Thursday, June 21, 2012

Chirico, Giorgio de

Oil and graphite on canvas
135.6 x 180.3 cm (53 3/8 x 71 in.)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Born in Greece to Italian parents, Giorgio de Chirico (1888 - 1978) received his first drawing lessons in Athens in 1900. In 1906, the family moved to Munich, where he attended the Academy of Fine Arts, becoming acquainted with the magic realism of Swiss-German painter Arnold Bocklin and the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, who encouraged the artist to "refute reality." In the years before World War I, he founded the scuola metafisica art movement, which profoundly influenced the surrealists. After 1919 he became interested in traditional painting techniques, and worked in a neoclassical or neo-Baroque style, while frequently revisiting the metaphysical themes of his earlier work.

This composition presents one of the artist's famous deserted public squares rendered in simple broad forms. Somber monolithic arches on the right cast a heavy geometric shadow filling two-thirds of the right foreground. On the left, seen slightly from above and in a vertical perspective, is the statue of the sleeping Ariadne. The background is sealed by a brick wall, beyond which rises a squat white tower. A distant train approaches from the left, a sailing ship from the right. The palette consists of ocher, deep brown, white, and green.

"Ariadne" is part of a series of five paintings, all of 1913, in which the statue of Ariadne plays a major iconographic role. This statue is a Roman copy of a lost Hellenistic sculpture of Ariadne asleep on the island of Naxos, where she had been abandoned by Theseus. The sculpture of Ariadne had great symbolic meaning for de Chirico, perhaps evoking the classical past to which he had been exposed during his childhood in Greece. In these works Ariadne is seen from various angles, horizontally, vertically, and in partial close-up.