severini, motherhood, 1916


Gino Severini developed his art after World War I to emphasize a new dynamic of art through the development of the French trend, the Return to Order. The Return to Order manipulated modern ideas and techniques into the mold of classicism. Severini’s Maternity depicts a modern take on classical elements while examining the intricacy of his subjects.

Severini’s Maternity pulls from modern ideas as he creates this Return to Order piece. A trend of modern artists was not a focus on idealism, but a focus on realism. The woman is not particularly beautiful; instead she has a very natural element to her. Her face is plain, with no make up to create artificial beauty. The idea of motherhood is very natural and simplistic. It is one of the most basic forms of human nature. It’s not complicated—it’s real. Although her hair follows a classical perspective, her clothing is modern as her shirt makes breast feeding more assessable. Severini lightly plays with the modern art ideas in the creation of this painting.

However, Severini pulls from many classical elements.  The idea of motherhood portrayed by the subjects is a very classical theme. Modern artists tend to use women as sex symbols, be that prostitutes or with other portrayals of women. This, however, deals with motherhood—a respected, traditional role that women have had for centuries. The woman is very natural and realistic. Although the woman is nursing a child, the focus stays on the woman. The audience’s attention is held on the woman. The folding of the woman’s clothes are stylistic to classical, traditional paintings and sculptures. Classical sculptures, for example, have very defined folds in the clothing, and it is apparent that Severini applied that concept Maternity.  Her hairstyle also creates a reflection on classicism as it is very stoic and not modern. However classical and simple this appears, a certain complexity lies within the subject’s form.

The complexity lies strongly within her facial expression and body language. Her face demonstrates a certain level of thinking—her eyes are closed, her head tilts down and there is no smile, nor frown, on her face. She attempts to remain emotionless, but battles to appear so. Her body language is forced. She sits on a stool, not in a comfortable place to breastfeed. She doesn’t appear to be nurturing the child more than the act of breastfeeding. She is posed, but an action still takes place. The intricacies in the painting mimic the social and political implications of the post World War I era. World War I brought much devastation to the countries involved. Most had thought that the end result was to be a good thing, but the mutilation of the soldiers and the land and the relationships put the entire country through a wind of confusion. There was not a clear direction in which to turn. Instead, Europe began falling apart. This triggered the idea of the Return to Order—a return to something that they knew worked and they knew did not destroy their lives. The woman’s face demonstrates a thoughtful reflection on what happened and what needs to happen next.

The color palette Severini uses contains very dull, basic colors. The colors present are organic and demonstrate little variation. The little variation is has is demonstrated with the use of light. There appear to be multiple light sources that create highlighting and shadows, adding depth into the painting. The background is wispy, showing how the paint was applied in long brush strokes. Colors and technique are not what stands out in the painting, instead the focus lies more with the classical ideas of motherhood.

The Return to Order emphasizes classicism.  Severini pulls from aspects of both modern art and classical art and bridges that dichotomy. He creates a classical piece of art that carries a personality, not just beauty, with the subject.


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