… as externalized as it is hermetically sealed, as physically plain as it is intellectually convoluted.
… Metaphysical revelation, insists his pedantic finger, sits within the limits of physical reality. Redoubled in single things lurks a privileged insight, at once arcane and at large. “Every object,” the painter writes in essays contemporaneous with this canvas:
has two aspects: the common one, generally seen by other people; the other, spectral or metaphysical which can only be seen by rare individuals in moments of clairvoyance or metaphysical abstraction [“On Metaphysical Art”].
In the word “metaphysical” I see nothing tenebrous; it is the tranquil and senseless beauty of matter that appears to me “metaphysical,” and even more metaphysical to me are all those objects which, in the precision of their color and the exactness of their dimensions, represent the antipodes of all confusion and nebulousness [“We Metaphysicians].
A century after the images painted in its name, the term “metaphysical” still evokes the occult and the extra-sensory — precisely the notions de Chirico’s early work aimed to undermine. For its mystery appeals not to the half-lit or the hazy, but the crisply delineated edges of architecture: arcades, piazzas, façades, parapets, towers, and, eventually, mere wooden fragments like the one depicted here.
[line break added] The solid blocks of spatial habit, the prosaic clarity of illumination, the commonplace of public spaces — these, de Chirico’s early images already insist, are shot through with their own enigma. At least, for a select few. That slab of wood sums up the paradox of Metaphysical space: as self-effacing as it is supercilious, as externalized as it is hermetically sealed, as physically plain as it is intellectually convoluted.
… Creeping from behind their trademark arcades, an occasional shadow reassures the viewer that an actual protagonist skulks in the wings. This book aims to disturb that assurance.
It argues that the most vital subject of Metaphysical painting is the object of architecture, as manifest as it is overlooked.