Modigliani’s Sephardic Jewish Background You Didn’t Know About
“I want to be a tune swept fiddle string that feels the master melody, and snaps…”
Amedeo Modigliani, the Sephardic Jewish-Italian painter and sculptor, was born in Livorno, a port city known as a haven for those persecuted for their faith, home to a large Jewish community including Modigliani’s great-great-grandfather, Solomon Garsin who found refuge in Livorno in the 18th century.
Modigliani’s mother, Eugénie Garsin, was born and raised in Marseille, and descended from an intellectual, scholarly family – with business ties in Livorno, Marseille, Tunis and London. Fluent in many languages, her ancestors were authorities on sacred Jewish texts and had founded a Talmudic school. Family legend traced the family lineage to the 17th-century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza – considered father of atheism.
Modigliani’s father, Flaminio, was member of a less cultural family than the Garsins – but nevertheless successful in business. When the Garsin and Modigliani families announced the engagement, Flaminio was a wealthy young mining engineer. He managed a mine in Sardinia as well as 30,000 acres of timberland the family owned.
Modigliani had a close relationship with his mother, who was, in many ways, instrumental in his ability to pursue art as a vocation. When he was only 11 years old, Eugénie noted in her diary: “The child’s character is still so unformed that I cannot say what I think of it. He behaves like a spoiled child, but he does not lack intelligence. We shall have to wait and see what is inside this chrysalis. Perhaps an artist?”