SEVERINI’S STATIONS OF THE CROSS, CORTONA (2)

Gino Severini, Stations of the Cross, Station XIII (1944)

Several years ago when I was in Cortona, the birthplace of Gino Severini, who always retained a great affection for the beautiful little hill town, I was pleased to see his wonderful mosaics there – the large mosaic mural on the church of St Mark and the Stations of the Cross along the Via Crucis – but I was disappointed to find that there were no reproductions anywhere, not even in the Museo Diocesano, which has his cartoons for the latter.

Gino Severini, St Mark.

So I was delighted to discover on eBay a set of postcards of the cartoons, offered by a seller in Palermo but for some reason printed in Malta. Sadly, no-one has yet thought to make postcards of the mosaics themselves. They’re excellent and represent very well Severini’s interest in mosaic, which was probably more long-lived than his Futurist career.

But it’s a sad fact that they’re under-appreciated, as I found out when we saw them: Cortona was thronged with tourists that day, but apart from us, the Via Crucis was completely deserted and no-one seemed to be interested in them.

The deserted Via Crucis in Cortona when we went to see
The Stations of the Cross, visible in the little niches on the right.

Here are some of the postcards.

SEVERINI’S STATIONS OF THE CROSS, CORTONA

Gino Severini was one of the founders of Italian Futurism. Only because of his first-hand knowledge of the latest art in Paris did the Futurists develop anything like a coherent style. After the First World War, Severini was one of the first artists to abandon the aggressive modernism advocated by the Futurists.

From about 1930, he became interested in classical mosaics. He painted still lifes inspired by wall paintings excavated at Pompeii and Herculaneum and undertook church commissions in mosaic.  Even his 1934 portrait of his daughter Gina (below) shows the influence of mosaics.

Gino Severini, Portrait of Gina Severini. (1934)
Turin, Civica galeria d’arte moderna

In 1944, while Italy was in war and chaos, Severini made a series of mosaics of the Stations of the Cross for his native Cortona, a beautiful little Tuscan hill town. The mosaics were put up along the Via Crucis leading out of the town and up to the church of Santa Margherita. They are a good example of his mature work, beautifully atmospheric, with bold figures of Christ in modern settings and with strong, emotional colouration.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to show them here. They are in the open air, under glass and reflect the sky, so it’s impossible to get a good photo of them. The detail at the head of this post is the best I could make.

Not only are the mosaics difficult to photograph, the reflections make it difficult to see them at all. Why are they covered up like this? There doesn’t seem to be any danger from tourists because the Via Crucis is off the beaten track and difficult to climb in the summer – hardly anyone visits it.

Holiday crowds along the Via Crucis, Cortona.
Severini’s mosaics are in the niches covered with pitched roofs

Severini’s cartoons for the mosaics are on show in the Museo Diocesano del Capitolo di Cortona.  You can get a better view of the cartoons than the mosaics, but even those are not very well displayed and the museum has no notes, no book and no postcard reproductions.

Gino Severini, The Deposition  (1944) Cartoon for the mosaic.
Museo Diocesano del Capitolo di Cortona.
The red sky is characteristic of the series.

I have been unable to find any good reproductions of the Stations of the Cross anywhere. Four were put on Maltese postage stamps, and there are six small images on the Cortona website.  

The neglect of these works is typical of the neglect of traditional twentieth century art. My introduction to modern art was Herbert Read’s Concise History of Modern Painting, written at the high tide of abstract expressionism in the late 1950s and giving the impression that the only important art was that which led to Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning.

Severini’s Futurist career covered seven years.  His post-Futurist career covered fifty years and was extremely productive.  His entire career was covered in the exhibition at MART in Trento last year, curated by Daniela Fonti (below).  It should receive better coverage outside Italy.



Subscribe to my newsletter