12 May 2017 – 28 July 2017

Catalogue, edited by  MA Spadaro ,  pp. 400, with essays by Palermitan and Japanese scholars, relating to the career of the two artists and the environment in which they worked.

Staging: Carola Arrivas Bajardi

Graphics: Antonio Giannusa

 A “Study Day”  will be held on  9 June 2017 ,  again in Palazzo Sant’Elia, on the theme: The utopia of Japan in Europe  – speakers from Palermo, Rome, Tokyo and Kyoto

From the mid-nineteenth century, after two hundred years of closure towards the West, Japan opened its borders, starting economic and diplomatic relations with the United States of America and European countries. In the climate of this general opening towards the West, the emperor Mutsuhito deems it necessary to invite from Italy – the western country with the most solid artistic tradition – three artists to found an art school that is in step with the stylistic lines of the culture modern figurative: the Kobu Bijutsu Gekko art school of the Ministry of Industry and Technology is born in Tokyo.

The three artists selected by the Brera Academy in Milan are: Antonio Fontanesi for painting, Giovanni Vincenzo Cappelletti for architecture and Vincenzo Ragusa from Palermo for sculpture.

Ragusa arrives in the Japanese capital in 1876. From this episode, already sensational in itself, two astonishing events will derive for the city of Palermo: his idea of ​​establishing a  school of oriental arts , a pioneering project at European level, and the presence of a Japanese artist, O’Tama Kiyohara, who became his wife under the name of Eleonora Ragusa, who will live in Palermo for 51 years. In contact with the western expressive novelties, O’Tama’s creative strategy is transformed: from Japanese synthetic graphism it reaches naturalism with its objective representation of reality.

The painter O’Tama Kiyohara (Tokyo 1861-1939) and the sculptor Vincenzo Ragusa (Palermo 1841-1927) constitute two important figures in the history of art of our country, promoters of the early Japonism that flourished in Palermo, when they were still few, in the 80s of the century. XIX, in Europe, to approach Japanese culture and art with passion. We recall the great importance that  Japonisme  had in France.

The beginning of relations between Italy and Japan took place in 1866 and last 2016 the two countries celebrated their 150th anniversary: ​​the Municipality of Palermo named   the garden in via Praga, inaugurated just last year, after O’Tama Kiyohara , with a participatory ceremony in the presence of the city authorities.

In the exhibition will be seen works by O’Tama Kiyohara Ragusa, who left here a rich production, exploring various techniques (from easel works with oils, watercolors and pastels, to wall paintings) and different subjects (from portraits to landscapes, from still lifes to genre scenes, from flowers to animals, from religious themes to memories of oriental atmospheres, from applied art to interior decorations). Works by Vincenzo Ragusa will also be on display, of which the non-transportable ones will be seen through panels.

This is the first anthological exhibition dedicated to the two artists in Palermo. The Sections:

O’Tama: from Japanese synthetic graphism to Western naturalism; Passion for nature; The portrait; genre scenes; Feeling of the sacred; Suggestions of the East; The landscape; Interior decorations; Applied art; Students of O’Tama Ragusa; Vincenzo Ragusa; The Industrial Artistic Workshop School of V. Ragusa; Japonism.


The exhibition, promoted by the Sant’Elia Foundation, is sponsored by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, the Metropolitan Area of ​​Palermo, the Municipality of Palermo, the Whitaker Foundation, the Sicilian Regional Assembly, the Sicilian Society of Homeland History, the Gam di Palermo, the Modern Art Gallery of the Municipality of Messina, the “Luigi Pigorini” Museum of Civilizations in Rome, the Japanese Embassy in Rome, the Japanese Cultural Institute in Rome, the Sicily-Japan Association, the Week of Cultures, by ANISA (National Association of Art History Teachers).

Exhibition project

The exhibition will be set up in the halls of the prestigious eighteenth-century Palazzo Sant’Elia in the heart of the historic center of Palermo. On show:

  • about 170 works (mostly in private collections) produced by O’Tama Kiyohara Ragusa before and during his 51-year period in Palermo. Lenders: Ars, Gam Palermo, Pitré Museum, Sicilian Society of Homeland History, Whitaker Foundation, “Vincenzo Ragusa and O’Tama Kiyohara” Art High School Museum, Church of Sant’Antonio Abate of Palermo, Gam of Messina, Museum of Civilizations “L. Pigorini” in Rome;
  • paintings conserved in the former school founded by Ragusa in Palermo, today the “Vincenzo Ragusa and O’Tama Kiyohara” Artistic High School and the monumental wardrobe created by the School for the 1891-92 National Exhibition of Palermo  (today conserved at the ITI “Vitt. Em. III” of Palermo;
  • a video, by Maria Muratore, will illustrate the works of O’Tama and Vincenzo Ragusa;
  • the installation will include panels, furnishings, kimonos and objects of the period, to evoke the phenomenon of  Japonism.

Finally, in the “Artists for O’Tama” section, the videos of Gianni Gebbia ( O’Tama Monogatari , 2012) and Antonio Giannusa ( La stanza di O’Tama , 2017) will be screened and the work of Fabrice de Nola will be exhibited ( Nymphaee , 2012), all inspired by the artist. Furthermore, at the inauguration, the Japanese artist Setsuko will perform in a performance dedicated to the painter and sculptor


Vernissage, 12 Maggio 2017 ore 17:00

Orari: Martedì – Venerdì 9:30-13:00; 15:30-18:30

         Sabato – Domenica 10:00-13:00; 16:00-19:00

In occasione delle celebrazioni del 393° Festino di Santa Rosalia, per la chiusura delle strade di accesso al Palazzo Sant’Elia, la mostra sarà visitabile fino alle ore 14.00 di venerdì 14 luglio, resterà chiusa sabato 15 e domenica 16 luglio 2017.


Intero  € 5,00

Ridotto € 4,00: over 65, gruppi (minimo 20 persone).

€ 3,00: scolaresche.

Info: +39 0916162520 – fondazionesantelia@gmail.com