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Oreste Fernando Nannetti

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About the Artist/Site

Oreste Fernando Nannetti spent most of his life in institutions. He was born in Rome, never knowing who his father was, and by the age of seven he had been placed in a charitable institution; by ten he was moved to an institution for children with mental disabilities. At the age of 21, in 1948, he was brought before a court for the crime of insulting public authorities, but he was declared psychotic and was committed to a psychiatric institition in Rome rather than jailed. Ten years later he was transferred to the psychiatric hospital in Volterra, at that time one of the largest (and most antiquated) of such institutions in Italy.

From 1959 to 1972 Nannetti carved drawings and texts into an exterior plaster wall of the institute. With no tools, he used the buckle of his belt to carve into this 180 m (360 feet) long and 1.20 meter (3.6 feet) high wall. It has been described as a libro graffito [a book of graffiti]. In his inscriptions Nannetti, who preferred to refer to himself as NOF4 or Nanof, evoked an imaginary world in which he was an astral colonel or an astronautic mining engineer. Through his drawings he told stories about cosmic travels, conquests of imaginary countries, telepathic cosmic connections, magical powers, and fantastic impersonations in which he was one of the main characters.

Nannetti also decorated a 106 m (318 feet) long guard rail, and produced some 1700 texts and drawings in pen and ink that he combined into a large book. When in 1973 Nannetti was discharged from the hospital, this book was destroyed. Nannetti moved elsewhere in the city of Volterra and died there in 1994.

The psychiatric hospital was shuttered in 1979 after the Italian government decided to close all large psychiatric institutions. Although the Volterra complex was left as it was at the time of the closing, the decorated guard rail is no longer extant and the inscribed wall has lost roughly half of its plaster.

Although there were always people who appreciated Nannetti’s artwork, such as Aldo Trafeli, who worked as a nurse in the hospital, and who ensured that the inscriptions were photographed by Pier Nello Manoni, only recently has there been more general interest in his work. A non-profit organization, Inclusione Graffio & Parole, has been formed to save what is left of the inscriptions, and the city of Volterra has plans to reconstruct the site where the hospital was located in order to transform it into a residential area. In this context a relocation of Nannetti’s artwork is being discussed.

An exhibition devoted to Nannetti’s life and work took place at the Art Brut Museum in Lausanne from May-October, 2011.

~Henk van Es



Map and site information

Not Exact Address
Volterra, Toscana, Italy
Latitude/Longitude: 43.401179 / 10.86131

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