Broglio: Bagnanti

Mario Broglio

(Piacenza 1891 – San Michele di Moriano 1948)

Bathers (initial idea for Il Romanzo [The Novel])

1938 ca.

Pencil on paper, 1100 x 1830 mm

Mario Broglio is remembered by literature to have profoundly influenced artistic culture in Italy – and particularly in Rome – between the wars, above all through his activity of editor and critic. His intense involvement in publishing alongside his wife, the Latvian painter and naturalised Italian Edita Walterowna von Zur Muehlen, is often thought to be at the origin of his not particularly rich pictorial production. Although that is true, it should also be born in mind that his painting, entirely dedicated to reaching a perfect equilibrium of pure shapes, lights and tones, is the fruit of complex and deeply meditated research, in no sense extemporary. Indeed, before getting to the application of colour to the support, Broglio went through a long theoretical preparation, accompanied by meticulous preparatory studies. As a result, this pencil on paper, besides demonstrating his skill in drawing and composition, represents a valuable record of his creative process. The work should be attributed to the canvas Il romanzo, of which it is obviously an initial design,[1] exhibited in 1939 at the third Roman Quadriennale with another eight paintings, both portraits and still lifes. It is of note that the dimensions of the drawing are almost identical to those of the painting – today whereabouts unknown – detailed in the exhibition catalogue.[2]

Having an ampler and more detailed setting with respect to the final version, the drawing sheds light on some aspects of the otherwise enigmatic painting shown at the Quadriennale. The two young women in bathing costumes and caps from Il romanzo, portrayed while resting from their swim, are the protagonists of a scene of modern life that gives a nod to the exaltation of sport, a characteristic of that historical period, and at the same time declares the popular diffusion of the novel. In the pencil on paper under consideration, the protagonists are in fact the two naked bathers in the pool, and the scene, rich with detail, is set at the ancient baths, perhaps in the frigidarium. Evoking a classical atmosphere, to which Broglio aspired although rendering it less obvious in the final painting, was the result of a reflexion on ancient Roman wall painting, with particular reference to the frescoes at the “Villa dei Misteri” in Pompeii. On which note, only a few years before, the archaeologist Amedeo Maiuri published his double volume with colour illustrations of the frescoes at the villa, found in 1930 following a recent excavation campaign. Many painters besides Broglio were influenced by the almost metaphysical nature of the Pompeian scenes, in particular the young artists of the “Scuola romana”, from Emanuele Cavalli and Giuseppe Capogrossi to Fausto Pirandello.

Broglio studied Italian painting from antiquity to the Renaissance with rigour and philological method and it is fundamental in a consideration of his work and that of artists from the “Valori Plastici” movement. The debt to tradition can also be inferred from his clear and precise drawing technique, which the artist has carefully controlled by means of a grid. Many of the drawings by Broglio and his wife show traces of this ancient technique, rediscovered in Italy between the wars in the general climate of a “return to craft.”

Manuel Carrera

[1] There is a further, smaller-scale, study for Il romanzo, previously in a private collection at La Spezia. Cfr. G. Di Genova (ed. by), Storia dell’arte italiana del ‘900: Generazione maestri storici (3 v.), Bologna 1995, p. 1330.

[2] III Quadriennale d’Arte Nazionale, Rome 1939, p. 63, no. 1.


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