Tag Archives: Italian.

Giorgio de Chirico. 1888 – 1978. Metaphysical Painter.



The subject of metaphysics has been discussed recently so I thought it an opportune time to write a little about the painter de Chirico, he was born in Greece, his father was an Italian engineer. While in Greece he studied art at the Polytechnic Institute in Athens, he was to move quite often, between 1906 and 1909 he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, de Chirico was interested not only in painting but also in architecture, music and philosophy, especially the work of Nietzsche who had interpreted and published work on Greek tragedy, de Chirico wished his work to connect with Nietzschean motifs, themes and his actual life, he believed that his paintings ‘could embody a philosophical message, a collusion and collision between Modernism and Post Modernism,’ he wrote pamphlets on the subject. Nietzsche had written about Greek myths, for example he discussed the relationship between the brothers Apollo and Dionysis, sons of the god Zeus, they had different characteristics but Nietzsche found no conflict existing in their personalities, he saw a fusion of these characteristics, unlike later philosophers who claimed that there was a dichotomy, de Chirico agreed with Nietzsche. Apollo the sun god, was characterised as being the dreamer, reason was attributed to him together with logical thinking and creativity, Dionysis on the other hand was the god of wine, chaotic, prone to ecstacy and intoxication.

In 1909 the family moved to Ferrara in Italy, de Chirico was twenty one, between 1911 and 1915 he stayed in Paris where he met many artists, he had rejected Romanticism and Impressionism, he preferred to express the enigmatic side of ancient myth, Picasso was also interested in classical Greek myths as had many Renaissance artists. De Chirico was called up to do national service during WW1 but was not fit for service, so worked in a hospital in Ferrara where he met the artist Carlo Carra, together they formed the Metaphysical Art movement,- Pittura Metafisica – the bulk of the work in this genre was produced between 1911 and 1920. It has been said that de Chirico reached a watershed in the way that the arts of the early 20thc. was evolving, he constantly invented and portrayed the body in new ways in relation to space.
The work of Freud was influential, we have thinkers today who study how the mind functions, but Freud was a father figure, his work on interpreting dreams interested many painters including the Surrealists, de Chirico soon distanced himself from the Surrealists, they liked to paint memories of their dreams where reality and dream worlds mingle, also they were made aware of the irrational impulses which influence behaviour as referred to by Freud.

De Chirico was impressed by the grandeur of Italian piazzas particularly those in Turin, he painted architectural scenes which cast long shadows, giving the paintings an eerie atmosphere which are rather threatening at times, he was obsessed with the presentation of enigma- ‘poetic revelations, the eternal meanings of things as he saw it or the enigma of things and bodies.’ His landscapes and dark toned skies created a sense of the mysterious – De Chirico’s use of titles such as The Enigma of the Oracle and the Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon helped to further the mysterious character of the work. There seems to be no rational explanation for the strange juxtaposition of his images, we have to trust that these were his dreams and his interpretation of them, perhaps they emerged from somewhere deep in his conscious or unconscious mind, it would be interesting to hear your views?

I have chosen his painting entitled The Disquieting Muses, painted around 1917, he was imagining the enigmatic side of ancient mythic creatures, in the background we see, set among industrial buildings, the Castle of Estense, in the front are two muses, Melomenes and Thalia, the muses of Tragedy and Comedy, one is standing, the other is sitting on a blue/green coloured box, de Chirico liked to use geometric shapes such as the box. The sky is a dark green with light on the horizon, is it dawn or dusk?  The main source of light comes from the direction of the lower right side of the painting, creating long shadows, a contrast between light and dark, the muses are dressed in classical Greek clothes they are like faceless mannequins, it was thought that to give them features would have lessened their impact as portraying the human spirit, they would become too ordinary. He uses ochres and browns, the muses are a yellow/cream colour, we also see a mask and a staff and the god Apollo stands on a plinth, he is the leader of the muses. De Chirico was for a time involved with the Surrealists as mentioned earlier, but they were to reject his work later on. At one time he was to reject his own work but returned to it when it was in fashion once again. Also relevant to this time is the political turmoil, where Italian fascists were seen in a different light from the German fascists although both groups were influenced by the work of Nietzsche whose philosophy I understand could be intepreted in several ways, working at this time were a group of Futurist painters who also admired the philosophy; speed and industrialisation was praised, no more Romanticism of the past, they viewed war as a unifying force for the nation.
De Chirico lived to be ninety, he married twice, his second wife remained with him.

The poet Sylvia Plath wrote The Disquieting Muses, here is the first verse:

Mother, mother, what ill bred aunt

Of what disfigured and unsightly

Cousin did you so unwisely keep

Unmasked to my christening, that she

Sent these ladies in her stead

With these heads like darning-eggs to nod

And nod and nod at foot and hand

And at the left side of my crib?


Georgio Morandi. 1890 – 1964. Still Life.

A still life is a work of art depicting mostly inanimate subject matter, its origins are found in the Middle Ages and ancient Greco-Roman art, it was first seen in Western art in the early 16th. century when the paintings often contained religious and allegorical symbolism relating to the objects depicted,  we see how these objects lose their domestic purpose to become sculptural objects  ‘that may invite meditation and contemplation’,  we slow down and focus when looking at them.

Morandi solved the problem of ambiguity in meaning, i.e.  domestic objects or motifs in art, reaching an integration that gives the objects new meaning, it is possible to give new meaning to most works of art , some artists are more skillful than others in conveying what they wish to express, some art critics interpret the intention in the work in a way the artist has not. ‘His work ( Morandi) is not about depicting the solidity of objects but rather interpreting them as a metaphor of light, space, body and time’ I think this is so, others may disagree.

Georgio Morandi was born in Bologna, Italy, he spent most of his life  living with his mother and sisters, he had a second home in the Appenines. He studied for six years at the Academia de Belle art in Bologna, He was aware of paintings by Giotto, Massaccio,  Uccelli and Monet and very much admired the work of Cezanne, whose use of geometric shapes, like the cube and cylinder, when painting landscapes and still lifes, was to influence his own work. He knew Futurist painters and writers and exhibited work with them, also Surrealist painters like de Chirico, although he didn’t share their philosophy. He didn’t travel abroad until 1956 and then he did not go to Paris, the hub of artistic creativity at the time.

In this still life which Morandi painted in 1956, he arranged eight objects in two lines, the colours are beautifully muted, he did at times use the earthy colours of his native Bologna. He wrote ‘The only interest the visible world awakens in me concerns space, colour and forms’,  as mentioned earlier, these themes crop up often  when describing his work, he uses these elements to transform what he sees into what he paints, so we see how he places his objects, chooses the colour and creates new shapes, groups of objects create new boundaries. Some critics have been critical of Morandi for using  the objects over and over again while others write that the objects ‘are not there at all.’ His work oscillates between figurative and abstract, it ‘is elusive as well as self revealing’ and as mentioned earlier sometimes his objects overlap or are grouped in blocks, so that a contour becomes a boundary shared by two or more objects.

Looking at his work we can sense a stillness, the groups are an island of calm , the bowl, bottle or pitcher provide their own stability and balance. One art critic wrote ‘In the limitation of Morandi’s motifs appears the abundance of his world.’ He successfully remained focused on very familiar objects for many years just as Cezanne had painted the same mountain time and time again. Space became indistinguishable from the object.  George Lakoff describes it as ‘in betweeness’ that also contains meaning. Looking at more  of Morandi’s work would be of help to see how he creates a variety of shapes gained from the same objects, I enjoy turning his paintings upside down to see the objects/spaces from a new angle. He was an excellent draughtsman and left a large body of work in many media – oils, watercolours, drawings and etchings.