Morbelli’s soft (light)spot

When I was 16, I decided I wanted to learn Italian. I found myself a pen-friend – a girl of my age who lived in the town of Novara in the Piemonte region of Northern Italy. I went and visited her in the Springtime. Her mother took us to the countryside one day and I remember driving on this long, straight road in the middle of paddy fields of rice that reflected the white morning light and made the plain of the Po river look like a shiny, silver mirror that extended as far as the eye could see. The extraordinary canvas of Angelo Morbelli, In the Rice Fields (1988-1901), hanging in the National gallery for the current Radical Light exhibition, admirably caught the luminous landscape of the rice paddies of Novara. Morbelli’s divisionist technique of aligning dots of pure colour side by side and the granular texture of his canvas are emphasised by the lightspot placed right above it, creating a white, diffused luminosity that gently caresses the fragile stems of the plants and the back of the female pickers, covering their bottoms with a wet, pearly shine. The room in which the painting hangs is themed ‘Social issues’ but Greg and I, who cannot stop marvelling at the sensuous, serene beauty it depicts and embraces, wonder if it really meant to be a social message or, rather, a romantic glorification of the past at the turn of the 19th century, as Italy was soon to be struck by the lightening bolts of the radical Futurist avant-garde.

At the National Gallery until 7 September

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~ by lavivette on July 2, 2008.

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