The precursor to Surrealism, Giorgio de Chirico’s paintings have the look of a fever dream. And that is exactly what the painter wanted to portray. The rigid, flat, and motionless cityscapes that neither look hellish nor something from this realm, his paintings are a depiction of someplace between; a limbo, an interval between reality and imagination.
We have assorted some of the most famous and intriguing paintings with a brief explanation about why we chose that painting in this list. And this attempt might reveal the brilliance of this artist, his influences, his vision, and the effect he had on the world of art. But before we start the gallery tour, it is important to know briefly about the artist.
Giorgio de Chirico: Why he has regarded as the “Godfather of Surrealism”
Giorgio de Chirico was an Italian writer and painter who started the Scuola metafisica movement which translates to the school of metaphysical painting. This was a major source of inspiration for the Surrealists. What’s quite ironic is the man who influenced Surrealism would later turn against it. He considered Surrealism foolish and hostile. This was after 1919 when he completely switched his art style, abandoning the idiosyncratic metaphysical style.
De Chirico was also a writer albeit he wrote just one book; Hebdomeros. He did not just influence the art world, but even some of Sylvia Plath’s poems were influenced by his works. De Chirico mentioned that most of these metaphysical artworks were a depiction of the things he saw in his hallucinations. This has led to researchers believing that he might be suffering from temporal lobe epilepsy. You can read more on that here.
Now let’s look at the paintings which bolstered de Chirico in the art world and made him one of the most prominent names in the field. The paintings presented here are in random order.
A baffling painting, not because it has confusing elements in it. The reason why Piazza D’Italia makes the viewers feel an eerie sensation is because of its barren environment of a very familiar, commonplace. But this familiar place with its sharp and parallel construct is situated in a hellish environment. This effect makes the painting look like a nightmare. Something familiar in an unfamiliar place.
This metaphysical art and the setting of this painting is Chirico’s most recognizable painting. So famous that Chirico made multiple versions of it.
Mystery and Melancholy
Flat perspective, sharp, straight lines running perpendicular and parallel. A dark blue sky but the world is lit up by garish sunlight. Mystery and Melancholy is another example of Chirico’s metaphysical art style where he can take lifeless, empty cityscapes and make them even more lifeless.
But in this painting, we see a girl running along the yellow streets with a tire and the shadows of two people approaching from the other side of the road. But all the human subjects in the painting have no features. They look exactly like their shadows, mere silhouettes. This makes the painting feel even more “out of this world”.
Great Metaphysical Interior
Titled “Great Metaphysical Interior”, this painting shows the inside of an artist’s studio with some wooden elements and frames of paintings. The ironic thing is this studio is jam-packed with these objects. Again, the straight lines, sharp edges, and flat perspective of the painting with garish colors make the painting stand out.
But what I feel is that the “greatness” of this interior lies in what it holds. The painting shows several paintings and wooden boards all placed at an angle with each other. There are some wooden pieces on top of these boards of various sharp shapes.
St. George Killing the Dragon
A painting by De Chirico does not look like the artist’s idiosyncratic style of painting. Painted in Neo-Baroque style, this artwork signifies his tonal shift from painting surrealistic paintings to more acceptable and familiar classical paintings. Perhaps it was his inner calling or a desire to not be stuck in just one art form that led to this shift, the painting St. George Killing the Dragon is an elegant artwork. This painting is a recreation of the original classic work in the style of Chirico.
The Prodigal Son
The Prodigal Son is a unique painting, conflating two ideas, two tropes, two styles together, creating something so bizarrely beautiful. In this painting, there are two main subjects, the father and the son. The son is the mannequin while the stone figure is the father. And a bucket load of meaning can be extracted from this.
This was the phase when De Chirico was transitioning from metaphysical style to neoclassicism. What it means is that moving away from his “dream-like” cityscapes, he started to paint like artists from the renaissance period. But what’s the gist of this painting?
The son is still standing with support, head bent down as if the frame is too heavy to stand on its own. While the father is made of strong stone, white and polished, supportive and kind. Perhaps this is an allusion to how the classicism style of painting gave birth to Chirico’s metaphysical style.
Another thing to notice is in the background. The dream-like environment of painting is still there. This animated world feels so unrealistic as if created by someone in a hurry. The background sky and mountains are a painting. Now if you look at the two figures, they feel like small props kept in a studio set.
The Two masks
In another haunting painting by Chirico, the subjects in The Two Masks look very familiar to the subjects in The Prodigal Son. The brown figure of the woman is made of wood while the white figure of the man is made of stone or marble. But why does this painting make you feel so eerie? It’s in the proportions.
The large gaping eye sockets of the first figure and the dead, featureless face of the second figure, the small wooden structures in the foreground, and the large sky in the background put two opposites together. The viewers feel that the figures are huge yet small at the same time.
Rising sun on the plaza
A familiar painting with a new element. As you can see, Rising Sun on the Plaza depicts the same plaza that can be seen in many of Chirico’s paintings. But this one has a large, central subject to it; the out-of-place rising sun. In this painting of straight lines, the sun does not seem to belong there. And that is what makes this painting so bizarre.
But the sun does not look like the sun at all. With its red outlines, dangly spurts of fiery arms, a very peculiar pipe connected the sun to something, as if it is powered by electricity.
The Awakening of Ariadne
The Awakening of Ariadne is a subtle hint towards the style of metaphysical paintings De Chirico paints. Ariadne is a Cretan princess and is mostly associated with mazes and labyrinths. So how does this hint towards the puzzling nature of Chirico’s paintings?
Ariadne is a Cretan Princess in Greek Mythology and she is associated with mazes and labyrinths. The dimensions of this painting are very unique. Slender and tall, the perspective focuses on the two towers and the stone figure of Ariadne sleeping. The entire painting is tinted with a greenish-yellow color filter, giving it a very dystopian effect.
The Delights of a Poet
The Delights of a Poet presents a very familiar landscape but with a little more detail. Apart from the lifeless, rigid, and straight lines running parallel and perpendicular to each other, there are two interesting things in this painting.
A man standing wearing all whites and the clock is at the center of the painting showing the time. The time is exactly 2 o clock, and notice how the time is correctly showing the position of the sun since the shadow is at the correct angle. The sky’s dark teal color gives a dramatic “dream-like” effect to the painting.
Bank of Thessaly
The Bank of Thessaly is an interesting painting as it shows the amalgamation of two different styles. There is clearly the metaphysical style of Chirico with the straight lines and the red pillar in the background that can be seen in the painting “The Awakening of Ariadne”. But in the foreground, we see two figures; an elegant white horse and a man, completely naked. Both lack facial features. The background of the painting tells the story.
The Valley of Thessaly is said to have been the battleground where the Titans fought the Olympians in Greek mythology. In this painting, we see a dark background with a smokey grey sky. Could this be an indication of the battle that just got ended? The place looks ruined completely. Perhaps. But this is an important painting of De Chirico’s career.
So these were some of the best and most intriguing paintings by Giorgio de Chirico. Tell us in the comments which one did you liked the most and why. If you enjoyed this article, please check out some of our other articles: