Francisco Matarazzo Sobrinho, or Ciccillo, as he was widely known, was born in São Paulo in 1898. He was the nephew of Count Francisco Mararazzo, an Italian businessman who constructed one of Brazil’s largest industrial parks. Ciccillo lived in Europe between the ages of ten and twenty, studying engineering in Liège, Belgium. He returned to Brazil in the 1930s, when, given the break-up of the family’s business concerns, he became the sole owner of the Matarazzo-Metalma Metallurgical Plant.
In 1957 he married Yolanda Penteado, a girl from a traditional family of São Paulo coffee barons and member of the city’s cultural and artistic elite. Yolanda would become a committed partner in her husband’s audacious projects and would have a crucial participation in the Bienal de São Paulos’s success.
Between 1945 and 1977, the year of his death, Ciccillo was involved in major cultural endeavors that turned the city into the artistic, cultural and economic hub it is today. He had a hand in all the main events and institutions developed or created during this period, including the Brazilian Theater of Comedy, the Vera Cruz film studios, the Brazilian Film Library, the construction of Ibirapuera Park, the University of São Paulo Museum of Art and Archeology and Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC-USP), the Book and Architecture Biennials, the Napolitano crib museum, the 4th Centenary Ballet and the first Brazilian representations at the Venice Biennale in 1950. He also made some forays into politics, serving as mayor of Ubatuba, a town on the São Paulo coast, between 1964 and 1969.
However, it was in the mid 40s that he undertook his first major project, the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art (MAM-SP). From his contact with such intellectuals as the art critic Sérgio Milliet and the architect Eduardo Kneese de Mello came the idea to create a museum dedicated to modern art. The plan was made viable by approximation with the North-American industrialist, owner of Standard Oil and president of the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Nelson Rockefeller. Talks initiated by Sérgio Milliet in 1942 led to a cooperation agreement with MoMA for the creation of a Museum of Modern Art in São Paulo, modeled upon the New York institution. In 1949, MAM-SP was inaugurated with the exhibition From Figurativism to Abstractionism, the first collective of non-figurative art ever held in Brazil. The show was organized by the Paris-based Belgian critic Léon Degand, specially invited by Ciccillo.
After the Museum of Modern Art, Ciccillo embarked on an even more ambitious project, the International Biennial of São Paulo, the Bienal. With the 1951 Venice Biennale as its template, the first edition of the event was held in a temporary pavilion erected on the site of the demolished Trianon on Avenida Paulista. Since 1953, the Bienal has been held at a permanent pavilion in Ibirapuera.
In 1962, with the growth of the Bienal and changes at MAM-SP, the board decided to create the Bienal de São Paulo Foundation, which has been encumbered with organizing the event ever since. The following year, MAM-SP was closed down and its collection transferred to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC-USP). Ciccillo, however, continued at the helm of the Bienal, holding the presidency up until 1975, two years before his death.
Ciccillo passed away on April 16, 1977 at his apartment on Avenida Paulista, in the heart of the great city that admires his legacy to this day.