Publio Morbiducci, Male Nudes

Publio Morbiducci, Male Nudes

Publio Morbiducci is a Roman artist who showed the same mastery as a painter, xylographer, medalist and sculptor of monumental works. His works are known by most as familiar with the urban landscape of Rome, even if the author’s name may escape them. Who doesn’t know that in front of Porta Pia lies the Monument to the Bersagliere? Who in the EUR district of Rome can ignore the Dioscuri couple and their soaring travertine horses which rear their heads to a height of over seven metres? Both are the work of Publio Morbiducci, an ancient Roman name which contrasts ironically with the hard masses of Tiburtine stone and Apuan marble that the sculptor’s chisel laboriously carved during his lifetime given that the direct translation of morbido is soft. He made his artistic debut as a painter, one of the most extraordinary among those of the Roman Secession, which took place on the eve of the First World War, equal in expressionistic intensity to the greatest artists in European painting of the time. But this extraordinary debut was soon abandoned due to the influence of his master Duilio Cambellotti, who convinced Morbiducci to follow the path of tradition, devoting himself to xylography and medals, then seen as ancillary arts to painting and sculpture, which at that time were inspired by the synthetic and classic forms of ancient Italian Renaissance tradition. The medals, minted for events of all kinds – aeronautical records, cruises, fairs, public works – were an integral part of the fascist regime’s propaganda, and it was with these that Morbiducci achieved unquestionable perfection.

As far as monumental sculpture is concerned, he was entrusted with the commission for the Italian Pavilion at the Universal Exhibition of New York in 1939, this included the Golden Fascist Italy which was prominent on the facade of the building and celebrated the achievements of the regime as well as predicting future glories (that would never be realised). He was also commissioned to create the bas-relief at the entrance to Palazzo Uffici for E42, the Rome Universal Exhibition, competing to overcome in magnificence a New York exhibition which had coincided with the outbreak of the Second World War. It was in the same triumphalist and celebratory style, in anticipation of future Olympics that would ultimately not take place until much later, that the Foro Italico was built, a set of sports complexes and monumental spaces which included the Stadio dei Marmi and the Stadio del Tennis: comprising sixty-four statues of athletes at the former and eighteen at the latter, each four meters high, each paid for by a province of Italy. All were in Carrara marble, as the complex was designed by Renato Ricci, a politician from Carrara who was also president of the Opera Nazionale Balilla. Ricci cared more about the miners and carvers of Carrara than the quarry owners, who would end up in the hands of the banks after the crisis of 1929.

On paper Morbiducci’s only work at the complex was Discobolo in riposo, one of the last statues to be placed in the Stadio dei Marmi, in 1938, a full six years after its official inauguration and in conjunction with the decennial of fascism. In reality he had participated in the initial competition, in which sculptors from all regions of Italy submitted 127 sketches, but his most significant involvement was with the creation of the statues originally commissioned to Eugenio Baroni (1880-1935) – one fisherman with a harpoon and the other with a net, for the Tennis Stadium, works for which it could be said that he was both heir and executor of the will. Indeed, it was also Morbiducci who built the Monument to the Duke of Aosta at Piazza Castello in Turin, for which Baroni had won the competition but could not finish the works because he fell morbidly ill, leaving the baton to Morbiducci before his death.

As a result of these great assignments, Morbiducci spent the vast majority of the thirties drawing bodies in athletic poses, looking for that synthesis between real and ideal which had been the ancient and distant secret of Greek beauty, where victorious athletes, real people with a name and a homeland, had been transfigured by art into idealistic archetypes, and had subsequently become a synthesis of impersonal, youthful beauty. As models he would either use his nephew or people from the squares of the Testaccio close to his studio. These bodies were strengthened by the physical nature of their jobs, from unloading boxes for the market to labouring at the workshop, rather than by the gymnastic exercises of the Olympians. In short, they are quintessentially Italian. Almost all of the bronze originals have been lost, and along with them the names of the athletes depicted, the year of their victory and their city of origin, which were once inscribed on the pedestal of each statue. It is only as a result of them having been copied in marble to satisfy the artistic ambitions of the Roman conquerors that they were preserved for current generations, perpetuating the Greek ideal until the 20th century Olympics. In pencil and charcoal Morbiducci works to transform the individuality of his models into perfect forms, in search of an Italian beauty that is always tempered by the classical ideal.



In 1860, the experiments of passionate liquorist Gaspare Campari culminated with the invention of a striking new red beverage with a distinctive bitter flavour and a secret recipe. The aperitive was called Campari, and following great success in the coming years a close relationship was forged between the company and prominent artists of the early twentieth century. From that moment on the greatest artists of the period have contributed to the brand, expressing the soul of Campari with their artworks.

The first work under the spotlight this week features an elegant female figure dressed in Turkish garments on a dark background. She has been drawn by the artist with confident strokes which are characteristic of consummate expertise in both graphics and women’s fashion, with a turban on her head and a wide band around her waist to keep the ample fabric of her robe in place. The tempera, which has been heavily diluted, is applied with light brushstrokes to the figure. The light and dark yellow, the green and red together with the hue of the white lead, used to generate the effect of light coming from the left, enrich and elevate the pencil drawn model. The Turkish woman is caught in the act of spritzing seltzer water into a chalice containing an orange drink, which brings to mind the beverage invented in 1919 by the Barbieri brothers, Silvio and Luigi, and later subsumed by Campari Group, known as Aperol Spritz. Since its birth the orange colour has been Aperol’s chromatic signature, and even if the marketing materials have changed considerably, with provocative women taking the place of those elegant and moderate female figures employed to advertise the brand in the 1950s, the same orange colour continues to identify this drink. The identification of the liquid as Aperol remains in any case a hypothesis, even if plausible, due to the lack of an inscription on the sketch stating the brand of the product.

The second piece we focus on is similar to the first not only in its dark violet background, with heavily diluted tempera, but also and most importantly for the presence of the same chalice filled with the orange liquid. At the centre of the sheet lies a beautiful female face, framed by touches of white lead which brighten up and enhance her contours. Her blond hair is styled in the fashion of the Roaring Twenties, with charming lovelocks curled on the cheekbones and a wide comb of an intense orange colour. This is probably the peineta, a typical Spanish female ornament which was used by many divas of the time like Paola Negri, companion of Rodolfo Valentino, who excelled at playing the role of the gypsy and of the Andalusian. With her pretty orange mouth in the shape of a heart, Brunelleschi’s figure drinks with a straw the beverage from a chalice whilst floating in the darkness of the paper.

The unique relationship between Fortunato Depero and Davide Campari, owner of the Campari Group, began in 1924-25 and would yield its first public showing at the 1926 Venice Biennale through the exhibition of large oil painting Squisito al Seltz, Quadro Pubblicitario – Non cartello. The work depicted two customers at the bar under the sign ‘Campari’. From that moment on the artist created a great number of sketches for posters, typographic alerts and advertising sculptures. Through these adverts Davide Campari partly financed the famous “bolt-bound” book entitled Depero Futurista in 1927 and also facilitated the departure of the artist to New York in 1928. Upon his return to Italy in 1931, Depero published ‘Numero Unico Futurista Campari’ in which also appeared his extraordinary design for an exhibition pavilion for the company, with the letters of the brand Campari, Bitter and Cordial forming an integral part of the proposed structure. In 1932 Depero would design the famous conical bottle, in printed glass without a label, with which the new product called Campari Soda was launched. This piece is the first idea for a black and white advert that was published in newspapers and magazines with the addition of the writing “Evviva!”. The elemental male, typical of Depero’s style, forms with his arms and legs the shape of an X, a form which is echoed in the hourglass shape of a chalice formed by two cones. It was from this upside-down chalice shape that Depero would conceive his design for the bottle of Campari Soda. Here, at the centre of the joyous man is cut a heart, white like the contents of the glass, showing the affectionate relationship between man and liquor. It was not by chance that, when the artist repeated the composition, this time as a coloured preparatory collage for a poster never made, he assigned it to the Cordial and not the Bitter, choosing the same colour for both the heart and cordial out of semantic respect for the fact that the two names derive from each other.

The final piece included in this week’s Art Insights is a preparatory work for Campari Bitter by Gino Giuseppe Soggetti, an artist with a bold and impetuous temperament, who worked predominantly in Milan during the nineteen twenties. He was initially an enthusiastic supporter of the Futurist movement, and a firm believer that it would bring improvements to both the culture and the lifestyle of Italy. This Indian ink drawing advertises Campari Bitter, a non-alcoholic beverage obtained from the infusion of aromatic plants and fruit in a mixture of water and alcohol. The inventor of this drink was Gaspare Campari, the forefather of the family from which this famous brand derives. The artist plays here with the juxtaposition of black and white, placing the name Campari at the top of the composition in white letters on a black background, then again in the middle in black letters on a white background and finally at the bottom where he writes: “ THIS IS THE KEY TO PLAY WHENEVER YOU ASK FOR A CAMPARI BITTER”, referring to the central key of the piano, which is represented by the SOL in syllabic musical notation. This piece is similar, in both its use of black and white and the technique employed in the writing of the letters, from small to large, to the poster that Fortunato Depero created in 1927 for Campari Bitter, in which a funny male figure is holding an umbrella upside down as if it were a chalice, saying “IF ONLY THE RAIN COULD BE CAMPARI BITTER”. Soggetti’s work here is a unique exemplar in the production of the artist. A corpus which was limited by the brevity of his dedication to graphics and art in general as a result of his disappointment with the conservative, ceremonial and Roman Catholic tendencies of the Futurist movement. He soon found himself isolated in his own version of Futurism, subsequently abandoning both the political and artistic scenes by the end of the nineteen-thirties.


Gino Severini And The Mosaics Of ‘The Third Rome’

Gino Severini And The Mosaics Of ‘The Third Rome’

There are few locations in Italy’s capital that give a better insight into the architectural style adopted during this epoch than the famous Foro Italico sports complex, originally constructed as part of a bid to hold the ill-fated 1940 Olympic Games, and Palazzo degli Uffici, the imposing inaugural building of the new district of EUR, which was created in the build up to the eventually cancelled 1942 World Fair.

Gino Severini, as a highly revered painter and leading member of the Futurist movement, was commissioned to design scenes which were used in a number of important mosaics executed during this period.

The largest of these mosaics is a walkway covering in excess of 7,000 square metres and containing more than 50 million polychromic tesserae of the same marble used by the ancient Romans. The avenue, which leads to a 300 tonne Carrara marble obelisk, is named Viale del Monolite, and depicts figurative motifs intended to represent both the history of Rome and fascist life.

Severini’s production for this assemblage contains a disaggregated group of symbolic figures, at the centre of which is a male heroic nude leaning against a littoral beam, surrounded by the symbols of the arts and sciences as well as by those of strength (the lion), the empire (the eagle), and Rome (the wolf). The male figure, also interpreted by historians as Romulus or Augustus, almost certainly represents Fascism or The Empire. It is a composition ideally inscribed in a circle, whose figures are spread as in ancient rosettes; with the usual discretion the Fasces, which characterises the male figure, camouflages itself with the folds of his mantle, while particular attention has been paid to the details and attributes of the symbolic figures surrounding the central character. Severini clearly tries to escape the rhetoric of the theme by proposing a decoration in which the rhythmic alternation of black and white scores works, and classicism is repurposed between Cubist allusions, like a world once dreamed and now lost.

A large scale second drawing by Severini refers to a mosaic executed at the Duce gym of the same complex under the direction of architect Luigi Moretti. The environment, conceived by perhaps the most original architect of his generation, is a classical room with elongated proportions that are completely covered in marble. Severini’s mosaics, featuring black figures on a white background, distributed in different places on the floor and walls, counterpoint this rarefied space (in which apparently the Duce never went) without affecting the space conceived by the architect. At the entrance there is a kind of ‘carpet’ with the symbolic figure of fascist Italy juxtaposed with a fallen Icarus and topped by a roaring Lion, the symbol of Mussolini’s zodiac sign; it is a discreet introibo, evocative of the Renaissance virtues of the new Prince, to the superb epiphany of the Morettian chamber, cadenzad by just three plastic elements, a spiral staircase ascending through the hall and two beautiful golden sculptures from Silvio Canevari (The Archer, The Fromboliere). At the bottom on the left, behind a marble septum, a Cubist still life on the ground introduces the elongated wall of the dressing room, upon which the rest of the athletes and the theme of the hunt are described; the remaining figure of the archer can be seen from the entrance behind the bronzes of Canevari. Severini’s composition is characterized by the paratactic rhythm with which the figures appear and loom on the wall. There is no narrative bond that unites them. From the two male nudes on the left, playing with birds, to the isolated figure of the hunter, arched on the ground, and the prey surrounded by pigeons and roosters. At the top a flock of birds wheel and circle and, out of symmetry, one of the artist’s characteristic still lifes. Finally, a pencil stroke behind the athletes on the left reveals the suggestion that the author had once placed a leafy tree in the background, later removing it.

The mosaic panel for which Severini, along with his contemporaries, provided detailed drawings intended to guide the mosaicists in charge of the works at the monumental fountain at the entrance of Palazzo degli Uffici give further insight into the brilliance of the artist. Like many other public works, the history of this assignment was thwarted. It was a commission that the artist considered minor at the time, having hoped to receive that of the decoration of the Salone di Libera for Palazzo dei Congressi. This assignment would have provided much higher prestige and visibility but was ultimately prohibited by his appointment as commissioner in the jury of the competition. The fountain, whose design history has been dutifully reconstructed by A. Greco [E42 : utopia e scenario del regime…,cit., pp. 310-314], was conceived by the architect Gaetano Minnucci and consists of three basins in sequence. The sides were designed by Giulio Rosso and Giovanni Guerrini, while for the central basin Severini conceived six panels inspired by the glorification of the origins of the Lazio region and Rome. The style relates intimately to his experience with the recently completed mosaics for the Foro Italico; it is a polite reinterpretation of Roman and Pompeian motifs that is more inclined to confront the bucolic themes of the Virgilian lyric than the triumphalist subject matter preferred by the regime.

For the panel of Romulus, who governs on a prosperous forest surrounded by six horses (which in the final creation became eight) the artist performed two different versions, essentially very similar, one more naturalistic, the other – as shown here – a more geometric form, which was ultimately discarded. The geometrical cuts in white of the black fields and figures are of clear Cubist memory, and they give a lively rhythm to the composition, removing it from the illustrative anecdote.

The presence in the archive of Romana Severini of several dictionaries of ancient mythology, belonging to the artist and bearing many annotations by his own hand, explains the accuracy with which the artist intended to respond to the requests of his client. It is likely that the iconographic indications were quite generic. The artist, however, determined to build an iconographic tale allusive to the celebration of The Third Rome and its rebirth under the new emperor that transferred, via the technique of mosaic, forms taken from the Roman decorative repertoire as long ago as the early imperial age and beyond. Furthermore, there is an interesting turning point in these works in comparison to the compositional modules experimented with in the great secular compositions of the second half of the 1930s. The encounter with classical iconography induces Severini to abandon those highly geometric pyramidal constructions as seen in his panels for the exhibition of Dopolavoro in 1938, or of Neo-Byzantine taste like those in the mosaics of the Palace of Justice in Milan, for a much more fluid composition, free and rich in imagination and allowing him to give space to many decorative details which were previously sacrificed.

The figure of Flora, allusive to the richness and fruitfulness guaranteed by new times, demonstrates this perfectly. Instead of standing isolated at the bottom, she is clung to by a group of minor figures who are of pure invention, but in which it is even possible to trace some motifs already present in the Cubist era.

The third drawing depicts an ancient Roman deity who presided over the wilds, akin to Faunus. Silvano was considered the god of the woods and the countryside, protector of flocks and property. Severini depicts him according to the Roman iconography, sickle in hand and dog beside him, surrounded by an abundant harvest of fruits. The panel is, in the arrangement designed for the fountain, the counterpart of Flora; with one placed on either side of the central scene which faces the palace, where Time, or Saturn, is shown, a male figure winged with scythe and hourglass, placed in the middle of the four seasons. As is the case with Flora, the author takes advantage of the countryside theme to set up, largely at the feet of the male nude, a still life full of details and hunting trophies that directly refer to his long pictorial exercise of the fourth decade, in which classically inspired still lifes – sometimes associated with masks and ancient female statues – predominated over any other subject. These bucolic and pastoral motifs were evidently very welcome in the society of the time, as displayed by Gio Ponti in Paris, in 1937, with his adornment of a dining room for the International Exhibition of Decorative Art, and later, in 1940, in the panels executed for Villa Innocenti in Frascati, with its figures of Pomona and Vertunno very close to the mosaics of the EUR.

Of all the figurations performed for the fountain, the panels of Flora and Silvano certainly appear to be the happiest and the least constricted by the need to adhere, albeit in Gino Severini’s trademark sober manner, to the celebratory spirit that animated the entire conception of the work conceived by the architect Minnucci. Although the letters preserved in the archives record the artist’s substantial dissatisfaction with the limited scope of the assignment, he certainly did not object to the revival, in a contemporary key, of the ancient technique of bichrome mosaic. A method that presented an abundance of conceptual affinities with the graphic synthesis elaborated by Cubism.

Pietro Gaudenzi – The Lost Frescoes Of The Castle Of The Knights


In 2013 art historians Monica Cardarelli and Marco Fabio Apolloni carried out a survey during their research for a solo exhibition on the artist which confirmed that, of the important cycle of frescoes made in the summer of 1938, there is now nothing but bare walls in place of this masterful creation by the artistic genius of Pietro Gaudenzi.

This discovery gave great significance to the exhibition that followed, which was inaugurated at the headquarters of Galleria del Laocoonte in Rome in 2014 and subsequently shown at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art of Anticoli Corrado in 2015.

The exhibition assembled a number of preparatory pieces for the frescoes which included drawings, sketches, oil on panel and cartoons, all precursory to the monumental lost works of the artist. This nucleus, significantly brought together by curators Marco Fabio Apolloni and Monica Cardarelli, is the last surviving testimony of the murals that occupied two rooms, the Bread Hall and the Family Hall, of the monumental 14th century Castle of the Grand Master of the Knights in Rhodes, which was rebuilt by the Italians between 1936 and 1940 following its devastation by an ammunition explosion in 1856.

The pastel cartoons, extraordinary for their delicacy of touch, served to create the frescoes. These portray the imperturbable peasant women of Anticoli Corrado, a village near Rome, in their long black dresses and shawls, bearing enormous trays of bread on their heads in age old customs. When looking at The Mill of Anticoli Corrado, The Seeding, The Reaping, The bread bearers, Woman with a loaf of bread, or Young woman with a bundle of corn, one cannot fail to summon into mind the Mussolinian rhetoric of the Battle for Grain. These figures of Gaudenzi, painted in a triptych which echoed the frescoes of Rhodes and won the artist the Cremona Prize in 1940, seem untroubled, in the fixity of their ancient and immutable customs, by their triumphalist political backdrop.

These are the works of a bashful, taciturn artist who is the creator of an enchanted world and humanity in which the peasant models, portrayed by him in the village of Anticoli Corrado, which he elected as his personal Arcadia, are transfigured by poetic grace, so that line between human and divine becomes blurred: so in Gaudenzi’s works a Holy Family becomes a family, a divine visitation becomes a visit between merry wives or a Sacred Wedding Ceremony a simple wedding banquet, without the sense of the sacred being diminished but also without betraying the sense of truth.

It is the beauty of the humility of the Christian legend, so often wonderfully dressed in painting, which Gaudenzi has been able to bring back as a purist declination of the Italian twentieth century, with simplicity and sincere finesse.

Art Insights: I Coniugi Savinio

Attraverso il progetto Art Insights la Galleria del Laocoonte intende presentare una varietà di opere accuratamente selezionate; dipinti, disegni e sculture, che raccontano storie, che sono rappresentative della vita e del percorso di importanti artisti del XX secolo e che consentiranno di approfondirne la conoscenza.

Questa settimana  il nostro focus è dedicato al multiforme genio creativo di Alberto Savinio, la cui opera è peraltro celebrata attraverso gli splendidi ricami realizzati dalla amatissima moglie Maria Morino che desideriamo presentarvi:

Maria Morino Savinio nacque a Roma nel 1899, e sin da giovanissima si dedicò all’attività di ricamo, ma fu solo durante il periodo trascorso a Parigi negli anni ’20 che l’artista realizzò il suo primo ricamo su tela, da un disegno realizzato dal cognato Giorgio De Chirico.

Di li a poco avrebbe riprodotto in arazzo il primo dipinto del marito: L‘Idillio marino (1927), la cui traccia le fu disegnata sulla tela da Savinio stesso e quando l’opera fu compiuta venne esposta con la dicitura «Alberto Savinio, ricamo eseguito da Maria Savinio».

Va detto che Maria Savinio non fece del ricamo la sua attività principale, che fu al contrario lo sporadico frutto di un periodo di grama. Quando andarono a vivere a Parigi i coniugi Savinio non avevano risorse, così Maria fece di necessità virtù. Ma quando Alberto Savinio cominciò ad aver successo, Maria smise di ricamare, dedicandosi ai loro figli. Riprese dopo la morte del marito e nel 1954 mettendo insieme tutto il lavoro fatto nei due anni precedenti inaugurò la sua prima mostra di ricami, tutti fedelmente derivati da dipinti di De Chirico e soprattutto del marito, «un altro modo per stargli vicino», aveva scritto.

I tre arazzi in esame furono realizzati da Maria Savinio sulla base di tre noti dipinti del marito Alberto Savinio: Torna la dea nel tempio del 1944, Centaurina del 1950 e Orfeo vedovo, anch’esso del 1950. Tre soggetti della mitologia greca, che il genio multiforme dell’artista aveva rappresentato attraverso l’immagine di una dea Atena con testa di civetta, di un centauro femminilizzato e di un Orfeo che al posto della testa ha una cetra. Attraverso una fitta trama di fili di lana e sete artificiali, sapientemente mescolati tra loro, Maria Savinio restituisce fedelmente le tinte della tavolozza dell’artista, ricreandone gli effetti di luci e di ombre, così come le sfumature e i volumi, rispettando infine anche le dimensioni dell’opera originale, una vera e propria copia conforme intessuta su tela.

Andrea De Chirico (1891-1952), più noto con lo pseudonimo di Alberto Savinio, era il fratello minore di Giorgio De Chirico. Nacque in Grecia, per poi studiare a Monaco e trasferirsi quindi a Parigi. Arrivò alla pittura tardi: iniziò a dipingere solo nel 1927, all’età di trentasei anni. La sua attività di pittore iniziò a Parigi in pieno surrealismo, ed egli entrò a far parte del movimento. Tuttavia, il suo stile rimane molto singolare, in una zona intermedia tra surrealismo e metafisica.

Le quattro opere qui mostrate, diverse sia per la materia che per le tecniche utilizzate danno un’idea del virtuosismo dell’artista.

“Muoio innocente. Perdono i miei uccisori e prego Dio che il sangue che state per versare non cadrà mai sulla Francia” – Luigi XVI

Un finissimo pastello descrive i volti sornioni di Luigi XVI e la consorte Maria Antonietta, appena decapitati. Sono al centro della composizione all’interno di un riquadro che a prima vista potremmo identificare in una cornice, in realtà si tratta della ghigliottina, la cui lama mortale è nascosta dall’immagine di un berretto frigio, simbolo della rivoluzione francese.

Il Ricordo di una famiglia è un delizioso acquerello del 1946-47 in cui l’artista, basandosi su una vecchia fotografia dell’album di famiglia, ritrae  il fratello maggiore Giorgio De Chirico, la sorellina Adele e la loro madre Gemma. 

L’abilità di Alberto Savinio nella pittura ad olio può essere osservata chiaramente nel Ritratto di Marcella Giulini, in cui l’artista ritrae il volto di Marcella De Girolami (Roma 1921 – Milano 1995), moglie del noto direttore Carlo Maria Giulini (Barletta 1914 – Brescia 2005), grande amico dell’artista. Il ritratto fu, infatti, un dono dell’artista alla coppia.

E infine, il disegno con cui Alberto Savinio, ironicamente riporta il tema biblico del Figliol prodigo alla dimensione domestica.

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