The Dean of the College of Cardinals

By Galleria d'Arte Moderna

The Dean of the College of Cardinals (1930/1930) by ScipioneGalleria d'Arte Moderna

Cardinal Decano (1930) is a painting by Gino Bonichi, an artist better known under the pseudonym Scipione.
Scipione was one of the most significant authors of the past century; protagonist of the "Roman School", he died very young at the age of 29, strucked down by tuberculosis in 1933.

The real subject of the painting is not the Dean of the college of cardinals, but Rome and Christianity. To inspire the artist, it is not the triumphant Rome but the dark and decadent contemporary one, symbolized as the figure of the prelate proposed in a symbolic-expressionist key

Cardinal Vincenzo Vannutelli is seated on a throne against the backdrop of a St. Peter's Square animated by five angels who move their wings over the colonnade, from the obelisk, from the clock and, even further back, from the large Michelangelo dome.

For the elderly cardinal in the foreground, portrayed several times by the artist, Scipione possibly used a photograph of the ninety-four year old prelate but, in the transition from the photographic image to the painting, while retaining its setting, the artist distorted features of the face, eliminate the shadows, and deform the hands highlighting the skeleton.

Through this figure Scipio wants to represent not the glorious Rome of a vanished past, but the opulent and dark Rome of his time, with implicit reference to Christianity which, having lost its initial thrust, became greedy for power as the ring and clothes show of the cardinal.

The tangible signs of physical and moral degeneration are iconographically evident in the decay of the body, especially in the very long and skeletal hands as references to death that already envelops it.

The figure of the cardinal is inserted in an environment blazed by a "red blaze that hits everything". Dark colors, with a nervous and surreal touch recall Tiziano, Velázquez, El Greco and Goya without forgetting Caravaggio's lesson.

The disproportion of the architectures together with the absence of volume emphasizes the sense of unreality of the composition, which does not escape even the ghostly and phantasmagorical figures of the saints.

There are numerous symbolic-allegorical references drawn from the Christian iconography and from the Apocalypse of Saint John: the angel behind the throne, messenger of the divine will;

A large key, emblem of San Pietro; a dice rolled on the number three, attributed to the Passion of Christ

The dove of the Holy Spirit, a symbol of chastity; a fountain, image of salvation and spiritual life.

Credits: Story

Arianna Angelelli, curator
Galleria d'Arte Moderna di Roma

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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