Quinto Martini


Quinto Martini - Biografia Quinto Martini in 1938
Quinto Martini Painter and Sculptor, AIÓN Publishing, 2004
Quinto Martini - Biografia Quinto Martini in his workshop in Via Giambologna
Quinto Martini Painter and Sculptor, AIÓN Publishing, 2004
Quinto Martini - Biografia Quinto Martini in his workshop in Borgo Pinti
Quinto Martini Painter and Sculptor, AIÓN Publishing, 2004
Quinto Martini - Biografia Quinto Martini, Portrait of Eugenio Montale
Quinto Martini Painter and Sculptor, AIÓN Publishing, 2004
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Childhood in Seano

"I was born in Seano in a rainy day, on the 31st of October 1908. Son of farmers, when I was a boy I worked the land, alternating work in the fields to works with charcoal and color on the walls of my house and the walls of my room, modeling little figures, horses, and entire soldiers battles for my companions, unaware that there ever were artists, and what art was." In 1939, in his preface for the Third Quadriennale d'arte nazionale of Rome Quinto Martini says: "Son of farmers, I have worked the land together with my relatives and also during the hours of rest; I did it during summer afternoons in the shade of vines and fruit trees, and soon I began to pug mud, trying to portray the bodies of the men sleeping lying on the grass." These two autobiographical pieces evoke the environment within which the boy Quinto instinctively made the early stages of his artistic journey.


Seano is a village in the Municipality of Carmignano, near the Medici villas of Poggio a Caiano and Artimino. It is surrounded by a chain of green hills, rich in vines and olive trees, which follow one another and intersect with each other, called the "Montalbano di Prato". On the slopes of Montalbano, along the road that leads from Carmignano to Empoli lies the small town of Vinci. That is the birthplace of Leonardo, who spent part of his childhood with his maternal grandmother in the countryside of Bacchereto, about 5 kms away from Seano. Also the mother of Quinto was born in Vinci, and his uncle "Beppe" who "knows everything about Leonardo" as Quinto used to say. Among his papers, Quinto has left a little old diary where the festivities organized at Vinci in the spring of 1919 for the centenary of the birth of Leonardo were annotated. He wrote, "my mother used to speak about Leonardo as a person in her family, a neighbour. (...) All her talks ended up rendering him familiar to me, and a few years later, when I began to make his portraits it seemed to me I was making the portrait of my grandfather. Many gave me advice, but I accepted my mother's ones only because I had the impression that her high forehead and her lips would look like him. Later, I tried to do a portrait of my mother and then I added long hairs and a flowing beard to it." Leonardo has always been for Quinto the figure of the"genius" "ever above and beyond all", a sort of tutelary of his life as an artist.


In Seano the Martinis', a patriarchal family of peasants, had a large farm where, next to the fields and the house, they also had a furnace for firing building material mixed with lime derived from 'alberese limestone' that abounds in the area of Bacchereto. In the furnace, the boy Quinto began to pug and shape to reproduce what nature and life offered to its observation. Many years later he wrote in his preface quoted above: "I'm behind controversy, I don't leaf through magazines to be updated, I dislike any art that sounds of intellectualism and fashion. Instead, I love watching people and life as they move around all the time and I would like to represent and express with simplicity of lines and width of plans, the most significant aspects and the poetry of this nature." In his artistic and cultural path, much counted the city experiences in Prato, Turin, Rome and, above all, Florence. But the family, the nature, the earth, the people of his country of origin have always remained strong anchors of his life and offered some of the most important inspirations for his artistic work. Almost a magnifying lens through which to interpret the world, arising from a natural spontaneity that he artfully built: from Seano to the world, from the world to Seano.


Quinto Martini left a tangible sign of his attachment to Seano in its "Park-Museum" developed and implemented by the Municipality of Carmignano in the 80s. It is a public outdoor, at the foot of the delightful chain of hills of Montalbano. The Park-Museum hosts 36 bronze statues covering the entire span of his artistic activity. In an interview to Marco Moretti dated 31 October 1988, the artist so expresses his view and state of mind in relation to the Park-Museum: "My sculptures want first of all to express the simple vitality of this land. Therefore, this is not the definition of a museum but a proper insertion in the nature from where they were taken and where everyone can have their hours of freedom (...). Each of these statues echoes in me with a different sound: different because of the memory of a particular situation, a particular state of mind, a different age. When I come here, each of them talks to me with its own voice, which is actually my one at the time I made them. Each of them is daughter of a different time I had, that so far in time I can't even focus precisely, maybe because I never gave importance to the recording of the time or to what was happening around me."


The years of training in Florence and Turin. The first exhibitions

"In the spring of 1926 I met Ardengo Soffici in Poggio a Caiano, which is close to my house, and encouraged by him I tried to dedicate as much time as possible to art, painting and modeling. Therefore, the nature and Soffici were my only master." Soffici immediately recognized an artist hand in the work of the young self-taught Quinto, that formed a strong and decisive partnership with him. Between the two, there was a strong convergence of sensibility and taste for a direct contact, both human and artistic, with the reality of the country.

Soffici opened the doors of his rich library to Quinto, and drove him toward art and artists: the French Cezanne, Degas, Rousseau, Picasso, and the Italian from Spadini to Morandi, the Cubists, and the Futurists. He introduced Quinto into the heart of the intellectual and artistic life of Florence, and made him meet the public. In February 1927 at the first exhibition of "Il Selvaggio", alongside the works of Mino Maccari, Carlo Carrà, Ottone Rosai, Giorgio Morandi, Achilles Lega, there were also Quinto's paintings, whereas some drawings and engravings were published in the journal "Il Selvaggio" directed by Maccari.

Relevant were for Quinto Martini the experiences within Florence but also with the environment of Prato in the '20s, and his stay in Turin between 1928 and 1929 while he was under military service. In Prato he participated in a group of workers, intellectuals, and artists who spontaneous aggregated around 1925. Among the artists of the group were Oscar Gallo, Leonetto Tintori, Gino Brogi, Arrigo Del Rigo. Almost all of them studied at the "Leonardo" School of Arts and Crafts in Prato, and gravitated around Soffici and the journal "Il Selvaggio". In Turin, thanks to the proximity to Felice Casorati, Cesare Pavese, Carlo Levi and other members of one of the most vibrant cultural realities of that period, Quinto Martini broadened his horizon toward the cultural artistic experience beyond the Alps. Once back to Florence, where he permanently resided from 1935 until his death, he began to attend the Quinto cooperated with Soffici and assisted him in some frescos making. Still he was basically self-taught artist even in this period. He went to the Academy, but only for lessons on nudes without taking other courses. Through Soffici, Quinto Martini met Piero Bargellini, then editor of the journal "Il Frontespizio", where he began to publish engravings and meet other artists (Giacomo Manzù, Giorgio Morandi, Pietro Parigi, Ottone Rosai) and writers (Betocchi Carlo, Carlo Emilio Gadda, Mario Luzi, Eugenio Montale, Aldo Palazzeschi) among the most important ones of that epoca. Immediately before and after the World War II, he also attended the artistic and literary environment in Rome.


During this period Quinto turned his attention to two main objectives: the paintings on the "Mendicanti" series (the Beggars)and the first solo exhibitions of sculpture. The "Mendicanti" series, carried out between 1925 and 1943, are fundamental to understand his creative evolution. As shown by Marco Fagioli, the greatest scholar of Quinto, they witness a radical separation from the monumental and noble expressions of Soffici, a separation determined by the need to follow a very personal way that on the one hand appealed to the Fifteenth-Century Tuscan tradition and on the other looked at the new trends of contemporary art, especially in Picasso's blue and rose periods studied at Soffici's library.

Meanwhile, the artist's interest shifted increasingly to sculpture. In those years sculptors like Arturo Martini and Marini Marini were closely referring to the Etruscan terracotta, also appreciated by critics. According to Lucia Minunno (another scholar interested in Quinto Martini) his terracotta or plaster and red painted figures responded to that time widespread trends "in their full and a little stubby forms, often mutilated of their limbs as in the ancient sculptures (but also in the modern ones of Marino Marini), and with the face features engraved". So his first sculptures immediately met scholars and critics acclaim. The terracotta sculpture called "Ragazza seanese", exposed in 1934 at the XIX Biennial of Venice, was appreciated and annotated by Nino Bertocchi. This sculpture is now the Gallery of Modern Art (Galleria d'arte moderna) in Palazzo Pitti. The first exhibitions of Quinto's sculptures took place in 1938 in Florence, at the "Galleria d'arte Firenze", and in 1939 in Rome at the "Galleria la Cometa", both presented by Soffici. From 1935 to 1973 he participated in all editions of the Rome Quadrennial, where in 1939 an entire room was set up only with his sculptures. He got many awards in Italy and abroad.


The World War II period. The literary work

In 1943, Quinto Martini exhibited an anthology of his paintings on the "Mendicanti" at the "Lyceum" in Florence, but a few days after the inauguration the exhibition was closed down by the Authorities. As observed by Marco Fagioli, Quinto's paintings "in their bitter yet profound 'criticism of the reality' were not welcome to the regime." The social passion that shines through the paintings had deep roots. The Martini family was a communist and anti-fascist; the elder brother Aurelio, to which the artist was very close, was in fascist prisons to serve fifteen years of sentence. Even Quinto, shortly after the exhibition at the "Lyceum", was taken to fascist prisons with his friend Carlo Levi in the same cell where his brother Aurelio had been held. That experience inspired the autobiographical tale "I giorni sono lunghi" (Days are long), written in 1944 but published in its final form in 1957 for the Avanti editions with a preface by Carlo Levi. In the '50s Quinto also published, especially on "Nuovo Corriere" of Florence, some stories and some poetry, and many were left unpublished. In 1974, the "Frama's Edizioni" of Catanzaro published his second novel edited by Pasquino Crupi, written at the end of the '50s, titled "Chi ha paura va alla guerra", (Who's Afraid Goes to War), which tells the story of a deserter from the First World War.


The fundamental feeling that animates his literary work is the emphasis of the strongest authenticity and true degree of human civilization of the countryside. This leads Quinto to represent, in subdued and non-rhetorical terms, the pride of the peasant, his instinctive ability to react to situations in a more harsh social reality characterized by shortages and strong class differences and finally the formation, within the peasant's soul, of a hope and a political will aimed at "creating a world where there is no people dying of hunger and none who instead dies from too much eating" which expressed the adherence of many to communism against fascism. The universe of values witnessed in "I giorni sono lunghi" is also present in the pages of "Chi ha paura va alla guerra", where the comparison between a conscious secular option that relies on the will of man and wants to be an effective and popular mercy regarded by the author alive, authentic and worthy of the highest respect, but basically ineffective, provides an ethical and civil (and even religious) character to the theme addressed.


Writings and sculptures

With the end of the World War II, a period of great and creative dynamism begins for Quinto Martini thanks to the collaboration with Piero Bargellini, Councillor for Culture and main assistant to Giorgio La Pira who had been Mayor of Florence since 1951. In the '50s and '60s Quinto received both public and private commissions, both urban and ecclesiastical. He made the sculptures "Allegoria della filatura" (Spinning Allegory) for the Commodity Exchange; the "Immagini nello spazio" (Images in the Space) for the Florence headquarters of the Italian State Television RAI, commonly known as "Onde della radio" (Radio Waves); the lunette of the St. Francis Church, "San Francesco che riceve le stimmate" (St. Francis Getting the Stigmatae); the tabernacles of Via Cherubini, the "Madonna con bambino" (Madonna and Child), and of Via Bolognese, "Ave Maria Regina di Firenze" (Ave Maria Queen of Florence); decorations at the Hotel Lucchesi. Anna Mazzanti devoted extensive studies to these and other works, where emphasizes the ability to "lively experimentation" of an artist "stylistically open but with a rigorous set of principles", which aimed to "results always readable and understandable by the public." In 1947 Quinto joined, along with Ugo Capocchini, Emanuele Cavalli, Oscar Gallo, Onofrio Martinelli, the "Nuovo Umanesimo" (New Humanism) inspired by Giovanni Colacicchi. In the "manifesto" the group declared its opposition to any idea of abstract art, and confirmed the value of the figurative tradition, in a historical moment in which, according to Quinto, it was necessary to reassert the social function of art as a "condition for the vitality of an art work". In a speech in the form of a letter solicited by his friend Romano Bilenchi, published on 15 December 1953 in the "Nuovo Corriere" of Florence, Quinto stated: "The public has always approached those art forms where it recognized itself, that is, those expressions of life in which it participates. (...) Schools and trends can never win its understanding, if what is created by artists does not clearly represent the life that men themselves create".


Consistent with this approach Quinto has always refused to identify himself with groups and artistic trends, from which he drew, however, incentives to update himself and to reconsider in a free spirit his "way of seeing the reality", as Anna Mazzanti writes. In the same spirit, he went constantly back to the great artists of the past and wanted a "classical revival" as a rediscovery of the "'writing' calligraphic and technical of the old masters", about whom Quinto was lecturing and writing articles in those years. Part of his critical studies on the sculptures of Donatello, Michelangelo and Rodin were published by the Pananti in 1990, in the collection "Scrittura e scultura" (Writing and Sculpture) (Florence, Pananti, 1990), where 'writing' shall refer to the artist's way of working, that is the way he uses the chisel and other tools, because this is the only way to verify whether at the level of 'writing' an art work can be compared with the same level of these artists. And it was his way of working, of making sculpture that the artist was trying to convey to his students during the years of teaching in Turin, Perugia, Bologna, and then at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, where he held the chair of sculpture until 1977.


Among the many works of sculpture left by Quinto Martini, special attention deserve the "Ritratti" (Portraits) and "La pioggia" (The Rain) series. Quinto loved making portraits and he made them from the very outset of his sculptural experiences, portraying family, friends and neighbors. Of great importance are the portraits in terracotta, plaster, and bronze about his mother, Soffici, his wife Maria, exposed several times in important exhibitions. There are many portraits of friends, artists, writers, intellectuals, who modeled with chalk at the end of the war until nearly the year of his death, in a dialogue that lasted decades, a kind of emblematic figurative translation of the significant building relationships with them. His diaries reflected the inner joy that this work gave him, though aware of the intrinsic difficulty of this research aimed at highlighting aspects of the personality of each retracted one that more keenly stroked him with up to a form of psychological characterization, and also cultural evaluation. Hence the different versions dedicated to the same subject and the need to continually return on portraits, modeling some of the oldest ones with the live presence of the subject posing, while others made on the basis of his memory supported by photographs or newspaper clippings. In 1992, two years after his death, 30 of these portraits were exhibited in Florence's Palazzo Strozzi, according to a plan laid out by the artist in 1984.

Since 1964 and especially after the flood of Florence of 1966, Quinto has developed the theme of the "Pioggia" (The Rain) in drawings and bas-reliefs, where he has experienced in relief of bronze "images of the rain so precious", "inventions so refined", according to Francesco Gurrieri, that would not have been possible without the profound training, background, and knowledge he had of the various artistic techniques. Also Mario Luzi, Renzo Federici, Tommaso Paloscia, Carlo Levi, wrote about those bas-reliefs during their exhibition in Palazzo Strozzi on 1978.


"I grasp hold of art and she will not let me go and I do not give her up"

The dominant theme of the life of Quinto Martini, constant in self-presentations he made, was his passion for art and for his artistic work. Working for him was a "disease" and equally a "therapy", an inexhaustible reason of pleasure and in any case always a compelling reason with his life. Quinto Martini considered art an absolute and almost incommunicable dimension of the spirit "of art an artist speaks seriously only when he makes it" writes in a note without date, and an artist reveals himself only through his works: "I work a lot, because I believe that only working it is possible to solve all those deep problems of art that intelligence could never settle through abstraction. An artist who has a commitment to himself has a commitment with the society".


Working, for Quinto, meant in the first place 'researching and experimenting'. In many ways he has attempted to outline in his notes this dimension of his work that for him was a source of joy and that led him to acquire a great wealth of artistic techniques that would allow him to pass, in a natural way, from sculpture to painting, from drawing to graphics. Certainly Quinto Martini considered himself primarily as a sculptor, but in his everyday experience as an artist drawing, painting and sculpture interacted in a deep circle. His preference was for the most intimate design, was a "tireless designer" and more than once he had intended mainly to draw. From some of the artists he loved the most, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Ingres, he reputed drawings "beyond their paintings and sculpture". Whereas painting was for him a joy, a personal joy. Annotations in his diaries confirm this feeling and attest the pleasure it gave him to paint his beloved countryside landscape of the constant research of the most suitable color and technique. This also tells us how much the experience of painting and making sculptures were for him circular and mutually complementary: "When I paint I think of the sculpture and when I make sculptures I think of painting". Among the works which show his great ability to experiment, bas-reliefs, drawings, lithographs dedicated to the "Divina commedia" (The Divine Comedy) of Dante Alighieri must be remembered. These works have been exhibited in Italy and abroad also, in Warsaw and in the last months of his life again in Moscow at the National Library V.I. Lenin, in an exhibition that satisfied a great desire of the artist.


Quinto Martini died in Florence on 9 November 1990 ("Under the ground / I'll become land / as the land / I will feel / cold / hot / rain / wind / just so I will live / long / like the earth").



From: Quinto Martini. Homage to Dante, edited by Luciano Martini and Teresa Bigazzi Martini, AIÓN Publishing, Florence, 2006, pp. 182-189.

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