02 January 2018

Vittorio Zecchin: A Thousand and One Nights - More or Less


           THE SWALLOWS
in refreshing capes of black satin
they're typing out the new aubade
daybreak just dictated

             WHAT FUN
to see how the gasping train
climbs the ladder of frail ties
to get to the mouth of the tunnel
and be sucked in like a licorice stick

I'm queasy this evening
bring me on of those 7-colored
cocktails like they drink in Paris
I wanna go somewhere over the rainbow

  --- three poems by Farfa, translated from the Italian by Fred Chappell, from The FSG Book Of Twentieth-Century Italian Poetry, New York, Farrar Straus Giroux: 2012.

Stile Liberty, as Art Nouveau was called in Italy, began more or less as a movement in decorative arts that proved too delectable to be ignored by painters or poets.  The English had adopted the French term nouveau from the French, the Italians borrowed the name of  Liberty Prints from the English- each thought they had coined the better name for an all-encompassing phenomenon.  What is obvious is that the Italian style was more colorful than its northern cousins, and that color lent itself to movement more than to languor.  Not to mention smiles and a sly joke or two.

Farfa was the  nome di arte of Vittorio Ossvaldo Tommasino, a polymath from Trieste (1879-1964) Futurist who made poetry, pottery, and paintings.   These short poems, as translated by the American Fred Chappelle,   are typical of the Futurist aesthetic,  wringing irony out of compression.  He died - accounts differ - after being hit by a car or  a motorcycle, not bad for someone who was named a "national champion" of Futurist poetry in 1932.

Discouraged by  the drabness and lack of imagination he encountered at the Venetian Art Academy, Vittorio Zecchin took an eight year detour as a civil servant, before having a second try at the art life.  It took five years (1909-14) and a dozen panels to complete the commission for The Thousand And One Nights, Zecchin's interpretation of the story of Aladdin.    Intended for the lobby of the aptly named Hotel Terminus, the ensemble was split up by the upheavals of  war.  Zecchin wisely set up his own hybrid laboratory/gallery where he could pursue painting, tapestry, and glass-making all at once and without interference.  Zecchin's stylistic debt to Gustav Klimt needs no underlining at this point.
Recently the Musee d'Orsay in Paris was fortunate to acquire one of the panels (above) however, like Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series (MoMA - NYC and The Philips Collection-Washington, DC) it remains split, some pieces in private collections and some at Ca'Pesaro in Venice,

Vittorio Zecchin - The Thousand and One Nights, 1914, Musee d'Orsay, Paris.


Hels said...

I wondered why Art Nouveau was called Stile Liberty in some countries. In one way it made perfect sense - Liberty of London was doing very well AND it was an inspiration elsewhere.

But from the image you presented, Zecchin's stylistic debt to Gustav Klimt is much more persuasive than his debt to Liberty. In fact there were mixed metaphors all over the place. When Zecchin received the commission for The Thousand And One Nights (1909-14), I wonder if he had already seen Gustav Klimt's Beethoven Frieze (1902) in the Secession building in Vienna. The dates are perfect.

Jane said...

Hels, yes it has been documented that Zecchin saw work by Klimt and other contemporary Viennese artists.
As to the moniker of "Stile Liberty", you know how that goes. Once a nickname gets applied, it sticks like glue, no matter how much or how little it applies in each instance. It's the unthinking, "Oh, we're in Italy so this must be what Stile Liberty looks like."

Happy New Year to you.

Thérèse said...

You made me discover Vittorio Zecchin, thank you. Of course I thought of Klimt when looking at this painting.

Jane said...

Welcome, Therese. Zecchin admired Klimt's style. His use of color is more joyous, I think, than Klimt. The sexual component of Klimt's patterns seems largely absent in Zecchin's work. Admittedly, sometimes that's in the eye of the beholder.