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01 November 2014

La Gioconda (1917)

Polish singer and actress Helena Makowska (1893-1964) or Elena Malowska was a beautiful diva of the Italian silent cinema in the 1910s. She played the title role in the Ambrosio production La Gioconda (Eleuterio Rodolfi, 1917), based on a play by Gabriele D'Annunzio. The IPA produced for this silent drama a series of sepia postcards.

Gioconda 1. Helena Makowska as the model Gioconda Dianti
Italian postcard by IPA CT, no. 3654, Censura S. Prefetti, Terni, 18-4-1917. Photo: Ambrosio. Caption: 'The model Gioconda Dianti.' At the Forum Romanum, Rome. Helena Makowska in La Gioconda (Eleuterio Rodolfi, 1917).

Gioconda 2
Italian postcard by IPA CT, no. 3872, V. Uff. Rev. St., Terni. Photo: Ambrosio. Caption: "On the banks of the sweet Tuscan coast the sculptor Lucio Settala, his wife Silvia and their daughter Beata live. The latter has befriended the Little Siren, a strange beggar girl." Umberto Mozzato as Settala, Mercedes Brignone as his wife, Linda Pini as 'Sirenetta' in La Gioconda (Eleuterio Rodolfi, 1917).

Gioconda 3
Italian postcard by IPA CT, no. 3654, V. Uff. Rev. St., Terni. Photo: Ambrosio. Caption: "Lucio Settala in the happy intimacy of the family." Umberto Mozzato as Settala and Mercedes Brignone as his wife Silvia in La Gioconda (Eleuterio Rodolfi, 1917).

Gioconda 4
Italian postcard by IPA CT, no. 3880, V. Uff. Rev. St., Terni. Photo: Ambrosio. Caption: "The first encounter of Lucio Settala with Gioconda Dianti at the Fine Arts exhibition." Centre, Umberto Mozzato as Settala, right Helena Makowska as Gioconda Dianti in La Gioconda (Eleuterio Rodolfi, 1917).

Gioconda 5
Italian postcard by IPA CT, no. 3661, Censura S. Prefetti, Terni, 18-4-1917. Photo: Ambrosio. Caption: "Banquet in honour of Gioconda Dianti." In the back, centre, Helena Makowska as Gioconda Dianti in La Gioconda (Eleuterio Rodolfi, 1917).

Seductive mistress


Famous sculptor Lucio Settala (Umberto Mozzato) lives on the Tuscan coast with his wife Silvia, daughter Beata and a beggar girl whom Beata befriends, la Sirenetta (Linda Pini).

At a Fine Arts exhibition, Lucio encounters the beautiful femme fatale Gioconda Dianti (Helena Makowska). She becomes his model for a statue of a female nude in an ecstatic pose.

More and more, Lucio falls in love with her and neglects his wife and child. Instead of his angelic wife (Mercedes Brignone), keeper of family values, he prefers his seductive mistress, the inspiration to his art. His wife suffers in silence.

At the convent of St. Mark, a monk tells Lucio and Gioconda the legend of an Egyptian mummy come to life (again played by Makowska) who becomes the voluptuous courtesan of the Pharaoh. When the people rebel against the Pharaoh’s spoiling of her, she shows herself just dressed in transparent veils to the rebels.

Silvia guards her husband’s abandoned studio, placing fresh flowers there. In the climax of the story, Silvia tries to regain her husband and struggles with the rival. In a moment of anger, Gioconda throws the statue on Silvia for which she has posed.

In order to save the masterpiece of her husband, Silvia sacrifices both her hands, reduced to stumps. His wife’s tragedy awakens the blinded infidel, who returns to the family hearth.

Gioconda 6
Italian postcard by IPA CT, no. 3663, Censura S. Prefetti, Terni, 18-4-1917. Photo: Ambrosio. Caption: 'Lucio Settala presents maestro Lorenzo Gaddi the model Gioconda Dianti.' Umberto Mozzato as the sculptor Lucio Settala and Helena Makowska as the model in La Gioconda (Eleuterio Rodolfi, 1917).

Gioconda 6a
Italian postcard by IPA CT, no. 3877. Photo: Film della Soc. Ambrosio, Torino. V. Uff. Rev. St., Terni. Caption: "Sculptor Lucio Settala feels his love for his model Gioconda Dianti is ever expanding." Umberto Mozzato as Lucio Settala and Helena Makowska as Gioconda Dianti in La Gioconda (Eleuterio Rodolfi, 1917).

Gioconda 7a
Italian postcard by IPA CT, no. 3876. Photo: Film della Soc. Ambrosio, Torino. V. Uff. Rev. St., Terni. Caption: "Lucio Settala is madly in love with his model Gioconda Dianti." Umberto Mozzato as Lucio Settala and Helena Makowska as Gioconda Dianti in La Gioconda (Eleuterio Rodolfi, 1917).

Gioconda 8
Italian postcard by IPA CT, no. 3881. Photo: Film della Soc. Ambrosio, Torino. V. Uff. Rev. St., Terni. Caption: "And at home Lucio Settala didn't find rest nor peace." Standing right, Settala (Umberto Mozzato), sitting at the table his wife Silvia (Mercedes Brignone), and sitting on the (fore-)ground la Sirenetta (Linda Pini) in La Gioconda (Eleuterio Rodolfi, 1917).

Gioconda 9
Italian postcard by IPA CT, no. 3662. Photo: Film della Soc. Ambrosio, Torino. V. Uff. Rev. St., Terni. Caption: "Every night at the same hour, Gioconda Dianti, at the feet of the statue awaited the return of Lucio Settala." Helena Makowska as the model Gioconda Dianti in La Gioconda (Eleuterio Rodolfi, 1917).

Mixed feelings


In 1916 Eleuterio Rodolfi directed La Gioconda for the Ambrosio film studio. He had written the script himself and had based it on the homonymous play by Gabriele D’Annunzio.

The film premiered in Rome on 24 January 1917.

While the play by D’Annunzio, written in 1898 and first performed in 1899, was received rather coolly at its premiere, the film was received with more mixed feelings.

While the Turin based journal La vita cinematografica thought Helena Makowska had a perfect body but a wooden expression, the Naples based journal La Cine-Fono, already a few months before the first public screening, wrote appraisal for its adaptation of D'Annunzio's play (considered very suitable to be filmed because of its theatricality), but also lauded the actor's performances of Makowska, Mozzato and Brignone.

La Gioconda is now considered a lost film.

Gioconda 10. Mercedes Brignone and Umberto Mozzato in La Gioconda
Italian postcard by IPA CT, no. 3670. Photo: Film della Soc. Ambrosio, Torino. V. Uff. Rev. St., Terni, 5-10-1916. Caption: "And the heroic wife, who knew very well what was going on, suffered and waited in silence." Mercedes Brignone and Umberto Mozzato in La Gioconda (Eleuterio Rodolfi, 1917).

Gioconda 11
Italian postcard by IPA CT, no. 3662. Photo: Film della Società Ambrosio, Torino. ensura Terni, 18-4-1917. Caption: "The monk of the convent of St. Mark told the story of the golden scarabee." Helena Makowska as the model Gioconda Dianti but also as the Egyptian courtesan in the legend told, and left in the image Umberto Mozzato as the artist Lucio Settala in La Gioconda (Eleuterio Rodolfi, 1917).

Gioconda 12
Italian postcard by IPA CT, no. 3873. Photo: Film della Società Ambrosio, Torino. Censura S. Prefett., Terni, 18-4-1917. Caption: "The resurrected mummy told the monk, refugee in the desert, the story of her ancient life: She had been a voluptuous courtesan who lived in the times of the great Pharaon." Helena Makowska as the Egyptian courtesan in La Gioconda (Eleuterio Rodolfi, 1917).

Gioconda 13
Italian postcard by IPA CT, no. 3879. Photo: Film della Società Ambrosio, Torino. Censura S. Prefett., Terni, 5-10-1916. Caption: "... in order to satisfy the mad caprice of the courtesan..." Helena Makowska as the Egyptian courtesan in La Gioconda (Eleuterio Rodolfi, 1917).

Gioconda 14
Italian postcard by IPA CT, no. 3662. Photo: Film della Società Ambrosio, Torino. Censura S. Prefett., Terni, 5-10-1916. Caption: "... he started to anger his subjects..." Helena Makowska as the Egyptian courtesan in La Gioconda (Eleuterio Rodolfi, 1917).

Gioconda 15
Italian postcard by IPA CT, no. 3874. Photo: Film della Società Ambrosio, Torino. V. Uff. Rev. St., Terni. Caption: "At last the populace rebelled and invaded the palace furiously...! But the courtesan appeared to the rebels dressed only in veils!" Helena Makowska as the Egyptian courtesan in La Gioconda (Eleuterio Rodolfi, 1917).

Gioconda 16
Italian postcard by IPA CT, no. 3871. Photo: Film della Società Ambrosio, Torino. V. Uff. Rev. St. Terni. Caption: "Sivia Settala deposes flowers in the studio of her husband, constating with great sadness, that he is ever more absent." Mercedes Brignone as Silvia Settala inLa Gioconda (Eleuterio Rodolfi, 1917).

Gioconda 18. Mercedes Brignone, La Gioconda
Italian postcard by IPA CT, no. 3660. Photo: IPA CT. Censura Terni 18-4-1917. Caption: "Struck by grief, Silvia Settala falls on her knees, hiding her stumps in the folds of her clothes." Mercedes Brignone as Silvia Settala inLa Gioconda (Eleuterio Rodolfi, 1917).

Sources: Vittorio Martinelli (Il cinema muto italiano, 1916 - Italian), Matilde Tortora (Italian), Wikipedia (Italian) and IMDb.

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