Umberto Boccioni

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Umberto Boccioni Photo

Verona Umberto Boccioni was one of the most prominent and influential artists among the Italian Futurists, an art movement that emerged in the years before the First World War.

Umberto Boccioni was born on October 19, 1882 in Reggio di Calabria, Italy. The Italian Futurist had a short but very productive life. He worked primarily as a painter, but also produced drawings, prints, and sculptures that were similarly infused with the energetic movement that symbolized the modern machine age. By 1905, he was already acquainted with two other Italian artists, Giacomo Balla and Gino Severini, who would later join him as the leading painters of Italian Futurism, and in 1910, he was one of the signers of the first “Manifesto of the Futurist Painters and the Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting” promoting the representation of the symbols of modern technology—violence, power, and speed.

Boccioni was important not only in developing the movement’s theories, but also in introducing the visual innovations that led to the dynamic, Cubist-like style now so closely associated with the group. Emerging first as a painter, Boccioni later produced some significant Futurist sculpture. He died while volunteering in the Italian army, aged only thirty-three, making him emblematic of the Futurists’ celebration of the machine and the violent destructive force of modernity.

Dynamism of a Soccer Player Boccioni’s first major Futurist painting, Riot in the Gallery (1909), remained close to pointillism and showed an affiliation with Futurism mainly in its violent subject matter and dynamic composition. The City Rises (1910–11), however, is an exemplary Futurist painting in its representation of dynamism, motion, and speed. The swirling human figures in its crowd scenes are repetitively fragmented according to the Futurist style, but the rhythmic, muscular energy they generate is unrelated to the Futurist cult of the machine.

Futurism was probably influenced by Cubism in 1911–12, and about that time he also became interested in sculpture. In 1912 he published the “Manifesto of Futurist Sculpture,” in which he anticipated developments in modern sculpture. Boccioni advocated the use in sculpture of non-traditional materials such as glass, wood, cement, cloth, and electric lights, and he called for the combination of a variety of materials in one piece of sculpture. He also envisioned a new type of sculpture that would mold and enclose the space within itself. In practice, however, Boccioni’s sculpture was much more traditional than his theories. Only Development of a Bottle in Space (1912) successfully creates a sculptural environment. His most famous work, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913), is one of the masterpieces of early modern sculpture.

Boccioni enlisted in the army during World War I and was killed by a fall from a horse in 1916. He was the most talented of the Futurist artists, and his untimely death marked the virtual end of the movement.

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