Four God’s Given Hands: Fontana and Crippa

Art Basel, the world’s most important exhibition event dedicated to modern and contemporary art, was held punctually again this year, in the usual summer period, in Basel. Here you can get lost among the thousands of works exhibited by the world’s most important galleries; amongst many, the Belgian Vedovi Gallery exhibited a work that immediately caught my attention, not only for its museological quality, but also for its rarity, Venerdì Santo a Madrid (eng: Good Friday in Madrid).

Venerdì Santo a Madrid (Good Friday in Madrid), Lucio Fontana and Roberto Crippa, 1960

It is the 1960s, and the artists Lucio Fontana, at the very dawn of his fame, and Roberto Crippa, already internationally renowned, have been friends for a decade and frequenters of the same café, the famous Jamaica, where together with other ‘colleagues’ such as Piero Manzoni and Gianni Dova and poets such as Giuseppe Ungaretti and Salvatore Quasimodo, they have the opportunity to confront and stimulate each other to such an extent that the café and the Brera district become a true meeting place for personalities; the city of Milan itself will become a cultural reference point in the world. 

The work is impressive, its title evoking its religious importance. The idea of the partnership was born precisely in Madrid, where in the crowded streets of a Good Friday the two friends were walking enjoying the Easter holidays. The desire for inspiration in the fervent Spanish city is so great that they are compelled to visit the Prado Museum, where among the Goya and Velasquez works there is a work signed by Pieter Paul Rubens together with his friend Jan Brueghel, dated at least three hundred years earlier, depicting a Madonna and Child surrounded by a garland of flowers.

The distinct emotional style of Rubens in painting a mother with her child meets the precise strokes of Brueghel, who works in creating a garland of roses, hydrangeas and tulips, which protects in the centre of an octagonal frame, a Madonna holding the child.

Madonna and the Child surrounded by a garland of flowers, Pieter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel, 1616-17

The similarities between the works are many, the intellectual union of Fontana and Crippa gives rise to a work that is monumental in form and light, enigmatic and silent enough to evoke respect and reflection. 

At the centre of the work, Fontana places a canvas “imbued with spatialism” composed of a “red almond” surrounded by a gold outline, very bright, that seems to go beyond space-time; Crippa “defends” it by supporting it on a solid structure, decorated with those same corks that made the artist famous abroad in the 1960s. The two works placed one on top of the other create an altarpiece in honour of the freedom that the two friends have always yearned for.


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