Gino Severini -
L’Europe malade (Giampaoli panel)
Tempera on canvas, 222 × 240 cm
c. 1947 - 1948. Commissioner General of Section for the Italian Pavilion Office. Born in Cortona in 1883, a pupil of Giacomo Balla in Rome, Gino
Severini is one of the leading European painters of the 20th
century. After moving to Paris in 1906, in 1909 he adhered to
the Futurist manifesto of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. In the following
years he was intensely active in Rome and Paris, where
he came into contact with the greatest contemporary artists
including Braque, Picasso and Gris, with whom he shared the
birth of Cubism, giving life to an original synthesis of futurism
and Cubism (cubofuturism).
According to his daughter Romana Severini Brunori, the panel
and its pendant (fig. 1 of a different length), mounted on different
frames, together made up the allegory L’Europe malade,
also called the Giampaoli panel after its first owner.
The two paintings were commissioned in 1947 - 1948 from
the great painter from Cortona Gino Severini by the Roman architects
Vincenzo Monaco and Amedeo Luccichenti, to decorate
a large sports shop (“Tutto per tutti gli Sports” di Giampaoli
e Carnevale) in Corso Umberto in Rome, which they were fitting
out. The entire composition, which overall measured about 222
× 562 cm, originally hung on a wall alongside the goods lift of
the shop: our painting was on the left, while on the right was
the larger one, today in a private collection (D. Fonti, 2004). The
two paintings were presumably divided at the end of the 1960s,
after the shop closed (1967).
Our painting is on a canvas usually used to make sails, probably
because just after the war it was difficult to find suitable
material for large works.
The subject, inspired by the disastrous conditions of Europe
at the end of the world war, consists of two different scenes
that apparently have little to do with each other: at the centre
of the larger panel is portrayed Europe, lying like a statue
on an Etruscan sarcophagus, surrounded by female figures in
costume which have been identified with China, Oceania, Africa,
Switzerland and Italy (D. Fonti, 2004). In the background is a luminous marine landscape. The painting was auctioned by
Farsetti (Prato, Milan, Cortina) in May 1994 and November 1997.
Our panel shows the exterior of the bar, which from the initial
drawings (Galleria La scaletta, S. Polo di Reggio Emilia) can be
identified with the ancient caffè Aragno (later caffè Alemagna),
one of the most famous Roman artistic haunts, situated right in
front of the sports shop and frequented after the war not only
by tourists and intellectuals but also by Allied officers.
At the centre is a small round green table on which rests
a cowboy hat, around it move three figures in their colourful
clothing: an American (seated) in a light blue check shirt and
boots, a Spanish woman with peineta and a yellow, green and
red fan and a Scotsman standing in a kilt and a traditional hat
and a red scarf with white and blue stripes, resting on his left
shoulder and knotted at his right side. To the upper left is the
canopy of the bar with yellow and blue stripes.
The two panels seem very different, not only for their compositional
structure and style, but also for the use of light, the
colour range and perspective. We need to examine in depth
their pertinence to a single allegory.
Our painting is the expression of a particular stylistic phase
for Severini, when this great Italian painter, after a first divisionist
experience, is convinced adhesion to futurism, his participation
in France in the birth and development of Cubism and his later
switch to classicist/metaphysical painting (1921), returned after
the Second World War to his Futurist experiences, reinterpreting
some of his works in a decorative and abstract style.
It is in this last particular moment that we can place our panel,
which is all based on the visual relationship between the
Spanish woman and the American, from which the Scotsman
is completely excluded and stands stiffly with his kilt and pipe
looking attentively out of the picture and meeting the eyes of
the viewer. On the walls of the house in the background are
vague hints of architectural elements: balconies, mouldings and windows typical of ancient Roman palazzos.
Everything is marked by strong and intense colours (greens,
reds, blues), made even more vibrant by a continually alternating
light, shade and half shadow, typical of sunny Roman days,
throughout the painting. In the upper part of the composition is
a memory of the intense Cubist experience in the complex play
of straight lines that intersect, delimiting the plays of light.
Art historian, Technical Secretary to the Commissioner General
of Section of the Italian Pavilion