Unreal Nature

October 31, 2016

The Piazza Is Still; The Figures Wait

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

De Chirico … appeals directly to … to those swamp-like regions at the edge of the mind …

This is from Giorgio de Chirico by James Thrall Soby (1966):

… At Paris de Chirico’s romanticism had centered on public buildings and squares. At Ferrara he turned to an equally intense preoccupation with the evocative atmosphere of rooms. Indeed the open piazza and the small chamber are the two opposite focal points of his metaphysics, the one for a time completely supplanting the other in his art. That he thought of architectural exteriors and interiors as separate emotional stimulants is apparent from his words on Giotto. After describing the latter’s sense of “cosmic mystery” in his use of architecture as subject matter, de Chirico goes on to say:

The square of the sky seen through a window is a secondary drama that interlocks with the drama of people’s imagination. When the eye rests on that blue or greenish expanse held in the square geometry of stone, many anxious questions come to mind. What might there be, over there? Does that sky overlook an empty sea or a crowded city? Or does it stretch over a wide, free and restless nature, over wooded mountains, dark valleys, plains furrowed by rivers?

[line break added] And the perspectives of buildings rise full of mystery and misgiving, corners conceal secrets, the work of art ceases to be a terse episode, a scene limited by the actions of the figures represented, and it all becomes a cosmic and vital drama which envelopes men and constricts them within its spirals, where past and future merge, where the enigmas of existence, sanctified by the breadth of art are divested of the entangled fearfulness that man — outside the world of art — imagines, only to assume the eternal, peaceful, consoling aspect of a work of genius.

[ … ]

dechirico_muses
The Disquieting Muses, 1917

… The Castello Estense in the Muses is flanked by a factory with red chimneys and the portico of a dark building. The piazza leading to the background architecture is incalculably deep and seems to consist of wide, wooden planking. On the piazza are placed two of the most haunting of the artist’s fantastic figures — sculptured mannequins, one of which has placed its head beside the blue box on which it sits. The figures are accompanied by the bizarre bric-a-brac of the dream world they inhabit, including a striped stick and a rectangular box ruled into triangles of contrasting colors. To quote from the description of the picture in Twentieth-Century Italian Art:

Perhaps more forcefully than any other work of de Chirico’s career the Muses illustrates the ambivalent, “metaphysical” nature of his early art. The picture attracts and repels, beguiles and frightens, conveys a warm nostalgic aura but at the same time suggests an impending catastrophe. There is no action; the piazza is still; the figures wait. What will happen?

[line break added] There is no answer, for this picture is the exact opposite of those seventeenth-century paintings of banditti in which a specific, disastrous outcome is foretold. De Chirico’s image — his early art as a whole — appeals directly to the counter-logic of the subconscious, to those swamp-like regions at the edge of the mind where ecstasies bloom white and the roots of fear are cypress-black and deep.

My most recent previous post from Soby’s book is here.

-Julie

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