Carlo Levi

Carlo Levi

Carlo Levi in 1947
(portrait by Carl Van Vechten)
Born (1902-11-29)November 29, 1902
Turin, Italy
Died January 4, 1975(1975-01-04) (aged 72)
Rome, Italy
Nationality Italian
Education Self taught, University of Turin (for doctorate)
Known for Painting, Literature, Medicine
Notable work Gli amanti (The Lovers) (1955)
Movement Contemporary
Awards Senator of the Italian Republic
Patron(s) Felice Casorati

Dr. Carlo Levi (Italian pronunciation: [ˈkarlo ˈlɛːvi]) (November 29, 1902 – January 4, 1975) was an Italian-Jewish painter, writer, activist, anti-fascist, and doctor.

He is best known for his book Cristo si è fermato a Eboli (Christ Stopped at Eboli), published in 1945, a memoir of his time spent in exile in Lucania, Italy, after being arrested in connection with his political activism. In 1979, the book became the basis of a movie of the same name, directed by Francesco Rosi. Lucania, now called Basilicata, was historically one of the poorest and most backward regions of the impoverished Italian south. Levi's lucid, non-ideological and sympathetic description of the daily hardships experienced by the local peasants helped to propel the "Problem of the South" into national discourse after the end of World War II.

Early life

Levi was born in Turin, Piedmont, to wealthy Jewish physician Ercole Levi and Annetta Treves, the sister of Claudio Treves, an important socialist leader in Italy. Levi graduated from high school (Liceo Alfieri) in 1917. Upon graduation, Levi attended the University of Turin, where he studied medicine and, in 1924, graduated with high marks. While at university, Levi had become friends with Piero Gobetti who sparked Levi's interests in political activism that would continue throughout his life. Soon after graduation from the University of Turin, Levi exhibited some of his works at the XIV Venice Biennale.[1]

Levi never completely abandoned his medical studies and served as assistant to Prof. Micheli at the University of Turin's Clinic from 1924 to 1928, working on research involving hepatopathy and diseases of bile tract. From 1924 to 1928, Levi continued his specialization studies in Paris with Professor Bourguignon among others, although by 1927 Levi had decided to dedicate his life to painting. Levi's early time in Paris, as a painter and as a student of medicine, brought him into contact with many notable personalities of the 20th century, including Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky, Alberto Moravia, Giorgio de Chirico, and others. Levi lived almost exclusively in Paris from 1932 to 1934 and even attended the funeral in 1933 of his uncle (his mother's brother), Claudio Treves.[2]

Political activism and exile

Carlo Levi in 1955. Photo by Paolo Monti (Fondo Paolo Monti, BEIC).

In 1929, along with Carlo and Nello Rosselli he founded an anti-fascist movement called Giustizia e Libertà, becoming a leader of the Italian branch along with Leone Ginzburg, a Russian Jew from Odessa who had emigrated with his parents to Italy. He also joined with Francesco Menzio in the famous "Gruppo dei Sei" ("Group of six"), all painters in Turin, including Jessie Boswell, Gigi Chessa, Nicola Galante and Enrico Paulucci.

As a result of his activism and involvement with anti-fascist movements, Levi was arrested and exiled to Aliano (Gagliano in the book), a town in a remote area of Italy called Lucania from 1935 to 1936. There he encountered a poverty almost unknown in prosperous northern Italy. While there, Levi worked on the side as one of the doctors for the villagers, although he had never practiced medicine after graduating from medical school. During his exile he spent much of his time painting.

After his release, he moved to France and lived there from 1939 to 1941. In 1941, he returned to Italy, and was later arrested in Florence and imprisoned in the Murate prison. He was released following Benito Mussolini's arrest and sought refuge across the street from the Pitti Palace, where he wrote his Cristo si è fermato a Eboli.

street name sign in Erice, Sicily

After World War II, he moved to Rome and from 1945 to 1946 he served as the editor of L'Italia Libera, the publication of the Partito d'Azione, an anti-fascist organization that grew out of the republican tradition.[3] He continued to write and paint, exhibiting in Europe and the United States. His written works include L'Orologio (The Watch) (1950), Le parole sono pietre (Words Are Stones) (1955), and Il Futuro ha un Cuore Antico (The Future has an Ancient Heart) (1956). In 1963, he was elected to the Senate as an independent on the Communist Party ticket; he was re-elected to the Senate in 1968 and served there until 1972. He died of pneumonia in Rome on 4 January 1975. He is buried in Aliano. The 'Persiana' Gallery in Palermo exhibited his last work, Apollo and Daphne, executed on a goatskin drum the day before he was admitted to hospital.


Tile autographed by Carlo Levi at Alassio.

Below is a list of important works written by Carlo Levi. Publisher (where appropriate) and date of publication follow each work:[4]

Levi also wrote numerous prefaces and introductions for many authors throughout his lifetime. There have also been collections of Levi's works published after his death, notably essays, miscellaneous writings and poetry.


Wikimedia Commons has media related to Carlo Levi.


  1. Levi, Carlo, and Gigliola De Donato. Roma fuggitiva: una città e i suoi dintorni. Saggi. Roma: Donzelli, 2002: 157
  2. Levi, Carlo, and Gigliola De Donato. Roma fuggitiva: una città e i suoi dintorni. Saggi. Roma: Donzelli, 2002: 158–159
  3. Gaetana Marrone; Paolo Puppa (26 December 2006). Encyclopedia of Italian Literary Studies. Routledge. p. 1037. ISBN 978-1-135-45530-9. Retrieved 11 January 2015.
  4. Levi, Carlo, and Gigliola De Donato. Roma fuggitiva: una città e i suoi dintorni. Saggi. Roma: Donzelli, 2002: 157–164
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