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Carlo Rigoli and his six secret maidens

Artblog by Taw Naen

It was almost half-century from 1945 to 1988 when the Bank of Thailand (BOT) took Her Majesty the Queen Aunt Sukhumal Marasri’s manor for their office which was built in European style located behind Bang Khunphrom Palace. After having served the central bank for a long time, this manor became dilapidated. Some opinioned that this place has to be rebuilt instead of the renovation as the cost and time consumption of the renovation were higher than the cost of the rebuilding. Fortunately, the BOT management board decided to keep this manor to be the national legacy as it was constructed in the period of King Rama the 5th and rich of priceless historical value.

On the day that the contractors surveyed the whole manor before the renovation, they accidentally found a mysterious wall upstairs over the bedroom’s door frame. When they knocked on that wall, it echoed like there was a space behind whereas the other walls were solid and did not echo any sound. Since they had to repair every facet, they decided to remove the problematic wall all at once. After removing the wall, everyone astonishingly cried with their jaws dropping. Behind the ruinous wall was a luxurious painting of six alluring maidens strolling among the lush green trees in the forest in the pastel tone with the fresco painting technique. This technique is done quickly on the wet plaster wall, so the paints will seep into the wall’s pores resulting in its long-lasting. Nobody knew why those girls had been hidden quietly for a long time. Some might guess that the ex-owners: His Royal Highness Paribatra Sukhumbandhu, the crown prince in King Rama the 5th, and his family had to flee from his residence including Bangkhumphrom Palace permanently before Thailand’s revolution in 1932. They were so afraid that the wall would be demolished without any good causes so they had the wall covered to protect those delicate girls.

ภาพเฟรสโกที่ค้นพบในตำหนักสมเด็จ (ภาพจากหนังสือชาวอิตาเลียนในราชสำนักไทย)

Arrays of questions of this girl group lined up in my mind. Who was the painter? When did he paint? He must be an important artist who was in charge of painting on the wall of the crown prince’s manor. Lucky me, it didn’t take time to find the answer as the low right corner of the picture was signed by the artist ‘ C Rigoli 1913’. This means these girls were over 100 years old. C.Rigoli was shortened from Carlo Rigoli who was a famous pioneer of Italian artists in Siam.

Dated back to 1883 in Sesto Fiorentino, a small municipality near Florence, the center of art in Italy, this was the city where Carlo Rigoli was born. This city was abundant in ancient churches and castles and was the center of gorgeous ceramics and porcelain productions exporting throughout the European continent. On November 7th, 1883, a baby boy named Carlo Rigoli was born in a well-to-do extended family with four siblings. He was expected to be a priest in the Roman Catholic Church, so he was well educated. However, his parents’ expectation was never been met. He turned to be an artist.

Carlo’s determination had led him to meet Galileo Chini who made his dream come true. Galileo Chini was a notable artist in Europe who always exhibited his artworks around European countries including the well-known Venice Biennale in 1907. That year, it was the second time that King Rama the 5th managed his trip around Europe. Of course, he never missed the Venice Biennale where he felt attracted by Chini’s artworks. His majesty the king invited Chini to do interior painting inside the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall which was under construction at that time. Owing to the large scale of painting inside the throne hall, Chini asked Carlo Rigoli to accompany him as his helping crew in 1910.

คาร์โล ริโกลี ขณะวาดพระบรมสาทิศลักษณ์สมเด็จพระนางเจ้าเสาวภาผ่องศรี (ภาพจากหนังสือชาวอิตาเลียนในราชสำนักไทย)งผลงานในอีเวนต์ต่างๆ ทั่วยุโรป ซึ่งก็รวมถึงงานใหญ่ระดับโลกอย่างเทศกาลศิลปะเวนิส เบียนนาเล่ ครั้งที่จัดขึ้นเมื่อปี พ.ศ. 2450 ในช่วงเวลานั้นพระบาทสมเด็จพระจุลจอมเกล้าเจ้าอยู่หัว ทรงอยู่ระหว่างการเสด็จฯ ประพาสยุโรปครั้งที่ 2 พอดิบพอดี จึงทรงเสด็จฯไ ปร่วมเทศกาลศิลปะเวนิส เบียนนาเล่ ในครั้งนั้นด้วย ในหลวง รัชกาลที่ 5  โปรดผลงานของคินี จึงทรงมีพระราชดำริให้ทาบทามตัวมาช่วยวาดภาพประดับพระที่นั่งอนันตสมาคมซึ่งกำลังมีแผนจะก่อสร้างกันอยู่ในขณะนั้น ราชสำนักสยามตามจีบคินีได้สำเร็จ แต่ด้วยงานสเกลใหญ่ยักษ์ขนาดนี้ คินีจึงต้องมองหาศิลปินฝีมือดีมาช่วยด้วย คินีจึงตัดสินใจชวนริโกลีให้มาร่วมงาน ในปี พ.ศ. 2453 จับพลัดจับผลูรู้ตัวอีกทีทั้งคู่ก็อยู่บนเรือเดินสมุทรตุปัดตุเป๋มุ่งหน้าข้ามน้ำข้ามทะเลมายังประเทศสยามแล้ว

It was time for Rigoli whose dream came true. He became a real artist in the Kingdom of Siam. He had completed the dream that he longed for. His duty was to paint the royal duties on the vast dome ceiling of the throne hall. He was snowed under by heaps of painting order. He had to paint the interior space of mansions, palaces, temples, and some important places in Bangkok. Later on, Chini, his master, had to return to his hometown to take care of his sick wife.  The tasks that Chini’s leaving availed on Rigoli’s shoulders.

During the first period after arriving in Siam, Rigoli’s painting was strongly centralized in the western style until he met Prince Phraya Narisaranuwat Tiwong who introduced him to Thai traditional art. Since then, Rigoli had adapted the Thai traditional characters and pattern prevailed in ancient literature and mural paintings into his western styles resulting in the collaborated art depicting the three-dimensional figures like the western art in the aged European castles. This painting can only be seen at the Wat Rajathiwatwihan. As far as I know, this is the only place that Rigoli created the mural paintings of the story of Gautama Buddha as Vessantara inside the chapel replacing two-dimensional Thai art with the black and gold outline of the traditional figures.

Rigoli left his spectacular mural masterpieces of traditional heavenly beings at the Royal Hall of Borompiman, the western mansion founded by King Rama the 5th for his crown prince Vajiravudh who was later become King Rama the 6th. Another place is the magnificent Ramayana mural painting at Ban Phibuntham which was previously belonged to Chao Phraya Thammathikoranathipbordee, but this place later has turned into an office of the Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency.

“ออร์โซลินี” (ภรรยา คาร์โล ริโกลี) ประมาณ พ.ศ. 2464

Apart from his mural arts in the reign of King Rama the 5th and King Rama the 6th, Rigoli was usually extra-hired to perform copious portraits with oil paintings in a European style by the two kings and the royal family including the nobility. This is because there were only two Thai portrait artists: Phra Sorralucklikit and Phraya Anusartsanajittakorn, available in the market.

His artworks were so impressive that he was granted the Order of the White Elephant, the royal insignia given by the king, along with several accolades and countless certificates. It seemed that his life was perfect. He could fulfill his dream of being a well-known artist with handsome payment and had an adorable wife from Italy living with him in Siam.

During his time in Thailand, Rigoli resided with a group of Italian artists in a gorgeous bungalow by Chao Phya River in Wat Samphya alley. He met a young boy drawing something on the river platform by chance.  His artistic skill was precocious. That boy was a nephew of MRW. Dang Tinnakorn, the bungalow caretaker. Rigoli felt fascinated and became the boy’s instructor. By learning from the unparalleled artist of the time, the boy became a notable artist when he grew up. He was ‘Hem Vejagorn’.

Rigoli completed his immeasurable painting jobs before world war 2 started and he decided to take his family home, Italy, where he continued painting until the last day of his life, December 14th, 1964.

ภาพคาร์โล ริโกลี และ ออร์โซลินี (ภรรยา) ถ่ายที่กรุงเทพฯ

Rigoli had long served the Thai monarch faithfully for decades. He left his priceless legacy to the Thai people. As well as this, he was one of the inspirations and a role model for the following artists to improve themselves to be accepted internationally.

Rigoli’s story and his six maidens have triggered my curiosity to inspect my living room wall facet in my house whether there might be anything hidden behind. This is because it gave an echo sound. After knocking down the suspected wall, it is found that a huge termite mound piled up with its queen and her offspring chewing my wooden wall leisurely instead of a painting of four ladies. Of cause, it was a big surprise to me as well.

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