The monographic volume dedicated to Ottavio Mazzonis (1921-2010), edited by Giuseppe Luigi Marini and published by Allemandi in 1993, opens with an image of the Maestro absorbed in the study of his own works; enveloped in that eternal self-critical rigour that distinguished him, together with his expertise in savoir faire, throughout his life.
More than ten years after his death, it becomes increasingly clear how much his sceptical thinking about the new artistic vision as opposed to continuity would only bear sterile fruit, totally contrary to his way of thinking about art.
Mazzonis's modus operandi was subservient to the laws of a solitary but salvific movement, within which the male portraits all take on his likeness and the landscape - largely linked to the imagery of Böcklin and Klinger - becomes the prince in a work of art that wants him in perfect symbiosis and in masterly dialogue with the characters.
A life spent in the painstaking and scientific pursuit of continuity, not merely looking to the past, but feeling the constant presence of his Masters. The strength of Mazzonis' work lies, in fact, in its total timelessness but, precisely for this reason, perceptible in its absolute contemporaneity.
His was a new Renaissance that has given life to a personal vision of the women of the Gospels, as well as to a Way of the Cross exhibited at the Museo Parmeggiani in Cento in 2003, which - in its superb beauty - gives us the opportunity to dwell on the 14th Station: The Burial, where a sense of resigned peace pervades the canvas. The light falls in the centre of the painting and emphasises the relationship between Mother and Son, leaving us dazzled as we recognise in the sudden movement of the standing figure, the solemnity of Bistolfi's Angel of Death (visible at the Monumental Cemetery in Turin). This symbolises a complete reinvention of religious art by Mazzonis, while maintaining a visible continuity with a Master from the past.
Also admirable, in this sense, are the decorations of the Sanctuary of the Sanità, as well as the Church of San Pietro, in Savigliano (Cuneo), examples of that fil-rouge that always bound him to the Sacred and Sacredness but, even in these cases, from an entirely pioneering point of view, within which past and present are not opposed, but dialogue with each touch.
It is not for nothing that Ottavio Mazzonis lives on in the words of Vittorio Sgarbi, who describes him as “rigorous but not academic, traditional but not conservative”.
The mastery of light, the studies on melancholy and the dreamlike and mythological atmospheres of his works are vivid and tangible examples of this, which can be admired at the Mazzonis Foundation in Turin, which survives him thanks to the indomitable and daring care of its President for life: Silvia Pirracchio, his inspiring muse.
Side by side with Mazzonis for thirty years, Silvia is now the elected witness of what was a true communion of intentions. Mazzonis painted her (and painted himself alongside her) incessantly, turning her into the keeper of countless keys to interpretation. Details that he explained to us in our interview, together with the future he hopes for the Foundation.
Following the Maestro's death, how did you go about preserving his legacy?
The importance of his legacy has always been of fundamental importance to me. I can mention in this sense some of the monographic exhibitions at the Reggia di Venaria (2018), at the Accorsi-Ometto Foundation (2015) and in Mondovì (2014).
At the Reggia, the theme of motherhood was investigated and I chose, together with the curator, thirty works by the Maestro put in relation with others of ancient art from the rich collections of his family - among whose names are Legnanino and Solimena - most of which are already preserved in the historic Turin palace, now home to the Museum of Oriental Art.
Exhibitions that have been very successful, although the Mazzonis family, of noble lineage, has always been quite isolated from the art scene in Turin, apart from private galleries such as Fogliato, organising an exhibition in Turin - in fact - has always been difficult. I believe that the city has never really felt him to be a leading exponent, perhaps because of a certain school of thought in Turin that is too tied to the avant-garde.
Although he was professionally linked to Tiziano Forni, who took his work all over the world, with great success, in the last period of his life he was pessimistic about the future of his legacy. I, too, often wonder who - after me - will dedicate themselves to his work with the same respect and continuity.
Over the last ten years, I have been committed to giving him maximum visibility, even taking him to the Biennale - thanks to Sgarbi's supervision - with the project for the altarpieces of Noto Cathedral. A work that was left unfinished, but on which he worked until his death.
Mazzonis was a great researcher, confronting himself and the past. His Tiepolism in his studies of light is famous. Decoration, especially in churches, gave him the opportunity to mirror the enlightenment of Tiepolo and to approach composition freely.
What was your daily life with him like?
He worked a lot and, when he sensed that the pictorial composition was as he wished, he devoted himself to sculpture; as he was born as an artist under the guidance of the sculptor Calderini. [Editor's note: the coloured plaster bust, depicting Silvia and exhibited at the 1999 monographic exhibition in Aosta, for the first time, is valuable in this sense].
How did he carry out his stylistic research?
Isolated. Ottavio was very humble, but very strict with himself, constantly listening to the possibilities offered by the past, with which he was constantly confronted. We have mentioned Bistolfi, Tiepolo, but I can also name Caravaggio, a true guiding spirit in the search for intonation and the simplification of pain.
When he elaborated the composition and searched for it in the synthesis of light, of mass, of the nude, then he devoted himself to landscapes. One thinks of Böcklin's islands (which I exhibited in Mondovì), which he made his own, mastering their grace, their line, convinced that in art, much had been said, but not everything, and his love for continuity returns.
In a breath-taking position in his studio is Amleto Capaldi's Isadora Duncan. Can you explain why he chose to buy this particular oeuvre?
He noticed it six months before he left. He loved Capaldi so much and bought it, won over by the particularity of the movement. He told me: "Silvia, I dedicate it to you because it was exhibited in '61 at the Quadriennale in Rome and that is the year you were born. Moreover, it will be one of my bequests to the Foundation”. Seeing it, Sgarbi immediately fell in love with it and Flora Giubilei included it in a large monographic exhibition dedicated to Duncan, which was very successful both in Florence and Rovereto.
Painting and sculpture were one and the same for Mazzonis. Let us also think about the relationship with Wolfgang Alexander Kossuth [Editor's note: Kossuth dedicated one of the many splendid sculptural portraits to Mazzonis, now part of the Foundation's collection].
Theirs is a very special story: Kossuth became acquainted with Mazzonis's art on the occasion of the monographic exhibition in Aosta, if I remember correctly. He introduced himself, came to the studio, and a great friendship was immediately born. When he got to know him, Kossuth started drawing landscapes, portraits, depicting movements. They cannot do without each other, regretting not having met earlier. Mazzonis himself will devote himself to organising the monographic exhibition dedicated to Kossuth at the Promotrice di Belle Arti in Turin in 2002. Kossuth, on the other hand, will set up a piano concert in honour of his Via Crucis.
How did your first meeting with the Maestro take place?
At the Davico Gallery in Turin, in the early 1980s. It was a very important exhibition for the portrait of Laura Firpo, Senator Firpo's wife. I arrived from Milan and entered the Gallery, without any reason, as if someone was guiding me. While I was intent on admiring the paintings, I noticed the Maestro from afar, busy with Firpo and waiting. Then, introducing myself to him, I expressed my dream of becoming the muse of a Maestro who could master drawing as he did. So, he invited me to his studio for the next day, letting me pose for three or four drawings, noting my skill in posing and understanding the movement he desired. Having signed the image contract, I left Milan and we began our journey together.