Council seeks Heritage Listing for Italian POW art works

Two pieces of art by Italian's held prisoner at the Cowra Prisoner of War camp during World War II could soon be placed on the State Heritage List.

Cowra Shire Council wants to include the altar paintings on its Local Environmental Plan as well as have them State Heritage listed.

The Altar Paintings of Mary and Jesus were painted by Eliseo Pieraccini and Carlo Vannucci who were Italian prisoners of war held at Cowra POW Camp No.12.

Cowra Shire Councillor Ray Walsh said it is important council supporting the listing.

"It is a very interesting and important part of our history," Cr Walsh said.

"The POW camp was not just associated with the Japanese, there was something like 4000 Italians there at one stage.

"Many of them had a profound affect on the people they mixed with in the community.

"They are absolutely beautiful paintings and at some stage in the future if extra restoration work is required having a listing may assist us in acquiring funding," Cr Walsh said.

The works of art were painted in 1946 for installation into the Italian Roman Catholic Chapel at the Cowra POW Camp as part of the sanctuary reredos (ornamental screen covering the wall at the back of an Altar) wall ensemble.

The paintings are currently stored at the Cowra Regional Art Gallery.

"The paintings are the only vestiges of the spiritual life and rigor of the Italian inmates, a deeply personal quality that is not represented elsewhere in other movable elements associated with the Camp," Cowra Shire Environmental Services director Kate Alberry said in a report to councillors in December 2019.

"The paintings are fashioned after the Italian Renaissance style with a distinctly local character displayed as the background but also incorporating elements to indicate their incarceration through the barbed wire at Mary's feet and the symbolic acanthus at the feet of Jesus," Ms Alberry said.

"The paintings speak volumes of the way the prisoners see their circumstances in the effective surrounds of their chapel.

"This is quite apart from the way the Italians conducted themselves in the camp and within the community as productive, social and amicable in the main. "

Ms Alberry described the altar paintings as "unique and rare".

The Italian inmates constructed a chapel at the POW camp for themselves and the ornamentation and liturgical setting was likewise produced by them and for them.

"Not only do these altar paintings represent a vestige of the liturgical setting depicted in the primary photo, but the context of the chapel and the content and symbolism in the paintings is executed in a typically Italian Renaissance style, albeit with an Australian landscape typical of the Cowra locale," Ms Alberry said.