Giorgio de Chirico’s Greece

In some of the most famous paintings by Giorgio de Chirico from the so-called «metaphysical period» of his work, the image of the sleeping Ariadne depicted as a reclining statue in empty Italian squares suggests a voyage in the labyrinth of the unconscious. It is an evocation of childhood memories and a journey toward self-discovery. As in most of de Chirico’s work, themes taken from Greek mythology symbolize the archetypes embedded in the collective unconscious. They express man’s hidden fears and desires and constitute the mysterious, oneiric landscapes that are so typical of the painter’s work. Interestingly, much of de Chirico’s visual language stems from his own childhood memories in Greece. This is the main point in «Giorgio de Chirico and Greece: Voyage through Memory» an exhibition currently on display at the Athinais Cultural Center which unravels the connections between the themes in de Chirico’s paintings and the artist’s reminiscences of Greece. It includes large oil paintings – mostly from the post-1950s period – several drawings and some bronze sculptures. The exhibition is curated by Takis Mavrotas and has been organized in collaboration with the Giorgio & Isa de Chirico Foundation. In his essay in the exhibition catalog, Mavrotas mentions that, according to de Chirico’s brother Alberto Savinio, the very first painting that the artist made was inspired by the horses that he saw in Volos, his birthplace. Horses became a recurring theme in his work – as in the exhibition’s sculpture «Ancient Horses» – and are said to also symbolize the travels that de Chirico experienced not only as a child but also after he left Greece. His father was an enterprising engineer who came to Greece to work on the construction of the railway line in Thessaly. As a young boy, de Chirico spent his time between Volos and Athens, constantly moving between the two cities according to the demands of his father’s job. The train and railway depicted in many of his paintings is an image rooted in those early, childhood years; like the horses, they symbolize a journey, «the melancholy of departing and the joy of returning» as Sabina D’Angelosante aptly notes in her essay which is also included in the catalog. «Departure of the Argonauts» and «The Return of Ulysses,» two of de Chirico’s well-known paintings (not included in the exhibition), capture the two ends of the journey. Hermes, the god of land travel, also appears in de Chirico’s art: In «View of Athens» a postcard-like painting created by the artist a few years before visiting Greece in 1973 (his first trip to Greece since he had left) shows Hermes flying above the Parthenon. The centaurs, yet another favorite theme, alludes to Thessaly, where according to Greek mythology, the mythical creatures resided. Both the exhibition and the essays by Mavrotas, Silvia Tusi and D’Angelosante show de Chirico’s work to be an evocation of memories, a voyage to Greece and its mythology. «The Archaeologists,» an image with many different versions, can be seen as the embodiment of this delving into the past. However, the painting which best captures the exhibition’s concept is «The Hand of God and the Nine Muses» (1975), a tribute to the arts and Mnemosyne, mother of the Muses and patron of the arts. Although de Chirico’s writings are often ambiguous in meaning, an excerpt from his memoirs expresses his close ties with Greece: «….all of those spectacles of exceptional beauty that I saw in Greece as a boy, and that are the most beautiful I have ever since until this day, affected me so deeply, they were so powerfully impressed in my soul and in my thoughts…» De Chirico mined the visual memories of his childhood and through his extraordinary imagination turned them to paintings filled with mystery, poetry and an eternal image of Greece. At the Athinais Cultural Foundation (34-36 Kastorias, Votanikos, 210.348.0000) through June 30.

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