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Sanctuarium artis elisarion - Beauty in Minusio

by Marita Keilson-Lauritz in Travel and weekendtrips , 24 december 2011

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

Minusio, where is that? Not in Italy but close to it, at the Lago Maggiore in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland. What’s there to see? At the moment a very curious exhibition on two German speaking gay men (right? yes, I think so, even though they wouldn’t have liked the word), Elisàr von Kupffer (1872-1942) and Eduard von Mayer (1873-1960), who arrived there during the First World War and who had a very special construction built in the twenties and thirties: half temple, half villa, half exhibition space for Elisàr’s paintings.

As Elisarion he was closely affiliated with the early gay emancipation movement.
In the seventies the building was run down and bought by the Minusio municipality, which unfortunately stripped the peculiar interior, painted everything white and made it into the Centro Culturale e museo “Elisarion.” The center is celebrating its thirtieth birthday with a fabulous exhibition on the largely forgotten or ignored past: “L’Elisarion e le sue origini: I chiaro mondo di Elisàr von Kupffer e di Eduard von Mayer.”

There are many of Kupffer’s paintings on show, most of them of nude or partially nude boys, young men, “araphrodites” (as Kupffer used to call them).

There are also photographs - nicely renovated with the support of a Swiss foundation – of the house in its original state, of the interior design and the sacral rooms (let’s just call them that), of the gorgeous garden and its pillars and pavilions, but also of beautiful and endearing Italian models.

Part of the reproduction of ‘Il Chiaro Mondo’

Il Chiaro Mondo

Central piece of the house was once an enormous panorama painting “Die Klarwelt der Seligen” or “Il chiaro mondo,” which was saved from destruction by the art historian Harald Szeeman, who eventually put it in a sort of a wooden barn on the Monte Verità (just look that one up on internet).

The almost twenty-seven meters wide and three and a half meter high painting needs restoration desperately; it depicts eighty-four largely nude ephebes (adolescents) in an Arcadian landscape. Divided over four seasons you can see a lot of dancing, embracing, lifting, lying down and indulging in some funny but elegant flagellation. No, no, no, those eighty-four nudes could not return to the house / cultural center. The city council didn’t want it.

Elisàr von Kupffer’s self-portrait as Saint Sebastian

But three years ago the Pro Elisarion Foundation was created and one of its main objectives was to put this painting back in its original position: in the big room with skylights that is now used for concerts and conferences. It seemed impossible. But they’re back, the eighty-four nudes, in their original position for at least as long as the exhibition lasts.

Art critic Fabio Ricci, who has put Kupffer’s and Mayer’s ideas and projects into historic context in his book “Ritter, Tod & Eros: Die Kunst Elisàr von Kupffers” (2007) had a lot to do with it, as well as the Pro Elisarion Foundation (check

But one of the members of this foundation deserves to be mentioned specifically: the former director of the Locarno Film Festival, David Steiff, especially for his amazing diplomatic skills.

The copy, yes this is a life-size copy of the original painting, was made by a Swiss firm that especially developed a new procedure (you can see all about it on Claudio Berger also did amazing work to realize this project as more than just curator of the Elisarion.

Elisàr von Kupffer, ‘Alla spiaggia’ / At the Beach

Two fragments from the enormous painting ‘Il Chiaro Mondo’

Best of all is perhaps to see how happy the Minusio municipality is with these events. It is part of the Pro Elisarion Foundation now and seems to take pride in what it used to try to hide.
So visit Minusio!

In concert with the exhibition the book “L’Elisarion e le sue origini: Il chiaro mondo di Elisàr von Kupffer e di Eduard von Mayer” was published, with contributions by Fabio Ricci and Lukas Piccolin. These articles are included in both German and Italian.

The book also has a lot of pictures, both in black & white and full-color, as well as a fold-out print of “Die Klarwelt der Seligen.” 96 precious pages.

Centro culturale e museo “Elisarion”, Via Rinaldo Simen 3, CH - 6648 Minusio, Switzerland. Tel. 004191-7436671, e-mail:
From September 17th until December 11th 2011 and from March 30th until April 29th 2012. Opening hours: Tuesday 2 till 7pm, Friday Saturday and Sunday 3 till 7p. Attention: closed on the 20th of November and the 4th of December.

In 1995 Dr. Marita Keilson-Lauritz edited for the Hamburg based Männerschwarm Verlag a reprint of Kupffer’s “Lieblingminne und Freundesliebe in der Weltliteratur: Eine Sammlung mit einer ethisch-politischen Einleitung” from 1900: the world’s first “modern” anthology of gay literature.

Historic photograph of the Sanctuarium Artis Elisarion



In the New Issue of Gay News, 323, July 2018

More from Travel and weekendtrips
More from Gay News- issue 243
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