Symbolism Exhibit at Palazzo Reale in Milan
One cannot truly understand a culture until they have visited the museums, which aim to represent it. Such is the significance of Italy’s art museums.
In Italy, there are a plethora: from the massive Uffizi in Florence, to the quaint Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, the majestic Palazzo Reale in Milan or the inimitable Musei Vatican in Rome. Nevertheless, one will never be short of art museums in Italy.
From February 3rd until June 5th, 2016, the Palazzo Reale in Milan will host Symbolism. European Art from the Belle Époque to the Great War. The exhibition is dedicated to art between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
With more than 2,000 square meters of exhibition surface area and 24 rooms, the exhibit aims to compare the Italian Symbolists with those from other countries. On display are a total of 100 paintings, sculptures and prints, which represent Symbolism’s ambiguous meanings, origins and future.
As Filippo del Corno, Councilor for Culture wrote, “These fascinating works of stunning beauty will accompany the visitors to the show, leading them along a path filled with marvelous creations made by artists who chose to embrace the Symbolist movement”.
In art, many spectators confuse symbolism and allegory. Allegory is used mainly in literature while symbolism was a movement in a society dominated by the prevalence of quantity. One of the most transcendent works of literary symbolism and allegory is Baudelaire’s, Flowers of Evil. The poetry of Baudelaire was in tension with the rise of modernity. Such is the animosity seeping through his words, “What is this romanticism of modern life? It is the air of nostalgia that drifts over Europe’s major cities”.
At the core of Baudelaire’s vernacular is rejection, which defines Symbolism as the three frustrations and rejections of the human condition: frustration generated, historically by Copernicus (Man is no longer the center of the universe), Darwin (Man is not the accomplishment of evolution), and Freud (Man is incapable, by nature, of dominating his inner drives).
For the first time in Italy, the exhibition presents a variety of the most important pieces during the Symbolist movement. Notable paintings include:
Caresses (Art), (1896) by Fernand Khnopff. This 50.5×151 cm, oil on canvas, masterpiece depicts the half-cheetah, half-woman caressing the face and torso of a man. The man has an impassive expression on his face, almost as if he has accepted his fate of being embraced by the woman, leaning into her, while the woman displays a blissful almost imperious expression. Many believe Khnopff was depicting the story of Oedipus and the Sphinx. Yet, the domination, beauty, ambiguity and seduction in relation to women were pervasive themes throughout the Symbolist movement. In Caresses, Khnopff offers an endless amount of perceptions and interpretations, yet one cannot leave without the imageries of power, domination and seduction.
Procession of the Princesses, (1914) by Vittorio Zecchin. (From the cycle panel the Arabian Nights) This 171×143 cm, oil and gilded plaster on canvas, displays an explosion of color allowing the spectator’s eye to move in a procession not only with the figures, but most importantly with the colors.
Symbolism stretched across Europe by various languages and sensibilities: In Poland and in Finland there was a return to the myth in a national tone, in Austria artists explored the powers of the subconscious, while in Italy the energy of light, as expressed in the division technique, paved the way for the Futurism movement. Therefore, the art museums Italy has to offer provide an inimitable experience.
Article by Mia Rose Tassone
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