Fausto Melotti (1901-1989)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Fausto Melotti (1901-1989)

La chioma di Berenice (Berenice’s mane)

Fausto Melotti (1901-1989)
La chioma di Berenice (Berenice’s mane)
signed 'Melotti' (on the base)
32 7/8 x 17 ¾ (83.5 x 37.4 x 25cm.)
Executed in 1972
La Sanseverina Galleria d’Arte, Parma.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1986.
G. Celant, Melotti. Catalogo generale. Sculture 1929-1972, Milan 1994, vol. I, no. 1972 1 (illustrated, p. 306).
Parma, Università di Parma, Sala delle Scuderie in Pilotta, Fausto Melotti, 1975, no. 208 (illustrated, unpaged).
Milan, Palazzo Reale, Melotti, 1979, no. 79 (illustrated, unpaged).
Bologna, Galleria San Luca, Fausto Melotti, 1986.
Parma, La Sanseverina Galleria d’Arte, Fausto Melotti, 1986 (illustrated, p. 18).
Verona, Museo Miniscalchi Erizzo, La sottile linea del tempo, 2015 (installation views illustrated, unpaged).
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.

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Mariolina Bassetti
Mariolina Bassetti

Lot Essay

Executed with a graceful precision, the lyrical lines and lithe forms of La chioma di Berenice perfectly encapsulate the playful poetry and exquisite refinement that defined Fausto Melotti’s unique sculptural language during the second half of his career. Melotti had been struck by a period of crisis following the Second World War, as the intense tragedy and suffering he witnessed caused him to question the fundamental tenets of his art. As a result, he abandoned the cold, geometric world of abstract sculpture he had pioneered in the 1930s to mould his teatrini: small, enclosed clay ‘stage sets’ on which objects, characters, fragments of cloth and iron were placed in a range of mysterious, theatrical scenes. Over the course of the 1960s and 70s however, Melotti began to explore his pre-war experiments in abstraction once again, spurred on by the emergence of a new generation of Italian artists intent on subverting classical notions of sculpture and painting. Playing with the materiality of his constructions and pushing the whimsical and poetic dimensions of his work to new levels, he created a series of beautifully ordered, precise yet whimsical metal sculptures built from thin sheets and delicate threads of brass, gold and steel.
Ruminating on the delicate relationships of that can exist between shapes, lines and empty spaces, sculptures such as La chioma di Berenice appear to refuse mass, incorporating air and space in its place. They forego sculpture’s heavy presence and promise of durability by embracing a certain fragility – brass is thinned to spindly threads, slender panels and sheer willowy stretches of mesh, which quiver and shine with a lightness that recalls the floating structures of Alexander Calder. This ethereal materiality lends the sculpture a certain buoyancy, as if it may vibrate and shift with the slightest breadth of wind. The artist saw metals such as brass and steel as dynamic materials, explaining: ‘I use metal because it brings me close to drawing: with metal I can draw in space’ (Melotti, quoted in Melotti, exh. cat., Rome, 1983, p. 10).
The title of the present work, La chioma di Berenice, has both mythological and celestial connotations, simultaneously referring to the constellation Coma Berenice and the legend for which it was named. Although accounts vary slightly, the story centres on the sacrifice of Berenice II of Cyrene, the consort of King Ptolemy III of Egypt in the third century B.C., who was renowned throughout the land for the beauty of her hair. As Ptolemy rode out of Egypt to join the Third Syrian War and avenge the murder of his sister, Berenice vowed to the gods that she would sacrifice her flowing locks if they would ensure her husband’s safe return. Following his homecoming, Berenice kept her promise by cutting off her hair and placing it in the temple of Aphrodite as a votive offering. Not long afterwards, though, the hair mysteriously vanished, incensing the royal couple. The court astronomer, Conon of Samos, apparently appeased the pair by pointing to the night sky and proclaiming that Berenice’s hair had been transported to the heavens by the gods, and could now be seen in the constellation he named in her honour.
Melotti evokes this tale with the addition of the diaphanous, draped form of the thin metallic fabric which hangs from the central spine of the sculpture, cascading down the length of the brass rod in a manner that suggests the tumbling locks of hair Berenice surrendered to the gods. Suspended on thin pylons, the raw texture of the mesh sheath offers a startling contrast to the smooth sensuousness of the polished brass rods carrying perfectly formed spheres which traverse its length, their forms breaking through the boundary of the fabric, adding a sense of dynamism to the composition. Drawing our gaze through the sculpture, these rods and globes animate the space in between the brass filaments, activating it, drawing our eyes to the volume of the void. While the tale of Berenice may have provided a stimulus for the artist’s imagination, the sculpture took shape independently from any narrative – it is a connection built on suggestions and allusions alone. Ultimately, it is in the imagination of the viewer that the sculpture is animated. The artist may point us towards a certain reading, but it is through our eyes that the work attains its final meaning. As Melotti so eloquently stated, ‘Imagination offers the artwork the start of the adventure. And invention’s inspiration is alive, like in the waves, in the ebb and flow’ (Melotti, quoted E. Geuna, Fausto Melotti, exh. cat., New York, 2008, p. 42).

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