Audio: Giorgio de Chirico, Piazza d'Italia (Mercurio e i metafisici)
Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF THE LATE ALFREDO CASELLA Giorgio de Chirico, Piazza d'Italia (Mercurio e i metafisici), 1920 Alfredo Casella was one of the leading Italian composers of the 20th Century. Born in Turin in 1883 into a family of musicians, Casella was one of most prominent and internationally recognized figures of the so-called generazione dell'ottanta - a post Puccini generation of Italian composers born in the 1880s - who in the wake of the great opera composer's death, pioneered a radical new direction in predominantly instrumental music. Rising to prominence in the 1920s Casella was also a proud champion of modern Italian art and culture. Especially passionate about painting, he acquired one of the great private collections of early 20th Century Italian art. Giorgio de Chirico painted two portraits of him in 1924 and throughout the 1920s and early '30s Casella acquired several major works by Italian artists then pioneering a new classicism. These included a number of masterpieces by Giorgio de Chirico, Carlo Carrà and Mario Sironi. Having studied at the Conservatoire de Paris under the pianist Louis Dimer and the composer Gabriel Faur from 1896, Casella had come to know Claude Debussy and Igor Stravinsky at an early age as well as coming into contact with Ferruccio Busoni, Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss. In the 1920s, along with Gabriele D'Annunzio and Gain Franceso Malipiero Casella founded the 'Corporation of the New Music' in order to promote a modern and distinctly Italian music. By the end of the decade Casella had established a reputation for himself as one of the best-known piano virtuosos of his generation. In 1930 together with Arturo Bonucci on the cello and Alberto Poltronieri on the violin he formed the Trio Italiano. This popular group became widely known throughout Europe and America and were responsible for the creation of several of Casella's best-known compositions, among them, A Notte Alta, the Sonatina, Nove Pezzi, and the Six Studies, Op. 70, for piano. A proud defender of the neo-classical tradition in both music and art, Casella was also a fierce champion of the work of Antonio Vivaldi. Indeed the reinstatement of Vivaldi's work into the canon of the greats that took place in the 20th Century was largely thanks to Casella's efforts. Along with the poet Ezra Pound it was Casella who helped to organize the now historic Vivaldi Week that took place in 1939. It was Casella's work on behalf of such Baroque musical antecedents that set him at the heart of the early 20th Century neoclassical revival in music and which also influenced his own work. Alfredo Casella died in Rome in 1947.
Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978)

Piazza d'Italia (Mercurio e i metafisici)

Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978)
Piazza d'Italia (Mercurio e i metafisici)
signed 'G. de Chirico' (lower left)
oil and tempera on canvas
22 1/8 x 30in. (56 x 76.2cm.)
Painted in 1920
Valori Plastici collection, Rome.
Alfredo Casella, Florence, and thence by descent to the present owner.
P. Courthion & A. Bardi, Sélection: chronique de la vie artistique. Giorgio de Chirico, Antwerp, 1929, no. 8, p. 55 (illustrated).
Civiltà. Rivista trimestrale della Esposizione universale di Roma, no. 3, Milan, 1940, (illustrated on the cover).
I. Far, Giorgio de Chirico, Milan, 1968, pl. 45.
C. Bruni, Catalogo generale Giorgio de Chirico, opere dal 1908 al 1930, vol. I, Milan, 1971, no. 46 (illustrated; dated 1921).
G. Legrand, Giorgio de Chirico, Paris, 1975, p. 32.
I classici della pittura, Rome, 1978, no. 18, pl. 10.
I. Far de Chirico & D. Porzio, Conoscere de Chirico: la vita e l'opera dell'inventore della pittura metafisica, Milan, 1979, no. 91, p. 290 (illustrated p. 177).
M. Fagiolo dell'Arco, Giorgio de Chirico. "Le rêve de Tobie" 1917: un interno ferrarese e le origini del surrealismo, Rome, 1980, no. 41, p. 46.
W. Schmied, A. Jouffroy, M. Fagiolo dell'Arco & D. Porzio, De Chirico. Leben und Werk, Munich, 1980, no. 91, p. 290 (illustrated p. 177).
M. Fagiolo dell'Arco, Giorgio de Chirico, il tempo di "Valori Plastici" 1918-1922, Rome, 1980, no. 91, p. 60 (illustrated p. 61).
M. Fagiolo dell'Arco, "Speciale de Chirico", in Catalogo Nazionale Bolaffi d'Arte Moderna, no. 15, Milan, 1980, no. 2, pp. 83-84.
M. Fagiolo dell'Arco, L'opera completa di de Chirico 1908-1924, Milan, 1984, no. 160, pp. 107-108.
M. Fagiolo dell'Arco, I bagni misteriosi. De Chirico negli anni Trenta: Parigi, Italia, New York, Milan, 1991, no. 4 (illustrated p. 179).
Exh. cat., Die Andere Moderne: De Chirico, Savinio, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf and Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, Munich, 2001-2002, p. 94 (illustrated).
W. Schmied, Giorgio de Chirico: the endless journey, Munich, 2002, p. 96 (illustrated).
M. Valsecchi, Immagini di arte italiana: Giorgio de Chirico, Milan, n.d., pl. 5.
Milan, Galleria Arte, Mostra personale del pittore Giorgio de Chirico, 1921, no. 21.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Twentieth-Century Italian Art, 1949, p. 129.
Florence, Palazzo Strozzi, Arte Moderna in Italia 1915-1935, 1967, no. 941, p. XXXIV.
Turin, Galleria Civica d'Arte Moderna, Le muse inquietanti: maestri del Surrealismo, 1967 - 1968, no. 148.
Bochum, Städtische Kunstgalerie, Italienische Kunst des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts, 1968; this exhibition later travelled to Berlin, Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste, 1968.
Rome, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Cento opere dal futurismo ad oggi, 1968 - 1969, no. 17, p. 52 (illustrated p. 53).
Milan, Palazzo Reale, Giorgio de Chirico, 1970, no. 44, p. 29 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Hannover, Kestner-Gesellschaft in der Orangerie Herrenhausen, 1970, no.46, p. 65 (illustrated).
Paris, Galerie André-François Petit, Hommage à Giorgio de Chirico, Paris, 1975, pl. 8 (illustrated).
Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, Les réalismes 1919-1939, 1980 - 1981, p. 67 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Berlin, Staatliche Kunsthalle, 1981.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, De Chirico, 1982, pl. 80; this exhibition later travelled to London, Tate Gallery, 1982.
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Giorgio de Chirico der Metaphysiker, 1982 - 1983, no. 60, p. 192 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, 1983.
Verona, Palazzo Forti and Galleria dello Scudo, De Chirico: gli anni Venti, 1986 - 1987, p. 60 (illustrated p. 61); this exhibition later travelled to Milan, Palazzo Reale, 1987.
Oslo, Kunstnernes Hus, Tilbakevending til orden og gjennopptagelsen av malerkunsten: den figurative kontinuitet i italiensk malerkunst 1920-1987, 1988, no. 6; this exhibition later travelled to Helsinki, Ateneumin Taidemuseo, 1988.
Venice, Museo Correr, De Chirico nel centenario della nascita, 1988 - 1989, no. 33, p. 204, (illustrated pl. 36).
London, Tate Gallery, On Classic Ground. Picasso, Léger, De Chirico and the New Classicism 1910-1930, 1990, no. 33, p. 76 (illustrated p. 77).
Milan, Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea, L'idea del classico 1916-1932, 1992, p. 209.
Tokyo, Garden Museum of Fine Art, De Chirico, 1920-1950, 1993, no. 10, p. 122 (illustrated p. 46); this exhibition later travelled to Osaka, Nabio Bijutsukan, 1993, and Hiroshima, Fukuyama Museum of Art, 1993.
New York, Paolo Baldacci Gallery, Giorgio de Chirico. Betraying the Muse: De Chirico and the Surrealists, 1994, no. 8, p. 144 (illustrated p. 145).
Basel, Kunstmuseum, Canto d'Amore. Klassizistische Moderne in Musik und bildender Kunst 1914-1935, 1996, no. 15.
Padova, Palazzo Zabarella, De Chirico, 2007, no. 46, p. 164 (illustrated).
Winterthur, Kunstmuseum, Giorgio de Chirico: Werke 1909-1971 aus Schweizer Sammlungen, 2008, no. 23 (illustrated p. 79).
Special notice
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.

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Barbara Guidotti
Barbara Guidotti

Lot Essay

'A strong current of mysticism is indispensible to the formation of classical artists. Greek painters and the great Italian artists derived it from religion. Let us not forget that mysteries flourished at the time of Polignatius and would not have been foreign to his severe and emotional drawing, to that ethos which enveloped his figures, to that idealism so eulogized by Aristotle. Today let us hope to be sufficiently mystical for the rebirth of classicism.' (Giorgio de Chirico ' Classicismo pittorico', La Ronda, July, 1921 quoted in On Classic Ground, Picasso, Lger, de Chirico and the New Classicism, 1910-1930 exh. cat, London, 1990, p. 78.)

Painted in 1920, Mercurio e i metafisici (Mercury and the Metaphysicians) is one of the first and most significant works of Giorgio De Chirico's classical phase of painting that he began after a period of copying from Old Master paintings by Raphael, Lotto, Carpaccio and Michelangelo in Rome in 1919. On its first exhibition in Milan in January 1921, this painting was immediately acquired from the show by the well-known composer Alfredo Casella, himself a great champion of neo-classical ideals. Editor of the magazine Ars Nova and a theoretician of neo-classical music, whose tireless promotion of the work of Antonio Vivaldi was largely responsible for the 20th Century rediscovery of Venetian composer and his work, Casella was also an important patron and collector of avant-garde Italian art throughout the 1920s and '30s.

Following the end of the First World War and the death of his great friend and champion Guillaume Apollinaire, de Chirico had decided not to return to Paris but to move from his military stationing in Ferrara to Rome. In Rome in 1919, the manner and style of his painting immediately underwent the most radical change of his career. It was in front of Titian's painting of Sacred and Profane Love that de Chirico was granted what he later described as 'the revelation of great painting' that made him realize that the true mystery and fascination of pictorial art lay not within a painting's subject matter but within the way in which the image was painted. 'There is a static, immobile and intense quality' he wrote, of the way in which Raphael paints a figure clothed in drapery for example, 'which makes us think about the eternity of matter.
The image seems to have existed even before the painter created it.' (Giorgio de Chirico, 'Il Convegno' no. 6, 1920, quoted in On Classic Ground... op.cit, p. 76) It was this sense of eternal values combined with the innate mystery and poetry he had uncovered with his Pittura Metafisica that de Chirico now sought to attain in his art.

A subtle fusion of metaphysical mood, strange allegory and the rich, new classical style of painting that de Chirico adopted in Rome, Mercurio e i Metafisici is one of the most famous and important works from this dramatic period of change in de Chirico's art. Depicting a mysterious classical allegory taking place - not unusually for de Chirico - in an Italian piazza, it is a work that was in fact known for many years under the more generic title of Piazza d'Italia. Always regarded as one of de Chirico's finest, if also most mysterious, classical paintings, this much exhibited work is now known to be one of two highly important and very different paintings bearing the title Mercurio e i Metafisici that de Chirico made at this time and which he himself considered to have especially significance within his oeuvre. In the preface to a 1921 catalogue he described these two paintings of Mercury among the Metaphysicians as being 'difficult works which few will understand, and thus of great future significance.' (Giorgio de Chirico quoted in On Classic Ground, Picasso, Léger, de Chirico and the New Classicism, 1910-1930 exh. cat, London, 1990, p. 76)

The second of these two paintings is subtitled La statua che si é mossa (The statue that moved itself) and depicts a naked male figure holding a spear in front of a reclining statue of a classical female, with the figure of Mercury/Hermes holding his caduceus in the background. The present work stands in marked contrast to this second painting on the subject. Taking the form of an Italian piazza, it echoes strongly the format of several of de Chirico's earlier metaphysical landscapes. Only here, in addition to de Chirico's new sensual Old Master style of painting, the entire scene has been bathed in a warm southern light. While the buildings on the right of the painting are reminiscent in some respects of the Romanesque arches of Turin and Ferrara, the buildings to the left and the rocky landscape itself are more evocative of the warmer southern landscape of Italy where de Chirico was now living. With this deliberate shift in climate, the mood of the picture as a whole is also completely changed from that of the dark melancholic landscapes of his earlier Metaphysical paintings with their long awkward shadows and strange perspectives so evocative of the disjuncture of modernity.

Indeed, De Chirico has taken great pains in this painting to render its perspective in a united, cohesive and strongly classical way. The single vanishing point of the entire composition is centred rather pointedly on the wooden door at the foot of the central tower while the picture's main figures (the horse with companion and the naked man with a spear) together form a classical triangular framework with the central tower in a manner not dissimilar to the clever use of such classicizing geometry in a painting like Andrea Mantegna's Parnassus. Here, as in Mantegna's painting, the geometry of the composition is employed to create an overall atmosphere of harmony. It is only the subtly strange positioning of the figures and the central statue in the painting that generates the scene's pervasive sense of enigma. The peculiar mixture of both clothed and naked figures also lends to the mysterious atmosphere of the painting but the overall effect is one of warm nostalgia for history and myth rather than of contemporary disquiet. De Chirico's careful rendering of an architecture that is clearly inhabited as well as sporting jewel-like classical statues also encourages this brighter sense of enigmatic and historic space in a way that is wholly absent from the ominous statues and disjunctive architecture of his darker and more disturbing Paris and Ferrara metaphysical paintings.

Maurizio Fagiolo dell' Arco has suggested that it is the figure on the right of the composition with his spear that represents Mercury in this picture and that the Metaphysicians of the title are the philosophical-looking couple walking in discussion at the centre of the work. The fact that a similar naked figure holding a spear and cloak stands at the centre of the second painting Mercurio e i metafisici (La statua che si é mossa) while a clearly identifiable figure of Mercury complete with winged helmet and caduceus is clearly visible behind him suggests otherwise. As with so many of de Chirico's paintings the mystery this painting generates is intended to be an unanswerable one. Marking a fusion of metaphysical enigma with a classical vista, Mercurio e i metafisici is a work that maintains the deep sense of enigma common to all of de Chirico's finest works, while also appearing to chart the beginnings of a new and brighter odyssey. A timeless and distinctly Mediterranean landscape it is a work that proposes a new post-modernist realm, through which the artist's inherently nostalgic and often melancholic mind could wander freely and eternally.

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