Representing one of the most iconic images of de Chirico's art, Incanto pomeridiano depicts an enigmatic, desolate urban setting, its eerie quality characteristic of the artist's metaphysical paintings. Born in Volos, Greece, to Italian parents, de Chirico was surrounded by images of the ancient world from early childhood. Classical mythology, history and architecture provided an endless source of inspiration for the artist, who often combined these subjects with the contemporary setting.
Incanto pomeridiano belongs to a series of de Chirico's paintings of Italian city squares, most of which are conspicuously devoid of human presence. Dating from 1942, the present work incorporates the primary motifs which were of major significance within this series: the train, a futurist symbol of the modern world, glimpsed in the background about to sweep through the scene, the two anonymous figures greeting each other in darkness, almost as shadows, and the statue of a man which serves as the focal point of the composition. Ultimately, Incanto pomeridiano elegantly conveys the elegiac mood which Ardengo Soffici first attributed to these works: “Giorgio de Chirico expresses as no one else has done the poignant melancholy of the close of a beautiful day in an old Italian city where, at the back of a lonely piazza, beyond the setting of loggias, porticos, and monuments to the past, a train chugs” (Ardengo Soffici, ‘De Chirico e Savinio’ in Lacerba, July 1, 1914, n.p.).
According to James Thrall Soby, this frock-coated figure was most probably inspired by the statue of the philosopher Giovanni Battista Bottero, situated in Largo Quattro Marzo in Turin. The artist was fascinated with the city's famous arcades, which form the main lines of perspective in the present composition, as well as with its large, melancholic squares usually occupied by statues or equestrian monuments. Quoting the artist's own writing, James Thrall Soby explained how this general premise of melancholy, central to de Chirico's metaphysical paintings, was derived from the writing of Friedrich Nietzsche: "As to the derivation of the Italian squares or 'memories of Italy,' the artist gives due credit to Nietzsche by describing in his autobiography what seems to him to have been the German philosopher's most remarkable innovation: 'This innovation is a strange and profound poetry, infinitely mysterious and solitary, based on Stimmung (which might be translated...as atmosphere), based, I say, on the Stimmung of an autumn afternoon when the weather is clear and the shadows are longer than in summer, for the sun is beginning to be lower...' There is no reason to doubt that Nietzsche's prose played a key part in stimulating the painter's interest in creating a poetic reconstruction of the dream-lit piazzas of Italy" (ibid., pp. 27-28).
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