Metaphysical painting (Italian: pittura metafisica) or metaphysical art was a style of painting developed by the Italian artists Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carrà. The movement began in 1910 with de Chirico, whose dreamlike works with sharp contrasts of light and shadow often had a vaguely threatening, mysterious quality, “painting that which cannot be seen”. De Chirico, his younger brother Alberto Savinio, and Carrà formally established the school and its principles in 1917.
The term ” metaphysics ” was used for the first time by the philosopher Andronicus of Rhodes (1st century BC) to title those works of Aristotle that did not deal with the previous topic, physics for the very reason, and that precisely for this reason they were cataloged in the ” metaphysics “(literally” half “” tà “” physikà “), a term that if translated means” after physics “.
Metaphysical art applied to the work of Giortio de Chirico and Carlo Carrà before and during World War I and thereafter to the works produced by the Italian artists, who grouped around them Pittura Metafisica was characterized by a recognizable iconography: a fictive space was created in the painting, modelled on illusionistic one-point perspective but deliberately subverted. In de Chirico’s paintings this established disturbingly deep city squares, bordered by receding arcades and distant brick walls; or claustrophobic interiors, with steeply rising floors Within these spaces classical statues and, most typically, metaphysical mannequins (derived from tailors’ dummies) provided a featureless and expressionless, surrogate human presence Balls, coloured toys and unidentifiable solids, plaster moulds, geometrical instruments, military regalia and small realistic paintings were juxtaposed on exterior platforms or in crowded interiors and, particularly in Carrà’s work, included alongside the mannequins. In the best paintings these elements were combined to give a disconcerting image of reality and to capture the disquieting nature of the everyday.
Metaphysical painting arose from the desire to explore the imagined inner life of everyday objects when represented outside the usual contexts that serve to explain them: their solidity, their separation in the space they are given, the secret dialogue that could take place between they. This attention to the simplicity of ordinary things “that points to a higher, more hidden state of being” was linked to the awareness of such values in the great figures of the first Italian painting, in particular, Giotto and Paolo Uccello, on whom Carrà had written in 1915.
A characteristic of the Pittura metafisica is that the supersensible, that which can only be recognized in acts of thought and that which is beyond the sensory world, the transcendent, is elevated to an artistic system. The image content sequences are often beyond the sensual experience and a second mysterious reality is hidden behind the visible things.
In this style of painting, an illogical reality seems credible. Using a kind of alternative logic, Carrà and de Chirico juxtaposed several ordinary themes, usually including buildings, classical statues, trains, and mannequins.
His art, normally seen as a naturalistic representation of figures, objects, and actions in a controlled stage space, may also seem eerily still and still cut off from the ordinary world; in the midst of the war it offered a strong poetic language and a corrective to the damaging and fragmenting tendencies within modernity. This desire to link back to the great Italian past was stronger in Carrà, whose paintings from this period are also cheaper and more focused than those of Chirico; The latter continued to explore the enigmatic nature of the everyday world in a broader style.
Giorgio de Chirico, unlike many artists of his generation, found little to admire in the works of Cézanne and other French modernists, but was inspired by the paintings of the Swiss Symbolist Arnold Böcklin and the work of German artists such as Max Klinger. His painting The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon (c. 1910) is considered his first Metaphysical work; it was inspired by what de Chirico called a “revelation” that he experienced in Piazza Santa Croce in Florence. In subsequent works he developed a disquieting imagery of deserted squares, often bordered by steeply receding arcades shown in a raking light. Tiny figures in the distance cast long shadows, or in place of figures there are featureless dressmakers’ mannequins. The effect was to produce a sense of dislocation in time and space.
In 1913, Guillaume Apollinaire made the first use of the term “metaphysical” to describe de Chirico’s paintings.
In February 1917, the Futurist painter Carlo Carrà met de Chirico in Ferrara, where they were both stationed during World War I. Carrà developed a variant of the Metaphysical style in which the dynamism of his earlier work was replaced by immobility, and the two artists worked together for several months in 1917 at a military hospital in Ferrara. According to art historian Jennifer Mundy, “Carrà adopted de Chirico’s imagery of mannequins set in claustrophobic spaces, but his works lacked de Chirico’s sense of irony and enigma, and he always retained a correct perspective”. After an exhibition of Carrà’s work in Milan in December 1917, critics began to write of Carrà as the inventor of Metaphysical painting, to de Chirico’s chagrin. Carrà did little to dispel this idea in Pittura Metafisica, a book he published in 1919, and the relationship between the two artists ended. By 1919, both artists had largely abandoned the style in favor of Neoclassicism.
Other painters who adopted the style included Giorgio Morandi around 1917–1920, Filippo de Pisis, and Mario Sironi. In the 1920s and later, the legacy of Metaphysical painting influenced the work of Felice Casorati, Max Ernst, and others. Exhibitions of Metaphysical art in Germany in 1921 and 1924 inspired the use of mannequin imagery in works by George Grosz and Oskar Schlemmer. Many paintings by René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, and other Surrealists make use of formal and thematic elements derived from Metaphysical painting.
Between the two World Wars in Italy there were numerous architectural vulgarisations of the metaphysical poetics of the “Piazze d’Italia”, whose timeless atmosphere seemed to be congenial to the propaganda needs of the time. Squares of metaphysical flavor were built in the historical centers, as in Brescia or Varese, or in newly founded cities, such as those of the Agro Pontino (Sabaudia, Aprilia), to culminate in the spectacular unfinished E42 in Rome.
Revelations and Riddles – Paris
The genesis of metaphysical painting can be found in the painting by Giorgio de Chirico The enigma of an autumn afternoon in 1910, cited by the painter himself in one of his Parisian manuscripts of 1912.
«…, I will say now how I had the revelation of a painting that I exhibited this year at the Salon d’Automne and which has the title: The riddle of an autumn afternoon. During a clear autumn afternoon I was sitting on a bench in the middle of Piazza Santa Croce in Florence. It was certainly not the first time I saw this square. I had just come out of a long and painful intestinal disease and I was in a state of almost morbid sensitivity. The whole nature, up to the marble of the buildings and fountains, seemed to me to be convalescent.
In the middle of the square stands a statue representing Dante wrapped in a long cloak, holding his work against his body and tilting his thoughtful laurel-crowned head towards the ground. The statue is in white marble, but time has given it a gray tint, very pleasant to see. The warm, loveless autumn sun illuminated the statue and the facade of the temple. I then had the strange impression of seeing all those things for the first time. And the composition of the picture appeared to my spirit; and every time I look at this picture I relive that moment. Moment which however is an enigma for me, because it is inexplicable. So I like to call the resulting work also an enigma. ”
In Paris the de Chirico brothers come into contact with the exponents of the artistic avant-garde of the twentieth century and with their works of 1912, 1913 and 1914 they contribute to anticipating the crisis that would have led to the enormous change of intellectual and aesthetic climate that took shape during the first world war.
In 1913 Guillaume Apollinaire in ” L’Intransigeant ” of 9 October writes:
«Signor de Chirico exhibits in his studio at 115 Rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs about thirty canvases whose interior art must not leave us indifferent. The art of this young painter is an interior and cerebral art that has no relationship with that of the painters who have revealed themselves in recent years. It does not come from Matisse or Picasso, and does not derive from the Impressionists. This originality is so new that it deserves to be mentioned. The highly acute and very modern sensations of Signor de Chirico generally take an architectural form. They are stations decorated with a clock, towers, statues, large deserted squares; railway trains pass on the horizon. Here are some singular titles for these strangely metaphysical paintings:L’énigme de l’oacle, La tristesse du départ, L’énigme de l’héure, La solitude and Le sifflement de la locomotive. ”
At the end of February 1914, Carlo Carrà, Ardengo Soffici and Giovanni Papini arrived in Paris. Soffici will get to know de Chirico and Savinio and will write the article that marks his “conversion” to metaphysical art in the magazine Lacerba (1 July 1914). Alberto Savinio previously (April 15) had published a theoretical text on music (Le drame e la musique) in issue 23 of the ” Soirées de Paris “, broadening the discussion in an attempt to define “modern metaphysics” in the arts.
Ferrara – Metaphysics school
In June 1915 Alberto Savinio and Giorgio de Chirico enrolled in the Italian army arrived in Ferrara after passing through Turin and Florence and established contacts with Ardengo Soffici and Giovanni Papini in Italy and, in Paris, with the art dealer and collector Paul Guillaume. From 1916 letters will resume with Apollinaire and in the same year the meeting with the young Ferrarese intellectual Filippo de Pisis takes place.. In this period between the two brothers de Chirico and Soffici there is a close commonality of ideas and intentions in outlining the birth of the new cultural strategy and in this context, from the end of March 1917, preceded by a dense exchange of anxious letters from the the event, the meeting with Carlo Carrà then military in Pieve di Cento is part. Until then, Carrà had followed the paths of divisionism, futurism (he had been very close to Boccioni, who died recently) and, after his stay in Paris and contact with the artistic avant-garde, he was expressing a personal painting close to primitivism.
The “metaphysical school”, in addition to the enthusiasm of the protagonists, also arises from an unexpected coincidence: both de Chirico and Carrà, in early April 1917, were sent in convalescence to the neurological hospital Villa del Seminario in the Ferrara countryside, cultivated in hemp. Both stayed there until mid-August, in the meantime Savinio had been sent to Thessaloniki, Macedonia, as an interpreter. Carrà was exonerated from military service and returned to Milan carrying some canvases by de Chirico, who remained in Ferrara alone.
On 18 December 1917 in Milan, at the Paolo Chini gallery, Carrà inaugurated one of his great solo shows where there were several paintings (The drunken gentleman, The wheelchair, The romantics) in which de Chirico’s influence was very evident. The painter had sent some of his paintings to Milan (Ettore and Andromaca, Il trovatore, etc.), but incredibly they were not exhibited. The first exhibition of metaphysical painting in Italy therefore took place without the participation of its greatest exponent, who at the time, unlike Carrà, was practically unknown.
Just two years later, on Sunday 2 February 1919, Giorgio de Chirico inaugurated his first exhibition in Italy at the Anton Giulio Bragaglia gallery in Rome. The self-presentation appeared on the art Chronicle of current affairs published by Bragaglia himself. The review Roberto Longhi appeared in ” The Time ” on 22 February in an article entitled ” At the Orthopedic God.”
Metaphysical painting therefore grew in Italy, in Ferrara in particular, starting from 1916. It was a novelty compared to the painting of the avant-garde and futurists, also due to the return of classical subjects that recalled Greek and Roman antiquity and the themes of the Risorgimento national. The word “metaphysics” represents the unconscious and the dream, the surreal. As in the dream, the landscapes appear realistic, but confusedly assembled: a square is not necessarily next to a field of flowers.
The fundamental characters of Metaphysical painting are:
The perspective of the painting is constructed according to multiple vanishing points inconsistent with each other (the eye is forced to search for the order of arrangement of the images);
Absence of human characters therefore loneliness: mannequins, statues, shadows and mythological characters are represented;
Filled Regions of color flat and uniform;
Scenes that take place outside of time;
The shadows are too long compared to the times of the day represented.
The most important authors of the movement were:
Giorgio de Chirico
Alberto Savinio (Andrea de Chirico, brother of Giorgio de Chirico)
Carlo Carrà (formerly futurist)
The metaphysical current was of fundamental importance for many artists of Surrealism.
The metaphysical paintings often portray Italian squares considered mysterious and romantic: the characters present in these squares are often Greek statues or mannequins. In the works, all attention goes to the described scene, a timeless immobile scene (like a dream), often a silent and mysterious place, an emotionless theater stage. Between the two wars in Italy there were numerous architectural vulgarizations of the metaphysical poetics of the “Squares of Italy”, whose timeless atmosphere seemed congenial to the propaganda needs of the time. Squares of metaphysical flavor were built in historical centers, such as in Brescia or Varese, or in newly founded cities, such as those of the Agro Pontino (Sabaudia,), to culminate in the spectacular unfinished system of the E42.