In Veneto the first monographic exhibition dedicated to Noah Bordignon, painter of the humble between the 19th and 20th centuries

Castelfranco Veneto and San Zenone degli Ezzellini host the first monographic exhibition dedicated to Noah Bordignon, on the occasion of the centenary of his death.

On the occasion of the centenary of his death, Castelfranco Veneto and San Zenone degli Ezzellini present the first monographic exhibition dedicated to Noè Bordignon (Salvarosa, 1841 - San Zenone degli Ezzelini, 1920), a painter who depicted the poor and the world of the Veneto countryside in the second half of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century. Despite numerous international awards, the artist did not achieve full rediscovery in the modern era, as was the case with other artists contemporary to him, such as Zandomeneghi or Ciardi. The Venice Biennale repeatedly rejected his works, which were later awarded in major exhibitions in Italy and abroad.

The exhibition will be held from September 18, 2021, to January 16, 2022, in Castelfranco Veneto, where Bordignon was born, and in San Zenone degli Ezzellini, where the artist retired in the last years of his life and where he died; it is realized under the patronage of the Veneto Region and the Province of Treviso, with the collaboration of the municipalities of Altivole, Asolo, Bassano del Grappa, Cassola, Cartigliano, Castello di Godego, Loria, Maser, Monfumo, Riese Pio X and Rosà.

The centenary celebration intends to stand as a cornerstone in the study and knowledge of Bordignon’s artistic journey, of which some works have nevertheless become famous, such as La mosca cieca, La pappa al fogo, Per l’America (The Migrants). The exhibition is curated by Fernando Mazzocca and Elena Catra and takes place between the Casa Giorgione Museum and Villa Marini Rubelli through more than sixty paintings by the artist and some comparisons with Bordignon’s contemporaries. The catalogue-study includes Bordignon’s complete pictorial and fresco work and itineraries on the foothills and Veneto region.

The son of a country tailor who was able to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice thanks to the support of the Municipality of Castelfranco Veneto and a number of citizens, Bordignon was very attached to his origins, and the infuence of his masters (Michelangelo Grigoletti and Carl Blaas) together with a deep Christian sentiment pushed the artist to narrate the evangelical icononographic tradition in many cycles of frescoes that are kept in churches in the area.

The evocative interiors of the churches, the moving scenes of rural life aimed at the redemption of the humble and the “last” are a reflection of the same deep religiosity demonstrated as a sacred painter, in perfect harmony with the social doctrine of the Church initiated in those decades and formalized in Pope Leo XIII’s famous encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891. "The Bordignon who catechizes the peasants of the Veneto, celebrating the splendors of Christianity in the vaults of country churches, and the Bordignon who is a participant in their family dramas, who stands by the side of those who emigrate, as in the moving Per l’America of 1887,“ writes Fernando Mazzocca in the exhibition catalog, ”are the same person."

Alongside the frescoes painted in the parish church of San Zenone degli Ezzelini with the monumental Last Judgment of 1879 are masterpieces of great experimental quality such as La Mosca cieca(or The Blind Fly), the dating of which has only recently been brought forward to 1873. Similarly, this spiritual closeness to the poor and deprived world of the countryside, seen as a repository of deep spirituality and idealized for its moral values, as well as his refusal to join Freemasonry with its anticlerical positions, could be, according to the curators, the real reasons for the Biennale’s resistance to his work.

La pappa al fogo, which Bordignon considered his masterpiece, was “barbarously rejected,” as he noted, by the organizing committee of the first Venice Biennale in 1895.

The monographic exhibition kicks off in Castelfranco, with an evocative introduction devoted to the painter’s feminine universe and with the first two thematic sections, “Artistic Formation and Roman Retirement” and “Painting the Real,” which feature some of his most celebrated masterpieces. Here also a selection of his drawings and studies and the notebook of visual notes from his 1878 trip to Paris for the Exposition Universelle, where Bordignon won a medal for his work Girls Singing in the Valley. The exhibition continues at San Zenone, completing the pictorial phase of realism related to the rural world and dwelling on “The Portrait” and “The Symbolist Turn.” On display for the first time on this occasion will be works such as the paintings of family members jealously preserved in his home and Winter, Happy Return, the sketch of Matelda, paintings with which Noah Bordignon, while bound to tradition, shows himself capable of keeping up with the times, of being able to reread and interpret new instances without failing in his vision of art: landscapes of the soul, diluted atmospheres, quick touches and shattering of color, with attention to luministic rendering, to narrate in a new way the adventure of everyday life, the toil of poor people.

Finally, a collateral section to the exhibition will be devoted to the close professional and friendship relationship between Noah Bordignon, the Mechitarist Armenian Fathers and the Congregation of San Lazzaro degli Armeni, in whose Abbey important works by the painter are still preserved. In San Zenone degli Ezzelini an estate of the Congregation since 1896, Villa Albrizzi, facilitated the closeness and human relationship with the artist even in the last years of his life.

The exhibition itinerary

After his formative years in Venice, of which the exhibition gives a concise account in the comparison with works by master Carl Blaas, fellow student Luigi da Rios and contemporaries Michele Cammarano and Federico Zandomeneghi, Bordignon obtained a scholarship for alumnuship in Rome, where he approached not only the great artistic tradition, but also the new pictorial currents.

He immersed himself in studies from life and en plein air painting, moving to the open countryside, and devoted himself to the execution of works that could be exhibited at the Society of Armatories and Fine Arts in Rome. The Academic Commission by unanimous vote would consider a suitable final essay, in place of the prescribed work of historical subject, precisely Blind Fly, on loan for the occasion from the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice.

The fundamental role that the experience in Rome played for Bordignon in the years immediately following is evidenced by the works Interior of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome, Mother with Child inside the Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo and Girls Singing in the Valley.

Also on display are popular Venetian scenes, paintings with a familiar lexicon, and humble interiors. In the 1880s the artist was in Venice. A small enclosed field accessible from Fondamenta dei Cereri, Corte San Marco, with its characteristic hexagonal well made of Istrian stone is clearly recognizable in the paintings Le pettegole and Il mese di Maria; the same field is setting for Cortile veneziano. Canova’s Compatriots canvas recounts a funny scene in which two Possagno residents, dressed for the festivities but with somewhat awkward manners, in front of Canova’s cenotaph seem more interested in the maidens beside them than in the monument of the famous fellow citizen. Young women and children are a constant in the paintings of Bordignon and his contemporaries, as in Luigi Serena’s La pappa scotta or Bordignon’s painting Troppo piccoli.

The countryside of San Zenone, to which the painter increasingly withdrew, offered Bordignon another recurring setting, both for the interiors of poor kitchens such as La Pappa calda (1888), La Buona madre (1890) or La pappa al fogo (1895) and in moments of affective participation in the dramas of the people as in the monumental work Per l’America (Emigrants) of 1887.

The section devoted to portraiture is also very rich: about twenty portraits will be on display in the barchessa of Villa Marini Rubelli, showing Bordignon’s skill in the light of the teachings he received at the Academy and his attention to life, but also the continuous updates in technique and repertoire that he drew from his travels and participation in national and international exhibitions.

His favorite subjects also include his family members, who on several occasions had lent themselves to give the features to characters in his works: from his son Mariano Edoardo, depicted as the young eater in Pappa al fogo, to his daughter Maria portrayed in numerous frescoes. The artist’s entire family is on display, including his wife Maria Zanchi and eldest son Lazzaro known as Rino: portraits that Noah jealously guarded in his home in San Zenone as his dearest affections.

Prominent figures include some paintings exhibited for the first time on this occasion, such as the portrait of poet Vittorio Salmini and that of Pope Pius X, caught in mozzetta and white cassock, standing in fraternal dialogue with the viewer. Or the Portrait of Father Ghevont Leonzio Alishan, Bordignon’s highest achievement in portraiture.

However, the last two decades of the twentieth century are also those of the opening to Symbolism. With the Brera Triennale of 1981, even in Italy, the instances born outside the academies and the new trends at the international level were voiced and confronted, with the move away from the “real” and the landscape becoming a reflection of states of the soul. Bordignon follows the renewal and presents to the Milanese public a painting, here proposed in the sketch version, which within his more traditionalist pictorial production stands out for its absolute modernity. Matelda, a literary figure, Dante’s guide in the XXVIII canto of Purgatory, is reinterpreted by the Venetian painter in a symbolist key with clear references to the contemporary English painting of the Pre-Raphaelites.

A Matelda that thus fits well into that fortunate series of paintings having as their subject women with angelic features with declared Symbolist accents, among which Domenico Morelli’s canvas exhibited for the occasion, entitled L’ amore degli angeli (1892), stands out.

Comparison with Beppe Ciardi’s painting Terra in fiore (1897) highlights those stylistic experiments that Bordignon would also tackle: from the choice of color range and brushstroke rendering to adherence to new iconographic models. More diluted atmospheres, a rendering of nature with more blurred outlines and quick touches of color, a hint of Divisionist tendencies can be seen in Lieto ritorno, which will go to the Esposizioni Riunite in Milan in 1894 and three years later to the Third Triennale, but also in Inverno, singular for the mystical idea and the sense of the unfinished caused by the snow in which the maiden is immersed.

Image: Noah Bordignon, Girls Singing in the Valley (1878; oil on canvas, 91 x 118 cm; Milan, Galleria Enrico)

In Veneto the first monographic exhibition dedicated to Noah Bordignon, painter of the humble between the 19th and 20th centuries
In Veneto the first monographic exhibition dedicated to Noah Bordignon, painter of the humble between the 19th and 20th centuries

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