Beyond the Canvas
The Unforgettables: Felice Casorati's "Portrait of Silvana Cenni"
Updated: Dec 30, 2021
Suspended between Piero della Francesca's spatial geometries and De Chirico's metaphysics, Casorati paints a portrait that looks like a secular altarpiece. The beauty of this picture lies in its supremely balanced form and subtly ambiguous subject matter. Silvana is portrayed as an idealised figure caught in a moment of silence and reflection, somewhere between hieratic ecstasy and more mundane tiredness. The sculptural draping of her dress is reminiscent of Michelangelo's marble wonders and the rigorous palette conveys a sense of apparent serenity. For such an intimate painting, a woman seated in her room, there is a dintinct sense of solemn monumentality.
In Casorati's restrained decorative linearity and harmony of shapes we see his allegiance to a movement called Ritorno all'Ordine (Return to Order). Born as a reponse to the avant-gardes, it rejected their extreme disruptiveness in favour of the adoption of a traditional painting style and approach to art.
Casorati was also a master of Magic Realism, a rather effective oxymoron that describes a style that is representational, but at the same time far removed from reality. Many of these works, including Silvana's portrait, depict a seemingly peaceful atmosphere while oozing a subtle anxiety.
As it's often the case, we should look no further than primary sources in order to understand the true nature and ambition of an artist's work. In a letter to a friend, Casorati spoke of the sense of unreality that drove his practice: " I have become a visionary, a dreamer, I only paint what I see in my dreams: starry nights, invisible creatures, pure souls, hallucinations ... anything but real and material things ... a whisper, a smile, light and darkness'.
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Felice Casorati (1883-1963)
“Ritratto di Silvana Cenni”,1922
Private Collection, Turin.
Piero della Francesca (c.1415 -1492)
"Polittico della Madonna della Misericordia" (detail), 1445-1462