Gariwo: the gardens of the Righteous

Versione italiana | Search in site:

Fernanda Wittgens 1903 - 1957

inspector of Brera who protected both precious art and the persecuted

Born on April 3rd, 1903, in Milano, Fernanda Wittgens was an illustrious citizen who honored the city. To commemorate the importance of her work, a street in the center is dedicated to her.  

A teacher of art history in Milanese high schools, she was the inspector of Brera since 1933, under the guide of the then director of Brera and the superintendent of the galleries of art of Lombardy, Ettore Modigliani. Modigliani was working as an anti-fascist in Aquila in 1935. Wittgens was made director of the picture gallery in 1941. It was she who protected precious works of art and defended them from bombardments and the depredation of the Nazis

Meanwhile, she also rescued persecuted men. She was the architect of escape in Switzerland for Professor Paolo D’Ancona and his family alongside other Jews that she didn’t even know. She was arrested in July 1944 and condemned by a special tribunal to 4 years in jail, which she didn’t serve because the family managed to release her after 7 months after presenting a false certificate of the illness phthisis. Fortunately, after this, the Liberation finally came. Modigliani was reintegrated into her work and she was beside the master for the reconstruction of Brera that was destroyed by bombing. She worked with Modigliani until he died in 1947.

She fought against incompetence and a lack of funds, succeeding in 1950 to repair the picture gallery of Brera. That year, she became superintendent of the galleries of Lombardy. She also strove for the reconstruction of the Scala Museum and the Museum of Poldi Pezzoli.

Thanks to her determination in 1952, the Municipality of Milan acquired the precious statue of Michelangelo, known as Pietá Rondanini to Rome, Firenze and the United States.

In 1949, she received the gold medal of the Municipality of Milan and, in 1954; she earned the gold medal from the President of the Republic. On April 17th, 1955, during the “day of remembrance” celebrated in Milan, she was recognized with a gold medal from the Union of the Israeli Community for her work of rescuing persecuted Jews. Finally, in 1956 she was recognized as a Knight Officer of the Order of Merit of the Republic.

She died in Milano, July 1st, 1957.