Giorgio De Chirico (1888-1978)

Giorgio de Chirico was an Italian artist and writer born in Greece. In the years before World War I, he founded the scuola metafisica art movement, which profoundly influenced the surrealist artists.

De Chirico, The red tower, 1940

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The founder of the Metaphysical art movement, Giorgio de Chirico was an Italian (Born in Volos,Greece)surrealist painter, whose work implied a metaphysical questioning of reality.  His most well-known works often feature Roman arcades, long shadows, mannequins, trains, and illogical perspective. His imagery reflects his affinity for the philosophy of Nietzsche and for the mythology of his birthplace.

Life and Education

De Chirico, self portrait

De Chirico was born in Volos, Greece, as the eldest son of Gemma Cervetto and Evaristo de Chirico. His mother was Genoese-Greek (likely born in Smyrna) and his father a Sicilian barone from a family of remote Greek origin (the Kyriko or Chirico was a family of Greek origin that moved from Rhodes to Palermo in 1523, together with other 4000 Greek-Catholic families). De Chirico’s family was in Greece at the time of his birth because his father, engineer, was in charge of the construction of a railroad.

Beginning in 1900, de Chirico studied drawing and painting at Athens Polytechnic—mainly under the guidance of the Greek painters Georgios Roilos and Georgios Jakobides. After Evaristo de Chirico’s death in 1905, the family relocated in 1906 to Germany, after first visiting Florence.[7] De Chirico entered the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, where he studied under Gabriel von Hackl and Carl von Marr and read the writings of the philosophers Nietzsche, Arthur Schopenhauer and Otto Weininger. There, he also studied the works of Arnold Böcklin and Max Klinger

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Metaphysical Art

De Chirico returned to Italy in the summer of 1909 and spent six months in Milan. By 1910, he was beginning to paint in a simpler style of flat, anonymous surfaces. At the beginning of 1910, he moved to Florence where he painted the first of his ‘Metaphysical Town Square’ series, The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon, after the revelation he felt in Piazza Santa Croce. He also painted The Enigma of the Oracle while in Florence. In July 1911 he spent a few days in Turin on his way to Paris. De Chirico was profoundly moved by what he called the ‘metaphysical aspect’ of Turin, especially the architecture of its archways and piazzas.

De Chirico, The enigma of the oracle, 1910

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The paintings de Chirico produced between 1909 and 1919, his metaphysical period, are characterized by haunted, brooding moods evoked by their images. At the start of this period, his subjects were motionless cityscapes inspired by the bright daylight of Mediterranean cities, but gradually he turned his attention to studies of cluttered storerooms, sometimes inhabited by mannequin-like hybrid figures.

Where His Inspiration Came From?

De Chirico, The disturbing muses, 1918

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De Chirico’s conception of Metaphysical art was strongly influenced by his reading of Nietzsche, whose style of writing fascinated de Chirico with its suggestions of unseen auguries beneath the appearance of things. De Chirico found inspiration in the unexpected sensations that familiar places or things sometimes produced in him. What is required above all is a pronounced sensitivity. Metaphysical art combined everyday reality with mythology, and evoked inexplicable moods of nostalgia, tense expectation, and estrangement. The picture space often featured illogical, contradictory, and drastically receding perspectives. Among de Chirico’s most frequent motifs were arcades, of which he wrote: “The Roman arcade is fate … its voice speaks in riddles which are filled with a peculiarly Roman poetry“.

Return to Order

In November 1919, de Chirico published an article in Valori plastici entitled “The Return of Craftsmanship”, in which he advocated a return to traditional methods and iconography. This article heralded an abrupt change in his artistic orientation, as he adopted a classicizing manner inspired by such old masters as Raphael and Signorelli, and became part of the post-war return to order in the arts. He became an outspoken opponent of modern art.

Later Years

In 1939, he adopted a neo-Baroque style influenced by Rubens.[19] De Chirico’s later paintings never received the same critical praise as did those from his metaphysical period. He resented this, as he thought his later work was better and more mature. He nevertheless produced backdated “self-forgeries” both to profit from his earlier success, and as an act of revenge—retribution for the critical preference for his early work.  He also denounced many paintings attributed to him in public and private collections as forgeries.

De Chirico, The white horse, 1927

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