Our Lady of Loreto


More on the history and significance of Brooklyn’s

Our Lady of Loreto church

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In 1906, when Monsignor Vincenzo Sorrentino invited a group of Italian-born artisans to collaborate on his new parish church, he was deliberately defying a stubborn and widespread prejudice in all walks of American life against immigrants from the Italian South, and making a statement about the traditions of art and craftsmanship that were their birthright.


His all-Italian team was led by architect Adriano Armezzani from Rome and builders Antonio Federici & Sons from Castelgrande in southern Italy, who had formed a building partnership in Paterson, New Jersey. The artist who was to paint the interior frescoes was Gaetano Capone, a talented landscapist from Maiori, near Amalfi on the Sorrentine peninsula. The man who would design and decorate the interior was Serafino Biancardi, possibly from Lodi in Lombardy.


Armezzani and the Federicis were men of particular talent and ambition. They had just returned triumphant from the 1904 St Louis World’s Fair, where they had worked with Giuseppe Moretti, another brilliant Italian artist/craftsman, designer of the gigantic cast-iron Vulcan that had stunned visitors to the Fair and won its most prestigious award. These were men committed to transforming American cities in the new century by making the Italian Renaissance an Italian American Renaissance.


Their passionate vision may a good reason Our Lady of Loreto remains the last standing National Italian Church in Brooklyn.*


Gaetano Federici


Part of Our Lady of Loreto’s special cachet rests on the work of its sculptor, Gaetano Federici (1880-1964). He was Antonio Federici’s first and only Italian-born son, a child of the newly free and united Italy. He would later become the “Paterson-master,” creating more than 40 public monuments for his New Jersey home city in his lifetime, an artistic achievement so distinctive that it is acknowledged by the Smithsonian Institution In Washington, DC.

 

Federici was so admired in Paterson, and the city so prosperous, that he made his career producing public monuments for that monument-rich city. His carvings for Our Lady of Loreto are thus the only major body of his American work outside of Paterson. They are early enough to represent a kind of time-capsule of his youthful promise as an artist. His masterpiece, created when he was only 27, is the pediment atop the façade illustrating the miracle of Loreto itself: the flight of Mary’s birth home (presumed place of the divine conception of Jesus) to a town in Central Italy.


It is a challenging theme for sculpture, and there may not be another such representation anywhere in the world,  Besides evoking the Annunciation and the Incarnation, the twin liturgical mysteries of Mary’s story, there was the physical mystery of flight itself to capture—a challenge just conquered over the sands of Kitty Hawk in 1903.


Our Lady of Loreto would in fact become the patron of aviators!


Working with a patented family version of a concrete “cast stone” that could be molded like plaster, yet dry marble-hard, the young artist has executed his vision in a signature style that marries solid matter to his theme’s illusion of weightlessness.

  

Above, a photo of the over-35-ft pediment of Our Lady of Loreto when it was still in the New York City studio where it was created. The young artist has stretched the capabilities of relief sculpture to suggest the airy weightlessness of the flying house, which the Loreto miracle alleges was carried by angels from its original home in Nazareth, via Dalmatia (as a temporary stopover), to Loreto in Central Italy,  during the Crusades.  Above right, the young sculptor himself, as he appears in the church dedication booklet in 1908.


 

This immense pediment was anything but weightless, of course, but the clockwork collaboration of this team of artegiani was amazing. They seem to have surfed forward on a relentless wave of architectural vision, building skill, and artistic elan. Everything was done within a year.

 

But this triumph of collective achievement is also its tragedy. Armezzani died suddenly in 1908, just about the time the church was dedicated. He was only 47, at his creative height, and his dream of building more Italianate cast-stone structures like this one died too.


Our Lady of Loreto stands now a singular monument to a singular collaboration.


Lost, its achievement goes with it.


Flavia Alaya, co-author & general editor of Gaetano Federici: The Artist as Historian (Passaic County Historical Society, Paterson, NJ: 1980). Information on Capone and Biancardi was researched by Mario Toglia.

 

Top, Adriano Armezzani, Architect; above, Antonio Federici, of Federici & Sons, builders. Below: Gaetano Federici. From the 1908 Dedication pamphlet.

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Full Landmarking Statement for Our Lady of Loreto ChurchMore_on_Significance_files/FULL%20LANDMARK.pdf

A recently-discovered photo of the same studio space--labeled “Brooklyn 1908”--more clearly suggests the pediment was constructed at the Roman Bronze Works, a logical location for such a large work that would also be fairly near to the church site. The artist, Gaetano Federici, age 27, is seated in smock and beret before his masterwork. The two young men may be his two younger brothers, Antonio and Alberto. A notation on the back of the photo suggests that the elegantly-clad bearded man on the right is Luigi Dittamo, a music professor and family friend from Paterson, NJ. Photo courtesy Passaic County (NJ) Historical Society.