Giorgio de Chirico (Italian, 1888-1978) Il Trovatore, 60 x 48 cm (23 5/8 x 19 in)

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Lot 79
Giorgio de Chirico
(Italian, 1888-1978)
Il Trovatore, 60 x 48 cm (23 5/8 x 19 in)

Sold for £ 378,400 (US$ 458,180) inc. premium
Giorgio de Chirico (Italian, 1888-1978)
Il Trovatore, circa 1960
signed 'G. de Chirico' (bottom left) and extensively inscribed on the back of the canvas "Questa pittura metafisica Ill Trovatore e' opera autentica da me eseguita e firmata Giorgio de Chirico"
oil on canvas
60 x 48 cm (23 5/8 x 19 in)


  • Provenance:
    Galleria Taras, Taranto
    Acquired in 1961 by the father of the present owner

    Literature for comparison:
    C.B. Sakraischik, Catalogo Generale, Giorgio de Chirico, volume ottavo, opere dal 1951 al 1974, Milan, 1987, no. 1182 (illustrated)

    The painting is recorded in the archives of the Fondazione Giorgio de Chirico and catalogued as autographed and painted around 1960.

    As in all of de Chirico’s metaphysical works, Il Trovatore plunges the viewer into a strange dreamlike world; the result of pluralistic light sources, exaggerated elongated shadows and illogical perspective. The mannequin stands, desolate, bound forever to a column and assembled pieces of wood. His body, made of strange shapes and nails, has almost human feet. However an overall feeling of eerie stillness and quiet counteracts de Chirico’s rendering of flesh. Behind the mannequin, an ominous colonnade and tower project from the ground, bathed in an orange light. The scene is at once momentous, disturbing and mysterious.
    The allusions to Renaissance painting are clear. In terms of pictorial construction and subject matter, Il Trovatore is a clear re-working of Antonello da Messina’s St. Sebastian and Andrea Mantegna’s Martydom of St. Sebastian (Fig.1). In all three compositions a single figure occupies the foreground, unable to move but indomitable. Architectural edifices root the compositions to the terrestrial sphere, and yet St. Sebastian is between two worlds, that of the celestial and of man. The mannequin, neither human but animated is then, the perfect sign or metaphor for St. Sebastian’s transitional ecstatic state. The dialogue with the old masters that this art historical connection clearly conveys supports de Chirico’s self constructed image as a ‘Pictor Classicus.’

    However the bewildering nature of Il Trovatore renders it distinct from works by de Chirico’s Sixteenth Century predecessors. It is a composition, which compels the viewer to ask more questions than it answers. Who is the shadowy figure on the left, and what is the mannequin doing in a piazza? It is re-assuring that the artist deliberately created feelings of unease and impenetrability. De Chirico’s wife, Isabella Far wrote that ‘We know that entering the metaphysical world is a privilege allowed only to a few’. While de Chirico himself maintained that he wanted to reveal the strangeness of the world through enigma.
    Arguably in Il Trovatore, de Chirico assimilated the mannequin into the world of his earlier Italian piazza scenes exemplified in The Red Tower, 1913 (Peggy Guggenheim Collection). Credence is leant to this hypothesis by reference to Isabella Far’s belief that de Chirico had ‘the idea for these curious figures (mannequins)…. in a gothic Cathedral’. A remark which reinforces the important dialogue between architecture and figure in de Chirico’s work. The motivation behind the Piazza pictures is then essential in understanding the full metaphysical meaning of Il Trovatore.
    De Chirico’s visit to Turin in 1911 and the influence of Nietzsche provided the vital stimuli for the Piazza d’Italia compositions. De Chirico’s awakening to the metaphysical possibilities of the Italian landscape was guided by Nietzsche’s belief that Turin had a unique metaphysical atmosphere, the virtues of which he expounded in Ecce Homo. In both homage to Nietzsche and acknowledgment of his influence, de Chirico proclaimed,

    ‘This new quality is a strange and profound poetry, endlessly enigmatic…when the skies are clear and the shadows grow longer…the Italian city par excellence in which this extraordinary phenomena occurs is Turin’.

    The town square in Il Trovatore filled with autumnal light entices the viewer with a vision of uneasy serenity. Strange, almost out of place buildings exacerbate this sense of disquiet. De Chirico maintained,

    'There is nothing like the enigma of the Arcade - which the Romans invented…there is something about it more mysteriously plaintive than in French architecture…The Roman arcade is a fatality. Its voice speaks in riddles…’

    The unnerving atmosphere created by geometry contained within architectural edifices shared much with the philosophy of Otto Weininger. Of utmost importance to de Chirico was Weininger’s discussion of the symbolic value of geometric forms. Weininger viewed an open circle as an expression of time, a triangle as a suggestion of fear and believed that a square had the capacity to conjure up mystery and unease. Through these shapes Weininger hoped to express deeper meanings rather than the superficial external appearance of reality, and go beyond the visible world. Far links this concept with de Chirico’s mannequin paintings, explaining that ‘There are men who do not know the terror inherent in signs and angles…But we who know the signs of the metaphysical alphabet know what joys and sorrows are contained in a portico’.

    The effects of riddles and fatality are heightened by de Chirico’s use of unnerving, irrational perspective in Il Trovatore, which further subverts his superficial rendering of tranquillity. The deployment of unsettling perspective owed much to the influence of Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837). Leopardi wrote,

    ‘A building, a tower, seen in such a way that it seems to rise above the horizon which itself cannot be seen, produces a highly effective and sublime contrast between the finite and indefinite’.

    The result of this synthesis of perspectival enigma and mysterious architecture is a cold stage like work where feelings of melancholy and confusion dominate. The flat picture plane serves to heighten these feelings.

    The mannequin, although imbued with poetical and chivalric associations through the title of Il Trovatore, is essentially a tailor's doll in a landscape alien to its function. This juxtaposition of place and purpose underlines de Chirico’s belief that ‘art must escape all human limits, logic and common sense will only interfere.’ He referred to this effect as ‘solitude of signs', an allusion to the dichotomy between appearance and reality contained in his work and his belief that reason had to be abandoned if beautiful things were to be portrayed.

    The mannequin, although not conventionally beautiful has an aura of elegance and serenity. Isabella Far described the figures as having,

    ‘special proportions, with an aesthetic harmony all of their own… Their egg shaped heads and oval faces, modelled by a deft use of light and shadow in such a way as to give their featureless faces the required plasticity fulfil the perfect logic of the composition.’

    We find in the ‘featureless faces’ echoes of a drawing lesson de Chirico received from his father as a young boy. In his memoirs de Chirico described how he struggled to copy a figure of St John the Baptist. He recalled,

    ‘My father came to my help. He took my pencil and on the saint’s head drew a cross, its centre being the centre of the head. Then he drew a cross of equal size on drawing where the head was to be, showing me how, with the aid of these two crosses, I could find the position of the eyes, the nose and mouth, and the height and location of the ear, the line of the head and the jaw…I was immensely satisfied at having learnt the two crosses method’.

    The lines on the head of the mannequin resemble the early stages of a sketch or under drawing and free from layers of oil paint they maintain a sense of purity. The dots, lines and other marks can therefore be read as metaphors for the penetration of the external substance of everyday objects to reveal deeper meanings and essential truths.

    However it must be stressed that di Chirico was not exploring the mannequin theme in isolation. His brother, Alberto Savinio wrote Les Chants De La Mi-mort, a play about the semi dead, in 1914. In the play Savinio described a ‘Person without voice, without eyes and without face, made of pain, of passion and joy’. De Chirico verified his brother’s influence, in his writings, stating ‘The idea of these large heads shaped like an egg, which one also sees in my standing mannequins of the metaphysical type, came to be from seeing the maquettes designed by my brother’. This ‘pain’, ‘passion’, and ‘joy’ describe St Sebastian’s state exactly, for his earthly suffering was counterbalanced by the ecstasy of becoming closer to God. The adjectives also capture the mannequin’s ambiguity perfectly.

    What is striking about Il Trovatore is the absence of a human presence, which is heightened by the eerie shadow on the left. Farr wrote that ‘the absence of man is an inevitable condition, a requirement of the appearance of the metaphysical world’. This ‘absence’ compels the viewer to ask what function the mannequin has? It has been argued that as part of de Chirico’s personal symbolic vocabulary the mannequin could stand not only for St. Sebastian, but the blind seer of antiquity, a modern version of ancient statuary and a poetic figure announcing the metaphysical credo. Ultimately however there is, as De Chirico stated, no logic, only deeper meanings and beauty, characteristics which had a profound influence on the Surrealists.

    The importance of Il Trovatore to de Chirico and the insight it offers into his artistic ideology cannot be underestimated. Towards the end of his career, critics accused de Chirico of distancing himself from his early works and with this judgement implied that there had been a decline in the quality of his painting. In an interview with a journalist in 1962, John Piper said ‘He (de Chirico) was a wonderful painter before the war…but since then he has turned against all his early work’. In his memoirs first published in 1962 de Chirico used the example of the Troubadour to refute claims such as Piper’s. He wrote ‘I had in fact not repudiated it (metaphysical painting) and … from time to time I painted metaphysical painting, and that actually I had sold a Troubadour to a Swiss collector…I have always done what I wanted to do, standing loftily apart from the gossip and legends created about me by envious and interested people’. Il Trovatore as a direct re-working of a painting of the same title from 1917 (see fig.3) is then a visual manifestation of this argument and proof of de Chirico lifetime allegiance to the metaphysical ideal.

    I. Farr, Reflections on the Paintings of Giorgio de Chirico, (New York) p. 7.
    Ibid, p. 6
    Quoted in M. Holzhey, De Chirico (Koln, 2005) p. 24
    Quoted in On Classic Ground; Picasso, Leger, de Chirico and the New Classicism 1910-1930, (London, 1990), p.72
    I Farr, Reflections on the Paintings of Giorgio de Chirico, (New York, 1964) p. 8.
    Ibid, p. 32
    Ibid, p. 34
    Ibid, p.6
    G de Chirico, The Memoirs of Giorgio de Chirico (London, 1971) p.170.
    Ibid, p. 34.
    Quoted in On Classic Ground; Picasso, Leger, de Chirico and the New Classicism pg. 81
    Farr, Reflections on the Paintings of Girgio de Chirico , p. 7.
    M. Crosland, The enigma of Giorgio di Chirico, (London, 1999), p. 127.
    Ibid, p. 170.
Giorgio de Chirico (Italian, 1888-1978) Il Trovatore, 60 x 48 cm (23 5/8 x 19 in)
Giorgio de Chirico (Italian, 1888-1978) Il Trovatore, 60 x 48 cm (23 5/8 x 19 in)
Giorgio de Chirico (Italian, 1888-1978) Il Trovatore, 60 x 48 cm (23 5/8 x 19 in)
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