Born in Catania, Gandolfo’s first work was the execution of the bust of poet Domenico Temple who so much appreciated it that he celebrated it with an epigram:
« A DON GIUSEPPI GANDOLFU PRI AVIRI FATTU ALL’AUTURI UN PICCULU BUSTU DI BRUNZU
Vui ccu lu brunzu, caru Don Giuseppi,
E lu medicu a pinnuli e gileppi,
Viu li vostri ‘mpegni quali sunnu
Di mannarimi, cioè all’eternità.
Vui in chista terra, e chiddu all’autru munnu.
Lu medicu però fra chianti e lutti,
Comu la duna a mia la duna a tutti,
La vostra eternità vinci la morti,
E pochissimi su ch’annu sta sorti »
« A DON GIUSEPPE GANDOLFO PER AVER FATTO ALL’AUTORE UN PICCOLO BUSTO DI BRONZO
Voi col bronzo, caro Don Giuseppe,
E il medico con pillole e sciroppi,
Vedo i vostri sforzi quali sono
Di mandarmi, cioè all’eternità.
Voi su questa terra, e quello all’altro mondo.
Il medico però tra pianti e lutti,
Come la dà a me la dà a tutti,
La vostra eternità vince la morte,
E pochissimi sono quelli che hanno questo destino »
“TO DON GIUSEPPE GANDOLFO FOR MAKING ME A SMALL BRONZE BUST
You with bronze, dear Don Giuseppe,
And the doctor with pills and syrups,
I see your efforts which are
To send me, so to the eternity.
You on this earth, and the doctor to the other world.
The doctor, however, between tears and mourning,
As it gives it to me, that gives it to everyone,
Your eternity conquers death,
And very few are those who have this fate ”
After the failure of his business as a goldsmith and a tempestuous relationship, Joseph finally convinced his father to let him go by painting a message for him. He portrayed his father as holding a promissory note, staring into the sea, looking at a ship where his son was embarked -thus showing his father that he would have worked hard to return the money needed for his stay in Florence. So at age 27 he moved to Rome, where he studied under Giuseppe Errante, then in 1820 went to Florence to learn the court of Pietro Benvenuti. He soon became known for having copied skillfully works by Raphael , Correggio and Titan -the English Ambassador at least three copies of Italian masterpieces, then shipped them to London. Subsequently, the Grand Duke of Tuscany Ferdinand III commissioned other works for the gallery of Cardinal Opizzone, brother of the Minister of the Grand Duke, for the minister himself and some aristocratic families.
In 1821 he left Florence directed to Catania because of the death of his father. Thus he stopped by Rome to visit with Errante, his old master but, while travelling through the Pontine Marshes, he became seriously ill. He arrived in Catania seriously ill and probably would not have never left without the insistence of Minister Opizzone who wanted him to Florence, where he returned in 1822 and remained there until the end of that year, when the disease attacked him again. He had to return to Sicily on the advice of the doctors of the Court.
Back in Catania, Gandolfo recovered from his illness, but became apathetic and lost inspiration. His friends tried to shake him by proposing a deal: either he returned to work, or he had to pay a lavish lunch for all of them. Gandolfo then painted his friends in “La Cantina Della Nativity'” as porters carousing in a tavern. The similarity of the figures portrayed in the paintings with his friends was such that they could easily recognize themselves, so that they stole the still unfinished painting from his study. Gandolfo then, “armed” with brush and colors, painted again his friends as monks, sitting in a refectory, in front of a plate soup and black bread. He then painted Giuseppe Mirone, Giuseppe Distefano, Giovanni Fasanaro e Salvatore Distefano -whom he considered the major causes of the joke- on their knees, while eating on the floor along with the cats. Finally, he portrayed himself among the friars in the act of reading a breviary. The painting was exhibited to the public, and displayed in one of the rooms of the Town Hall in Catania.
Gandolfo became the reference point for emerging artists in Catania. He continued portraying many high society and eminent cultural representatives of the region. He also painted landscapes and the Etna eruption of 1852. In the following years he devoted himself to teaching until his death in 1855.
1. Wikipedia, https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giuseppe_Gandolfo