Gabriele Mattera

Gabriele Mattera lived his entire life at the Aragonese Castle of Ischia, dedicating himself to its spirituality as a man and an artist.


The last of 4 children, he was born to Nicola Ernesto and Anna on 18 August 1929, a few years after his father had bought the Aragonese Castle of Ischia.

Gabriele and his siblings spent their childhood playing between the lights and shadows of the Castle/ruins, laying the foundations for a unique and passionate life. Memories and impressions in the words of Gabriele:

"...I spent my childhood playing and daydreaming in the ruins of the old castle: Gothic and Baroque churches and ruins, imposing and empty buildings, without windows, once the homes of sovereigns and poets, warriors and bishops, dark crypts full of suggestive and mysterious shadows. The large spaces enclosed by very high walls, the centuries-old patina on the plaster, the empty and the dark circles of the windows that were missing frames and a disturbing atmosphere, have all generated in me an appreciation for the unreal and the fantastic. There were very few visitors who frequented the Castle at the time, mostly writers, poets, and painters. My contact with these artists inspired me to paint."


THE 1950s:
His first steps were to obtain a studio/home among the ruins and rubble of the collapsed structures: at the age of 21, he began to continuously paint, and, after a short period dedicated to the study of landscape painting, he gave himself completely to the vocation. Fishermen were his favourite models, as he portrayed them for over fifteen years in every moment of their lives.

In the early 1950s, the lawyer Nicola Mattera and his wife Anna moved to a more comfortable home at Spiagga dei Pescatori, which was located in front of the Castle: the hardships of castle life were no longer compatible with their advancing age. It was precisely in that period that Gabriele and his brothers organised the first Castle visits that were an opportunity to meet with Central European, and specifically, German tourists who came to discover the Island of Ischia in the footprints of the Grand Tour. Ischia, and particularly Fiorio, became a meeting place for artists and writers (Levy, Gilles, Bargheer, Auden, Kallmann, Capote, Cremonini, Walton, and others) who found the island to be a lasting residence. The opportunity that came with these acquaintances introduced Gabriele to the world of art and favoured the development of his already innate intellectual curiosity. He participated in regional and national exhibitions. He organised his first personal exhibition in Naples, which immediately won the approval of local critics. He preferred oil painting, but also dedicated himself to drawing and engraving on linoleum and ceramic.


THE 1970s:
In 1968, Gabriele married Karin, a German girl from Hanover, who also came from the art world, arriving in Ischia in the early 1960s. She would be an ever-present and fundamental companion because of her intellectual and cultural contribution to Gabriele's artistic life and to the restoration and improvement of the Castle: from the meeting of these two worlds, the happiest and most forward-looking result of their choice came to fruition with the birth of Nicola and Anna Cristina. Karin introduced Gabriele to the culture of Germanic countries by promoting the creation of exhibitions of his work and the knowledge of curators, critics, and collectors: familiarity with Nordic cultures remained a constant feature in Gabriele's life.

In the 1970s, the fishermen gave way to paintings of the bathers: the new cycle, developed on large canvases, lasted about ten years: personal exhibitions were organised in Naples, Vienna, Zurich, Amsterdam, and of course, Ischia.


THE 1980s:
In the 1980s, Gabriele promoted and carried out important restorations at the Castle: the Church of the Immaculate Conception, the Bourbon prison, and the Church of San Pietro a Pantaniello were restored. Specifically, the Church of the Immaculate Conception became the main venue for the Aragonese Castle events, conceived and directed by Gabriele and aimed at bringing contemporary art to Ischia. At the beginning of this new journey, the collaboration of friends and intellectuals such as Ercole Camurani, a Bolognese publisher, whose significant knowledge, and contributions over the following years, was crucial. The opening exhibition dedicated to the works of Giuseppe Santomaso was the worthy premise of qualified and continuous exhibition activities over the years that saw artists such as Leonardo Cremonini, Salvador Dalì, Renato Guttuso, Giorgio De Chirico, Pablo Picasso, Enrico Baj, Mario Schifano, George Grosz, Giacomo Manzù, Giorgio Morandi, Filippo De Pisis, Eduard Bargheer, Alberto Burri and many others take advantage of an important opportunity to display their work in the spaces of the Castle.

During the same years, Gabriele began the Curtains cycle, which led him to an exhibition at the Kuntmuseum in Bern in 1990, in 1992 at the Royal Palace of Naples, and in 1993 at the Civic Museums of Reggio Emilia.


THE 1990s:
His life as a painter was more closely intertwined with his life as a man and patron of the castle: the growing number of visitors allowed him to dedicate more resources to the restorations that followed each year, as well as cultural events. His sensitivity as an artist guided him through this journey in the Castle, always keeping him faithful to the philosophy of the "light hand." Respect for the atmosphere of the past, the centuries-old patinas, and the "unfinished" appearance of the ruins guided Gabriele throughout his life. In the 1990s, the restoration work progressed with greater continuity, Piazza d'Armi del Castello, the Cathedral of the Assunta, and the Crypt with frescoes of rare beauty, the spaces of the Convent of S. Maria della Consolazione with its nun cemetery, internal avenues, panoramic terraces, and external facades were restored.

1993 marked the start of a new pictorial cycle, Men in Nature, large format canvases in which human presence became the protagonist of the compositions. In 1996, the former Church of S. Francesco delle Monache in Naples welcomed, with the patronage of the Italian Institute of Philosophical Studies, a significant selection of these works.


THE 1990s:
During these years, his sons Nicola and Anna Cristina, while in university, supported Gabriele and Karin in organising the exhibitions of Gabriele as painter and the activities of Gabriele as curator of the Castle. The cultural initiatives multiplied, and the Castle returned to play a central role with respect to island life and the entire region. Gabriele's house spontaneously welcomed artists and intellectuals with whom intense and long-lasting friendships were born; his personality merged with the spirit of the place and became the bridge to cross for those who want to experience the intimacy of the Castle.

At the end of the 1990s, Men in Nature became Men in Red and Gabriele reached one of the highest points in his painting career: eight paintings in this cycle together with other works of the decade that spanned between 1989-1999 inaugurated the Gallery of Eleonora Sachs in 1999, Elo Art, in Fiorio d'Ischia.

The Church of the Immaculate Conception also occasionally welcomed the work, although Gabriele was always reluctant to exhibit in his "home": on these rare occasions, the paintings found their perfect location by establishing a dialogue with the spaces that clearly told the story of a relationship of a lifetime.


THE 2000s:
In the autumn of 2003, Gabriele held an anthological exhibition with over 50 works in the Michaelangelo Tower of Ischia: from the first still lifes to the Men in Red, a critical essay by Vitaliano Corbi, a Neapolitan art critic linked to Gabriele because of their intense, long-time friendship, accompanied fifty years of painting. At the same time, the Lelasi Gallery dedicated an exhibition of large works from the Bagnanti cycle to him: Massimo Lelasi, gallery owner with rare taste and Gabriele's lifelong friend, presented the paintings in an intimate and personal dimension that has always characterised his exhibitions.

In October of the same year, the French Institute of Culture in Naples, "Le Grenoble", dedicated an exhibition to him with over twenty large canvases from the Men in Red cycle curated by the director Danièle Rousselier.

2003 was marked by large-scale and successful exhibitions. However, it also marked an abrupt first half in Gabriele's life: he suffered a stroke, which forced him to rest and rehabilitate for a few months. The desire to begin painting again helped his health, stimulating him to experiment with new directions and giving life to the part of his work that, in the general catalogue, is called the Study Phase. The human figure remained at the centre of his interest in this series, this time intertwining with original chromatic combinations.

Between the end of 2004 and the start of 2005, Gabriele entered a new phase, "The Blue of the Night", which led him, in the space of a few months, to paint 14 very intense canvases that portray the end of life with serene lucidity.


On 25 July 2005, Gabriele definitively left his Castle and his family.

In the autumn of the same year, Professor Giuliano Menato presented two exhibitions of his pictorial and graphic work at the Palazzo Pretorio di Cittadella Foundation and at the "Gaetano Marzotto" Villa Valle cultural centre in Valdagno, which was prepared together with Gabriele himself in the months preceding his death.

The success deemed by critics and audiences, as well as the enthusiastic participation of public institutions, only a few months after the painter's death, strongly testifies to "the high quality and expressive fullness of the pictorial work" of this 20th century artist.


In 2006, his wife Karin and his children Anna Cristina and Nicola, their families, and a large group of friends and admirers, founded the "Amici di Gabriele Mattera" ("Friends of Gabriele Matters") Association, which aims to enhance the work of Gabriele as an artist and to continue the tireless restoration, conservation, and revitalisation of the Castle.

Today, the activities of "Amici di Gabriele Mattera" are intense and enthusiastic, sincerely testifying to the artist's greatness and to a man who has decisively contributed to changing the fate of a unique monument with respect to its conformation, location, and history.

Among the many initiatives carried out, it is nice to specifically remember a cycle of three exhibitions entitled, "L'Amicizia della Pittura" ("The Friendship of Painting"), which occasionally added the work of Gabriele to that of three artists of great value who were also his lifelong friends: Leonardo Cremonini, Raffaele Iacono, and Elio Waschimps. The three artists enhanced Gabriele's days, including the sunny afternoons on the terrace of the house, and the evenings where the meetings became opportunities for endless chats about Art and Life.