Trento, 23 March 1475. Simone, a two-year-old Christian boy mysteriously disappears in the alleys of the city. On Easter day his lifeless body is found near the home of a member of the local Jewish community. Blamed for the kidnapping and his murder, local Jews are imprisoned, tried and, on the basis of confessions extracted through torture, sentenced to death. The little Simone (called “Il Simonino”) is declared victim of a ritual murder, becomes the object of veneration imbued with visceral anti-Semitism that will end only in 1965. To reconstruct this story and how the ecclesiastical authorities for centuries fostered the Anti-Jewish hatred is the exhibition “The invention of the culprit: the case of Simonino from Trento, from propaganda to history”, hosted until next September 15 at the Museo Diocesano Tridentino.
The initiative is of historical importance. In the past few hours, a new element has been added to this process of rediscovery and awareness: the concession on loan to the Museum of a sixteenth-century wooden relief embodying how the Christian world at the time looked at this story, purchased by the Caritro Foundation and made available of the community for nine years. The decision was announced last week during a press conference attended by the president of the Caritro Foundation Mauro Bondi, the director of the museum Domenica Primerano, the dean of the Chapter of the Cathedral Lodovico Maule and UCEI president Noemi Di Segni.
The relief depicting the Lamentation over the dead body of Simonino of Trento was part of the ancient altar of the church of San Pietro in Trento, created in the workshop of the sculptor from Ulma Daniel Mauch The great altar, it has been said, was decommissioned in 1731 to make room for the current one in marble. The sculpture of the Martyrdom of Simonino, also part of the altar, remained in its place of origin until the twentieth century, before being moved to the Diocesan Museum. The Lamentation instead, known thanks to an old historical photograph, disappeared from the church in mysterious circumstances before 1882, the year in which it was purchased in Merano, is presumed on the antiques market, for the collection of the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen princes. The art collection was sold due to financial difficulties during the world economic crisis of 1927. To avoid the dispersion of the artwork, the then director of the Städel Museum in Frankfurt, Georg Swarzenski, formed a sort of consortium of collectors and traders of art, willing to buy the pieces, in order to keep them in the place of origin. Many of these enriched the collections of the Städel Museum; others were bought by Jewish families from Frankfurt, who were victims of the National Socialist persecution only a few years later.
Simonino’s Lamentation over the Dead Body was sold to Ludwig Deutsch-Retze (1881-1953), one of the directors of the Darmstädter und Nationalbank (‘Danat-Bank’) in Frankfurt. He was Jewish and fled to Switzerland. As soon as he came into possession of the relief, Deutsch-Retze gave it to his friend Alexander Berg as a birthday gift and in thanks for services rendered at a particularly difficult time for him.
The Lamentation was purchased by the Caritro Foundation by Alexander Berg’s great-grandson. The iconography of the work has as its fulcrum the body of the child lying on a coffin surrounded by four angels. The man and the woman kneeling on the sides are probably the boy’s parents.
(Credits of the image: Guerrini)