severini, two pulcinello,


Gino Severini’s changed his style of painting after World War I to help emphasize a new dynamic of art. By disassociating himself with Futurism, he undergoes a transformation seen selectively across Europe as a part of the Return to Order. Severini’s Two Pulcinello contain classical elements common in the Return to Order, but still carries the notion of his past, Futurist works.

Gino Severini had been a modern, Futurist painter during the early twentieth century. After World War I, he participated in a trend called the Return to Order, developed by painters in France, which pushed for more classical art. Instead of chaotic, visually stimulating paintings, the artwork tended to be more calm and orderly. The disorder of the Cubist and Futurist paintings began to be associated with the violent quality of war. The Return to Order emphasizes visual simplicity, but delves into deeper meaning with the subject matter.

In Gino Severini’s Two Pulcinello, he incorporates a 17th century character as the focus, allowing him to deliver a nuanced political charge. A “pulcinello” is a “hooknosed, humpbacked character…[who is] brutal, vindictive and deceitful..[and] usually at odds with authority.”[1] The pulcinello are wearing contrasting colors of white and black, representing life and death. The simple color dichotomy corresponds to life and death associated with war. While maintaining the classic touch of the Return to Order, Severini creatively dictates the opinions shown in his futurist works. Instead of asserting his discontent using abstraction, he uses symbols and organization to continue constructing his points.

Most of this painting is not striking at first glance. Instead, it must be analyzed and interpreted based on the more intricate details of the painting. This painting contains both classic elements and elements that contradict the classical movement of the Return to Order.

Classical elements are found in multiple aspects throughout this painting. The overall mood of this painting is relatively calm, a characteristic of many classical pieces. The people, although in costume as pulcinello, are the main focus. To the right of the pulcinello, there is a still life of fruit and wine on a white drape, drawn in a very idealistic manner. The background is very simple—the clay wall, blue sky and hills imitate classical art backgrounds. Even the style of the painting represents classical art as it is primarily uses three colors, adjusted using the techniques of highlighting and tinting. There are only about three colors that are present. The folds of the pulcinello’s clothing closely mirror that of more traditional paintings and sculptures. Many aspects of the painting emphasize elements that were common in traditional, classical art.

However classical Severini attempted to make Two Pulcinello, there are still underlying facets that contradict the classicism of the Return to Order. Although the pulcinello are at the focus, they are not simply people. They instead are in costume and representing something more than just humanity. The pulcinello appear to have been performing. The gaze of the closest pulcinello is directed away from the audience, and the one farther back is almost looking at the audience but it is clearly skewed, looking past the audience, refraining from any connection. Their faces are lifeless and tired. They are not representatives of ideal humans, which is a main characteristic of classical art. Also, in classic art, the subjects would not be seated on a barrel, as it is not ideally human. It may represent a low economic status of the pulcinello, since they aren’t comfortably sitting in a chair and instead are sitting on an uncomfortable barrel. The pulcinello, however, are not the only subjects mocking classicism.

The subjects are not completely on the canvas. The guitar, the pulcinello’s hat, and the table with the fruit and wine are running off the canvas. With classical art, the subjects would be in full, but this painting crops itself to focus primarily on detail. The still life of the fruit and wine do not add much to the painting as whole, other than to signal classicism and to take up space. It mocks classicism by placing beauty and idealism in an unwelcome place. However classic Severini attempted this painting to be, he contradicts himself with subtle undertones.

With the pull away from chaos, the artists in the Return to Order had to intricately charge their art. Severini’s Two Pulcinello has plenty of classical elements, but it also pulls from the attitude of futurism. The Return to Order created an elusive perspective of art that entailed different visuals, but carried the same opinion of an abstracted art.

[1] Encyclopedia Brittanica, 15th ed., s.v. “Punch.”

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