08 June 2012

Vittorio Zecchin & Stile Liberty

Looking at Vittorio Zecchin'a work, the obvious reference point is Gustav Klimt.  We've been prepared to see an affinity between the two artists by legions of art historians who present a linear narrative that tells us that Zecchin was a lesser artist influenced by the famous Viennese Secessionist.  But is that all there is to the story?

Looking more intently at Zecchin,  we see a Venetian artist using  the art history of Venice as it was all around him for his textbook.  The arrangement of human figures in procession would have been familiar from Venetian churches and  the elaboration of abstract designs was characteristic of the Byzantine architecture of the Doge's Palace.  Zecchin combined design elements typical of Murano glass, corollas, stars, and flowers  with geometrical forms. 

What makes Zecchin different from Klimt is what makes Venice different from ViennaKlimt's patterns also drew on historical sources but what scandalized his contemporaries was the sex in the mosaics as much as in the naked human figures.  Ovoid shapes intermingled with spermatozoa circulating on a sea of avid  eyes could hardly go unnoticed by a public that greeted each new monograph from Sigmund Freud with shocked fascination.  Everything seemed to be reducible to the sexual impulse in Freud's worldview and in Klimt's art sexuality had even penetrated  the shell of abstraction.

Vittorio Zecchin (1878-1947) was  sixteen years younger  than Klimt and his career got a late start due to to the conservative teachers he encountered at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia.  The son of a glass maker on Murano, Zecchin grew up surrounded by the stylized use of color in  design.  The gold-leaf mosaics in the Basilica of San Marco  earned it the nickname Chiesa d'Oro (Church of Gold) soon after it was consecrated in 1094.  Klimt, who didn't travel much, visited Venice specifically to see the mosaics.

As we saw in Giacomo Balla's The Madwoman, the Divisionist style of painting, popular during Zecchin's youth,  employed discrete dabs of color,  a move that created a painted surface similar to a mosaic or a glass bijoux.   He attended the Venice Bienniales each year, including the large Klimt show in 1910, but exhibited his own work with  the  rejected artists  in a tent city on the beach in 1914.

Reviewers for  the daily papers were not always kind to Zecchin, but that changed in 1913 when he was commissioned to execute a series of panels based on The Thousand and One Nights for the Hotel Terminus.  The finished work is a masterpiece of  Italian art nouuveau  or Stile Liberty as they called it and, although the panels have since been dispersed to various collections, the Ca' Peraso where Zecchin himself exhibited is presenting a reunion of the eleven panels during an exhibition in 2012 dedicated to the art of Zecchin - under the guise of the "Klimtiano"  150th anniversary year.

1. Ca' Pesaro exhibition poster - Panel from The Thousand and One Nights, 1914, Musei Civici, Venice.
2. Le Stelle (The Stars), undated Wolfonsian Museum, Miami.
 3...Perle, undated, Wolfonian Museum, Miami.
4. title attributed -  and overlapping hills, Musei Civici, Venice.
5.  Deer The Three Wise Man, 1913, Musei Civici, Ve

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