Mantua's colours

Palazzo Te

Mantuan painting between the eighteenth and nineteenth century interprets in a particular way the trends of Italian and international painting. On the one hand there is great attention to portraits, which display a degree of emotional participation, on the other, more expressionist tendencies become evident at the turn of the century. 

Domenico and Vindizio
Pesenti was born in Medole, near Mantua, into a family of local landowners who later experienced a series of financial crises. Domenico’s artistic vocation was strong, and he soon left his small native town. He lived in Milan and traveled around Italy, residing in Florence for more than twenty years. He returned to Mantua only in 1897. As an artist, he was able to support himself with his work and held many exhibits. His painting is influenced by the work of the Macchiaiuoli, although his style is more precise and he pays more attention to detail. Here we have a view of the city of Siena in 1872. The monuments are seen from a park that is at their same level. The air is clear like in many Tuscan paintings that are influenced both by academic painting and by modern trends. Here everything is visible, everything can appear. The small soldier next to the low wall reminds us of Fattori and of Domenico himself, who as a young man took part in the fighting during the second war for independence in Solferino, not far from Mantua. 

This painting dates to 1889 and is an excellent example of the artistic talent of Pesenti. The way he deals with volume is remarkable, here the architectonic elements of the chapels are used to create spaces that become progressively more illuminated. At the back there is a group of people, and the light grows stronger, giving the impression that they are standing at the end of a gallery. Here the artist can be rightly defined as classical, his painting being timeless.

Pesenti was also a talented portraitist. This work, from 1884, also reflects a personal tragedy. In 1880 his sister Maria Teresa died leaving three children, Azzurrino, Vinzio and Neli, a girl. Domenico wanted to turn the young Azzurrino into an artist, and took him to Florence. The boy however died of meningitis at the age of nine. This portrait of the boy, who looks like a very young Raphael, captures the sadness of the gaze.

From a pictorial point of view Pesenti here challenges some compositional difficulties, such as the thick hair of Azzurrino, that seems to blend in with the tapestry that is almost of the same colour.

His pale face stands out against the dark contour.

This image represents him like a young Raphael.

This painting also dates to 1884. Here Azzurrino is viewed frontally. This work is a perfect example of Italian painting in the nineteenth century, which displays a sensitive quality though not as marked as in Impressionist works. The play of colour creates the classical contrast between light and dark, without reaching the luminosity characteristic of French painting, and always achieving an accurate and realistic effect.

During the last decade of the nineteenth century Domenico broadened and consolidated his technique as a portraitist. A young unknown man, with a very intense gaze, is depicted here. The painting on the one hand brings to mind the experiences of Giovanni Fattori (1825-1908), on the other it shows the influence of the great Italian artists of the sixteenth century.

The expressive quality of Pesenti’s work reached another peak towards the end of the century, in the direction of analytic realism. In this portrait of a woman nothing is left to chance, from the characteristic hairstyle to the posture, she is here totally absorbed in her work. This painting is anti-Impressionist: every detail is important and the only strong chromatic note is the large red flowered handkerchief on her knees.

This painting, that dates to 1885, captures a small festive scene taking place on a balcony in a Tuscan town, probably Florence. Among the homes that are placed very near one another, a cupola towering over them, Pesenti inserts a group of musicians playing for a couple of young lovers, while another woman looks on, standing next to a girl. The small figures are painted with a vibrating touch.  

Pesenti, now an old man, stares at us with a serious look on his face. During the last years of his life he often chose to paint figures immersed in darkness, where only the face is illuminated by rays of light. He expressed his artistic sensibility in various forms, although never losing his characteristic classical touch. Here he uses the golden light to soften the details of the face and to create an atmosphere that is very different from the analytical quality of other works.  

Vindizio also was born in Medole. After the death of his brother Azzurrino he became Domenico’s favourite nephew. The painter filled the boy with attention and love and made him study to become an artist. Vindizio was indeed taken to Paris, where he came into contact with some of the protagonists of Futurism. In 1916 he was even reviewed by Umberto Boccioni, who gives a detailed account of his pictorial technique. His work can be defined as Divisionist. In this self portrait the author is still concerned with composition and accuracy, of which his uncle was a master. The intensity of the features is worthy of note: we see a young man who desires to become an artist.

This slender figure, a man of the Belle Époque period, is painted with a dynamic and vertical stroke which makes the work similar to that of Giovanni Boldini. The sensibility of the artist places him among the protagonists of the international scene, also making him one the most prominent artists in Italy, despite the fact that his native country was not always open to influences from abroad. He did not follow the path opened up by the avant-garde movements, the way the Futurists did in the same years this portrait was composed. Vindizio continued to work within the boundaries set by an aesthetically valid Divisionis, and only later did he embrace a luminous and vibrating Post-Impressionistic style.

Other talents from Mantua
Defendi Semeghini is an anti-conventional figure in the Lombard scene. He was born in Quistello, also home to other excellent artists (the other Semeghini, Gorni, Alberto Viani). As a young man he attended the Brera Academy, became a supporter of Garibaldi, took part in the Universal Exposition of Paris and had his drawings published by the weekly French journal: “L’illustration”. Excellent caricaturist, realistic painter, he never stopped representing his favourite subjects: men and women from the lower classes. In this painting, a little boy is sitting on a swing in the Po valley countryside,  while his friend watches him with a lazy and absent-minded look. It is a happy summer scene, with green grass and a blue sky, and two children playing.

Here the image of the young artist's wife in no way made more gentle. She dominates the picture with a fixed and surprised gaze, with an attitude that seems to indicate rebellion and discomfort at being painted. Defendi’s stroke is powerful, his realism is almost cruel. His eye captures beautiful and pail flowers. His wife is wearing a flowery dress, she is lying on a flowery sofa, and the walls are adorned with fluttering butterflies.

In this work that dates to 1875 the character portrayed watches us spectators with a hostile look: he even tries to avoid our glance, seeming to be proud and shy at the same time, and these feelings instantaneously bring him to life. Defendi’s painting apparently rejects all ornamental elements; in some cases his works even seems to be too simple. It is however true, on the contrary, that his art is very refined: here the glittering white shirt is on its own enough to illuminate the face and the whole scene.

This self-portrait painted in 1880 owes much of its beauty to the fact that it is incomplete. The almost frightened face, in the corner of the white canvas, is a fragment from the past, an evanescent sign of a short existence. The Romantic element of the painting is in the choice of painting his own image at an age when hope starts to give way to reality, and in the strokes that bring the face to life, painted with realism and participation, and rich in details.

The painting is one of the first important works by the author. It was painted in the 1910, a very important year in the life of the artists. In fact in 1910 Giorgi moved to Munich, where he came into contact with the emerging Expressionism. He met Kokoschka and Braque in Paris. When he travelled back home, now aware of the avant-garde movements abroad, his painting no longer had anything provincial about it. His points of reference were on the one hand Expressionism, and on the other the peasant world he was native to. This painting belongs to an early period, it is still influenced by formalist elements and the approach is that of Symbolism, which makes the work in some ways similar to the painting of Gaetano Previati, although the bright colours indicate a distinctive style. The painting is an interesting document of a very intense artistic adventure.

Young Moretti Foggia demonstrated his precocious technical ability at the Cignaroli Academy in Verona, then in the Brera Academy, and finally as a pupil of Cesare Tallone. A very important painter of the nineteenth century, his stroke is dynamic and vibrant, and he often chose exotic subjects. This “Carovana” dating to 1910, is a realistic representation of men marching in the yellow heat of the mountainous desert, probably headed to Sudan.

An artist with marked cultural and literary interests, Beduschi, whose name indicates his father’s patriotism, was during his life more an art and poetry critic than a well-known painter. His own artistic inclination was however very strong, and the works he composed are very interesting. Furthermore, residing first in Florence and then in Rome, he was able to avoid the defects and complacency typical of the province. Writing on French impressionism, Beduschi says: “shadows are lights, shadows are colours”. In this work, completed in 1918, we can see an intimist approach that makes him similar to Armando Spadini and a very precise technique that juxtaposes colours. The work, influenced both by Divisionism and by French painting, depicts a very lively and intense face.

Archimede Bresciani, called Da Gazoldo because of the strong ties with his native land, is a remarkable painter, representative of the artistic transition which took place between the nineteenth and twentieth century. Living in Milan, he had a good knowledge of the new artistic tendencies of his period, including Futurism. His work is obviously influenced by Naturalism, visible in the choice to depict the poor, and can also be defined as belonging to Realism. Also, some elements are inspired by Symbolism, where a meditation on the destiny of men and of their bodies becomes visible. In portraits such as this one the use of colour and light convey an intimate and happy atmosphere.

Semeghini was born in Quistello but lived most of his life in Venice. This city is characterized by a suffused and dazzling light, where things and characters seem to vanish. Semeghini's painting is representative of art in Italy in the first half of the nineteenth century, and this painting, which dates to 1930, is emblematic to understand his personal style. Two sisters are drawn with free and quick lines, with a technique that spread in Europe following Modigliani's example. The skin is very pale, and the tones used create an immediate connection with the viewer. The figures are almost ghostly but they convey a profound existential truth.

Cavicchini's drawing technique was excellent; he was also an extraordinary caricaturist. Despite this, and although he took part in many important exhibitions, he was never able to impose himself as one of the main protagonists in the artistic Italian scene. His premature death deprived him of the right recognition. His reflection on the universe of objects and of characters shares a certain painful and absorbed quality with the art being created by other Italian artists between the two World Wars. The portrait of this woman, painted in 1930, is characterized by an attention to volume and composition visible in the lost gaze and in the small still life that appears at her side, like a companion. The tones, the way the space is divided, contribute to the representation of an intimate and enclosed domestic scene.

The author of this painting is a central figure in the artistic scene of Mantua, thanks to his excellent graphic sensitivity and his expressionism, that somewhat softened by the tones. This painting, dating to 1930, is a masterpiece in that it connects the naturalistic values to a solid emotional structure. Here spring emerges in a tragic way between the blue of the sky and the trees in the background.

In the nineteenth century Mantua, Dal Prato is a model for the solidity of his technique, for the inventive balance and for the noble line of his drawings. During his life he took part in several exhibitions and worked as a professor. He established himself as a creator of holy scenes. In this painting that dates to 1936, the agile and calm figure recalls some aspects of the Roman School, in particular Giorgio Guidi’s works. The use of light tones indicates the influence of the Lombard Chiarismo, pictorial current which arrived in Mantua from Milan and enriched the simple themes with an intense chromatic brightness.

This painting composed 1947 is an intimate portrait that shows the author’s adherence to Christian values. The woman is seated, her eyelid are closed, her folded hands suggest she is waiting. The figure expresses no tension, she encircled by a simple and beautiful green dress: she communicates a calm acceptance of reality. It is not sleep, rather the timeless stroke of the artists represents a vision of stability, that of a soul immersed in silent thoughts.

Credits: Story

Ideato e promosso da / Founded and Promoted by:
Mattia Palazzi (Sindaco del Comune di Mantova)
con Lorenza Baroncelli (Assessore alla rigenerazione urbana e del territorio, marketing urbano, progetti e relazioni internazionali del Comune di Mantova )

Coordinamento Scientifico / Scientific Coordinator:
Sebastiano Sali

Curatore testi e immagini / Superintendent texts and images:
Giovanni Pasetti

In collaborazione con / in cooperation with:
Stefano Benetti (Palazzo Te e Musei Civici)

Foto di / Photo by:
Gian Maria Pontiroli

Redazione / Editors:
Erica Beccalossi
Sara Crimella
Carlotta Depalmas
Ilaria Pezzini
Veronica Zirelli

Un ringraziamento speciale a / A special thanks to:
Giuseppe Billoni
Emma Catherine Gainsforth
Olmo Montgomery
Chiara Pisani
Paola Somenzi

Lo staff di Palazzo Te che ha fatto il turno dalle 19 all’1 del mattino per la gigapixel per tre giorni di fila


Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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