Giorgio de Chirico
1888-1978 | ItalianPiazza d'Italia
Oil on canvas
Signed and dated “g. de Chircio” (lower left); Signed and inscribed "Questa “Piazza d’Italia” è opera autentica in fede Giorgio de Chirico" (en verso)
Giorgio de Chirico’s position within 20th-century art is of immeasurable importance, and his influence remains as strong today as it was during his lifetime. In founding the Scuola Metafisica
(the Metaphysical School) of painting, he created one of the most intriguing, enigmatic and memorable art movements in history. He is considered the harbinger of Surrealism, and his visionary work had a profound impact on the leaders of that movement — Salvador Dalí, Andre Breton, René Magritte and others. Interest in de Chirico never seems to wane, and incredibly, there have been over 700 public exhibitions of the artist’s work. Essentially inventing a new visual language, de Chirico’s works are uniquely engaging and stand as one of the great triumphs of Modernism. The present work is a truly spectacular and thought-provoking example from the artist that embodies his singular aesthetic and centers around his favorite and most recognizable subject.
This painting, entitled Piazza d'Italia
, presents a subject that inspired de Chirico throughout his long and successful career: a hauntingly empty Italian town square cast in dramatic shadow. The palette is rich and engaging, commanding the viewer's attention and compelling closer study. The piazza d’Italia stands as his most iconic motif, and the imagery has come to represent his lifelong fascination with the mysteries of the mind and philosophical discovery inspired by his study of Frederic Nietzsche’s famed writings.
In Piazza d'Italia
, de Chirico expertly demonstrates the tenets of the metaphysical art he pioneered. The scene is at the same time familiar and otherworldly — based in reality but deeply mysterious. We immediately recognize an urban landscape that exists in our world, but this space comes with a sense of unease and distortion. The architecture mimics the classical Roman arcade, yet it is rendered with a strange perspective, receding too sharply into the distance. De Chirico combines familiar elements (a train, a tower, two figures in conversation) to uncanny effect, inviting the viewer to experience the painting. Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the composition is the almost complete lack of people, and the figures that do appear have a mysterious quality about them. They are completely still, dwarfed by the surrounding architecture and vast sky. Who are they, and what are they discussing?
Most interestingly, the sculpted figure of the mythical Ariadne reclines at the center of the piazza, enveloped in the bright Mediterranean sun. De Chirico was raised in Athens, Greece, and the classics had a major influence on his style. The artist was drawn in particular to the myth of Ariadne, who repeatedly appears in his piazza scenes. Ariadne was the Cretan princess who helped Theseus slay the Minotaur in the Labyrinth. After their escape, Theseus seduced Ariadne on the island of Naxos and abandoned her there.
It is this moment that captivated de Chirico. Using as reference one of the most celebrated sculptures from antiquity, the Sleeping Ariadne, now housed in the Vatican, Ariadne is depicted here in her slumber, long shadows creeping towards her. She is still unaware that her companion has left her, caught in a moment between love and loss. Ariadne’s slumber provides her a retreat from the reality of her abandonment, but it also provides de Chirico a retreat into the classical past of his childhood.
De Chirico also spent time in the cities of Turin and Milan when he was first beginning to paint his metaphysical piazze. He considered Turin an especially metaphysical Italian city, possessing a “strange and profound poetry." These Italian cities inspired de Chirico to juxtapose their classical past with ideas of modern life, subverting the viewers’ expectations of such a familiar scene. A train, a metaphor for industry and modernity, sits still in the background, neither coming nor going. Buildings built to be inhabited sit empty, pointing perhaps to his own feelings of unease as cities modernized in the 20th century. In this way, de Chirico makes it possible to see the mundane from a strange new perspective.
Examples of de Chirico’s enigmatic piazze are found in important museums across the globe, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Art Institute of Chicago, Musée d’art moderne (Paris) and many more
. The present work is of particular importance within scholarship on de Chirico, having been exhibited across Europe and the U.S. and appearing on the covers of several publications on the artist
. De Chirico’s works have performed well at auction in recent years, with a depiction of Ariadne selling at Sotheby’s auction for an astounding $15,890,400
in October 2020. De Chirico is a master at leaving the viewer with more questions than answers, and because of this, his paintings never grow boring. Piazza d'Italia
stands as one of de Chirico's most compelling creations.
Painted in 1952
Canvas: 22 3/4" high x 17 1/2" wide
Frame: 23 3/4" high x 28 3/4" wide
Literature and Exhibitions:
C. Bruni Sakraischik, Giorgio de Chirico Catalogo generale, Milan 1973, vol. VIII, n. 1168, illustrated
Sguardi Sul Novecento. Collezionismo privato tra gusto e tendenza, by Annalisa Scarpa, 27 June - 30 September 2012, Bordighera, Villa Regina Margherita, pag. 36
Novecento Italiano. Passione e Collezionismo, 20 October 2012 - 30 January 2013, Bassano Del Grappa, Museo Civico, by Giuliana Ericani, Annalisa Scarpa, pag. 45, 116
De Chirico - De Pisis. La Mente Altrove, by Antonio D’Amico, Domodossola, Palazzo San Francesco, 14 July - 31 October 2018, cat. 32 (and illustrated on the cover)
C. Tugnoli, Filosofia del tempo e significato della storia, Trento, 2020 (cover)