Giorgio de Chirico was an Italian artist who still occupies a prominent and unsurpassable position in the history of western modern art. In creating the movement, Scuola Metafisica, De Chirico had a profound influence on the Surrealist movement, embodied by artists such as Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst and René Magritte, and is regarded by many as the artist who prefigured Surrealism. De Chirico remained fascinated by traditional painting techniques throughout his career and worked in the style of old masters such as Titian,
Peter Paul Rubens and Eugene Delacroix, while at the same time creating an utterly unique visual language that became one of the most recognisable expressions of Modernism.
The present work, Sgombero su piazza d’Italia belongs to the artist’s most iconic series of metaphysical works—Piazza d’Italia, a series which originated in the 1910s and re-emerged time and again throughout his extensive career. The most frequently depicted theme of de Chirico’s oeuvre, the piazza d’Italia series embodies the artist’s complex aesthetic and lifelong pursuit of philosophical discovery, with examples held in a number of prominent museums such as The Museum of Modern Art, New York and the Musée d’art moderne, Paris.
In Sgomberosu piazza d’Italia, de Chirico depicts a monumental yet mysterious scene. In the present composition, the figure is instead depicted with his back to the viewer, as if conducting the scene or observing it as a participant, lending an enigmatic air to his identity and expression. His pose is both active in movement, animated by props in both hands, yet literally set in stone and immobile which provides an uncanniness to his presence. The carriage on the right, with its door ajar, reveals a peculiarly shaped sack. The same carriage appears in MoMA’s The Enigma of Day with the doors closed. This repetition of motifs in differing configurations adds an interesting dimension when viewing de Chirico’s work throughout his career as he returns back to each scene, as if they represent new moments from a recurring dream, new information in an investigation or different stills from the same film, emanating suspense
through their dramatic staging.
An inky green sky overhangs the square and transitions into a swathe of ochre, suggesting dawn and dusk, day and night at the same time. This is enhanced by the elongated shadows which delineate an orderly and structured composition, suggesting the monumental architecture of a thriving civilisation but which remain curiously quiet and uninhabited. The sole hint of movement is the train in the background, however, the ball of smoke above the train’s chimney appears to be static, hovering in the air. The entire scene is uspended in time and space, where movement and habitation are suggested yet not fulfilled. These strange juxtapositions of the objects, confusing perspectives and light effects establish a world that exists only in dream and poetry, beyond physical reality.
In the series of piazza d’Italia paintings, the artist also suspends or subverts time by deliberately dating certain works incorrectly, as inscribed by the artist himself. The present painting, for example, appears to have been antedated by a decade. This practice can be interpreted as a radical critique of time and the artist’s return to the past and is recurrent in De Chirico's oeuvre (M. R. Taylor, Giorgio de Chirico and the Myth of Ariadne, London, 2002, pp. 134-135).
De Chirico’s self-expression through repetition and variation is not unlike that of contemporary artists such as Andy Warhol, as observed by Michael R. Taylor (ibid ., pp. 164- 169). Warhol was fascinated by de Chirico’s practices and appropriated them into his own works. Italian Square with Ariadne, for example, is a multi-image recast of de Chirico’s imagery of piazza d’Italia that belongs to a series of works in homage to de Chirico. These works later had an enormous impact on postmodern ideas of appropriation and simulacra. Fascinatingly, upon very close inspection of the present composition, one may see pentimenti, the hint of another work underneath. It appears that the central statue in the finished work, featuring a man upright facing into the composition, was once the Ariadne figure lying down and was subsequently painted over. This revision process is common in De Chirico’s work, showing his propensity to elaborate and edit whilst painting, providing another subtle dimension when one looks closer, that reveals his dynamic thought processes.