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Gladiators after Combat, 1968

Gladiators after Combat, 1968

Oil on canvas, 58 x 83 cm

This painting from the artist’s Neometaphysical period deals with the Gladiator theme, another enigmatic subject developed by the artist in Paris in 1927-29. “Gladiators! This word contains an enigma” exclaimed Hebdomeros, de Chirico’s alter-ego and protagonist of the novel by the same name published in 1929, in which this troop of characters appears on many pages in a dream-like atmosphere suspended between historic memory, myth and legend. The theme culminated in the decoration of the Parisian apartment of collector and gallery owner Léonce Rosenberg who in 1928-29 commissioned the artists of his gallery to contribute to this painterly enhancement of his home.

“Gladiators!: the very sound of the word stimulated sensations and ideas in Hebdomeros that his ‘powerful imagination’ then translated into vivid images. The text continues thus: “And he thought of the music halls whose brightly lit ceilings conjure up visions of Dante’s paradise; he also thought of those afternoons in Rome, at the end of the day’s games when the sun was setting and the immense canopy increased the shadow it cast upon the arena, from which the smell of sawdust and blood-soaked sand floated up”.

The stylistic reference for this series is found in the classic iconography of Roman bas-relief friezes, a compositional model de Chirico used in various aesthetic explorations. In this painting, the figures are compressed and distributed in the two-dimensional space in the successive, parallel planes found in IV century A.D. bas-relief, while the figures’ hair evokes the effect of chiselled marble. The caricatural physiognomy of the faces of the mannequin/warriors resembles the countenance of generic statuary figures.

Here, differently from other representations, the gladiators are captured in a moment of reflection following the brutal rage of battle, in a perceptible melancholic atmosphere. The gladiators, positioned side by side, are absorbed in meditation. Their gazes do not meet, as each one reflects on the recent event. It is in fact the different trajectories of these gazes that delineate the physical and psychological space in which the figures are immersed. The colour vivifies these ‘petrified’ characters in a metaphysical and disorienting encounter between painting and sculpture. (B. D’A.)

(Original title: I gladiatori dopo il combatimento, 1968, Inv. 287)