Queer Places:
Cimitero Monumentale Delle Porte Sante Florence, Città Metropolitana di Firenze, Toscana, Italy

Ottone Rosai ( Florence , April 28, 1895 - Ivrea , May 13, 1957 ) was an Italian painter . Fascist police in 1938 gave him a strong-armed warning about his frequenting of male prostitutes, and he avoided deportation only because of his Fascist membership card. A crucial part of his œuvre is composed of portraits of male nudes. These were proletarian youths whom he met in the streets of Florence and who generally became his lovers as well as his models, as revealed in the biography written by his close friend Piero Santi. The art critic Giovanni Testori has observed that ‘an exhibition of Rosai's “nudes” would mean linking them to his homosexuality, but those who could organise such an exhibition are afraid of showing this connection’. Although there have been some hints in critical studies (such as those of Dario Trento) about this link, and although several of Rosai's nudes were exhibited on the centenary of his birth, the artist's homosexuality remains a handicap in the conservative world of Italian art criticism.

Son of a craftsman, after graduating from the State Art Institute he attended the Academy of Fine Arts , from which he was expelled after a few years for misconduct. He therefore continues as a self-taught, and in this period the meetings with Giovanni Papini and especially with Ardengo Soffici are significant , which brings him closer to futurist art and Marinetti's movement . His early works draw inspiration from this ( Bottle + zantuntun , 1912). Before the pictorial rigor of the 1920s and 1930s , a brief Cubist period alternated with the Futurist phase (Landscape , 1914).

Adhering to futurism , he enlisted as a volunteer in the Royal Army and participated in the First World War by receiving two silver medals. At the end of the war, returning to society is difficult and Rosai finds in the new ideas of the young Mussolini the enthusiasm and impetus he sought to oppose the bourgeoisie and the clericalism that he detests so much.

During this period his painting portrays people from his family, still lifes or sadly seated elderly women. In November 1920 he held his first personal exhibition in Florence. In 1922 his life was marked by the suicide of his father, who drowned in the Arno for debt. In his youthful writings he reveals that he feels guilty of that death, and that he has to live two lives, his and that of his father. To heal the difficult economic situation of the family, he is forced to take over his father's carpentry shop and to thin out his pictorial activity.

During the period of maturity, Rosai instead dedicated herself to the observation of the humble and to the description of scenes of everyday life, based on the typical Tuscan populism; they can be traced back to a phase of Italian painting that can be defined as post-futurist, characterized by the return to order, where volumes, sharp contours and rich color emerge. In particular, the use of Rosai's volumes and colors is strongly inspired by Cézanne . At the same time, his painting remains typically Florentine and in it echoes the fifteenth of Masaccio ( of patch Players , 1920 - The concertino , 1927).

Until 1929 he worked as an illustrator for some newspapers of the fascist era ( Il Selvaggio , Il Bargello ). The stipulation of the Lateran Pacts is for him the confirmation that the anti - clericalism of the first Mussolini was betrayed and provokes a violent reaction in him, which translates into the publication of a paper ( For the svaticanamento of Italy ) that arouses a sensation among the hierarchies fascist. In the embarrassment of the Florentine federation, the painter's dissenting voice is silenced, bringing to the surface details of his private life so far tolerated and kept hidden. The rumors of homosexuality threaten to penalize his work as an artist, and Rosai is practically forced to marry a childhood friend, who knows and accepts his habits and acquaintances.

Ottone Rosai's paintings often feature humble and peaceful people, caught in daily attitudes. They, placed in the context of the Italian painting of the Fascist period , and therefore often linked to a mode of regime , actually hide an intimate contradiction: they are in fact the mild and pacifist response to the heroic and D'Annunzian vital energy praised by the Futurists.

In the thirties , Rosai's existential unease led him to live in isolated places, far from the community, and his painting was filled with anger and pessimism ; his self-portraits outline a tormented and painful artist figure, but in 1932 his consecration as a first-rate painter arrives with a solo exhibition at Palazzo Ferroni, in his city. Numerous other exhibitions followed in other cities, including Milan , Rome , Venice . In 1939 he was appointed professor of figure drawn at the Liceo Artistico, and in 1942 he was assigned the chair of painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence.

After September 8, 1943 , Rosai was subjected to a brutal attack, this time by anti-fascists who saw him as a supporter of the regime but ignored the humiliations suffered by the hierarchs. In 1944 Bruno Fanciullacci was brought to the house, injured; the murder he committed against the philosopher Giovanni Gentile raised Rosai's indignation, who immediately reproached him with "Nice business to kill a poor old man" [1] .

In 1949 - 1950 , Rosai adhered to the project of the important Verzocchi collection , on the theme of work, sending, in addition to a self-portrait, the work I muratori ; the Verzocchi collection is currently kept in the Forlì Civic Art Gallery .

In the 1950s he began to make himself known internationally, participating in shows in cities such as Zurich , Paris , London , Madrid . An exhibition organized in Florence is then repeated in the museums of many German cities .

In Florence in 1954 he painted and donated for free, following the initiative of the City Aesthetics Committee to renew the ancient ruined tabernacles with works by contemporary artists, a Crucifixion , which testifies to the persistence of Rosai's interest in tradition Tuscan fifteenth-fifteenth century: Giotto and Masaccio are still the reference points of a language which, however, has become increasingly harsh and grumpy over the years, exasperating its expressionist roots. Rosai now reduces painting to a tangle of brutal signs and adopts a dull and dark color scheme, distorting the physiognomies in masks of a raw primitivism. What in the twenties and thirties, the years of " Strapaese ", meant for him a recovery of simplicity, brutal yes, but full of sanguine vigor, gives way, after the war, to the desolate squalor of a pictorial universe that does not seem find relief even in faith and stage a sacred representation of chilling expressive force.

During a group exhibition set up in the city of La Spezia, irritated by the unfavorable judgment on his paintings compared to those of the "young" painter Gualtiero Passani (Carrara 1926-Lucca 2019) who on the occasion attracted the public's interest the most, angrily stuck the burning cigar in one of his paintings, accompanying the gesture with a series of curses towards the gallery owner, guilty in his opinion of having arranged the works of Passani in front of his. It seems that his anger was so great, to the point of refusing to withdraw the unsold at the end of the exhibition. Also in that period, somehow violating his surly and extremely reserved disposition, he joined by some young artists allowing them a full collaboration, Bestetti for example; an anomalous partnership, which has a very short life.

In Venice, on the occasion of the XXVIII edition of the Venice Art Biennale of 1956 , a large retrospective of his work is set up .

In 1957, while he was in charge of setting up his own staff in Ivrea , he died of a heart attack .

He is buried in the Porte Sante cemetery in Florence.

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