Monday, March 22, 2010

The Other Modern: Fresco by Gino Severini, Basilique Notre-Dame du Valentin in Lausanne, France

While recently reading Jacques Maritain's chapter on "Beauty and Modern Painting" from his work, Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry, I was rather interested -- and I must confess a bit surprised -- to run into a reference to ecclesiastical work undertaken by Gino Severini (1883-1966), a 20th century Italian painter who is best known for his work within the Futurist movement, working alongside fellow futurist artists as Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Umberto Boccioni and Giacomo Balla.

An example of Severini's futurist work:

Gino Severini, The Dance of the Pan-Pan at the "Monico", 1909-1911

My surprise at seeing Severini's name mentioned in this regard was not rooted in anything stylistic. It is rather that Futurism, as a movement, was defined by a specific rejection of the past and the glorification of the new at its expense; it was interested in technology, speed, movement and "dynamism". With that context in mind, and Severini so attached to it, one might understand how my curiosity was piqued to hear of Severini later pursuing ecclesiastical frescoes and mosaics -- let alone be described by Maritain as "one of the most powerful renovators of sacred art, and our greatest master in mosaic and fresco." However, upon further investigation, while Severini is perhaps best known for his artistic contributions to futurism, it turns out that by the 1920's, he had become more open to the tradition which futurism had earlier repudiated.

I took to searching out some of Severini's ecclesiastical work, and amongst other things discovered a monumental fresco which Severini executed for the Basilique Notre-Dame du Valentin in Lausanne, France in 1934. On seeing it, it struck me that this would certainly qualify as yet another manifestation of the "Other Modern" which Matthew Alderman and I have been exploring over the past year.

Here is that work by Severini.

Apse Mosaic in the Basilique Notre-Dame du Valentin, Lausanne, by Gino Severini

A closer look shows that, stylistically, there is a distinctly modern quality to the composition and yet, evidently, there are also very clear echoes of the tradition, and a clear relationship with it.

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