Metaphysical art (from Italian pittura metafisica) – is a movement in Italian art of the 20th cent. that emerged as a reaction on radical anti-traditionalism of futurists.
The term “metaphysical” derives from two Greek words “meta” – after, and “physica” – “nature”. This was the title of works he included into the list after his treatise about “Physics” – sensual world. Now “metaphysics” commonly serves to define the teaching about basis of existence and its sides that lie beyond the limits of our consciousness.
The circle of painters-metaphysicians appeared in Italy during the years of the World War I. Its founder and most bright representative was Giorgio de Chirico (1888 – 1978). His canvas “The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon” (1910) was the first one he called metaphysical.
In 1911 Chirico moved to Paris, where exhibited in the Autumn Salon and Salon of the independents. His art was praised by future leaders of Surrealism Guillaume Apollinaire and Andre Breton.
Creative principles of de Chirico were diametrically opposed to futurism with its cult of vigor movement. The artist idealized permanent stillness. His favorite image was a southern town in the hours of summer afternoon heat, when its inhabitants sheltered in their dwellings and streets are empty. It has a unique lightning of the utmost power, and shadows of the utmost depth. In this “calm and senseless beauty of substance”, he felt himself close to the verity and fundamental principles of the Universe that, anyway, remained a secret for a human mind. “In the shadow of a man who walks in the sun, there are more enigmas than in all religions, past, present and future”, de Chirico once said. “Enigma” was the favorite byword of the painter. There is a n inscription on the reverse side of his self-portrait of the 1908 – “What should I like, if not a mystery?”. Therefore, he used it in the titles of his numerous pieces from 1910 – 1914 – “Enigma of the oracle”, “Enigma of the Hour”, “Enigma of a Day”.
De Chirico seemed to intentionally ignore academic skills. Roughly contoured shapes and pure coloring, familiar to the author details of the Mediterranean townscape – towers, pools, arcades – all this embodied for him perfect simplicity and constancy. But homeliness of the world is delusive. Sometimes familiar things could reveal their ultramundane side, like we see in “The Nostalgia of the Infinite” (1913) or “The red tower” (1913).
In 1915 Italy entered the World War and the artist was forced to return home, where decided to work in Ferrara, awaiting for mobilization. That was the year, when metaphysical art formed as a creative group. In 1916 de Chirico’s younger brother Andrea, known under the pseudonym Alberto Savinio (1891 – 1952), Filippo de Pisis (1896 – 1956), Giorgio Morandi (1890 – 1964) and Carlo Carra (1881 – 1966), who roke up with futurists, joined him. The artistic horizon of de Chirico and his adherents was limited by narrow space of the studio during those years. Main subject of their works were geometry of simple objects, relations between animated and non-animated was successfully realized in still life of imaginative compositions with figures, created from mannequins and sartorial templates.
Main source of inspiration for them was irrationalistic philosophy of Germans Friedrich Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer and Otto Weininger. Nietzsche talked about permanent circularity of time. That prompted metaphysical masters the idea of unmasking actuality and revealing the mysterious essence things. “To become truly immortal, a work of art must escape all human limits: logic and common sense will only interfere but once these barriers are broken it will enter the regions of childhood vision and dream”. These words of de Chirico illustrate his painting “The Child’s Brain” (1917). The main character here is a white-skin observer with semi-opened eyes – would rather look like a gypsum statue, if not naturaisstically shown dark hair, moustache and eye-lashes. This canvas had largely impressed surrealists in Paris, who considered it to be a painting manifest of their movement. Alas, they were disappointed soon.
Metaphysical painting had two main tendencies: the first submovement was reach in symbolical and narrative symbols and reminiscences (de Chirico, Savinio), the second one was less doctrinaire and more dependent on visual fantasies (Carra, Morandi). The movement didn’t establish a school or a certain association. As it was already said, it was a reaction on crisis of futurism. That explains the fact that similar to “pittura metafisica” aesthetics was professed by some other artists in the Apennines (Mario Sironi, Ardengo Soffici, Massimo Campigli, Atanasio Soldati) and in the rest of Europe. Ideas of this trend were spread through the Roman periodical “Valori plastici”.
From 1919 metaphysical artists in Ferrara concentrated on the experience of old masters. De Chirico enthusiastically copied Italian painters of Renaissance, particularly Titian, and made pictures, dedicated to the epoch of 15-16th cent. (“Roman villa”, 1922). Surrealists thought it to be denial of the truth and subsequent collaboration og De Chirico with fascist regime completely ruined his connections with Parisians.
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