On 17 August 1916 the Italian artist Umberto Boccioni, who was stationed in an artillery regiment near Verona, died from the injuries he suffered after he was trampled by his horse in a riding accident.
His untimely death â he was only 33 â deprived the Futurist movement of one of its key members. To mark the centenary of Boccioniâs death a major exhibition, âUmberto Boccioni (1882-1916), genio e memoriaâ, was organised in Milan earlier this year, accompanied by a remarkable catalogue.
It was worthy tribute paid to the artist by the city he celebrated in some of his greatest paintings, making it the symbol of the modern metropolis. The rapid transformation and expansion of Milan can be seen in a series of works Boccioni painted between 1908 and 1911, which include his famous self-portrait showing him on the balcony of his apartment in Via Castel Morrone, in the Porta Venezia area.
In the background can be seen, in what were still the outskirts of city, several recently-erected buildings, one of them still under scaffolding. A similar urban landscape also features in two works painted in 1909 and 1910, Twilight and Factories at Porta Romana.
Above: Twilight (Crepuscolo) 1909. Private Collection; Below: Factories at Porta Romana (Officine a Porta Romana) 1909-10. Milan, Gallerie dâItalia âPiazza Scala.
Sharing an identical viewpoint, this time from the balcony of the apartment in 23 Via Adige, in the Porta Romana area, where Boccioni now lived with his mother and sister, but painted a few months apart, they show the rapid changes in the city. âThe city risesâ (to mention the title of one of Boccioniâs most famous paintings) so to speak in front of our very eyes. By the time Boccioni painted The Street enters the House (1911), showing his mother looking from the balcony into the the street below, the area has been even more dramatically transformed. The mood of this celebration of the modern city, full of dynamism, movement and activity, is not unlike that of several early Impressionist depictions of Baron Haussmannâs Paris.
The exhibition in Milan (which will also be shown in Rovereto this autumn) demonstrated the enormous variety of Boccioniâs output both before and after he joined the Futurist movement in late 1909 or early 1910 becoming, with Marinetti, its major theorist. It also showcased two major recent discoveries of Boccioniana, both of them among the papers of Guido Valeriano Callegari, Boccioniâs brother-in-law, bequeathed to the Biblioteca Civica di Bologna in 1955 by his widow, Boccioniâs sister Amelia. Callegari was a noted scholar of Pre-Colombian America and the Boccioni material had remained unnoticed and uncatalogued among his papers for over half a century until it was discovered in 2009 on the occasion of a small exhibition the library organised to commemorate the centenary of the first Futurist manifesto. As well as books from Boccioniâs own library, it also includes a group of 22 large sheets pasted on cardboard, on which were mounted 216 cuttings from illustrated magazines reproducing works of art.
The images in this compilation â now called âAtlante della Memoriaâ (âMemory Atlasâ) and reproduced in their entirety in the catalogue of the exhibition â a range from Medieval and Renaissance works of art to contemporary paintings and show the variety of visual influences on Boccioni between 1899 and 1909. Several works featured in the Atlas were included in the exhibition, where they were juxtaposed with works by Boccioni. After 1909 the compilation of the Atlas stopped and was replaced by a collection of cuttings of hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles about Futurist events, similarly pasted on large cardboard sheets. They were kept in three folders, the third of which was compiled after Boccioniâs death perhaps by his sister and brother-in-law.
Chris Michaelides, Curator Romance Collections
Chris Michaelides, âUmberto Boccioni, Milan and Roveretoâ, The Burlington Magazine, July 2016, CLVIII, pp. 578-80. P.P.1931.pcs.
Maurizio Calvesi, Ester Coen, Boccioni (Milan, 1983). LB.31.b.279.
Roberto Longhi, Umberto Boccioni (Florence, 1914). 7875.dd.31.