copertina sidebar 14-16

 

The Archaeologists, 1940

The Archaeologists, 1940

Hand-painted terracotta, height 28 cm, base 22 x 23 cm

During the 1930s and 1940s, de Chirico often painted this subject in which the figure’s abdomen is laden with objects, a theme successively explored even in the medium of sculpture. Mannequins laden with toys, bizarre constructions, fragments of architecture and elements of landscapes, appear in paintings such as The Painter’s Family of 1926, The Muses on Holiday and The Painter both of 1927, and The Harbingers of 1930. The numerous variations on the theme share the same feature: from a 1926 drawing to the 1926-27 painting The Archaeologists and the large oil painting by the same name of 1927 (in the collection of Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea of Rome), to a tempera and the etching published in Jean Cocteau’s Le mystère laic, both of 1927. The theme was also evoked in a variety of sculptures executed in the 1940s and up through the 1960s. Even though the subject maintained the iconographic elements of the paintings, it is to be noted that in sculpture the two figures evoke a strong emotional togetherness through the physical embrace of their arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders and the delicate touching of the two heads.

This terracotta belongs to a period in which the artist was living in Florence and in Milan, after his return from the United States in 1938. It was then that he started exploring the medium of sculpture, working initially with clay. This soft, pliable material lent itself perfectly to the hands of the artist who, without mediation, modelled and gave it form with the same ease as a pencil tracing a line on paper or a brushstroke applying colour to canvas.

In 1941, parallel to his first plastic experiments, de Chirico wrote the essay Brevis pro plastica oratio, in which he stated: “If a sculpture is hard, it is not sculpture. Sculpture must be soft and warm; as such, it will not only have all of painting’s softness, but also its colour. A beautiful sculpture is always painterly”.

The practice of sculpture constitutes a natural continuation in the artist’s evolution and a parallel exploration in the search for a new “materiality” in painting, at a time in which his focus was on the world of classicism and the rediscovery of the museum, as well as the quality of craft and his technical search for a rich physical substance of paint. Like the ancients, de Chirico felt the need to apply colour to sculpture, as seen in this piece. (B.D’A.)

(Original title: Gli Archeologi, 1940, Inv. S58)