Islands of thought.
Certain aspects of Antonio Nunziante's work dedicated to Caravaggio in the very recent "Castel Sismondo exhibition" in Rimini had intrigued me.
In paticular the concentration on a single painting by the Lombard master, the St. Francis receiving the stigmata of the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut; the complex relationship between the artist and the inspiring masterpiece, made up of pieces of "faithful" copies - which are not faithful - but also and above all of extractions, reinventions, alterations, exaltations in a tireless combinatory exercise inside and outside the painting, dismantling and reassembling, enlarging and transforming the protagonists and the environmental connotations of the lyrical nocturnal ecstasy. To the virtuosity that Caravaggio had borrowed from the great Raphael, to summon three sources of light in the same painting - natural (the moon reflection), artificial (the flame), supernatural (the ivory light of the angelic figure) - Nunziante added his own in many variations, now inventing a falling star to animate the indistinct darkness of the sky, now arousing a blood reflection of sunset at the top right, to be the background of whose skeletal and gesticulating development is surprising. An approach, that of Nunziante to Caravaggio, full of anxious intelligence and respectful inventiveness: yet also subtly animated, in retracing the same subject through the filter of his own expressiveness and his own technique, that is to say without renouncing drawing (and therefore in this way distancing himself from the seventeenth-century model) and indeed revealing his graphic knowledge from canvas to canvas, the basis of the turned and cerebral painting that we acknowledge him.
It is with much greater expectation, that I welcomed the news of this "Fiesole exhibition", in which Nunziante takes on the further challenge of exhibiting alongside two great artists, who in their own way have marked the painting of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries: Arnold Böcklin and Giorgio De Chirico. The former visionary and tutelary deity of Fiesole, the other father of Metaphysics (which was conceived and generated by him a century ago in Florence), both ideal predecessors of Nunziante who understood, thanks to the refined exhibition project by Giovanni Faccenda, importing their mastery into his own artistic universe, developing them and continuing them in a sort of greenhouse culture of an exotic but adaptable essence.
It is my firm and consoling belief that the art of our predecessors releases its inspiring power in the creations of today's artists.
If it was not so, I would find less sense in opening the doors of museums, organizing exhibitions, multiplying my studies and publications: since knowledge, admiration, the very preservation of the legacy of the past are not ends in themselves, as they derive the highest and noblest motivation from the fragile promise of the future that they thus enclose and protect, as the flame of a candle is enclosed and protected in the hollow of the hand when the night wind brutally tries to extinguish it.
The paintings that Nunziante has painted, rethinking of Böcklin and reworking him out in the figurative codes of De Chirico's metaphysics are reassuring in this sense: "that cultured and arcane message has not been lost, but, whispered by a different voice, it survives by manifesting itself in amazing metamorphosis"
From his best-knowing painting, Nunziante retains the talent for clearly stereometric interiors, outlined with lights and thickened with shadows, where every object - a cloth, a book, a shell, a packaged painting seen from the back - spreads slow symbolic resonances comparable to silent circles raised in the water by a stone. In this way his painting combines Metaphysics with Hyperrealism, taking on the ancient illusionistic potential of trompe-l'oeil.
At the same time, in the views of seas and countrysides now thickens a frayed, tainted, earthy painting in the landscapes and turbid in the clouds, with flashes of light that become bruised or suffocated: a painting in which the memories of the seventeenth century , Caravaggio but not only him, embellish the dreamlike shots with creamy mixtures and sparkling threads.
In these rooms and skies in deceit relationship, inhabited by shadows, the characters of the Greek-Roman myths are sometimes evoked, rethought and rewritten by images. Surely, their return is invested with a further symbolic enrichment for the mere fact of passing through the brush of Nunziante, a man of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. As in the paradoxical short story dedicated by Jorge Luis Borges to Pierre Menard, author of "Quixote" (1939), where the fictional writer undertakes the task of rewriting Cervantes' masterpiece word after word becoming himself its author, also literal adherence to a pre-existing text implies its conceptual thickening, thanks to the stratification of the centuries and the events that occurred between the original and the rewriting. “Cervantes' text and that of Menard verbally identical, but the latter is almost infinitely richer. (His detractors will say more ambiguous; but ambiguity is richness) "
In these last paintings by Nunziante, the iconographic repertoire inherited from the Ancient is combined with a new mythological element, an icon that is added to it with power and dignity. "The Island", extracted from Böcklin's masterpiece and, with the usual combinatorial attitude, remodeleed, reduced, renewed, emptied, differently filled by our painter. The walls and rocks remain, the waters and sometimes the trees. Yet the island is closing in on itself, it contracts into a semi-ruined tower, it can even become tiny in the hands of Odysseus, a pledge of island nostalgia, a sweet and painful souvenir of Ithaca.
A long loophole makes impossible lights filter through the Tower Island. Water does not surround it by lakes or rivers, but instead, as spring water, it springs from inside to spread on the steps transformed into small waterfalls, flooding the empty interiors, overflowing onto platforms, flooding bays and cliffs. Tree galleries in perspective, inside the Tower-Island, invite to take thrill walks. All of Nunziante's impeccable technique (is it he himself that we see at work, crouched on a rock?) is put at the service of these thoughts, ready to melt into visions, evaporate into dreams clumping and breaking down like moving clouds, yet stuck in the relentless lucidity of a painting that leaves nothing to chance.
One can be sure that unilateral and posthumous artistic friendships of this magnitude will open up other paths, and that Nunziante will want to follow them, renewing himself again. It will be a path of quality and charm, which will enrich the complexity of the art of the third millennium.