At the intersection of art and crime with Giambaccio

Giovambattista Giannangeli is a Florentine artist and retired criminal lawyer. After almost twenty years practicing at the intersection of art and crime (painting ceremonial portraits of departed mafia dons) a couple of art revelations acted as proverbial forks in the road. “As my faith in art grew, my belief in justice dwindled. I left the legal path and embarked on a new one with my palette and brushes.” We catch up with “Giambaccio” in the Tuscan region of Castiglioncello, at Hotel Atlantico, where a friend and collector has commissioned him to adorn the hotel pool area with a massive mural.

“I come from a renaissance town where to mark places is an ancient tradition. Walls are more physical, the gestures are wider, it's like fighting a giant, it's thrilling.”

Did your legal background impact your art, and vice versa?

I would never have become an artist if I wasn’t a lawyer before. Imagination is delicate. As an artist you are alone a lot, and your work is supposed to serve beauty, but your head is full of doubt. When it’s dark, imagination is a fire you have to keep burning, and you need a lot of wood for that. I collected wood all my long years practicing law.

How did you end up a lawyer, and eventually an artist?

I went to law school because I was a good student. Working life disappointed me though; law careers are not like television shows. It's mostly boring and there is no money for most lawyers. I had interesting cases, but I am too spiritual to live on lies. At the age of 35, I attended a painting session at the atelier of a young painter. Working on a large scale canvas, he taught me how to craft wood frames, treat the canvas, reduce distances, catch time, master colours and shepherd them through my body to my hands, and become something I never knew I was. When I walked out of the atelier, I knew that I was somebody different from the one that had walked in.

In your view, what is the essence of art?

In 2022 I was in Sicily painting a mural for a church. I was approached by a mafioso who practically forced me to follow him to do a portrait of his father, a local mafia boss, dead of covid. I was asked to portrait the dead man on the main wall of a garage nearby. My role was almost like that of a shaman. After about six hours I knew that the spirit of the dead was on the wall. I turned around and noticed that about twenty locals had brought chairs and had been watching me the whole time. The son of the deceased man hugged me, crying. That night I understood the deep meaning of art. It’s an absolute space, where you shine among all the other souls, like a little magnificent and personal sun.

Giambaccio is captured by longtime friend and photographer Fredrik Skogkvist. “I have never been to Castiglioncello before. Reading into its history, film industry people had summer houses here in the Fellini heydays. I was blown away by the hidden gem feeling of the place. It’s just so unique to be here right before it all happens. Right before the storm of people and everything.”—FS

Shot by Fredrik Skogkvist