Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




Spectres Are Born

Giorgio de Chirico and World War I



I for my part believe that a place that paralyzes and freezes the brightness of noonday hides more secrets than a dark room in which someone is holding a seance.

Giorgio de Chirico, in a letter to a friend, January 1919


Giorgio de Chirico
Self-Portrait, 1924

A possible source of inspiration? The arcades bordering the palace
gardens in Munich where
Giorgio de Chirico studied between 1906-09


Seldom had spring brought forth more flowers
than in 1914: the days were blue and soft and the air balmy. Inhabitants of the European capitals enjoyed the coffeehouses and parks. At seaside resorts crowds danced under chestnut trees to the strains of promenade concerts. And in their offices the diplomats were calculating and worrying. In the Balkans the vital interests of the Austrian, Russian and Turkish Empires were balanced: but it was an unstable balance and many nationalists were convinced that their nation would benefit from its overthrow. When the Austrian Archduke was assassinated in Sarajevo by a Slav nationalist the Austrian government calculated that it was then or never for their interests in the Balkans. Encouraged by their German allies, who believed that a war with the French was nearly inevitable and that Germany's chances were better in 1914 than they would be in 1918, the Austrians issued the Serbs a humiliating ultimatum. But the Russians had appointed themselves the protectors of the Serbs and were closely allied to the French. No one knew how seriously the British took their alliance to the French....

The pressure rose slowly at first, but then rapidly. The levy of a war tax on one side was answered with the lengthening of the term of military service on the other; partial mobilization on one side was answered on the other by full mobilization. The German commanders were convinced that to prevail against France and Russia they would have to destroy France quickly before the slow Russians could assemble their armies. But that meant they had to strike first: they could not allow the Russians to mobilise. Human will seemed powerless in the face of unfolding events, long-determined plans, strategic necessities, the requirements of national prestige — for the most terrifying thing about this, the most bloody war Europe had ever known, was that no one had wanted it.

In Paris the twenty-six-year-old painter Giorgio de Chirico was filled with the sense of the meaninglessness and madness of life.

The son of an Italian railway engineer, he was born in Greece and grew up familiar with ancient legends, with myth, tragedy and a strong sense of fate. He believed in signs and in predestination, magical places and the astrology and studied ancient Greek religion. He was also a student of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer.

De Chirico's feelings about the senselessness and terror of his time were worked through these symbols and ideas. He was one of the most truly "disturbing" of modern painters. De Chirico conjures up menacing Italian piazzas which seem to conceal the key to a looming catastrophe. His colonnade-lmed facades seem to be the surface of an isolated world; to reflect the hot light of a shuttered noon. The purpose of his "Metaphysical Painting" was to reveal invisible forces, fears, emotions and shadows concealed behind the world of visible things. He played with allusions and like the ancients delighted in riddles and enigmas, such as the Sphinx, the oracle at Delphi and the Sybilline Books. What is the significance of the painting of 1914, Mystery and Melancholy of a Street? Could it signify anonymity, the solitude and menace of a great city? The work seems to evoke a mood which many of us have sensed before, of doom and evil, and of the senseless and unavoidable, bearing down on us. It is difficult for us not to see the work as a prophecy of what at the time was called "The Great War".


Giorgio de Chirico
Mystery and Melancholy of a Street



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