A. de Maria - Baruffa
Astolfo de Maria
(Rome, 1891 – Venice, 1946)
Baruffa /Quarrel, 1926
oil and tempera on canvas, 202 x 255.8 cm
signed and dated lower right within a scroll “Astolfo De Maria/ fece in Venezia/in 1926”
Venice, Art Collection of the Fondazione di Venezia
Mario de Maria, the father of Astolfo and artist, known by his pseudonym of Marius Pictor, commenting on the Portrait of Vittore Grubicy (1921-22, formerly in the Toscanini collection) exhibited at the Biennale of Venice in 1922, synthesises in such an illuminating way the modern and visionary painting of his son, who would reach even more extreme outcomes in the Quarrel: “It brings to mind Michelangelo and Albrecht Dürer […]. In addition to the vitality, there remains, to see and remember, even the sense of good and evil, the good, but more than anything the sense of the diabolical, as in Michelangelo’s Moses, as in the apostles of Dürer, as in the Santoni dei Frari in Venice by Giovanni Bellini. The tumultuous life that is painted in this canvas by Astolfo, promises a […] genial future!” (publ. in Dal Canton 1996, p. 20).
Contrary to the wishes of Mario de Maria, the pictorial production of Astolfo did not easily obtain the favour of the critics, only capturing their attention from the Thirties and dominating the Venetian artistic scene only during the next decade. Confirming this controversial relationship with the official artistic world were the events surrounding the exhibition of Quarrel, sent to the Venice Biennale in 1926, it was rejected and, therefore, presented in the XVII Esposizione dell’Opera Bevilacqua La Masa, held at the Lido of Venice in October of the same year.
The first idea of the subject is traceable some sketches, from the De Maria collection, in which some characters argue animatedly, chasing each other along a bridge, near the Canale della Giudecca (sheet 195-196, publ. in Dal Canton 1996, p. 87). It is a moment of common life, almost a genre scene, drawn with a dry and incisive line that makes one think of a study from life, but at the same time, it recalls the corrosive irony of Baruffe chiozzotte by Carlo Goldoni.
Forsaking all narrative intent, the definitive version of the work, charged with a caustic and biting spirit, shows close similarities with the coeval research of the Neue Sachlichkeit. His European travels since adolescence, the international frequentations at the house of his father and the German origin of his mother, Emilie Voigt, had to have made a critical contribution to orient the artistic choices of the painter toward a Nordic culture that had found in Venice, in those years, full acceptance. Figures distorted by anger, the sneering, jeering faces of the Quarrel recall the characters of Otto Dix, George Grosz and Georg Scholz, even in the unforgiving realism with which the painter brings out every detail of the scene. The exasperated gestures of the women and the faces deformed by rage can also be found in the works of early Twenties of Bortolo Sacchi and Cagnaccio di San Pietro, also very attentive to the most innovative instances of German culture and the great tradition of northern painting that found in Albrecht Durer its most complete expression. The Quarrel, dense of citations from the frescoes executed by the painter in collaboration with Guido Cadorin and Bortolo Sacchis for church of Colle San Martino (1921) and that of Moriago della Battaglia (1925), proposes a synthesis of the artistic research of the time and at the same time the leads to the extreme in a very agitated scene, built on dynamic diagonal rhythms, in a play of parallels and divergences, that unfolds against the backdrop of the lagoon burning by the light of the sunset.