Umberto Boccioni was an influential Italian painter and sculptor. He helped to shape the revolutionary aesthetic of the Futurism Movement as one of its principal figures.
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Umberto Boccioni was one of the most prominent and influential artists among the Italian Futurists, an art movement that emerged in the years before the First World War. Boccioni was important not only in developing the movement’s theories, but also in introducing the visual innovations that led to the dynamic, Cubist-like style now so closely associated with the group.
Umberto Boccioni was born in 1882 in Reggio Calabria, a rural region on the southern tip of Italy. His parents had originated from the Romagna region, further north. As a young boy, Boccioni and his family moved frequently, eventually settling in the Sicilian city of Catania in 1897, where he received the bulk of his secondary education. There is little evidence to suggest he had any serious interest in the fine arts until 1901, at which time he moved from Catania to Rome and enrolled at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma (Academy of Fine Arts, Rome).
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Although Boccioni deserves a great amount of credit for evolving the style now associated with Italian Futurism, he first matured as a Neo-Impressionist painter, and was drawn to landscape and portrait subjects. It was not until he encountered Cubism that he developed a style that matched the ideology of dynamism and violent societal upheaval that lay at the heart of Futurism. Boccioni borrowed the geometric forms typical of the French style, and employed them to evoke crashing, startling sounds to accompany the depicted movement.
How did he arrive to Futurism?
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The writing of his Manifesto tecnico della scultura futurista (Technical manifesto of Futurist sculpture), published on 11 April 1912, was Boccioni’s intellectual and physical launch into sculpture; he had begun working in sculpture in the previous year. Much of his experimental work from late 1912 to 1913 was destroyed, including pieces relating to contemporaneous paintings, which are known only through photographs. One of the few surviving pieces is the Antigrazioso also called The Mother.
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Yet by the end of 1913 he had completed what is considered his masterpiece, Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio (Unique Forms of Continuity in Space), in wax. His goal for the work was to depict a “synthetic continuity” of motion, instead of an “analytical discontinuity” that he saw in such artists as František Kupka and Marcel Duchamp. During his life, the work only existed as a plaster cast. It was first cast in bronze in 1931. This sculpture has been the subject of extensive commentary, and in 1998 it was selected as the image to be engraved on the back of the Italian 20-cent euro coin.