Morpurgo de Nilma Family

Carlo Marco Morpurgo was born in Gorizia in 1827, sixth of ten siblings. His father Moisè descended from Styrian Jews who settled in the region along the Isonzo/Soča river in the 16th century, and was a janitor and custodian in the local Synagogue, while being at the same time a ritual slaughterer.

Still young, Carlo Marco began his business activities working for his older brother’s firm and travelling between Europe and Egypt. Eventually he would build the foundation of his fortune in the latter country, focusing on banking. There he found not only an associate – coreligionist Giacomo Mondolfo, with whom he established Mondolfo & Morpurgo Bank in 1854 – but also a wife. In the same year, in fact, he married young Emma Mondolfo, Giacomo’s daughter. The bond between the two families was further strengthened by the subsequent marriage between Giacomo Morpurgo (Carlo Marco’s younger brother and business associate) and Fanny, Emma’s sister.

Photographic portrait of Emma Mondolfo, wife of Carlo Marco Morpurgo de Nilma – Civici Musei di storia ed arte, Trieste.

Such unions, that made relatives out of business partners, were in no way an exception. As a matter of fact, the time’s bourgeoisie considered firm and family as an inseparable pair. Such marriage policy aimed at increasing and consolidating its assets and capital, making eventual dispersals by future generations unlikelier.

Beginning with the 1860s Morpurgos’ activities and base of operations shifted more and more towards Trieste. Here Carlo Marco was among the founders of several banks, and here he built in present-day via Imbriani his luxurious palace. Designed by architect Giovanni Berlam, it would become his and his brother’s family home, and today houses  the Civico Museo Morpurgo.

From here he continued his travels abroad, sometimes even carrying out diplomatic missions on various countries’ behalf. These activities, his professional skills, and his charity work granted him not only decorations bestowed by foreign governments, but also an Austrian noble title.

Indeed, starting with 1869 Carlo Marco was able to bear the title of Ritter (“knight”), adding to his last name the predicate “de Nilma” and choosing a coat of arms that could best represent his history. Thus, the quarters of his shield hosted Jonah exiting the whale, a traditional Morpurgo symbol, but also the three towers from Gorizia’s city crest, as well as the Pyramids and Giza’s Sphinx. All accompanied by the telling motto «Non sorte sed virtute»: not through luck, but worth.

Carlo Marco Morpurgo de Nilma, Austrian noble, successful baker and entrepreneur, perfectly assimilated bourgeois, remained until his last day an active member of Trieste’s Jewish Community, also being one of its leaders between 1875 and 1881. So did his sister-in-law Fanny, whose lifestyle and Triestine residence – with its furniture and decorations – perfectly reflected the style of the time.

The drive to erect this funeral monument, whose conspicuousness and grandeur stray away from Jewish traditions, came from Mario Morpurgo, Giacomo and Fanny’s son and heir to the whole Morpurgo de Nilma estate. In 1925 – a few years before converting to Catholicism, in a path quite common at the time – he entrusted the project to Umberto Nordio, then a young architect, who chose for his work severe Neoclassical features.

Inside of it are the burials of two generations of Morpurgos and Mondolfos, drawn closer by business and joined by marriages, born in Egypt, in Gorizia, in Dalmatia but rooted and integrated in late 800s Trieste.

Oil portrait of Carlo Marco Morpurgo wearing his Ottoman decorations – Civici Musei di storia ed arte, Trieste
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