Mystery and Melancholy of a Street by Giorgio de Chirico

“To become truly immortal, a work of art must escape all human limits: logic and common sense will only interfere. But once these barriers are broken, it will enter the realms of childhood visions and dreams.”

Mystery and Melancholy of a Street is one of Giorgio de Chirico’s unmatched images of deserted public spaces rendered in simple geometric forms. The painting represents an encounter between two figures: a small girl running with a hoop and a statue that is present in the painting only through its shadow. The girl is moving towards the source of bright light coming from behind the building on the right and illuminating intensively the arcades on the left. The bright yellow corridor stretched up to the horizon separates two zones: light and darkness.

If you look closely at the two sharply contrasted buildings you will notice that lightning is not their only distinction. De Chirico intentionally used two contradictory vanishing points (a point in the picture plane that is the intersection of the projections (or drawings) of a set of parallel lines), thus destroying any resemblance to reality. All of the lines of the fully illuminated building on the left meet slightly above the horizon; the alignments of the dark building meet at a point where the truck roof touches the yellow of the ground. One last detail concerning the perspective is an isometric depiction of a truck, or freight car, mysteriously lit by a light coming from…well, nowhere. This juxtaposition of light sources and perspectives enabled de Chirico to create a mysterious and impossible universe where spaces will never converge and the girl will never reach the statue.

The predecessor of the Surrealist movement, Giorgio de Chirico intentionally subverted fictive spaces, typically city squares bordered by arcades or brick walls, to create enigmatic experience and refute reality. The artist became interested in notion of the eternal return and re-enactment of the myth after reading the German philosophers, particularly Friedrich Nietzsche. It was French poet Guillaume Apollinaire who first called de Chirico’s work ‘metaphysical’, from where the Metaphysical Art movement originated, with Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carrà as its leaders.

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