Piero Paladini Art & Design

PAINTING AS REINVENTION

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Luciano Caramel

luciano-caramel-acaya-giugno-2010As is generally known, a work of art is always a self-portrait of the artist; even when apparently there is no resemblance with the author, and even when it portrays someone else. In an extreme sense, which is only seemingly paradoxical, this is the case of the new cycle of paintings by Piero Paladini documented

here, consisting of fifteen large paintings – 250 cm x 120 cm – in acrylic tempera on jute canvas treated with plaster of Paris and produced for the Brizio Montinari family which are now on permanent display in the cloister of the Acaya Golf Resort at Salento, near Lecce. Through a unique form of transference, the artist has projected himself onto a fellow countryman of the nobility who lived five centuries ago, reinventing him, making him, and hence himself, the protagonist of a “story” which unfolds throughout this series of paintings. The nobleman is Baron Giangiacomo dell’Acaya, born between 1492 and 1502 and who died in 1570, an architect and engineer, designer of buildings but above all famous for his achievements in military architecture. After transforming his native Segine, into the fortified village of Acaya, which was his first known accomplishment and that he completed in 1535, he worked on the Lecce Castle and on other fortifications of the town besides mills and other buildings in various places.

Held in high esteem by Charles V, who by decree appointed him “general engineer of the Kingdom of Naples”, he was given major assignments by the Emperor, some of which had little to do with design, like accompanying Francesco Maria I della Rovere, Duke of Urbino, to conduct site inspections of the fortifications of Naples, Capua, Aversa, Nola, Pozzuoli, Baia, Ischia and Capri. This task was carried out jointly with Fernando de Alarcón, Marquis of Vallo Siciliano, collaborator of the viceroy Pedro Alvarez de Toledo, to whom Giangiacomo dell’Acaya was very close.

The attention-seeking Baron, whose life unfolded on the sumptuous stage of the Neapolitan viceroyalty, must have appealed to Paladini’s imagination who, being a painter, immediately pictured the dynamically vital Baron full of colours, the colours of his paintings. Fascinated by the events of the Baron’s life he imagined him involved in warfare, in encounters and clashes, affects and emotional impulses, in framing “learned” expressions, thoughts and poems, prompted by the versatility of his Acaya, in expressing his enthusiasm for poetry and his special interest in mathematics, that dated back to his earlier years as a student (he corresponded with Niccolò Tartaglia, whom he visited in Venice in 1542). Bernardino Rota, a Neapolitan poet, dedicated a sonnet to him and there is evidence of his being a frequenter of Vittoria Colonna’s circle - the wife of Ferdinando Francesco d’Avalos, Marquis of Pescara – who had a friendly relationship with Michelangelo.

Paladini establishes a personal relationship with Giangiacomo dell’Acaya, a sociable public character who was self-fulfilling in both thought and action; Paladini internalizes him and re-invents him, as said earlier, relieving him of all the questions and doubts that have been raised by historiography surveys (cfr. in O.Brunetti, A difesa dell’Impero. Pratica architettonica e dibattito teorico nel Viceregno di Napoli nel Cinquecento, Mario Congedo Editore, Lecce 2006) and making a positive hero out of him through a process that is anything but incongruent and exceptional, since we relive the past in the present, with an unavoidable participation which is present. History is always contemporary history, and its legendary objectivity is an ideological illusion. The reality of the past cannot be revived verbatim in the present, precisely as it was in the past. Tradition itself is undoubtedly a link with the past but it is adjusted to suit us and hence it is modified. This mechanism is valid at the general level in relation to the anthropological, cultural and social context in which man lives, and this has been true throughout the centuries and millenniums, but also at the individual level where it may be embodied, as in the case of Paladini, in a special and specific form.

Since qualitative, value judgements are made, that are not quantitative, history, in order for it to be history, albeit founded on objective sources, cannot help being subjective, in the sense of historic events that are processed personally by individuals who use different parameters. Mohamed and Charlemagne, the great problematic book written in 1937 by the Belgian historian Henry Pirenne, focuses on a problem that is still topical, but within coordinates that are not and cannot be those of the present day. For this very reason, in its otherness, it is still topical and active also in the present day. This is the register along which has developed the liaison, which is anything but dangéreuse, between Piero Paladini and dell’Acaya with the substance being transferred onto the canvas of the paintings, they too being autonomous in spite of many affinities in terms of costumes and the very atmosphere reproduced in the paintings.

Understandably enough, only certain military and non-military architectures of the settings appear to be more “in line”, albeit with considerable freedom and licence, with the atmosphere of the time. This is additional proof of the prevailing imaginary inventiveness whose consistency and consequentiality is typical of Paladini’s paintings and of his underlying fairy-tale narrative spirit, with solutions that at times reflect contemporary illustrations, the transparency of cartoons and even the lightness of comics. There is a drive to adhere to the present, which penetrates into the archaizing pictorial fabric, redeeming it from boring primitive-like and “period” reconstructions and from the fruitlessness that influenced the “learned” or “anachronistic” paintings the were the fashion in the 1980s where the authors’ inability to use the techniques of the past produced clashing effects which were all the stronger the greater the mismatch between the techniques used and the iconic features of the images reproduced in the paintings. Reinvention therefore also involves a pictorial result, which is “contemporary” even though it is given an intentional patina that evokes the past nourished by the free re-emergence of remote echoes of figures that are functional to creating the atmosphere.

The free and originally autonomous fluency of Paladini’s “strips”, is confirmed also in the tone, the rhythm and construction of the comments, published here, which accompany the images and in their accent that is often poetic, the outcome of the deep knowledge of literature that the painter had since his youth both as writer and reader.

Indebted to literature and cinema is the very structure of the fifteen “stations” which begin with the final act of dell’Acaya’s life, his imprisonment in a cell of Charles V’s Castle in Lecce, built by dell’Acaya himself, for the insolvency of a Florentine merchant for whom he had stood guarantor. From the prison, where he was to die, he addressed his memoirs to his son “before they escape me, nay vanish, before I do”. The other fourteen scenes then follow in succession, each with its corresponding brief but enlightening commentary, which besides stimulating the visitor to reflect on himself and others, on the sense of life, of destiny, fate and God, etc., are precious for understanding the paintings and their iconography.

And in their diachronic succession they constitute a continuum which encompasses past, present and future, as masterfully reflected in portrait n° 1 of dell’Acaya who writes (present) his memoirs (past) for his son (future).

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 09 February 2011 12:02 )  
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