Luigi Broggini's Dancers
Luigi Broggini’s Dancers 1938

These descriptions were written by curator Elena Pontiggia for her show, “Broggini e il suo tempo: Uno scultore nell’Italia degli anni ‘30 tra chiarismo e Corrente” (“The Age of Broggini: A Sculptor in 1930s Italy, from Chiarismo to Corrente”)

Skira Catalog Civitanova Marche Alta – Church of Sant’ Agostino 5 July / 27 September 1998

We are grateful to Professor Elena Pontiggia for kindly allowing us to publish these important texts.

Much of Broggini’s work coincides with the expressionism championed by the magazine Corrente, which was founded in 1938, around the same time Broggini’s dancers appeared – figures overwhelmed by the orgiastic, frenetic quality of the dance with their limbs almost coming loose as they writhe to fast-paced musical rhythms.

Although the subject of the dancer might recall Degas, even more apparent in these works are echoes of a Dionysian Greekness, full of fauna and horse races; an archaic Greekness of the god Pan (one 1930 bas-relief is called Pastoral) evident in some of the artist’s sculpture.

Tellingly, one dancer is captured in the act of playing the flute, a gesture unthinkable for Degas’ dancers but entirely congruent with the vitalistic, ritualized, dynamic kind of dancing depicted in Broggini’s works.

His coeval design for the large bas-relief Della Ragione (On Reason) evokes the same visionary Greek quality.

Even the pose of his Ballerina con tutù (Dancer with Tutu, shown here for the first time and once belonging to painter Fiorenzo Tomea), with its apparent nod to traditional iconography, expresses a feverish joie de vivre and a euphoric, dramatic tension that, staying in the French context, share more with the leaping danseuses of Lautrec or Matisse than with Degas.

The bodies of these dancers indulge in no sensual gratification.

They are reduced instead to a quick gesture, a geometric arabesque in space.

They are no longer mass or volume but a forceful line, a tangle of threadlike triangular rhythms.

Argan called the Dancer of 1938 a “condensation of pictorial space along the axes of the volumes themselves.” (20)

No wonder Broggini felt the need to deprive his 1939 Dancer of her arms and a leg (which still seem to be intact in Gatto’s 1944 monograph), almost out of a compulsion to simplify, to edit down.

As Testori noted, for Broggini “it is not the dancer per se that exists but gestures and rhythms in the infinite harmony of time, inflections making repeated reference to sculptural echoes and sounds.” (21)

Luigi Broggini's Dancers
Luigi Broggini’s Dancers 1938

His dancers’ unbridled momentum should not lead us to identify Broggini’s work exclusively with expressionist dynamism.

Figures marked by a sober, introverted composure appear in the same years as his Pan-inspired dancers.

Nudo con colomba (Nude with Dove), for example, is a very tender, Alexandrian meditation on adolescent grace and feminine sweetness. Moreover, the dove and the woman herself allude to a desire for peace, her dream of harmony all the more poignant for how dramatically the times (1938–39) departed from it.

Figura allo specchio (Figure in the Mirror), shown at Corrente’s second exhibition and also known as ”Figura al sole” (Figure in the Sun), on the other hand, is linked to an older series by Broggini of women sitting at a dressing table.

Yet here the figure’s strong-willed gesture seems as if stuck in silent surprise.

She stops before her reflection out of a sense of wonder, but she is also amazed by the sun’s splendor, which is represented indirectly by the light inundating the figure (here the sculpture’s longstanding use of double titles is telling).

Luigi Broggini's Dancers
Luigi Broggini’s Dancers 1938

In the early 1940s, sculpture’s avowedly volumetric, plastic values began to interest Broggini.

Exemplary of this period is his 1942 Nudo rosa (Pink Nude), unfortunately destroyed when his studio was bombed in 1943. 

Its subject is linked to his 1939 Figura seduta (Seated Figure, now at the Museo della Ragione), Yet the two sculptures differ in one profound way. In the first, the female body is more linear; in the second, the figure’s volumes take precedence: swollen breasts emerging from framing arms; broad, rounded shoulders; hips spreading horizontally. 

While Figura seduta is all jerking movements and tension, a sort of heavy florid quality takes hold of Nudo rosa who, though flinching, seems intent on protecting her body’s lushness.

This is one of Broggini’s most realistic and plastic works. When first shown at the Cairola Gallery in 1943, contemporary critics praised its exquisite monumentality and expressive achievement.

For Walter Pozzi, it revealed Broggini’s “essential qualities.” (22)

According to Emilio Radius, he was “placating the storm of his modeling, attenuating distortions through nuance, ceasing to abuse anatomy and skin out of an urge to express, filling and softening the figure’s fearful voids.[…] Whether or not it is Broggini’s best work, Nudo rosa best typifies his current style.”(23)

Alfonso Gatto wrote, “Circulating in a soft fullness, a heartbeat its only link, Nudo rosais a steady structure whose few shadows allow spaces to rest. Multifaceted, with syntactically perfect views, it is enhanced by a pure design, perhaps the purest Broggini has ever given us, and certainly the most absolute.”(24)

Critics interpreted it as a return to a classical compactness that was both realistic and expressionistic. The piece has few precedents and can be situated early in the plastic-realistic era of Broggini’s Torso(1941).

It is a mutilated version of Nudo biondo (Blonde Nude), which was exhibited at Venice’s Cavallino Gallery in 1942 and Milan’s Cairola Gallery (along with Nudo rosa) in 1943.

At the latter event, Piero Torriano connected the two sculptures by writing that “in two of his recent works, Nudo biondo and Nudo rosa, his expression already appears resolute and full of animated, well-defined forms. No longer so deformed or exacerbated, his modeling responds to a more restrained idea of form and motion. Though sketchy and uncertain in some details, both statues appear to have been molded in an uncommonly solid, compact way. [ … ] Nudo biondo was created with beautiful ease, flowing limbs, excellent joints, full of a completely human sense of female carnality. And in Nudo rosa volume is perceived through a harmony of curves and contours, revealing the sculptor’s aptitude for meditation and calm without losing any of his intimate energy.” (25) We do not know when the artist removed Nudo biondo‘s lower part.

20 G.C. Argan, Broggini, “Le Arti”, aprile-maggio 1942.
21 G. Testore (Testori), Lo scultore Broggini, “Via Consolare”, n. 5, maggio 1941, p. 16.
22 W. Pozzi, Luigi Broggini, “Signum”, Treviso, 10 marzo 1943.
23 E. Radius, La settimana artistica, “Corriere della Sera”, Milano, 13 marzo 1943.
24 A. Gatto, Luigi Broggini, Milano 1944, p. 12.
25 P. Torriano Broggini, “Settegiorni”, Milano, 27 marzo 1943.