Gaetano Previati 1852-1920. A Protagonist of European symbolism


‘Giorgio De Chirico spoke of him as one of the major interpreters of European symbolism and even Umberto Boccioni acknowledged the influence of Previati on futurism and on modern art as a whole. This acknowledgement on the part of two of Italy’s major contemporary artists confirms the decisive role played by Previati as a key figure in the switch from the artistic civilisation of the nineteenth century to that of the twentieth. Hence the reason for the exhibition, seen and organised as an occasion for acquiring knowledge and delving deeper into the topic. Gaetano Previati obtained his first successes at Milan, where he moved in 1877 from Ferrara, the town where he was born, to attend painting courses at the prestigious Brera Fine Arts Academy. Here, in 1879, he took part in two competitions, winning that for historical painting with his first masterpiece, Gli ostaggi di Crema. His career blossomed over the next few years, with great works in the field of historical painting until, at the Turin Exhibition of 1880, he took first prize with the enormous painting of Renaissance taste portraying Valentino a Capua, depicted for the castle of Count Sauli Visconti at Bertinoro. In 1881, he opened a workshop in Milan, the city which by then had practically adopted the painter, continuing to produce enormous historical canvases, where he interpreted with strong dramatic intensity and a spirit anything but conventional the great topics of the Risorgimento, but also medieval and exotic themes like Paolo e Francesca and Le fumatrici d’hascich. The fresco execution of a Via Crucis for Castano Cemetery, near Milan, marked the start of a preference for holy topics rendered with originality and moved participation. In the works completed by the artist in the second half of the Eighties, his research tended towards a painting full of light, distinguished by an ever more ecstatic and visionary spiritualism which was to become the feature of his particular poetics and make him one of the protagonists of European symbolism. This new production, which was to lead to one of his most extraordinary works, the Maternità, met with less favour than the other, and marked the start for the artist of what was to be a complex and in a certain sense difficult period. 1899 was another successful year for Previati and saw him participate in major international exhibitions. Besides the usual holy themes, he continued to paint large works, often in the epic size of the triptych, tied to the symbolist motives of the age, the mystery of life and death, love, the harmony of the universe, nightmares and dreams, like in the famous painting of the Music Room in Gabriele D’Annunzio’s Vittoriale, or the series of paintings on Parisina melodrama put to music by Mascagni with text by Vate. An equally evocative and visionary value is to be found in the large canvases, centred on travel and progress, painted in 1916 for the Milan Chamber of Commerce. Thanks inter alia to the profound meditation on painting techniques entrusted to the three treatises La Tecnica della pittura (1905), the Principi scientifici del Divisionismo (1906), Della Pittura, Tecnica ed Arte (1913), Previati also had a strong influence on the development of 20th century painting.’


04 Agosto 1999 - 29 Agosto 1999


Exhibitions Meeting Exhibitions