“Clarifying a mystery is indelicate to the mystery itself.”
Alberto de Chirico, known as Savinio, was born in Athens in 1891 to Italian parents, the younger brother of surrealist painter Giorgio de Chirico. Following his father’s death, after a short stay in Italy, he moved to Munich with his mother and brother in 1906. In Germany, he began his creative career, through the study of counterpoint with the composer Max Reger and the composition of an opera entitled Carmela.
At the end of February 1907, he and his brother left Munich to move to Italy, living first in Rome and Milan, and then Florence. Here the brothers studied ancient languages, literature, music, and philosophy, practicing painting and drawing, whilst working together to lay the foundations of the new Metaphysical language.
However, in 1911 Savinio moved to Paris, where he completely separated his practice from his brother’s, until in January 1914 his brother introduced him to Guillaume Apollinaire. Apollinaire and Savinio became close friends and collaborators, with Savinio briefly participating in the avant-garde artistic circles that surrounded the poet. In that same year, he decided to adopt the pseudonym Alberto Savinio, to distinguish himself from his brother.
When Italy entered the Great War in May 1915, the brothers returned to Florence where they were sent to Ferrara as part of the infantry reserves. Here they began to correspond extensively with Ardengo Soffici and Giovanni Papini, who helped introduce them to Italy’s literary and artistic circles. Carlo Carrà arrived in Ferrara in the spring of 1917, giving rise to the short-lived alliance that would arbitrarily be dubbed the ‘Metaphysical School’. In Ferrara, Savinio abandoned music and devoted himself entirely to literature, although he never stopped drawing.
In the early 1920s, Savinio collaborated with all of the leading literary reviews in Italy, whilst also returning to his passion for music and theatre, but in 1926 he joined his brother in Paris and began to paint seriously, receiving both public and critical acclaim. His first solo show, held at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in 1927, was presented by Jean Cocteau. Savinio continued to cultivate the contacts he had made with André Breton and the Surrealists, while on a commercial level, he worked with the galleries that gravitated around Paul Guillaume and Léonce Rosenberg.
The key themes of Savinio’s painting focus on the world of memory and childhood, which are also present within his writing. One of the cornerstones of his work is nostalgia for his father Evaristo, presented within his work as a childhood ‘descent into the past’ through images of toys, placed like islands in the sea or dark forests, that allude directly to his grief-stricken childhood. The toys depicted in the paintings rise like mausoleums and trophies to celebrate the lost season that the artist revisits and rediscovers through painting. In the following years, Savinio built a large iconographic apparatus of hybrid and metamorphic figures, suspended between ancient statuary and the depiction of living bodies, between artifice and humanity, monstrosity and beauty. These colourful shapes and silhouettes create oneiric landscapes and ‘islands’ where the artist’s memories merge with myth.
This success was unfortunately short-lived however and came to an end with the financial crash of 1929. In 1933 he returned to Italy, initially settling in Turin before moving to Rome. From the mid-1930s and throughout much of 1940s, he devoted his time to literary activities and journalism. During this period, he virtually abandoned painting, practicing it only occasionally, devoting his time to graphics, often illustrating his own publications. Following World War II, he took up music again, composing the ballet Vita dell’uomo and at the same time, directing plays and designing sets, collaborating successfully with the Teatro alla Scala in Milan and the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, for which he executed his last work in 1952 with the staging of Gioacchino Rossini’s Armida.
In 1952, Alberto Savinio’s intellectual and creative career was interrupted by his sudden death, leaving behind an artistic legacy in which music, literature, painting, journalism, dramaturgy and set design combine.