At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Giorgio Morandi - master of still life

Subtleties of tone created atmospheric effect in work

Giorgio Morandi pictured in his studio in Bologna in 1953
Giorgio Morandi pictured in
his studio in Bologna in 1953
Giorgio Morandi, a painter and printmaker who was known for his still life studies of simple objects such as bottles, jars and boxes, was born on this day in 1890 in Bologna.

What set his work apart was subtlety of tone and it could not really be identified closely with any particular school of painting, although he was said to have been influenced most strongly by the French Post-Impressionist Paul Cézanne.

Although he had a close association for a while with the Futurist movement and then the Scuola Metafisica founded by Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carrà, Morandi was generally not seen as part of the Fascist art movement, even though he openly supported Mussolini in the 1920s.

Morandi grew up in streets on the north-western edge of the centre of Bologna and from 1907 to 1913 studied at Bologna’s Accademia di Belle Arti – the Academy of Fine Arts.

In 1910 he visited Florence, studying the works of Renaissance artists Giotto, Masaccio, Piero Della Francesca, and Paolo Uccello with great enthusiasm before forming friendships with the Futurist group there in 1914.  In the same year, he took an academic position as instructor of drawing for elementary schools in Bologna, a post he retained until 1929.

Morandi's 1956 painting Natura Morta
Morandi's 1956 painting Natura Morta
He enlisted to fight in the First World War but was discharged after suffering a mental breakdown.

The Metaphysical phase in Morandi's work lasted from 1918 to 1922, after which his style became consistent. He became increasingly concerned with variations in hue and tone and critics spoke of the objects in his paintings being arranged in “a unifying atmospheric haze.”

Regarded as an important forerunner of Minimalism, Morandi used colours that were generally subdued and rather drab, yet his work, which included landscapes as well as still lifes, was said by commentators to “convey a mood of contemplative repose reminiscent of Piero Della Francesca.”

In the late 1920s, Morandi was associated with the Strapaese – a literary and artistic movement that emphasised local traditions and was Fascist-influenced. Ironically, despite his unapologetic stance on Mussolini’s party, he was later arrested because of friendships with known anti-Fascist figures.

A 1952 still life from Morandi
A 1952 still life from Morandi
Morandi was never flashy; indeed he was generally seen as quiet and polite, enigmatic but likeable. For much of his life he lived in the Via Fondazza, on the south-east side of Bologna, where the family had moved in 1909 after the death of his father and where he lived in his later years with his three sisters, Anna, Dina and Maria Teresa. He died in 1964, two days before what would have been his 74th birthday, having been diagnosed with lung cancer.

His fans includes the filmmakers Federico Fellini, who paid tribute to him by featuring his paintings in his 1960 film La Dolce Vita, which featured Morandi's paintings, as did Michelangelo Antonioni, who similarly made them visible in La notte.

In literature, novelist Sarah Hall based her main character in How to Paint a Dead Man on Morandi, who was a favourite of the Scottish poet Ivor Cutler, who included a poem about the painter in his first anthology.

Two oil paintings by Morandi were chosen by former US president Barack Obama in 2009 to be part of the White House collection.

Travel tip:

Morandi’s works can be viewed in his own city at the Modern Art Museum of Bologna and at the Museo Morandi, both in Via Don Giovanni Minzoni, about 10 minutes' walk from Bologna's main railway station. The museum was founded in 1933 by the president of the Centro Studi Giorgio Morandi, Marilena Pasquali. Morandi’s former house in Via Fondazza is also open to the public, although only by appointment.

Porta delle Lame, with statues of partisans in the foregound
Porta delle Lame, with statues of partisans
in the foregound
Travel tip:

Via delle Lame, where Morandi lived as a child, is one of the oldest streets in Bologna, leading towards the centre from the Porta delle Lame, a gate in the former medieval walls of the city, built in 1334, rebuilt in 1677 and restored in 2009.  In November 1944, Porta delle Lame was the scene of a fierce battle between partisans and German troops, which resulted in a famous victory for the partisans, commemorated today in a series of bronze statues surrounding the gate.

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