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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Cagnaccio di San Pietro

After the Orgy, 1928, Cagnaccio di San Pietro

Cagnaccio di San Pietro Self-portrait
One might get the impression in studying the history of art that following the height of the Baroque period, that Italians simply quit painting. That didn't happen of course. No country, heir to such a rich and varied artistic tradition, simply turns off its creative output like twisting a faucet. What did happen was that the Italian artists found themselves competing with their counterparts in France, Germany, England, and the Netherlands. Moreover, Italy became what we might tritely designate as "a good place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there." That is, artists went to Italy, mostly Rome, Florence, and Venice, to study the classics of art history in both painting and sculpture then took what they learned back to their home country where they used it to make their own art history. That's not to discount the advancements of the Italian Futurist painters, Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Giacomo Balla, Gino Severini from the second decade of the 20th century, but their work was merely a momentary sparkle in the overall vibrant movement of Modern Art.
Zoologia, 1928, Cagnaccio di San Pietro. The male figure may be a self-portrait.

Cagnaccio di San Pietro (above), whose real name was Natale Bentivoglio Scarpa, was not a Futurist, though his early work was somewhat influenced by them. Art critics and historians categorize his mature work as a "Magic Realism." This was an art movement parallel to Germany's Neue Sachlachkeit (New Objectivity) which was a reaction to Impressionism, Expressionism, and the post-WW I chaos of the European art world. Cagnaccio was a product of this world, the 1920s, a Venetian artist, born, raised, and trained in Venice. His name he took from his native Venetian island of San Pietro. During the 1920s, Cagnaccio's brand of Magic Realism took on a conservative, almost photo-realistic style well beyond that of any of his Italian peers and quite foreign to Venetian art. His Zoologia (above) from 1928 is typical of the starkly realistic style which one critic deemed, "more depressing than titillating."
Still-life with Lobster and Radishes, 1938, Cagnaccio di San Pietro
His most famous painting, After the Orgy (top) from 1928, was in spiteful reaction to Fascism and the rise of Benito Mussolini during this same era. The work was rejected by the 1930 Venice Biennale for its harsh political overtones (the discarded cuffs bore fascist cufflinks). The three nude figures are all of the same model in different poses. Though nudes and subtle political protest were the hallmark of his work, Cagnaccio's starkly realistic still-lifes from the 1930s are similarly well apart from the visual images we usually hold of traditional Italian painting. Still-life with Lobster and Radishes (above) from 1938, and especially his nudes, seem far more akin to American Super Realism of Philip Pearlstein from the 1950s and 60s than pre-WW II Italian painting.

Consummata Est., 1943, Cagnaccio di San Pietro,
one of his final paintings. He died in 1946 at the age of 49.


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