Umberto Boccioni: Cavallo+Cavaliere+Caseggiato

  • Sofie Wiersma - Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences
  • Estelle Stegenga - Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences
  • Alina Pavel - Faculty of Law

Figure 1 - Cavallo+Cavaliere+Caseggiato (1914) - Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna

Cavallo+Cavaliere+Caseggiato (Horse+Rider+Houses) is an oil on canvas painting by Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916). The painting can be seen in Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna in Rome. Boccioni was an Italian painter and sculptor. He was seen as a cultural leader of the Futurist movement, which had its most successful time between 1904 and 1914. After that, the movement slowly died out but artists have been using its techniques until the 1980's. Futurism wanted to change every aspect of life and prepare Italy, a country which was economically backward, for modern times[1] . They believed that the future, filled with science, technology and speed, would make Italy great again. Futurists believed Italy's past was blocking its progression towards a better future and saw war as the ultimate way to accomplish this modern society[2] .

Boccioni wanted to address the problems Italy was facing, for example a lack of identity, and this painting had the purpose of inspiring people to undertake action to make Italy great again. Boccioni attempted this by using expressive colours and a dynamic way of painting. This is done to leave the viewer with a feeling of tension, which is what Futurists wanted with their art. Since they wanted to change the world, the viewer should not sit back and watch, but strike back[3].

Contents
History
The Origins of Futurism
Umberto Boccioni
The Painting: Cavallo+Cavaliere+Caseggiato
Futurism and the First World War
Futurism and Fascism
Futurism and the Church
The Ending of Futurism
Sources

History


Futurism originated in Italy in 1904 and saw a period of great success until 1914. It started as a reaction to a difficult time in Italian history[4]. Before 1870, Italy was nothing more than a 'geographical expression'; it had not known political union since the Roman Empire. For 1500 years, the country was divided[5]. This was unlike other European territories. In the 19th century, Italy was mostly politically reactionary and economically backward. The South was characterized by the strongest poverty. Central Italy was dominated by the Papal States where the Pope was not only the religious but also the political ruler. The North consisted of many small states with the kingdom of Piedmont, based in Turin, which was the most economically advanced state[6]. It was this kingdom which was the driving force of the Risorgimento which started in 1815. The Risorgimento, meaning 'resurgence' or 'revival', marked a period of unification. The influential Piedmontese statesman, Camillo Cavour, won French support for his desire to expand and started to invade the lands now known as Italy. In 1870, the last independent territory - Rome - fell to Italian troops[7] .

The political unification of the states was complete by 1870. The new state was dominated by Liberals, who celebrated the defeat of the old aristocracy and the church. However, they faced new problems[8]. The first was a lack of Italian identity. Because of the long history of political division, there was no sense of national identity among Italians. The poor South still felt isolated from the rest of the country. Secondly, the Pope did not support the new state. The Risorgimento had deprived him of his lands and seized Rome from the Church. The Pope instructed loyal Catholics to boycott all elections. Thirdly, Italy was still an agricultural country with undeveloped industry. This caused the economic weakness to keep prevailing Lastly, the Liberal political system had its weaknesses. The poor people, who were the majority, did not have a vote. The people who did have a vote did not engage in politics for the good of the nation. They engaged in politics for the power it gave them[9] .

These problems were addressed in a magazine called 'Poesia' by Fillipo Tommas Marinetti (1876-1944)[10]. It was Marinetti's view that Italy was held back by the burden of its glorious past which was blocking the way of moving towards a modern future. People were too focused on the greatness of the Roman Empire, glorifying it and disregarding modern improvements since that was not in line with how the Roman Empire succeeded. Marinetti believed otherwise and wanted to show the people that modernity was necessary. He believed artistic activity had perished and saw it as his duty to prepare Italy for modern times[11] . To reach a mass audience, Marinetti made use of publicity machines to endlessly print and distribute his literal works.

The Origins of Futurism


Figure 2 - Le Figaro

In 1909, Marinetti published his essay 'The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism' on the front page of the Parisian newspaper Le Figaro[12]. In this essay, Marinetti proclaimed a new art movement called Futurism. This new movement had the duty of moving Italy towards a new future. Youth, speed and the beauty of machines like the motorcar and aeroplane were idealized. It is written in the essay that museums, libraries and academies should be destroyed to make place for modernity. War is glorified and seen as the world's only hygiene[13]. In the essay, 'we' is used many times when explaining the Futurism movement. The 'we' suggested a group that did not exist yet. The publication of the essay was meant to attract the allegiance of daring young artist from every field[14].









Umberto Boccioni


Figure 3 - Umberto Boccioni

Umberto Boccioni was an Italian painter who responded to the manifesto. Around 1900 he was introduced to Gino Severini (1883 - 1966), with whom he shared the same sense of rebellion and thirst for new knowledge and direct experiences. They were both taught by Giacomo Balla (1871 - 1958), another later Futurist painter. In 1907, he settled in Milan where he met his fellow Futurist painters Carlo CarrĂ  (1881 - 1966) and Luigi Russolo (1885 - 1947) and discovered Futurism in the works of Marinetti[15]. He became chief author of two Futurist manifestos: the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting (1910)[16] and the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture (1912)[17].

Futurists planned to invade every branch of life, cultural, social, and political[18]. They wanted to create a new sense of nationalism and prepare Italy for the modern times to come[19]. They did this through aiming their cultural movement directly at a mass audience by using every available medium[20]. Marinetti kept on writing more manifestos[21]. At a certain point, almost every Italian had heard of the Futurist movement. Marinetti saw this publicity as necessary to draw the attention of Italians away from the past and towards the future. In order to emphasize this new focus on the future, Marinetti conducted many campaigns that stirred up the public opinion. Demonstrations and even riots were not unfamiliar methods of Marinetti and his followers, because these methods will gain you much publicity[22].

The Painting: Cavallo+Cavaliere+Caseggiato


The painting, painted in 1914, represents a horse is with a rider in movement, and static houses in the background. The Futurists, including Boccioni, glorified the future and wanted to prepare the society for modern times[23]. The horse and the rider are in motion, which represents the journey people had to make towards the future. The Futurists used a specific painting technique in order to propagate their message to the audience, which is described in their Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting (1910)[24]. According to the futurists, the traditional ways of painting had become obsolete, so art had to change as well. Their primary goal was to make their audience feel the atmosphere. In order to make people feel the atmosphere colours, figures and forms had to be used differently and also the role of the spectator had to change[25].

"To paint a figure, it's not necessary to make the figure; it's necessary to make its atmosphere. Space no longer exists: a street, wet with rain and illuminated by electric streetlamps, sinks down to the centre of the earth. [...] Why should we continue to create without taking into account our visual power, which can yield results analogous to those of X-rays?'[26]


In order to create the right atmosphere in their paintings, a painting should no longer depict an exact copy of the figure. Instead of resembling its model, the painting had to be the dynamic sensation itself. Figures are never stable, they incessantly appear and disappear[27].


"For us, the pain of a man is as interesting as that of an electric lamp that suffers, convulses, and cries out with the most excruciating expressions of colour [...]'[28]


In the painting Cavallo+Cavaliere+Casseggiatio the horse with the rider on top of it are both in motion. In a Futurist painting, things in motion have to be multiplied and deformed[29], which is why the horse's legs cannot be distinguished from each other. By blending the forms into one another, the movement of the horse is depicted instead of the horse itself[30]. The static houses in the background emphasize the movement of the horse and the rider, as they are not included in their moving dynamics[31]. Furthermore, the forms used by Boccioni to paint the horse are also very typical for Futurist painting. The horse is composed of cutout fragments, which is suggestive of pieces of metal machinery with sharp, cutting edges. The static houses that are visible in the background emphasize the movement of the horse and the rider, as they are not included in their moving dynamics[32].

Another major element in Cavallo+Cavaliere+Casseggiatio is the concept of the force-line. These lines, dots, and streaks are used as the visualization of the emotional connections between the viewer and the object which is represented. The lines are directed by their force, which makes them carry out feelings of violence and action[33].

The colours used in this painting are also very typical for the Futurists. In their Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting (1910)[34] they state:


"Brown tints have never coursed beneath our skin; it will be discovered that yellow shines forth in our flesh, that red blazes, and that green, blue, and violet dance upon it with untold charms'.

Figure 4 - Cavallo+Cavaliere+Caseggiato (1914)

And thus these five particular colours are prominent in this painting.

The Futurists wanted to change the world, so they often participated in demonstrations and riots in order to draw attention to their movement. They glorified aggression, so it was important for them to emphasize this in their paintings as well. By using the five contrasting colours and the dynamic lines they carry out a feeling of tension to their audience. It was important to make the audience feel the tension, because nothing would happen if the audience would just sit back and watch. They wanted the audience to hit back and to participate in the movement. This changed the relationship between the artist in all fields of activity and the spectator, which was central in Futurism since the movement wanted to change the world[35].

Lastly, the Futurists also wanted to change the role of the spectator. Instead of painting people and things placed in front of the spectator, the spectator had to be in the center of the painting. They wanted to make the spectator feel the atmosphere by using their specific forms and colours and by the visualization of the movement. They wanted to sparkle the viewers interest and awake feelings of undertaking action[36].

Futurism and the First World War


Futurists glorified war, calling it the world's only hygiene[37]. In general, violence and aggression were prominent characteristics of futurism, using it to their own advantage[38]. It helped the movement gain enormous publicity. Marinetti saw Futurism as a form of total revolution[39]. Around the time Futurism became prominent, Europe was leading up to the First World War. Liberal Italy had no intentions of joining the war[40]. Italy became part of a Triple Alliance with Austria and Germany. However, in 1915 Italy declared war on Austria and this resulted in complete participation in the war[41].

The futurists were in great joy. They saw the First World War as the ultimate statement of the supremacy of electric energy, speed, technology, science and destruction. They reasoned that in war, the past glory can be finally muted. They believed that afterwards, a greater and more astonishing Italy would rise[42]. The war would create the sense of nationalism that from now on, we are one thing only: Italians[43]. The futurists were thrilled to go to war and many of them did. Boccioni described war as 'a wonderful, marvellous, terrible thing. Grandiose, immense, life and death. I am happy'[44]. In 1915 he signs up to join the army in the First World War, and dies in Verona at age 33 after a fall from a horse during training exercises[45].

Many futurists, like Boccioni, did not survive fighting in the First World War. The ending of the First World War in 1918 marked the end of the most creative period of the Futurism movement since many of its most talented followers died[46]. Marinetti had survived the war and was determined to keep the movement alive. He started to get interested in Fascism.

Futurism and Fascism


The two phenomena influenced each other as they grew up in a time filled with patriotic tension, however pursuing different aims. Whilst Futurism set off as a catalyst for Fascism, the intellectual movement degenerated into a propagandistic arm of the corporate state and vanished once with the collapse of the regime. Even though nationalism, militarism and violence bridged the two ideologies, they were not enough to secure the Futurist goal of being recognized as the art of the state.

At first, common grounds such as anti-democratic modernism made it possible for Futurist ideology to serve as basis for the Fascist propaganda[47]. Marinetti's Futurist Political Party formed in 1918 was soon absorbed into Fasci Italiani di Combattiment (Italian Fascist Party)[48]. The Futurist group fought actively for bringing Mussolini to power[49]. The dictator represented for them the embodiment of the new strong hero-leader, and his victory the realization of the minimum Futurist agenda[50].

Moreover, Futurism failed to fully endorse Fascist ideas because of its anarchic character and aesthetical confusion which could not be realized in a concrete political order[51]. Moreover, Mussolini's views conflicted with the idea of eradication of the past and destruction of the old institutions and the bourgeois[52]. In order to strengthen his power, Mussolini adopted a conciliatory stand towards the monarchy and the Church and he constantly referred in his speeches to ancient Roman ideas[53].

As Fascism relied on crowd-stirring demonstrations, Futurist rhetoric proved to be a helpful tool for young crowd provocation and control, and also for bringing together Italians belonging to the rural and commercial classes[54]. Nevertheless, while Marinetti was campaigning for the Futurist-Fascist utopia and gathering volunteers, Mussolini only saw him as a useful ally because of his influence in the cultural world[55]. After the war ended, Mussolini said:

"I declare that it is far from my idea to encourage anything like a state art. Art belongs to the domain of the individual. The state has only one duty: not to undermine art, to provide humane conditions for artists, to encourage them from the artistic and national point of view'.[56]


Regardless of this separation, Mussolini continued to use Futurist rhetoric to maintain power[57]. It is said that Marinetti was manipulated, used and promoted by Fascists, finally being discarded when Fascism took hold of the country. Futurism was an important factor in the politics of Italy from 1909 to 1920, the methodology cleverly employed b Marinetti and his followers had a decisive impact on the history of Italy[58].

Futurism and the Church


Futurism did not recognize the right of any church to impose a code of conduct on the society, since that would infringe upon individual freedom[59]. As Futurism denunciated old institutions and everything related to the past, the Roman Catholic Church and Christian morality were seen as evils standing in the way of the modern rule[60].

Furthermore, Mussolini's reconciliation with the Catholic Church was one of the main reasons for the Fascist-Futurist split[61]. In 1920 Marinetti declared that the Futurists had left the Fascist party because of its failure to 'impose on the Fascist majority their antimonarchical and anticlerical tendency'[62]. Despite this fact, Marinetti tried later on to reintegrate himself with the regime. Throughout 1929 he kept to himself the Futurist ideas with regard to the Church and continued to publicly support Il Duce. He even got married, regardless of the anti-marriage position he was defending before the First World War[63]. After the Lateran Treaty, his radicalized views became softer and turned into a personal contradiction when he started to promote religious art, saying that Jesus was a Futurist.

The Ending of Futurism


Marinetti his ideas were becoming more radical over time. His cooperation with the Church and his failed attempt at making Futurism the art of the state was displeasing his followers. The futurism movement was coming to an end. In 1909, Marinetti had given his movement ten years of life before 'younger and stronger men will throw us in the wastepaper basket like useless manuscripts - we want it to happen'. It did not happen: Marinetti was unable to stop Fascism from using his messages and methods. Futurism was never thrown away like a useless manuscript. For a long time, the entire Futurism movement was identified with Fascism. Because of this, many documents about Futurism had been suppressed. Currently, the public opinion has shifted and Futurism is regarded as an important and interesting manifestation of political art in itself[65].

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