Cesare Brandi (Siena, 1906 – Vignano, 1988) met Giorgio Morandi (Bologna, 1890 – 1964), a “great and humble” artist, in 1933, when he was a young critic. Although Morandi was sixteen years older, they shared the same sensitivity and the same cultural background, so they started a lifelong, solid and stimulating friendship. After observing Morandi’s work, Brandi elaborated the aesthetic theory of the “phenomenology of artistic creation” which lies at the core of his reflection on Art, and which he revised and updated over time. Brandi became one of the most enthusiastic supporters of Morandi's work, writing articles for magazines, catalogues, and newspapers, and promoting it among important collectors. The painter and the critic had different personalities: the former was an introvert and solitary man, who did not like travelling and preferred to paint in his studios in Grizzana or Bologna; the latter was a “pilgrim of the world” and had an outgoing personality. These two friends had few opportunities to meet and, hence, they constantly wrote to each other: their correspondence, one of the most significant testimonies of their friendship, was reconstructed and published by Marilena Pasquali in 2008.
In their letters of the late 1930s, Morandi and Brandi wrote of an essay on Morandi which was to be published in the magazine Le Arti and of the third Quadriennale Romana (1939). Morandi presented 42 oils, 2 drawings and 12 etchings at that exhibition, and he won the second prize. Brandi deeply regretted that second position because he considered his friend the most important painter of their century. Morandi repaid the critic for his support by creating the cover image of his first book of poems.
Starting from the 1940s, their correspondence intensified and it recorded ordinary facts and events, such as appointments, recommendations, health problems. Through Brandi, Morandi met Luigi Magnani, a well-known musicologist and art lover, who would then collect many of his paintings. When the Quadriennale was inaugurated in May 1943, the critic wrote to the artist: “I went to the Quadrenniale. (…) In the field of painting, you are the best. I was very excited but by no means surprised to notice that you paint at a level that is unattainable”.
In that same year, the War, in which Italy had become involved in 1940, brought serious troubles for both: Morandi was imprisoned and then sent to Grizzana, whereas Brandi was forced to stay in Vignano after having decided to suspend his work at the Central Institute of Restoration in order not to collaborate with the Germans. Between 1946 and 1948, they wrote to each other about Brandi's new magazine, L'immagine. The critic asked the artist to make an engraving for its opening number. The etching, which was finally produced after long negotiations, was printed in August 1947 for the third issue of L'immagine, which was entirely dedicated to Morandi. This number also included the last part of Brandi's essay, Europeismo e autonomia di cultura nella pittura moderna italiana, in which the critic reaffirmed the leading role of Morandi in the national and international contemporary art scene.
In 1948, Morandi won the First Prize for Painting at the 24th Venice Biennale: that victory confirmed Brandi's beliefs. Around the mid-1950s, the artist, who was older and tired, felt the need to retreat from public life and to devote himself only to painting. For that reason, he asked the critic to help him retire from the Academy of Fine Arts of Bologna, in which he had been teaching for twenty years. On that occasion, Brandi made the proposal to appoint Morandi senator for life for his achievements in the field of Italian art. In September 1957, Morandi exhibited thirty works at the Biennial of Sao Paulo in Brazil and won the Grand Prix for Painting. He asked Brandi to attend the awards ceremony and to deliver the acceptance speech at the Embassy of Brazil in his place. In the 1960s, despite the lack of common projects, their friendship remained solid and they continued to exchange short messages, holiday greetings, and postcards.
When Morandi died in June 1964, Brandi dedicated the following words to him: “The death of a great artist leaves a hole like a clearing in the woods where there once was a centuries-old tree: the hole will never be filled, except by undergrowth that struggles to grow. So it is with Morandi. What he left behind is of such an impressive quality that it will grant him eternal fame and bring lasting pride to Italy. But the friend who knew him and his lifelong enlightening work feels in his death a sudden and fatal impoverishment, that not even the vitality of his work can compensate”.