Butterfly Vanessa
Three children’s tales for a book that was never published
Date unkown 

For the exhibition on Patrizia Vicinelli on view until 27 February 2022 in the ARRHYTHMICS section, MACRO presents three children’s tales by the artist.


The second fable published here is titled Butterfly Vanessa and tells the story of a butterfly plagued by a sense of alienation from “everything and everyone” that prompts her to venture beyond her homeland in search of new adventures, and of someone who will explicitly demonstrate interest in her. Out of her comfort zone, however, she finds desolate lands parched by the sun, poachers and hunters, narrow cages and terrible storms that convince her to return home, where she discovers what she was seeking, camouflaged in everyday routine. Here you can read the tale. 


1 – Large trees with large foliage that is always green, lianas and creepers, dense vegetation on the ground that attempts to rise to catch sunbeams, branches that intertwine at all heights and that host all sorts of birds: from large colorful parrots to black cawing crows, you may also meet snakes, very fast squirrels and mongooses. This is the environment, seen from above, in which our character lives.

2 – Below, on the widest branches, or right on the ground, the monkeys and baboons, with purple and blue behinds, jump around making a great hullabaloo, living in groups and consuming enormous quantities of fruit. The spiders with their webs that resemble fabulous castles have made their kingdom here, and the butterflies display their splendid robes with each day’s joyful flight.

3 – A butterfly is the interpreter of our story. Her name is Vanessa. She knows that she is one of the most beautiful and sophisticated animals in the whole surrounding environment: the delicacy of the colors spread masterfully on her wings has no rival. She doesn’t feel recognized by the other animals for her beauty, she feels alone, unappreciated, without relationships, in a word she is alienated from everything and everyone.

4 – Intolerant of staying longer in an environment so oblivious to her and her problems, Vanessa decides to flee. “I will find a more comfortable place and people who are dedicated to beauty” she thinks as she starts to fly in the direction leading out of the great jungle. It is a night with a full moon, the animals sleep peacefully, and Vanessa can escape without anyone taking notice.

5 – Her journey lasts all night long. When the sun rises in the pink dawn, Vanessa finds herself in an immense meadow: the landscape has changed a lot, no longer fresh, protective, and shady trees under which to rest and that shelter from the scorching rays of the sun, but an endless expanse of parched and barren earth, with a few sporadic tufts of grass and a few trees with small, clumsy crowns at their tops.

6 – In the vast open space Vanessa feels lost. Additionally, the heat, which has become stronger and stronger, is unbearable. She is very tired and exhausted; the strong light blinds her and she seeks refuge on the branch of a tree. Around her, large unknown animals, tall-necked giraffes, rhinos and gazelles are running wildly, leaving behind a long trail of dust. A safari is underway, and in the air you can sense the terror of the animals who fear being captured.

7 – Vanessa looks in horror at what is happening as a giraffe is caught right in that moment. Meanwhile, from behind, unseen by our butterfly, a Black hunter is approaching: he has a net in hand. There is no doubt—he is actually a butterfly hunter!

8 – With one quick swipe, Vanessa is taken prisoner. Surprised to the point of not understanding what is happening, she finds herself in a cage next to other butterflies in other cages, in a Land-Rover (a very sturdy car used on safaris) which starts up immediately. Amidst the jolts and jumps of the journey, Vanessa talks to her ill-fated friends: “As a butterfly, either you end up with a pin in your heart, in museums, or, if you are very rare, you are observed in experiments” they tell her.

9 – The butterfly is already thinking of all possible ways to organize an escape when she is taken from the cage and brought to the scientist, the entomologist, a researcher of insects. Between dismay and happiness, Vanessa hears: “Butterfly Vanessa, I already know everything about you! Go ahead!” The entomologist lets her go, and as if in a dream that has ended well, our protagonist is free.

10 – “Before leaving, since I have had this luck, I want to free my friends,” Vanessa thinks. Secretly, very careful not to be seen, she enters the Land-Rover where the other butterflies are still locked up in the cages, and opens one cell after another; she frees her friends. Then they say goodbye and part.

11 – Vanessa’s only desire now is to return as soon as possible to her homeland, where at least there is the certainty of not being captured. During the long night flight, the poor butterfly encounters a terrible storm! Thunder and lightning shake her, while the rain forces her to find shelter, and the wind blows her relentlessly here and there.

12 – At dawn, destroyed and more dead than alive, Vanessa falls asleep on a tree branch. It is a canary who first sees her, so battered and soaked by the rain. Immediately flying and chirping, the canary warns all her friends and animals, who little by little gather around.

13 – Everyone wants to know what happened to her. “Tell us about your adventure,” the birds cheer. Then the monkeys, the snake, even the tiger, approach her and show interest in what has happened to her. “Poor thing, who knows how scared you were,” the animals tell her in turn.

14 – This is how Vanessa realizes that all animals love her, and that she is considered neither more nor less than any one of them: even if no one bows down in honor of her beauty as she passes by. Now she finds everyone nice, and she feels relieved and cheerful.

15 – Suddenly, hundreds of butterflies emerge from behind a tree: they must have been called from all over the jungle. The butterflies that Vanessa saved fluttered everywhere to warn the others so now there is a big gathering, and a big party planned.

16 – All together the butterflies set off on a magnificent flight in the sky, they perform stupendous acrobatics forming geometric designs, and, at the height of happiness, they unite in an almost endless swirl.



Translated by Allison Grimaldi Donahue


Translator’s note: 

Some elements of the text have been modernized in translation to fit in our contemporary context, particularly the language surrounding race. While Vicinelli’s text does not use offensive language it does use dated terminology—this translation attempts to utilize the language Vicinelli herself might have used if writing today.


Thanks to Archivio Patrizia Vicinelli for permission to use these materials.