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Centennial birth anniversary of Bulgarian studies expert Prof. Riccardo Picchio honoured in Rome

The scholar learnt the Bulgarian language from his live contact with people in Bulgaria

| updated on 5/31/24 11:52 AM
Bulgaria gallery in Rome
Photo: ibcroma.it

The centennial birth anniversary of Prof. Riccardo Picchio – a slavicist and an expert in Bulgarian studies of international renown, will be honoured with an exhibition, opening on 31 May at Bulgaria gallery in Rome. The event, organized by the Bulgarian Cultural Institute in the Eternal City and Bulgaria’s Ministry of Culture, will be preceded by a meeting of scholars with the participation of Bulgarian and Italian experts of Bulgarian studies.

Prof. Riccardo Picchio (1923-2011) is not well known to the broad public but he is one of the foremost Italian scholars to have translated classical Bulgarian authors in Italy, says Veneta Nenkova, founder of the Bulgarian Sunday school Asen and Ilia Peykov in in Rome and president of the Parallel 43 cultural association. The honour of presenting the inventory of Prof. Piccho’s Bulgarian studies library during the science forum falls to her.
Cataloguing part of Prof. Picchio's archives at the Bulgarian school in Rome
“The Bulgarian school in Rome was deeply honoured to receive this inventory in 2023 as a donation from Prof. Riccardo Picchio’s heirs – namely Prof. Krassimir Stanchev who was in charge of the Bulgarian section of the scholar’s archives and libraries,” Veneta Nenkova says. “We assumed the commitment to find a permanent home for this invaluable gift, the work of a lifetime, dedicated to the translations of classicists like Ivan Vazov and Pencho Slaveykov. Our school now owns the original texts, books with dedications by the authors, editions that are 100 years old. We have already taken the first step for the preservation of these almost 500 books with a detailed inventory.”

A slavicist with a wide range of interests, but invariably with his eyes on Bulgaria, Bulgarian culture and the Bulgarian language – that is how Prof. Krassimir Stanchev, long-time lecturer at Roma Tre describes his fellow professor and friend Riccardo Picchio.

“He was one of the last leading slavicists of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century, whose work involved a very wide range of languages and literatures in the Slavic world,” says Prof. Stanchev in an interview with Radio Bulgaria. “In 1946 Riccardo Picchio defended his thesis about poet Pencho Slaveykov at the University of Rome. He then travelled to Warsaw where he learnt Polish fluently, and in the late 1950s, went on to specialize Bulgarian studies at the National Institute for Oriental Languages and Civilizations in Paris. His academic career began as an associate professor of Bulgarian language and literature and Slavic studies at the university in Florence, and he also lectured in Pisa, at the Slavic Studies Institute in Rome, at the Naples Eastern Institute. He became regular professor at an Ivy League university in the US – Yale. Remarkably, he invariably started his general introduction to Slavic literature with the history of old Bulgarian literature, with Cyril and Methodius, John Exarch and Patriarch Euthymius of Turnovo – that is what I have found out from his archives in the past two years.”

Riccardo Picchio developed an interest in the Bulgarian language when, during his university studies he started “peeking into different cultural and literary spheres”, as Prof. Krassimir Stanchev puts it. He went on to do German studies, was attracted by the Russian language but wanted to study other Slavic languages as well. That was how he crossed paths with the foremost expert of Bulgarian studies in Italy - Enrico Damiani who sent him to Bulgaria to specialize.

“At the end of 1942, Riccardo Picchio spent 70 days in Bulgaria, but that was enough for him to meet his future wife - Lavinia Borriero who was also specializing in Bulgaria, he also met Bulgarian writers and other cultural figures,” Krassimir Stanchev says. “But most importantly he developed a life-long love for the country which reciprocated by coming to appreciate the scholar and his work. He quickly learnt Bulgarian, speaking it in a peculiar but endearing way, because, as he himself admits, he did not learn it from textbooks but from his live contact with different people during his stay in Sofia. He later kept up a long correspondence with Bulgarians like Prof. Georgi Dimov and with my own teacher - Prof. Petar Dinekov. His archives are full of a lot of interesting things and I hope they will soon be published. His contacts with other scholars shed light on the history of Bulgarian studies, of the cultural and academic contacts from the latter half of the 20th century, at a time when contacts between the Eastern block and the Western countries were by no means easy or active. Interestingly I found something that concerns me personally – a letter addressed to me after we had met in 1981 which I never received but – that was something that back then was up to the secret services.”

In his research Prof. Riccardo Picchio came up with analyses that refocus the study of medieval literary texts. He also introduced some interesting terminology – for example, Slavia Orthodoxa by which he denoted the cultural, literary, confessional and linguistic community of Orthodox Christians that includes Bulgarians, Serbs, Bosnians, Russians, Ukrainians, even Vlachs and Moldovans.

In 2011, on his 88th birthday, the scholar passed away, but his work has been continued by scholars from different countries, as well as by the students from the Bulgarian school in Rome involved in the national programme of the Ministry of Education and Science “The untold stories of the Bulgarians”.


Translated and posted by Milena Daynova
Photos: ibcroma.it, BTA-archive

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