"So Hector prayed,
and placed his son in the arms of his loving wife.
Andromache pressed the child to her scented breast,
smiling through her tears. Her husband noticed,
and filled with pity now, Hector stroked her gently,
trying to reassure her, repeating her name: 'Andromache,
dear one, why so desperate? Why so much grief for me?
No man will hurl me down to Death, against my fate.
And fate? No one alive has ever escaped it,
neither brave man nor coward, I tell you-
it's born with us the day that we are born."
(Homer, The Iliad, book VI, lines 575-584, trans. Robert Fagles, New York, 1990)
The theme of Ettore e Andromaca ("Hector and Andromache"), with the tender farewell between husband and wife, was a subject of obvious contemporary importance when undertaken by de Chirico during the First World War in 1917 (fig. 2). Embracing his beloved Andromache beside the walls of Troy, the hero Hector is about to depart for his final battle from which he will not return. De Chirico's memories of his childhood in Greece, his subsequent move to Italy and his deep learning drew him throughout his career to the world of myth and classical iconography. Greek myth, with its archetypes, its fluid narratives, its universal resonances, offered him a metaphor for his own life and the world around him.
The themes of loneliness, isolation and abandonment punctuate the great paintings of mannequins from the First World War and reflect de Chirico's situation at this time in Ferrara, when, on leave of absence from the army, he was awaiting his recall to military duty. Implicit within these paintings is the satirical notion of the human being as a mere empty-headed automaton, a mechanical robot fulfilling his role in a bizarre mechanical universe. Unlike the Berlin dadaists, who soon took up this theme as a means of criticizing the brutality of authority, de Chirico's transmutation of the human into a dummy or a mechanical object is no satirizing of man's slave-like obedience to the powers that be, but rather a psychological portrait. For him, the impossible angles and geometry of the constructions that form these strange wooden constructed figures are architectural elements that attempt to map and outline the contours of the poetic soul. Their very fakeness, illogicality and physical impossibility are intended as an indication of the complexity and supra-rationality of the figure depicted.
The present work was executed in 1923 and immediately acquired by the critic Giorgio Castelfranco who was an avid collector and host to the artist when he stayed in Florence. The dating of "1918" on the work itself is, as discussed by Piero Baldacci (op. cit., 1994, p. 152), the first instance in de Chirico's career of his backdating a painting. "The reason," continues Baldacci, "which is obvious to those who understand de Chirico's philosophical beliefs, is not to fabricate a date different from the actual date of execution, but to declare his desire to connect back to a 'time past,' in a present that is the immobile and eternal point of convergence of the past and source of the future" (ibid., p. 107).
Exploring the development of metaphysical subjects in de Chirico's art after 1919, Baldacci notes that "between roughly 1922 and 1930, de Chirico produced at least twenty paintings closely linked with those of a previous period. In some cases they are painted versions of themes that existed only in drawing form--a drawing of 1917 might be developed into a painting in 1923 or 1925, just as a sketch from 1910 or 1911 might have been committed to canvas in 1912 or 1913. In other cases they are variants of an existing theme executed with different painterly techniques, which testify to different states of mind, to more complex and nostalgic sentiments' (op. cit., 1997, p. 418).
Styistically, the present work is a radical departure from its 1917 precursor. The hard lines and unmodulated colors which mark the earlier painting here give way to a more painterly approach with softer contours, greater modeling of the forms and insistent striations and working of the paint surface. Moreover, the medium of tempera is here employed, underscoring the pre-Renaissance, timeless mood of the work. The setting is also in most regards more naturalistic than in the earlier depiction, with the action taking place in front of the fortified walls of Troy-very reminiscent of the Porta Romana in Turin-and under a cloud laden sky. The theatrical elements of the green curtains and the stage-like patterned marble floor, however, add a thrust of drama to the scene.
Ettore e Andromaca
Tempera on canvas
Signed and dated 'G. de Chirico 1918' (center right)
Giorgio de Chirico
Giorgio de Chirico , 20th Century, Paintings, oil, Italy, Surrealist, figures
Milan, Galleria Pesaro, Mostra Individuale dei pittori Carlo Carrà Giorgio de Chirico e postuma di Rubaldo Merello, February 1926, no. 1 (illustrated).
New York, Paolo Baldacci Gallery, Giorgio de Chirico: betraying the muse, April-May 1994, pp. 152 and 259, no. 12 (illustrated in color, p. 153).
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
48 5/8 x 31½ in. (123.5 x 80 cm.)
"Giorgio de Chirico" in Arte Moderna Italiana, 1928 (dated 1918).
"Giorgio de Chirico" in Arte Moderna Italiana, 1936 (dated 1918).
P. Vivarelli, Giorgio de Chirico 1888-1978, exh. cat., Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Rome, 1981, p. 122, no. 50.2 (illustrated; dated 1926).
M. Fagiolo Dell'Arco, L'opera completa di De Chirico 1908-1924, Milan, 1984, p. 144, no. 218 (illustrated; dated 1923).
Giorgio de Chirico i temi della metafisica, exh. cat., Milan, 1985, p. 5, no. 30 (illustrated, illustrated again, fig. 30; dated 1923).
C. Bruni Sakraischik, Catalogo generale, Giorgio de Chirico, opere dal 1908 al 1930, Milan, 1987, vol. IIX, no. 484 (illustrated).
M. Calvesi and M. Ursino, De Chirico The New Metaphysics, Rome, 1996, p. 15 (illustrated).
P. Baldacci, De Chirico 1888-1919 La Metafisica, Milan, 1997, p. 421, no. A11 (illustrated).
De Chirico gli anni Trenta, exh. cat., Galleria dello Scudo, Museo di Castelvecchio, Verone, 1998, p. 106 (illustrated).
J. de Sanna, De Chirico and the Mediterranean, New York, 1998, p. 29 (illustrated).
Giorgio Castelfranco, Florence (acquired from the artist).
Acquired by the family of the present owner, 1968.