made it impossible.

He died on December 23rd. The religious funeral ceremony was held in his beloved Church of the Madonna dell'Orto, which was full and the ceremony was jointly conducted by six priests, friends and parish priests of the churches which housed his works. Among the great works of Tintoretto which inspired him as a child, he was accompanied on his final journey by prayers.
"… Oh Lord thou pluckest me out … ", was the final citation which concluded with the words Ssh… it's the moon.
  book cover   Sst… è la luna, rapsodia lagunare [Ssh… it's the moon, Lagoon Rhapsody], Il Prato, Padua, 2005
Ernani Costantini
(ph. F. Barasciutti ©)
  ernani costantini, photo by Francesco Barasciutti            
  © Famiglia Costantini