The Nostalgia of the Infinite

Giorgio de Chirico - Nostalgia Infinite

Paintings from this Greek-Italian proto-Surrealist are known to play greatly with perspective.

The purpose of this practice is to give the viewer a fixed position, and yet, as displayed in The Nostalgia of the Infinite painted just before World War I, the artist destabilizes  logic and creates a sense of detachment from reality. Giorgio De Chirico’s paintings are dreamscapes, inspired by the piazze and towers of Ferrara and Turin.

Following a long illness when he was 22, the artist reflected on a visit to Florence:

The whole world, down to the marble of the buildings and fountains, seemed to me to be convalescent. In the middle of the square rises a statue of Dante draped in a long cloak. The autumn sun, warm and unloving, lit the statue of the church façade. Then I had the strange impression that I was looking at these things for the first time…

The mood of this work is often considered to be portentous. The piazza is deserted but for two small figures beneath the looming tower, heavy shadows add weight to the impending doom. Distinct from the feeling of dark impenetrable fear is the atmosphere of unfulfillment and melancholy.

Gérard de Nerval:

Je suis le ténébreux, le veuf, l’inconsolé,

Le Prince d’Aquitaine á sa tour abolie… 

I am the man of shadows, the grieving widower,

The Prince of Aquitaine by his demolished tower…

The two tiny figures in the painting stand separate but the shadows they cast are bound together in an embrace, which suggests that the physical union is impossible. The meaning of infinite may not necessarily be God, as some argue, but instead the intangible concept of belonging.

The Nostalgia of the Infinite asks the viewer to indulge in the act of nostalgia. That is, to derive a peculiar pleasure from the deprivation of desire – to be sentimental about sex. We are divorced from others by our bodies and De Chirico’s painting reflects on humankind’s segregation and estrangement from itself.

The Nostalgia of the Infinite, 1911

-Nicholas Judge

Giorgio de Chirico, The Nostalgia of the Infinite, 1911, is on display at the Museum of Modern Art

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