‘One clear autumn afternoon I was sitting on a bench in the middle of the Piazza Santa Croce in Florence. It was of course not the first time I had seen this square…The whole world, down to the marble of the buildings and fountains, seemed to me to be convalescent…Then I had the strange impression I was looking at these things for the first time, and the composition of my picture came to my mind’s eye. Now each time I look at that painting I see that moment. Nevertheless the moment is an enigma to me, for it is inexplicable’. (Giorgio de Chirico: Meditations of a Painter, 1912, trans. by Loiuse Bourgeois & Robert Goldwater).
These words from one of Italy’s greatest twentieth-century painters, Giorgio de Chirico, describe what the artist called his first ‘metaphysical moment’, and his response to this ‘inexplicable’ experience, the painting entitled The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon.
The painting, in turn, marks another moment: the beginning of what became the twentieth-century art movement called la scuola metafisica. In Florence, the Greece-born painter studied the style of great early Tuscan painters, including Giotto, whose art later formed the basis of de Chirico’s enigmatic paintings.
In de Chirico’s idealized, melancholy cityscapes, ordinary figures and objects are removed from their familiar contexts to reveal inner life and meaning. Buildings, classical statues, trains, smoke stacks, sunglasses and mannequins are juxtaposed in bizarre associations. Even ordinary objects, like biscuits, became imbued with ‘invisible’ meaning. He inscribed ‘Et quid amabo nisi quod aenigma est?’ (‘What shall I love if not the enigma?’) on a 1911 self-portrait.
Considered a prime precursor to Surrealist movement, de Chirico is also seen as a force in the broader scope of modern art, with some critics suggesting that de Chirico’s influence rivals only that of Pablo Picasso.
The metaphysical painter’s unparalleled talent and ‘enigmatic’ vision is the object of Giorgio de Chirico. L’enigma nella pittura, the exhibit open until June 28 at the Museo Piaggio in Pontedera, Pisa. Curated by Giovanni Faccenda, the show also marks the 30-year anniversary of de Chirico’s death in 1978.
The largest-ever gathering of the artist’s paintings, the exhibit showcases 35 canvases that span over six decades. Flanked by an array of de Chirico’s well-known pieces (Le muse inquietanti, 1960-62; Piazza d’Italia, 1962), some having traveled from the United States for the first time, are some works never before seen (Cavalliere con cane, 1948; Venezia, 1950) and two other recently recovered paintings (Cavalli salpitanti presso il mare, 1950; Ettore Andromaca, 1972).
Focused on the theme of ‘enigma’, the paintings exemplify the three key subjects: his birth in Volos, Greece in 1888; the death, when de Chirico was 15, of his father, an engineer who planned and built railways; and his encounter with the artwork of Symbolist painter Arnold Bocklin.
De Chirico interprets images from these real-life experiences as ‘metaphysical’ or evocations of alienation and loss in urban cityscapes. However, along side these scenes of modernity, de Chirico also uses horses, peasants, country landscapes.
It is somehow fitting that de Chirico’s work is displayed against the backdrop of the former Piaggio factory in Pontedera, once one of the most important metal-mechanical companies in Italy, now the Museo Piaggio. Visitors can meander through the entire career of one of Italy’s most influential contemporary painters and, at the same time, admire decades of rare and original items from the Vespa and Gilera collections, Ciao and Sì mopeds and Ape trucks.
GIORGIO DE CHIRICO.
L’ENIGMA NELLA PITTURA
Until June 28, 2008
Museo Piaggio ‘Giovanni Alberto Agnelli’
viale Rinaldo Piaggio 7,Pontedera (Pisa)
Hours: Wednesday to Saturday,10am to 6pm; Sunday, June 22, 10am-1pm, 3-6pm
From Florence, take a Pisa train and get off at the Pontedera- Casciana Terme stop. Take the underpass and turn left at the first road. Continue for about 200m and you will see signs and the plane and the train in the courtyard.