Futurists without a future


At the beginning of the 1900s, the United States  and much of Europe was being swept away by the Industrial Revolution.  But Italy, burdened with grandeurs of the past (Ancient Rome, Renaissance, Baroque) had difficulties updating itself.  So a group of young, animated and slightly rebellious Italian writers and artists got together to promote not the present but the future.  Led by the Milanese Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, they created Futurism.  In 1909 Marinetti wrote the group’s manifesto which promoted modernism and the aesthetics of speed.  They praised machines but scorned women. The Futurists wanted to make things happen and this was possible only via motion and motion was a manifestation of force.

Chronophotography and Cubism

The Futurists were mesmerized by the time lapse photography of Étienne-Jules Marey and contaminated by Cubism.  Their movement soon became international.  But, unfortunately, the Futurist art movement became highly politicized.  Extremely nationalists, they strongly identified with Mussolini.  And, because they glorified war calling it the world’s only hygiene, many Futurists enrolled in the army during World War I.  This proved a bad decision for Futurist sculptor Umberto Boccioni. During military training, he fell from his horse and was trampled to death.  The speed and motion he promoted was the same thing that killed him. Boccioni’s  presence can still be felt today as his most famous work, the Hermes related statue, Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio, is commemorated on the Italian 20 cent coin.

Boccioni‘s speed and motion

By 1914 the artists started bickering among themselves and, after WW I, the movement began dissipating. But Marinetti tried resuscitating his dying movement by calling it “il secondo Futurismo”. Marinetti tried to make his Born Again Futurism the official art of the Fascist government. But Mussolini’s aesthetics were that of the Roman Empire. Plus Mussolini’s mistress at the time, Margherita Sarfatti, was a cultural tzar and preferred the Novecento movement to that of the Futurists. So Marinetti, a conformist at heart who only wanted to be part of the status quo, began making one compromise after the other.  A proclaimed atheist, he resigned himself to Catholicism  justifying himself by saying that Jesus was a Futurist.

Buried at the Verano Monumental Cemetery are three active members of the Futurist movement:  Giacomo Balla, Enrico Prampolini and Anton Giulio Bragaglia.

Giacomo Balla  (1871 – 1958)

Balla was part of the group right from the start. When he was just nine years old, Balla’s father died. He was forced to work at an early age and later attended night school to learn how to draw.  For awhile he worked as an illustrator but also painted portraits and landscapes.  Living now in Rome and far away geographically and psychologically from his hometown, Turin, Balla lived difficult days and became sensitive towards people who struggled to survive.

So possessed by the idea of movement, Balla named one of his daughters Elica (“propeller”).  The other daughter’s name was Luce (“light”), another one of his fixations.

Balla remained faithful to the Futurist style until he, too, got bored with it and went back to traditional painting with a fondness for portraits. He also enjoy painting the walls and furniture of his home in Rome.

Giacomo Balla

Enrico Pampolini (1894-1956)

Aeropittura became very popular with the second generation Futurists.  It was inspired by the way being in an airplane changes your perspective as compared to being on the ground.  One of the main aeropainters was Enrico Pampolini. Prampolini studied Applied Arts at the Academy of Fine Arts with Duilio Cambellotti (who adorned various tombs at Verano with his stained glass windows).  Painter, scenographer and architect, Prampolini was interested in all of the new European art trends.

In 1917, Prampolini designed the sets for Thaïs, a Futuristic film directed by Anton Giulio Bragaglio. Prampolini’s backdrops were full of geometric shapes and symbolic figures such as cats and masks. Painted optical illusions interacted with the real indicating that fact and fiction often live in symbiosis.

Enrico Pampolini

Anton Giulio Bragaglia (1890-1960)

Brothers Carlo and Anton were the sons of Francesco, director of the Cines movie studio and that’s how they got started in filmmaking. Together they created the gallery Casa d’Arte Bragaglia in Rome (1918) to help promote avant garde art.  However, Carlo’s filmmaking took him in a very commercial direction (he directed many films starring the Italian legend Totò) whereas Anton preferred experimental art and its theory.

Anton became a part of cinematography history with his film Thaïs based on a novel by Anatole France. It’s  the story of Countess Vera Preobrajenska and the married men she seduces—a plot typical of the femme fatal movies of the time.

Anton Giulio Bragaglia

But Anton also loved “the moveable mask” and  theater.  He created Il Teatro Sperimentale degli Indipendenti (1922-1936) attracting a number of performers including Alberto Spadolini.  Anton refered to Spadolini’s dancing as “aereodance”.  The speed the Futurists tried to represent in their art, Spadolini represented in his way of dancing.  And when Mussolini forced the theater to close, Spadolini moved to Paris.  Here, known as Spadò, he painted, acted and danced.  He was partners on and off stage with Josephine Baker for awhile as they both exalted their bodies and enjoyed dancing naked.  Spadò was also a secret agent for the Resistenza.

Josephine and Spadò

Angiolo Mazzoni  (1894-1979)

Leaving the Verano Cemetery via the main gates, in the distance you can see the water tower, adjacent to the Termini train station, designed by Angiolo Mazzoni.  Mazzoni (who worked for awhile with mega Fascist architect Marcello Piacentini) was a well-respected architect during the Fascist government and designed the Roma Termini train station once known as being the biggest and most trafficked train station in Europe.  Even today it’s been defined as “a universe in continual expansion” because of the changes it continues to make.  Mazzoni  had even greater plans for the train station but, because of WW II, the worked was stopped.  After the war, Fascists were no longer well received in Italy so, in 1948, Mazzoni moved to Bogata and stayed there until 1963.

Angiolo Mazzoni Water Tower

Related: CASA BALLA, A COLOR EXPOLSION + Lo scandalo di casa Balla +  Unfortunately, Balla’s home (1929-1958), the CASA MUSEO DI GIACOMO BALLA, Via Oslavia 34  Roma, is closed to the public + Fotodinamismo Futurista, Anton Giulio Bragaglia video + Politics as Art: Italian Futurism and Fascism by  Anne Bowler pdf + Angiolo Mazzoni in Toscana + Video Anton Giulio Bragaglia: Thaïs (1917)  + Josephine Baker Vintage Naked on Stage + TESINA SULL’ARCHITETTO : ANGIOLO MAZZONI (1894 – 1979) ARCHITETTO INGEGNERE DEL MINISTERO DELLE TELECOMUNICAZIONI

Giacomo Balla's Grave at Verano

Giacomo Balla, Verano, Basso Pincetto, riquadro 139

Enrico Prampolini's grave at Verano

Enrico Prampolini, Verano,  Rampa Caracciolo, tra i riquadri 160 e 161, fila IV, loculo 22

Anton Giulio Bragaglia

Anton Giulio Bragaglia, Verano, Alto Pincetto, Viale della Marina

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3 Responses to Futurists without a future

  1. Pingback: Anton Giulio Bragaglia – Verano Monumental Cemetery in Rome

  2. Pingback: Giacomo Balla – Verano Monumental Cemetery in Rome

  3. Pingback: Enrico Prampolini – Verano Monumental Cemetery in Rome

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