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Berlin 1895 – Saint-Tropez 1971

Women, 1942

Oil on canvas, 24 x 33 cm

Signed and dated lower right: Campilli 42. Number “9” on the back


Rome, Private collection

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For Massimo Campigli, the year 1942, the year in which the picture under discussion here was painted, was marked by a one-man show at the “Galleria Barbaroux” in Milan and by his meeting with Renato Cardazzo, the man who was to become his regular gallerista and who hosted an initial one-man show of the work he produced between 1928 and 1942 in his “Il Cavallino” gallery in Venice that same year. The painter tell us in his memoirs that the Etruscan collection in the Museo di Villa Giulia in Rome made a lasting impression on him when he saw it for the first time in 1928. That crucial encounter was to spawn what has been called his “plan for an archaeological and anthropological revisitation of reality” (Paolo Rusconi, in Anni ‘30. Arti in Italia oltre il fascismo, catalogue of the exhibition curated by A. Negri, S. Bignami, P. Rusconi et al. at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, Giunti Editore, Florence 2012, n. 3.03, p. 141). Nor did the ancient world have only a stylistic influence on Campigli, because that fertile contact was to nurture a desire to refound the communicative code of painting in the name of a new primitivism mingled with elegance on the basis of a criterion of measure, symmetry, compositional clarity and free formal abstraction. His paintings began to seek to emulate the frescoed surface, and indeed the picture under discussion here with its almost chalky painted surface seems to conjure up the notion of a detached fresco. In Women, three pairs of female figures are portrayed in the suspended gesture of throwing and catching a ball, their hourglass bodies covered in geometric designs of an elementary decorative nature consisting of lace or biscuit flounces: they almost have the air of Mycenean clay statues that have sailed down onto an imaginary beach, in an open-air vision with the crystalised atmosphere of Seraut. The repetition of their gestures, the pairs of women of differing heights as though staggered in the space and the disharmonic note of the seated woman seen from behind represent a musical score of elementary refinement. This “zero base” of the image in relation to naturalistic mimesis, the artist’s desire to fuse the symbolic with the real and with the figure while not excluding grace, irony or an exquisite decorativism, reflects a language combining different stratified influences: pre-Hellenic, Egyptian, Etruscan and Renaissance memories revitalised in a mixture of modernity and archaism. We should recall how in the late 1920s Campigli’s encounter with the architect and designer Giò Ponti had an important impact that was to culminate in the frescoes in the entrance lobby of the Palazzo Liviano at the University of Padua. In an article describing an ideal home penned in 1939, Giò Ponti added “figures in the style of Campigli” for the decoration of interior spaces.

Monica Vinardi


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