Ultimo lettorato al Dante… De Chirico and his Metaphysical Art

Italian art and culture in Cork
Giorgio de Chirico (1888- 1978), Self-Portrait [Et quid amabo nisi quod aenigma est?], 1911, oil on canvas

Last Monday evening saw Prof. Catherine O’ Brien giving a wonderful lecture on De Chirico.

De Chirico (July 10, 1888 – November 20, 1978) was the father of Metaphysical art which inspired the surrealists and was in contraposition with Futurism. In fact, while Futurism cuts all bridges with the past and also denies it any importance, De Chirico finds in the past the foundations of his art.

Many of us had never heard much about this painter with Italian origins or about his Metaphysical art, not even those who are actually Italian (like myself), but Prof. O’Brien took our hands and led us picture by picture through the metaphysical journey that De Chirico would have liked us to undertake.

A journey through metaphysical expressions which takes off from physical entities which have their origins in the real world, such as la Mole Antonelliana (located in Torino), the arches of many Italian towns, several statues of Arianna, mannequins, trains and so on, and it will take us to something that is not physical, but nonetheless real and always present in our life: the enigma… ineluctable part of human existence.

It is not by chance that one of the pieces showed by Prof. O’Brien on Monday night was ‘Nostalgia dell’infinito’ (nostalgia of theItalian in Cork infinite) which she linked to one of my favorite Italian poems ‘L’infinito’ (1818-1819) written by Giacomo Leopardi. Here you will find the Italian copy and its English translation. Leopardi feels that there is ‘more’ beyond what we see, probably much more and the thought of it almost scares him… his and our limits are in Leopardi’s poem represented by an edge (la siepe) which also helps him to feel that there is something beyond it. In fact, without it, he might have not been able to have such a perception and to enjoy it (dolce naufragare in questo mare – sinking in this sea is sweet to me). As in Leopardi’s poem the edge has the fundamental role of the limit which allows us to perceive somehow the infinite, so in De Chirico’s painting we have the tower to allow us to feel the ‘whistle’ of the infinite… the enigma.

Many thanks to Prof. Catherine O’Brien for having led us through this wonderful journey and allowed us to hear the ‘whistle’ again… it is always more and more difficult in our busy lives.

Italian art and culture in Cork
Giacomo Leopardi



Sempre caro mi fu quest’ermo colle,

e questa siepe, che da tanta parte

dell’ultimo orizzonte il guardo esclude.

Ma sedendo e mirando, interminati

spazi di là da quella, e sovrumani

silenzi, e profondissima quiete

io nel pensier mi fingo; ove per poco

il cor non si spaura. E come il vento

odo stormir tra queste piante, io quello

infinito silenzio a questa voce

vo comparando: e mi sovvien l’eterno,

e le morte stagioni, e la presente

e viva, e il suon di lei. Così tra questa

immensità s’annega il pensier mio:

e il naufragar m’è dolce in questo mare.

English translation

Always dear to me was this solitary hill

and this hedge, which, from so many parts

of the far horizon, the sight excludes.

But sitting and gazing endless

spaces beyond it, and inhuman

silences, and the deepest quiet,

I fake myself in my thoughts; where almost

my heart scares. As the wind

I hear rustling through these trees, I, that

infinite silence, to this voice

keep comparing: and I feel the eternal,

the dead seasons, the present,

and living one, and the sound of her. So in this

immensity drown my own thoughts:

and sinking in this sea is sweet to me.


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