Natura Morta by Giorgio Morandi

“It takes me weeks to make up my mind which group of bottles will go well with a particular tablecloth. Then it takes me weeks of thinking about the bottles themselves, and yet often I still go wrong with the spaces. Perhaps I work too fast? Perhaps we all work too fast these days?”

Giorgio Morandi is often regarded as one of the few Italian Modernists untouched by the forceful and transformative artistic movements pioneered by his contemporaries like Gino Severini, Umberto Boccioni, Luigi Rossolo, and others, who focused their practice on inventing a new visual language to capture and depict modern society’s new fast pace of innovation and development. To them speed, machinery, and industry were the driving forces of “the new world order” that needed to be captured and communicated in an appropriate language, invented specifically for this purpose. In contrast, Giorgio Morandi seemed immune to the forces of social evolution, instead focusing his attention on a limited number of subjects and their permutations.

Related: Jewels of Italian Modernism at Museo Novecento, Florence

Morandi’s compositions, instantly recognizable for the artist’s preferred economy of colors and a tight grouping of simple, almost monochromatic objects – vases, bottles, and boxes, placed against a flat background are often compared to the late abstract compositions by Mark Rothko. The relationship may, at first, seem strained, but if you look closely at some of Rothko’s more monochromatic compositions, you’re bound to see a common language emerge. The two examples below are from 1969 and you can clearly see some of the shared approaches in the treatment of space.

Morandi and the Renaissance

What is even more interesting, yet perhaps not often mentioned, is the influence of the early Renaissance artists like Masaccio and Pierro della Francesca on Morandi’s still lives. Below is Masaccio’s best-known 1425 fresco ‘Tribute Money’ from  the Brancacci Chapel in the Basilica Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence, just one hour south of Bologna, where Morandi lived and worked all of his life. You will notice strong resemblance in palette and the relationship between the foreground and the background schemes. Like in the Masaccio fresco, Morandi shows a tight cluster of [figurative] objects painted in subdued hues against an almost-monochromatic background.

Morandi was also deeply interested in Cezanne’s approach to structure, which has long been central to Morandi’s own vision. “During this period, Morandi was increasingly interested in the fact that his pictures were representations, were paintings, and accordingly involved himself less in modelling the three-dimensionality of his subject matter, instead deliberately increasing the sense of flatness, accentuated by the almost even, muted light – in Natura morta, there are the faintest whispers of shadows at the edges of some of the vessels and in the gaps between them, heightening the sense of visual rhythm.”*

This article © galleryIntell

*Christie’s New York Lot Notes.