Marino Marini (1901-1980) infused new life into Italian sculpture by invoking both antique and Renaissance traditions in his horse-and-rider images. He dwelt upon the equestrian theme throughout his career. Considered a highly original artist, his talents were not limited to sculpture. He was also a prolific painter, as well as a draftsman and graphic artist, whose work is today exhibited worldwide—and in the Marino Marini museum, located in one of the oldest churches in Florence.
Marino Marini was born in Pistoia, Tuscany, on February 27, 1901. His artistic endeavors began early and were intense; in 1917 he enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts (Accademia di Belle Arti) in Florence and studied painting and sculpture. Marini's early teachers were Galileo Chini (painting) and Domenico Trentacoste (sculpture).
His first significant sculpture dates from the late 1920s, and from this period Popola (People) (terra cotta, 1929) is the most mature piece; it is essentially a double portrait in the manner of early Roman busts.
In 1929 Marini, at the invitation of Arturo Martini, became the chair of sculpture at the Art School of the Villa Reale in Monza, Milan. Also in 1929, Marini exhibited in Nice, during his first visit to Paris. During the 1930s his style and imagery developed, and he began to explore the textural and coloristic possibilities of terra cotta, plaster, and bronze. His subjects included wrestlers and acrobats—some conventional, some more skillfully composed—and occasionally he depicted mythological figures such as Icarus, Bacchus, and Pomona. His fame derives in part from some of these works.
Marini's first solo exhibition took place in Milan in 1932, and in 1935 he won his first prize at the Rome Quadriennale.
He married Mercedes "Marina" Pedrazzini, who would eventually help to draw Marini out artistically.
Sought Meaning Through His Work
Marini became a professor at Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan in 1940, a career move which afforded him the time to travel widely, meet some of the most important artists of the era, such as Pablo Picasso, and further his quest for artistic meaning. It was during this time that Marini's paintings took on a near-abstract style. Some of his trips brought him to the United States. His first loyalty, however, was to his native Tuscany. Marini is quoted as saying: "One must return to Tuscany often, for it is the architecture of ourselves. One always discovers a new and absolute perfection, which is of the soul."
Relocated to Switzerland
He remained at Villa Reale until 1943, when his studio was destroyed amidst the fighting of World War II. It was at this time that he visited his wife's birthplace, the Swiss Canton of Ticino, and reunited with old friends like Wotruba, Germaine Richier, Giacometti, Haller and Banninger. Marini produced several bronze and plaster portraits during this time, and in 1945 he exhibited at the Kunstmuseum in Basle.
Marini's portraits maintained an unusual degree of distance and coolness, in part a result of the rather abstract rendering of his subjects and the independent life which he gave to them. One typical example is his portrait of composer Igor Stravinsky (2 versions: 1950, 1951).
In his depictions of the female form, such as Pomona (1941) and Dancer (1949), the artist took on a different set of problems. These freestanding figures have heavy, squat proportions and an archaic demeanor, yet they retain their grace and poise in spite of their apparent weight.
Equestrian Theme Develops
The horse-and-rider theme, embodied early in The Pilgrim (1939), most clearly reveals Marini's prowess and introspection as a sculptor. Another early example appeared in 1936—Horseman, a somewhat conventional updating of the traditional equestrian portrait. But the following year Marini altered the situation between horse and rider considerably, with the seated figure thrown back at a radical angle, as in Horse and Rider (1937). That image recurred often, from the frontally-composed terra cotta relief Quadriga (1941) to the geometrically abstract The Miracle, Horse and Rider (1959-1960).
Interpretation of the horse-and-rider theme, and its historical significance, varied considerably. After World War II, the theme evoked for Marini a symbol of mankind's twilight—the human figure representing ecstasy and at the same time tragedy, the horse representing nature's unrestrained forces. Before World War II, however, Marini's equestrian was intended to appear timelessly serene and symbolic of man's universal search. Yet no one interpretation exhausts the image, just as Marini seemingly did not exhaust the variety of materials and textures used to create it.
Returned to Italy Following WWII
Following the war, Marini returned to Milan and Brera. A room was dedicated to his work during the 24th Venice Biennale in 1948. He formed lifelong friendships with Henry Moore and Curt Valentin, an American merchant who helped to organize a 1950 New York exhibition for him. Marini was awarded the Feltrinelli prize in 1952, and in 1957 he received a commission for more equestrian sculpture from The Hague city council (a copy of which remains on display at San Pancrazio).
Marini continued to exhibit throughout northern Europe and turned out many more paintings (he actually painted continually throughout his life) in the mid-1960s. The Marino Marini Museum exhibition was opened in Milan in 1973 and contained a significant portrait collection. A permanent showing was dedicated to Marini in 1976 in Munich, and in 1978 Japan received an exhibition of Marini sculptures and paintings. An archive of significant Marini documentation was installed at the former convent of Tau in Pistoia in 1979.
Marino Museum Opened
Marino Marini died in Viareggio in 1980, but his artistic legacy has been preserved at the Marino Marini Museum in Florence. The museum is formerly the church of San Pancrazio, one of Florence's oldest. After serving briefly as a military depot, it became home to a collection of works first donated by Marini and then by his wife Marina. The Marino Marini Museum opened in 1988 and houses close to 200 pieces, arranged by subject matter.
Further Reading on Marino Marini
Umbro Apollonio, Marino Marini (Edizioni del Milione, 1953; 3d ed. 1958), is an appreciation and interpretation rather than a critical examination of the sculptor's work; See also: Carli Enzo, Marino Marini (Hoepli, 1950); Marino Marini and Émile Langui, Marino Marini (Universe Books, 1959); Douglas Cooper, Marino Marini (New York Graphic Society, 1959); Eduard Trier, The Sculpture of Marino Marini (Praeger, 1961); A.M. Hammacher, Marino Marini: Sculpture, Painting, Drawing (H.N. Abrams, 1970); Marino Marini, Marino Marini: Complete Works (Tudor Publishing Co., 1970); Alberto Busignami, Marini (Hamlynm, 1971); and Sam Hunter, Marino Marini—The Sculpture (Abrams, 1993), with an introduction by Marina Marini.
Marini's work is also treated in the following journal articles, some of which were written by Marini himself and published posthumously: Marino Marini, "Man on Horse" Apollo (Nov. 1984); Marino Marini, "Miracle" Art News (Feb. 1985); Marino Marini, "Cavallo" Artforum (Summer 1985); Marino Marini, "Henry Miller" Arts Review (Feb. 14, 1986); Marino Marini, "Henry Moore" The Burlington Magazine (Oct. 1986); Marino Marini, "Angel of the Citadel" Architectural Digest (Dec. 1986); Marino Marini, "Horse and Rider" Art News (Dec. 1987); Marino Marini, "Jean Arp" The Magazine Antiques (Nov. 1991); Bonnie Barrett Stretch, "Kent Gallery, Inc., New York, Exhibit" Art News (Jan. 1992); Megan Mueller, "A Selection of Modern Italian Art" Art News (Feb. 1992); Marino Marini, "Gentleman on a Horse" Art in America" (April 1992); Stanley Bleifield, "Marino Marini—The Sculpture" Sculpture Review (book review) (1993); Massimo Carboni, "Museo Marino Marini, Florence Exhibit" Artforum (Sept. 1994); and Marino Marini, "Rider and Horse" Art & Antiques (Jan. 1996).