(Tocco di Casauria 1851 – Francavilla al Mare 1929)
The Corpus Domini procession in Chieti
Measures: cm 100 x 220
Technique: oil on canvas
The Corpus Domini procession in Chieti was presented by Francesco Paolo Michetti at the National Exhibition of Naples in 1877 where, having won one of the two prizes for painting consisting in the sum of four thousand lire, it was hailed as the most significant work of the exhibition between the outcry aroused by some criticisms and innumerable appreciations. “The intemperate lyric painter of Corpus Domini” – to quote Gabriele D’Annunzio – had waited for the great work since 1876 and the intense and brief creative process is documented by several sketches and studies in ink, pastel and oil , in part still not traced but documented by archive photographs.
According to the sources of the time Michetti refused an important offer from the merchant Adolphe Goupil to make a gift of the painting to Countess De La Field, still arousing amazement and curiosity for the unexpected gesture, who returned it by commissioning Mattinata (private collection); Corpus Domini then passed into the hands of Matteo Schilizzi who sent it in 1891 to the Berlin exhibition, where he was awarded the gold medal and obtained the royal purchase by William II, Emperor of Germany. Presented following the 1932 Venice Biennale, the painting still figured as “belonging to the Royal House of Prussia”, but precisely on that occasion it passed into an Italian private collection.
I believe that one of the most evocative and effective ways to read Michetti’s masterpiece is to be guided by an exceptional observer, that Francesco Netti – a very refined painter and an acute art writer – who reported the impressions received from the Naples exhibition on the pages of ” L’Illustrazione Italiana “of 1877.
“I must confess – and I have observed the same effect repeated in many around me – that the first time I saw the painting, the impression was dazzling […]. If you consider it as a representation of a specific subject, as a logic of composition; if you are looking for what is called a complete picture, you will not be fully satisfied, I warn you. You will find things wrongly placed, you will find errors, – gaps in the drawing, – in the proportions, – in the whole intonation, in the calculation of spaces, – in the separation between one figure and another. You can’t see well from a distance, and you have to get very close to distinguish everything. It is not a procession, but a procession phantasmagoria. It is not the feast of Corpus Domini, but it is the feast of the eyes “.
In fact, Netti is really careful to see – despite the “dazzling impression” – some “errors”, sometimes wanted sometimes less, that characterize the entire composition: if the reasons for the lack of perspective and the consequent crushing effect has its own precise reasons, as we will see later, other elements are not correct. Note the slight imperfection in the drawing of the nun on the left who shields her face or the excessive gathering of the figures on the right which is not free from approximations. In my opinion, these inattentions are attributable to that “expansive enthusiasm”, to that desire to amaze and make the public notice his uncommon talent, which led Michetti to conceive such a vast and complex composition – which had a museum purpose already at the time of conception – where you can bring together many details and details described with surprising virtuosity. The impetus of this enthusiasm is well understood by Netti:
“This painting clearly represents something that is not a procession. It represents love for the most beautiful things in life: women, children, flowers. What the artist saw most clearly, what perhaps was born first of all in his mind, is that standing woman coming down the stairs, fantastically dressed, holding her naked, fresh-fleshed baby in her arms. and elastic, where the fingers, which squeeze them, leave pink dimples. […] And after this child and this woman, the artist, as if he hadn’t said everything yet, painted a second, then another, then a fourth, a fifth … he painted a whole row of naked children [ …]
And then he went on: other children – other women – other girls – other laughing faces – pretty – lively – passionate – to starboard, to the left, grouped, crowded, hugging each other, making a few beautiful arms come out here and there and spread out some wonderful hands, deepening the fabrics around their bodies, the carpets under their feet, letting a shower of flowers fall over their heads, and mixing everything in a sparkle of color and panache, until the canvas is filled.
Sin! Sin! Because the artist’s enthusiasm is not exhausted, so little exhausted that it overflows on the terra cotta frame, modeled by himself, where the same mother embraces the same child, in the open air, crossed by the birds that fly by in line , in the same campaign near the sea and the woods deafened by cicadas. And I believe that if the canvas had been five times larger, which it is not, he would have continued to paint other women, other children, other flowers with the same fervor […] We want to find defects and are yoked by beauties; you want to calculate and admire it; you want to criticize the work and end up loving it. And after that can I examine if the Corpus Domini procession is well represented? Eh! Frankly, I care more than the procession! ”
Exhibitions: Naples 1877, p. 57 n. 753; Berlin 1891, p. 199 n. 2847; Berlin 1898, no. 1; Venice 1932, no. 22; Rome – Francavilla al Mare 1999, pp. 197-198, n. 20, repr. p. 71.
Bibliography: Abbatecola 1877, p. 35; Arbib 1877; Boito 1877, pp. 88-91; Cecioni 1877, p. 189; [Costa] 1877; De Pasquale Pennisi 1877, pp. 13-14; Netti 1877, pp. 165-167; De Zerbi 1877; Bindi 1883, pp. 172-176; d’Annunzio 1883; Zimmern 1887, pp. 17-19 (repr.); d’Annunzio 1896, pp. 583-592; Ojetti 1899, pp. 522-525; Ojetti 1906, p. 379; Ojetti 1910, pp. 408-410; Ojetti 1911, I, pp. 14-21; Ferraguti 1911, pp. 487, 491-494; Capuano 1915, pp. 191-192; Giannelli 1916; Biancale 1927, pp. 482 (repr.), 486, 490; Carrà 1930; Sillani 1932, pp. 55-59, pl. XXXVI; Ojetti 1934, pp. 12-13; Limoncelli 1952, pp. 188-189; Di Tizio 1980, pp. 24-25; Scotoni 1981, p. 9; Lamberti 1982, pp. 38-40; Greco 1993, n. 286; The last Michetti, pp. 9, 21-22; De Luca 1997, pp. 42-43; Valente 1997, pp. 47-49; Bridesmaid 1998, p. 108; Zimmermann 2006, p. pp. 316-320; Di Tizio 2007, pp. 54-58.