Spello

“Il Tempo dell'Immagine”

Villa Fidelia

The rooms of this villa, which still have their splendid 17th-century decorations, were perfect containers for this group show of young “Hypermannerist” painters, as they are called by Italo Tomassoni, the co-curator along with Maurizio Calvesi. The thread that ties these artists together is quotation—the revival of classicism. Their individual lines of investigation stem from diverse environments and situations, but all look back to the history of that art, from the Renaissance to the metaphysical painters. The curators’ approach was rigorous to the point of resuscitating all the weakest aspects of Mannerism, neglecting instances of authentic elegance and the relatively few examples of inspiration. It is not difficult to place this exhibition within the climate of obstinate revivalism which for some years now has constituted the only viable art activity in Italy.

The confused iconological elements of Alberto Abate’s work include symbolic figures such as rams, sphinxes, pyramids, and four-legged monsters from Greek mythology. Ubaldo Bartolini avoids the temptations of theatrical set design and retreats into a universe of unreality, ignoring every possible ironic implication; his paintings are boring reproductions of the 17th-century French landscape paintings of Nicolas Poussin or Claude Lorrain. Aurelio Bulzatti revives the most decadent themes of the Baroque—the pathetic votive image of the Sacred Heart (devotional scheme of the Counter Reformation), the flight of little putti against red drapery, as well as certain refined details like the small sculptural group in Emanuela, 1983, a direct quotation of Lorenzo Lotto’s Ritratto di Andrea Odoni, 1527. The morbid subjects of Stefano Di Stasio’s compositions recall in their structure the Sienese Mannerist works of Domenico Beccafumi and, in their choice of such themes as the martyrdom of San Lorenzo, the Venetian paintings of Titian and Tintoretto.

Franco Piruca treats time as a rebus; while Abate’s iconography functions as a coherent, unitary whole, Piruca ironically puts the entire universe at his disposal. In a probable self-portrait a green table with playing cards is overhung by the absurd presence of a ballerina, ruins of columns and capitals, a nude and bandaged figure with a small mask hanging from its neck, and a nightmarish cloudy sky in which appears an upturned marblelike head and even the section of a torso perhaps inspired by Leonardo’s St. John. Excess here has a function, and this work does arouse curiosity. But the most balanced protagonist in this situation, which oscillates between ironic revisitation, refined quotation, and stage set, is Carlo Maria Mariani. His youths, eternal and immutable, are inspired by Jean Hippolyte Flandrin; his graceful female figures, recalling David’s Mme. Récamier, 1800, are a true challenge to time. Refuting direct iconographic quotation while reviving the literary fragment, uniting the magic of Ingres and the cynical mythology of Max Ernst, Mariani places himself, with great cleverness, beyond time, and perhaps, in the haughty and unreal context of this villa, beyond art games.

Barbara Maestri

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.