The Dutch Mona Lisa by Johannes Vermeer

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Johannes Vermeer, oil on canvas circa 1665


Dear Readers,
A February finale of Italian Connections:
Art Aficionados know that the lady with the mystic, enigmatic smile and eyes that follow you across the room, known as Mona Lisa, was painted by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), Italian painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist and one of the most versatile men of the Renaissance.  His world famous Mona Lisa now resides in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.
Currently (until June 2), closer to home at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco, California is a luminous, bewitching female portrait known as the Dutch Mona Lisa, Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring”. Like Mona, this young girl has an enigmatic smile and eyes that follow you across the room.  Along with “Girl with a Pearl Earring”, the public will have a  rare opportunity to view great 17th century Dutch masterpieces from the Mauritshuis, including a Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Pieter de Hooch and Jacob Van Ruisdael. For more info: (415) 750-3600 or
The exhibit also includes nearly 200 works inked on paper from antique copper plates. The etchings were easier to transport by travelers from one country to another and include several by Italian artists.
The exhibit, organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, was made possible by loans from the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritishuis at The Hague, Netherlands which is closed for an addition and renovations.
As for Vermeer, the artist who painted the captivating “Girl”, he was born in Delft in 1632 and died there in 1675 at age 43. He married Caterina, a Catholic Dutch woman, sired 15 children, and lived on his mother-in-law’s property under her “roof”.  Vermeer’s work, mostly domestic portraits, of women writing or reading letters, playing instruments or pouring milk are precious because just 36 of his confirmed paintings survive. At an auction, in 2004, one of his paintings sold for $24 million.  At the DeYoung Museum Gift Shop, along with several other items I purchased, a children’s book, Johannes Vermeer, $6.95, authored and illustrated by Mike Venezia, a graduate of the School of Art Institute of Chicago, who believes that the best way to introduce children to art and artists is through fun. I think this Scholastic Press book will appeal to adults, too.


Awake (Svegliatevi) and Watch Tower (La Torre di Guardia) published in the U.S.A., since 1879 in Brooklyn, New York is “la rivista più diffusa al mondo” and is published in more than 430 languages. To attract “la gioventù” they now also have a large website “Testimoni di Geova” may not be your thing, but they are attracting thousands of new “fedeli” (faithful) in Italy and other Catholic strongholds, so the site is definitely worth a look.

Alfred Zappala’s Books are always welcome by anyone with Sicilian “roots” under their family tree and his latest book, Figghiu Beddu is no exception (send $20 check to Al Zappala, Box 1632, Lawrence, Massachusetts, 01842 or go to and order it there along with The Reverse Immigrant and Gaetano’s Trunk). You can also sign up free for Alfred’s Sicilian Newsletter or talk to him on the “telefono” about his upcoming Sicilian Tours (one in May and one in October), or invite him to speak at your next Sicilian American event. You won’t be bored., Tel. (978) 204-6574,
Abraham Lincoln was born February 12, 1809. When the Republican Party met in Chicago in the spring of 1860, it nominated Lincoln for president on an anti-slavery platform. Lincoln got only 40 percent of the popular vote but because the Democrats were divided, Lincoln was successful in winning the election to the U.S. Presidency (by 180 electoral votes to 123) and became our sixteenth president elect, because before he could be sworn in, South Carolina, on December 20, 1860, seceded from the United States and was soon followed by six other southern states who refused to accept President Lincoln and his anti-slavery platform. Shortly after Lincoln’s 1861 inaugural in Washington D.C., southern troops attacked the federal garrison at Fort Sumter in South Carolina, shot down the U.S. flag and took the fort.
On April 15, 1861, President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers and the American Civil War began.  Lincoln stood at the helm through four years of bitter warfare between the people of America.
     In Italy, in 1860 in early May, Giuseppe Garibaldi with a thousand volunteers landed in Marsala, Sicily, and proceeded to unify Italy.  In 1862, when Lincoln was encountering problems with his Army Generals, it is known that Lincoln began a correspondence with Garibaldi through diplomatic channels, with an offer to command the American northern Union Army.
Fruit wrappers used to protect soft fruits like figs from California to Eastern markets were often plain, but both in the U.S. and Italy citrus fruit wrappers used between the 1930’s and 1960’s were quite decorative and protected the oranges, lemons and other fruits prone to bruising or fungus during shipping. The wrappers also earned attention in the marketplace and became effective advertising. The graphics which boldly identify their growers, were created by commercial artisans who blended folk art with contemporary imagery. With the advent of fruit waxing and fungicides, the utilitarian value of these wrappers began to wane in the 1970’s and 1980’s, and although they are still used sparingly, they are more an affection, a reminder of things past.

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