Lot 20
  • 20


2,300,000 - 3,000,000 GBP
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  • Michelangelo Pistoletto
  • Amanti (Lovers)
  • signed and titled on the reverse
  • painted tissue paper on polished stainless steel
  • 230.5 by 120 cm. 90 3/4 by 47 1/4 in.
  • Executed in 1962-66.


Galerie Ileana Sonnabend, Paris Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1968)

Acquired from the above by the present owner


Venice, XXXIII Biennale Internazionale d’Arte di Venezia, June - October 1966 São Paulo, IX Bienal de São Paulo, September - December 1967, n.p. (text)


Colour: The colour in the catalogue illustration is fairly accurate, although the overall tonality is paler in the original. Condition: This work is in very good condition. The small semi-circular holes to the stainless steel at the extreme edges in the lower corners are original. Close inspection reveals light and unobtrusive handling marks and a few light scratches and scuffs in places, mainly towards the edges. There are wrinkles and creases in various places to the tissue paper and evidence of adhesive residue, most notably to the edges of the two figures, all of which are in keeping with the artist's working process. A few of these areas have some small associated scuffs. There is a short vertical scuff to the woman's boot and some water marks towards the bottom edge of the man's trousers and shoes. There is a short repaired tear and a small in-painted loss. Inspection under ultra violet light reveals some small historic specks of in-painting to the man's shoulder and back and the woman's hand, shoulder and skirt.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

In 1962, Michelangelo Pistoletto transformed the intimate moment of a couple's passionate embrace into an artistic spectacle. A snapshot of two lovers presented on a reflective mirrored surface, Amanti (Lovers) is a seminal example of Pistoletto’s most recognisable and celebrated series, the Quadri Specchiati or Mirror Paintings. By inviting the viewer into a complex reciprocal dialogue with the intermediary figures in the painting, the spectator becomes a voyeuristic bystander in a very private moment. Two spectral worlds collide as the static photographic image, taken of a single moment in the past, stands side by side with the viewer's own reflected image in the present. This interactive aspect of the Mirror Paintings redefined the static perception of painting and challenged the deliberate involvement of the spectator.  Taking on one of the most prevailing themes in art history, Amanti firmly installs Pistoletto within a pantheon of artistic goliaths. Lovers have been one of the most ubiquitous subjects in art for centuries, offering insights into the vicissitudes of social norms, artistic styles, and the omnipresent idealism toward the cultural constructions of love. One of the most renowned depictions of two lovers is Auguste Rodin’s marble sculpture The Kiss from 1882–1889. It portrays the adulterous lovers Paolo and Francesca sharing their first kiss; caught in the act by Francesca’s husband, they were both killed. The controversial subject and overt eroticism of the work was hugely polemic when it was first exhibited in 1887. A few decades later the Austrian artist Gustav Klimt created a modern masterpiece of the same title. With its intricate detailing and lavish use of gold leaf, Klimt’s The Kiss from 1907-08 is paradigmatic of the artist’s notorious golden period and is commonly believed to depict Klimt and his long-time partner Emilie Flöge. Reinterpreting the popular subject in his iconic Pop art style, Roy Lichtenstein portrayed two lovers in a passionate embrace in his 1962 painting The Kiss II. Synchronously incorporating both the quotidian materialism of Arte Povera with its metallic surface, and the mass-produced quality of Pop art via the photographic image, in Amanti Pistoletto forges an entirely unique aesthetic. Blurring the lines between representation and reality, the painting becomes a living space for anyone to inhabit.

Looking back on the genesis of his career defining Mirror Paintings, Pistoletto recalled his frustration with the inadequate relationship between traditional painting and reality. He explained: “When I realized that someone like Pollock, although he attempted to transfer life onto canvas through action, did not succeed in taking possession of the work, which continued to escape him, remaining autonomous, and that the presence of the human figure in the painting of Bacon did not succeed in rendering a pathological vision of reality... I understood that the moment had arrived to make the laws of objective reality enter the painting” (Michelangelo Pistoletto, cited in: Germano Celant, Identité Italienne, Paris 1981, p. 81). Pistoletto first experimented with a reflective ground in 1956 in a series of self-portraits on a shiny painted surface. During the early 1960s, the artist refined his process by substituting the glossy ground for a highly polished stainless steel one, onto which he pasted finely rendered photo-realist images that were painted on tissue paper. While toying with the dominant Pop aesthetic of the time, Pistoletto was also highly influenced by Lucio Fontana. The essence of Fontana’s Spatialismo Manifesto, to refute the traditional parameters of two-dimensional painting and create a space in which the viewer actively explores the possibilities of art, is echoed in the phantasmagorical Mirror Paintings. Extending his practice beyond the discipline of oil on canvas by painting on a reflective surface, Pistoletto unravelled the distortive illusionism of perspective. Masterfully appropriating the language of trompe-l’oeil to entirely subvert it, the Mirror Paintings position themselves within a grand conceptual tradition that dates back to Diego Velázquez and Édouard Manet. What distinguishes Pistoletto’s work, however, is a theatrical dramaturgy that infuses these pieces with rich performativity to substantiate and conflate both past and present. This is particularly evident in works such as Amanti, wherein the self-absorbed and self-contained subject matter overtly emphasises the intrusive presence of the viewer. Herein, Pistoletto integrates living participants into what he has defined as not just the ‘theatre’ of painting, but an entire world-theatre that embraces all aspects of life.