In 1928, Il Sevaggio
magazine founder Mino Maccari wrote that Morandi’s work had “italianissima
” and “deep roots in our most genuine tradition…nourished by the same vital sap that gave us the world and can only return it to us.” In other words, the journalist connected Morandi’s muted artworks and cloistered lifestyle to a larger fascistic nationalist project that lionized rural Italian life and rejected worldliness and global engagement. In a 2013 article
, art historian Mariana Aguirre argued that Morandi embraced a program of regionalism that linked his practice with the day’s political currents. Aguirre wrote that the artist imitated the hues and textures of
frescoes, connecting his work to a centuries-old national tradition instead of to any contemporary fad.
Even more damning, perhaps, is Aguirre’s assertion that Morandi’s fascist connections aided his career. In 1930, members of the Strapaese (“Supercountry”) aesthetic movement, which aligned itself with Mussolini’s right-wing politics, helped Morandi receive an appointment at the Accademia, teaching etching. “Though his still lifes and landscapes look like mere formal exercises when taken out of context,” Aguirre wrote, “they participated in the creation of a fascist visual language that elevated the purity of Italian provincial life and values at the expense of cosmopolitanism and formal exploration.”
The more palatable story—of a monastic painter who devoted himself to his practice, free of worldly concerns—turns out, per usual, to be a product of dubious mythmaking and artistic fetishization. While they might appear subdued, Morandi’s canvases are singularly gorgeous. Yet his ambiguously political biography creates a fraught tension in the works. Perhaps Morandi’s own artwork offers a guide to reconciling these seemingly at-odds conditions: If we look ever more closely at the same details from different perspectives, maybe we can finally arrive at some kind of truth.