Magic Realism in 1920s Italy and Quattrocento painting
Romy Golan is Professor of twentieth-century art at the Graduate Center, City University of New York. She is the author of Modernity and Nostalgia: Art and Politics in France Between the Wars and Muralnomad: The Paradox of Wall Painting, Europe 1927-1957 (Yale University Press, 1995 and 2009). Among her recent publications and related to the subject of her forthcoming book are: “Temporalités cachées dans Campo Urbano, Côme, 1969,“ in Transbordeur, 2016; “Vitalità del Negativo/Negativo della Vitalità,” in October, 2014; and “Flashbacks and Eclipses in Italian Art in the 1960s,” in Grey Room, 2012. Her most recent talk, the Marie G. Ringrose Lecture at U.C Berkeley, was “Is Fascist Realism a Magic Realism?”
“Magical Realism” is an oxymoron coined by the German critic Franz Roh in 1925 to describe artworks that endowed realism with an uncanny effect. The term took on a particular fascination for certain Italian artists, writers, and critics. In 1927, the poet and playwright Massimo Bontempelli began his essay “Analogie” stating: “For now, the painters that most appeal to our Novecentist taste, those who best correspond to our own art, are the Italian painters of the Quattrocento: Masaccio, Mantegna, Piero della Francesca. With their precise realism, enfolded in an atmosphere of lucid stupor, they are strangely close to us.” Like Roh, Bontempelli was writing about painting, not politics, and his reference was specifically to the effect produced by the masters of the Italian Quattrocento as exemplars for the recently formed Novecento group. This project investigates how Bontempelli’s phrase “lucid stupor” evokes a set of circumstances that combines hypnotic surrender, surprise and fear, capturing the climate of political violence of the Fascist Ventennio.