GIULIO ARISTIDE SARTORIO
The Poem of Human Life
In response to a proposal by Antonio Fradeletto, secretary general of the Venice Biennale, in the spring of 1906 Sartorio accepted the commission to create a large decorative cycle for the Main Hall of the 1907 International Exhibition. He received the official commission to illustrate the “poem of human life” on the basis of ancient mythology. In the four main scenes – Light, Darkness, Love, Death – alternated with ten large vertical canvases (depicting Grace and Art supported by virile energy), the artist offered an intensely dramatic vision of existence, starting with birth (ensnared by adverse forces) up to death (with opposition by the last male figure, a self-portrait, who is serenely questioning and seems to be challenging the Sphinx). Between the two extremes are the allegories of Darkness and the divergence between the figures of Eros and Himeros, the good and evil love. Sartorio’s iconography, which also met with D’Annunzio’s approval, offers a synthesis between the Mediterranean world and Nordic culture, with clear references to Nietzsche’s concept of the Eternal Return. Without any architectural elements and in monochrome, the painting cycle stands out for its outstanding unfolding of the figures in movement that in the canvases of Darkness and Death assume a rotating form as confirmation of the work’s symbolic aim. Sartori adopted a particular painting technique that was rapid enough to allow him to complete the 240m2 work in just nine months; he described it as follows: “I used a mixture of turpentine and poppy oil”. This has been confirmed by recent analysis carried out by the Dais Laboratory for Conservation Sciences at Ca’ Foscari University in Venice.
Mounted for the Venice Biennale in 1907, the fourteen scenes remained in place for the following edition as well (1909).
GIULIO ARISTIDE SARTORIO
Born into an artistic family, he started studying painting at a very young age, beginning for a brief period in the Roman Accademia di San Luca. When he was still an adolescent he already had considerable technical skills and devoted himself to painting small figures in the style of Mariano Fortuny, which were easy to sell. Thus, just twenty years old, he was already able to open his own atelier in Rome In 1883 he was not only working on decorations of the small Roman villa belonging to Count Gamberini, but also had his public debut with the painting Malaria (Dum Romae consulitur morbus imperat). Thanks to financial aid from Pietro Giorgi, with whom he was sharing a new atelier in Via Margutta, in 1884 he visited Paris. During the same period he met Gabriele D’Annunzio and in 1886 became friends with Edoardo Scarfiglio and Francesco Paolo Michetti. After joining the circles of those at the Caffè Greco in Rome, which had the driving force of Angelo Conti behind it and was an inevitable point of reference for the emerging Italian Symbolism, he joined the “In Arte Libertas” Association, founded by Nino Costa, where he was to exhibit he works more than once. In the same year he contributed together with other artists to the “edition picta” of Isaotta Guttadauro, a collection of poems by D’annunzio, where he was influenced by the pre-Raphaelites, who were present in the Roman cultural circles at the end of the nineteenth century.
He was awarded a golden medal at the Universal Exposition of Paris (1889) for I figli di Caino [Cain’s children].
In 1893 he travelled to England where he saw works by Burne-Jones, Rossetti and William Morris.
In 1896 he was summoned by the Grand-Duke Karl Alexander and taught at the Weimer Academy for four years. A painter of landscapes and ideas, he was at his best with his great decorative cycles for the 1907 Biennale and Montecitorio (1908-1912). He took part in the Venice Biennale almost every year from the first to the seventeenth edition.
During the First World War he enlisted as a volunteer and completed a large group of paintings depicting the war; after being injured, he was also taken prisoner. In 1918 he married Marga Sevilla, with whom he spent the last years of his life in the Horti Galateae, a villa on the outskirts of Rome, which he had renovated to his own design. He was always a passionate photographer as well as a scholar and illustrator, author and film director (in particular the film Il Mistero di Galatea, 1918-19).