Bruno Amadio was a Venetian painter better known as Giovanni Bragolin (1911-1981). A heavy name to carry, due to the unfortunate legend that is intertwined with it.
Not many biographical informations are left about this artist but it is known that he was born in 1911 and became popular since the beginning for his unusual subjects employed for his paintings: children. They were not regular children though, carelessly playing around while being in a good mood.
Bragolin’s children were instead crying, with their gaunt faces and deep eyes reflecting a sensation of deep, bitter solitude. Those are powerful pictures, which hit the observer letting the empathy as well as sadness arise for that show in which its performers are in such a dismay.
Although the topic was unusual and unpopular, his productions gained some sort of success. By mid 80’s though, once the artist was already dead, something added up a touch to his past production.
The event occurred in England. There, some families started to report strange fires suddenly developed in their houses. The odd aspect was that every time a constant object was recovered from the scenes: it seemed that in the middle of the debris two watery eyes would stand out to the firefighters intervened to handle the fire. Those were the gloomy eyes of the Bragolin’s paintings.
the only untouched survivors of those devastating accidents
The scenario repeated several times, and from then the legend started spreading amongst people.
Those legends, embellished even further with more details throughout time, would talk of a dark force lingering in the core of every painting. It was said that the angst and resentment of the artist at the beginning of his artistic career had pushed him to pray to the devil. This one, intrigued by the plea, had supposedly granted him fame as long as he would have represented children in the most desperate and painful version of themselves.
By doing this, the artist would have paid homage to that innocent cry, transmitting to the world that suffering and pain he had felt in his own skin. When the fire would appear again, the prejudice over Bragolini’s production would strengthen, to the point that it would turn into some sort of witch hunt.
As if this was not enough, some rumours started supporting the thesis that the painter was used to mistreating the orphans, forcing them to cry to get the maximum realism in his artworks. It was also said that the orphanage where the paintings had been made went up in flames, trapping this way the souls of the little innocent children inside the paintings. New theories started talking about a child in particular, who had been represented in many canvasses.
He was renamed “El Diablo”, for his illusory inner maliciousness
According to some of those legends, the soul of this specific child was the one who spoiled the painter’s canvasses and through them, spreading misery in the buyers house. To our eyes these hypothesis sound like science fiction but in the English society of that time, the press started writing:
“If you own a painting with a crying child you ought to get rid of it immediately. They bring bad luck!
These were the words “The Sun”, one of the most famous newspapers in England. To the editorial staff many strange testimonies were sent: they would talk of odd accidents with unbelievable details, and there was also who was ready to admit that their attempt of burning the painting in their possession did not work out.
To sort the situation out, the Sun set up a collection of all the prints, paintings and reproductions of the crying children of Bragolin. Over 2,500 artworks were withdrawn for eventually being burnt. The “redeeming” gesture gathered a massive crowd of people and the event was documented. For the people it felt like everything had been restored.
One day though, the recovery of one more painting, this time in Italy, triggered one more time the fear about the malediction and it didn’t take long time to move from laughter to fear. The Italian newspaper “Focus” dedicated an article to the case.
Some people started supporting the idea that Bragolin real intent was instead to paint those orphans, sons of parents died in the war; the goal was to understand and report the deep turmoil they had unfairly crossed and, through their eyes, inspect the reasons of such a condition.
What gave a new identity to the production of the Bragolin were the testimonies of those who had met the man and the artist, showing a completely different version. The neighbour Antonio Casellato, from Trebaseleghe, Padua, highlighted how absurd many insinuations were. Or the painter’s daughter, Nicoletta Amadio, that in an interview remembered:
“He didn’t even like those, but they used to pay him well for them and got to sell them all over the world. So he would sign with the pseudonym Bragolin, who was his uncle’s name that was a comedian.”
According to her words the children were inspired by pictures seen on newspapers and magazines onto which he subsequently added fake tears, then reproducing all on canvas.
Today the irrational fear linked to this story makes wonder what reason could activate such a rough reaction starting from pictures of sad children.
The logical explanation of the recovery of the pictures
The reproduction of Bragolin’s paintings were printed onto wooden panels, treated with paints which were resistant to high stress. The pictures of the artist had huge success in the United Kingdom during the 60’s and 70’s when they were sold for a few sterling. Their diffusion was widespread throughout all nation hence in many houses where a fire took place, there was a Bragolin’s piece, amongst many others.
When a house was randomly firing up, the paintings would often fall down and, due to the high temperature – resistant wood print, they were some of the few objects able to survive. The mystery was then not only result of the coincidence but also of statistics, since many artworks had been sold, and of the features that the materials had.