The Architecture of Giorgio Morandi
Visitors to Bilbao this summer who are interested in good painting will be fortunate enough to be able to see an exhibition dedicated to one of the 20th century’s most perceptive artists: Giorgio Morandi. In an age when we are growing increasingly accustomed to insubstantial, insipid art, this Italian painter’s serene, life-filled painting is especially meritorious and stimulating. Most of Morandi’s production, and certainly the part of it that’s usually the best-known and most frequently exhibited, comprises still lifes; delicate, almost obsessively repetitive representations of extraordinarily beautiful objects. In several stages of his career, however, the artist also painted a considerable number of landscapes in which architecture often plays a prominent role and which therefore deserve a closer look.
The scenery shown in these landscapes generally corresponds to the mountains around Grizzana, a small village near Morandi’s native city of Bologna where he spent long periods of time. The Apennine mountains, which run through Italy from north to south, exude a distant, rather solitary atmosphere, although in that particular region they have a more central European air and project a less barren image than in the southern part of the peninsula. Morandi attentively observed them and painted them beneath crisp, motionless skies, capturing the slopes, the fields of crops, the paths, the vegetation and the buildings with increasingly abstract masses, luminous colour and wavering contours. He painted no human figures, but their presence can be felt just as powerfully as in Eugène Atget’s photographs of empty Parisian streets. Because these are landscapes where Man’s impact is clearly discernible, where Nature has been altered not violently but through logical, simple, respectful human action.
The principal motif in Morandi’s landscapes is sometimes a broad, serene view into the distance, with simple-roofed buildings gracefully dotting fields and hills. The houses’ illuminated volumes rarely have any windows. On other occasions, the composition revolves around one single house, or just a part of one. We’re shown a beautiful wall, a single, softly lit plane hidden amid the vegetation, its pure geometry contrasting admirably with the background. How humble the anonymous architect of that wall is! The mere sight of it creates a sensation of overwhelming tranquillity. Morandi knows that architecture like that is just as beautiful as the Nature around it, and in his search for the essential he gradually intensifies the austerity of his compositions until he ends up using the same colour and the same brush strokes to paint both the land and the walls of the buildings. There’s no longer any difference between them, because they’re the same thing: architecture and Nature, harmoniously blended together in that silent, inexorable light.
Giorgio Morandi’s architecture emerges from its setting naturally and gracefully. It’s traditional architecture, architecture that wisely transforms the landscape without degrading it. It’s not alien or extraneous to its setting, but an intrinsic part of it, sharing its same properties. It’s good architecture, with a touch of mystery but also, at the same time, of humanity. Austere volumes bathed in light, with no tricks. It’s architecture that’s capable of transforming and improving a place, completely unpretentious and discreet. It’s the slow, complete, intelligent architecture we need so much for the landscapes of today.