Osvaldo Licini's Rebel Angels star in the tenth Dialogue at the Pinacoteca di Brera

Brera Art Gallery Dialogues return: the tenth is dedicated to Osvaldo Licini's Rebel Angels and the hidden paintings below. October 25, 2022 through January 22, 2023.

From October 25, 2022 to January 22, 2023, the Pinacoteca di Brera presents a new dialogue, its tenth, entitled Osvaldo Licini’s Rebel Angels and Hidden Paintings. The museum is resuming the initiative that directly compares a work from its collection with a guest painting that has stylistic, compositional, and iconographic similarities, according to a project conceived by director James Bradburne in 2016.

For the first time, the public will see a work from the modern collection, destined to be exhibited soon in the rooms of Palazzo Citterio-Brera Moderna: Rebel Angel with White Moon (1955) by Osvaldo Licini will be compared with a painting of similar subject,Rebel Angel on a Dark Red Background (1946), on loan from the “Osvaldo Licini” Gallery of Contemporary Art in Ascoli Piceno. The dialogue will be on view in Room 18, which takes its cue from the recent restoration of the Brera painting and the discovery of significant ’structural’ similarities precisely with the Ascoli Piceno painting. During the restoration of the Brera’s Rebel Angel with White Moon, carried out in 2020 by Christian Tortato (Oltremodo), diagnostic investigations of the painting (infrared reflectography) were also re-analyzed, which revealed significant similarities with the Ascoli Piceno one, both in the original underlying compositions and in the later choices. Both canvases were made by repainting over an earlier portrait, dating from the 1920s, now no longer visible to the naked eye. Surveys made by Andrea Carini of the Brera Art Gallery’s restoration laboratory (in collaboration with Claudio Seccaroni of Enea and Roberto Alberti, Tommaso Frizzi and Michele Occhipinti of XGLab SRL, Bruker Nano Analytics, Milan) revealed below the Brera painting a female portrait similar to the Portraits of Nella made by Licini in the 1920s, and similar is also the other portrait of a girl found below the Ascoli PicenoAngel, investigated by Mattia Patti (University of Pisa): the paintings below appear similar in framing, posture of the figure and physiognomy of face and hair.

Starting from the stylistic comparison between the two final canvases and what it is possible to recognize of theunderlying image, the dialogue therefore investigates an aspect of Licini’s art, namely his habit of modifying, reworking and repainting his own works.

The public at the Pinacoteca di Brera is then invited to reflect on the motivations that prompted the artist to repeat, a few years later, a substantially similar substitution operation, whether by chance, contingent necessity or aesthetic reasons. The artist dealt with the theme of theRebel Angel in his mature years, and the two works, which can be seen together again, belong to a late phase of Licini’s production: the period in which, having abandoned the years of abstractionism, he mainly uses unreal and fantastic anthropomorphic depictions. Licini repeats the theme of the angel in versions that are always monochromatically distinct and freely posed against imaginative landscape backgrounds: the angel becomes a kind of transposition of the artist’s moods, of his freest creative expression. In his flight “toward the boundless and the supernatural,” as he states in his letters, Licini meets and transfers to canvas mysterious characters (the Flying Dutchmen, the Amalassunte, the Characters, the Rebel Angels), celestial apparitions, sometimes anthropomorphic, sometimes monstrous, freely distributed in a figurative space disengaged from phenomenal reality.

The exhibition of the works is accompanied by a video that shows in detail what is not visible to the naked eye: the two hidden paintings and the transformations Licini made to make them Angels. The film is available to visitors both in the hall and online via QR code.

The tenth Dialogo is curated by Marina Gargiulo, head of 20th-century collections at the Pinacoteca di Brera, and is accompanied by a Marsilio Arte catalog edited by Marina Gargiulo and Luca Massimo Barbero, director of the Giorgio Cini Foundation’s Institute of Art History in Venice, with essays by the curators and technical-scientific contributions by Mattia Patti, professor of History ofcontemporary art at the University of Pisa and author of analyses and studies on the Ascoli Piceno painting; restorer Christian Tortato, of the Oltremodo restoration studio, which carried out the work on the Brera painting during 2020; Andrea Carini, a restorer at the Pinacoteca and responsible for diagnostic investigations on the Braidense work; and an essay by Stefano Papetti, director of the Ascoli Piceno museum.

“This exceptional dialogue takes the visitor to the heart of what makes art history exciting: the discovery of other paintings beneath the surface of a well-known work. Only constant research allows us to understand the artist’s method and creative process,” said Pinacoteca di Brera and Braidense Library director James Bradburne.

For info: www.pinacotecabrera.org

Hours: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 8:30 a.m. to 7:15 p.m. Closed Mondays.

Image: Osvaldo Licini, Rebel Angel with White Moon (1955; oil on canvas, 57 x 90 cm; Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera, gift Emilio and Maria Jesi 1984, inv. 5477)

Osvaldo Licini's Rebel Angels star in the tenth Dialogue at the Pinacoteca di Brera
Osvaldo Licini's Rebel Angels star in the tenth Dialogue at the Pinacoteca di Brera

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