Umberto Boccioni

gigatos | February 5, 2022


Umberto Boccioni (Reggio Calabria, October 19, 1882 – Verona, August 17, 1916) was an Italian painter and sculptor, a leading exponent of Futurism. The idea of visually representing the movement and his research on the relationship between object and space have strongly influenced the fate of painting and sculpture of the twentieth century.

Early years

Umberto”s parents were Raffaele Boccioni and Cecilia Forlani, originally from Morciano di Romagna (25 km from Rimini). His father, who worked as a prefectural usher, was forced to move to various cities in Italy according to the needs of service. Umberto was born October 19, 1882 in Reggio Calabria, where he attended the first classes of elementary school, then the family moved to Forli, then in Genoa and Padua. In 1897 came the order of a new transfer to Catania. This time the family separated: Umberto and his father went to Sicily, his mother and his older sister Amelia, born in Rome, remained in Veneto. In Catania, Umberto attended the technical institute to obtain the diploma. He collaborated with some local newspapers and wrote his first novel: Penalty of the soul that bears the date July 6, 1900.

In 1901 Umberto moved to Rome, where his father was again transferred. Often attends the home of his aunt Colomba. In a short time falls in love with one of his daughters, Sandrina. Umberto has about twenty years and attended the studio of a poster, where he learned the first rudiments of painting. In this period he met Gino Severini, with whom he attended, at Porta Pinciana, the studio of the Divisionist painter Giacomo Balla. At the beginning of 1903 Umberto and Severini attend the Free School of the Nude, where they met Mario Sironi, also a student of Balla, with whom they formed a lasting friendship. In that year Umberto paints his first work Campagna Romana or Meriggio.

With the help of both parents is able to travel abroad: the first destination is Paris (April-August 1906), followed by Russia from which he returned in November of the same year. In Paris he met Augusta Popoff: from their relationship will be born in April 1907 a son, Pyotr (Peter). In April 1907 Umberto enrolled at the School of Nude of the Royal Institute of Fine Arts in Venice. He begins another trip to Russia but interrupts it in Munich, where he visits the museum. On his return he draws, paints actively, although remaining unsatisfied because he feels the limits of Italian culture, which still considers essentially “provincial culture”. Meanwhile, faces the first experiences in the field of engraving.


In the autumn of 1907, for the first time, he goes to Milan, where his mother and sister have been living for several months. Intuisce immediately that is the city more than others on the rise and that corresponds to his aspirations dynamic. Become a friend of Romolo Romani, Previati frequents, which feels some influence in his painting that seems to turn to symbolism. During these years of training, he visits many museums and art galleries. He has, therefore, the opportunity to know directly works of artists of all ages but, especially, ancient. Some of these, such as Michelangelo, will always remain his ideal models. Despite this, they will also become the main targets of the controversy initiated in the futurist period against ancient art and against the passatism. In 1907 in Milan he met the Futurists and with Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, wrote, along with Carlo Carrà, Luigi Russolo, Giacomo Balla and Gino Severini, the Manifesto of Futurist Painters (1910), which was followed by the Technical Manifesto of the Futurist Movement (1912): the goal of the modern artist had to be, according to the writers, to get rid of models and figurative traditions of the past, to turn resolutely to the contemporary world, dynamic, lively, constantly evolving.

The subjects of representation were therefore the city, the machines, the chaotic daily reality. In his works, Boccioni knew how to masterfully express the movement of forms and the concreteness of matter. Although influenced by Cubism, to which he reproached the excessive static, Boccioni avoided straight lines in his paintings and used complementary colors. In paintings such as Dynamism of a Cyclist (1913), or Dynamism of a Football Player (1911), the depiction of the same subject in successive stages in time effectively suggests the idea of movement in space. Similar intent also governs Boccioni”s sculpture, for which the artist often neglected noble materials such as marble and bronze, preferring wood, iron and glass. What interested him was illustrating the interaction of an object in motion with the surrounding space. Very few of his sculptures have survived.

As part of the Humanitarian Society where he had just finished the great painting “The Work” (now at the MoMA in New York under the title The City Rises), in April-May 1911, with Ugo Nebbia, Carlo Dalmazzo Carrà, Alessandrina Ravizza and others, gives life in Milan to the First Pavilion of Free Art, an impressive exhibition by the modern guidelines, which will also hold the first ever collective of Futurist painters (in the disused pavilions Giulio Ricordi).

In 1912 Boccioni inaugurated a period of intense study both in view of the publication of his most important theoretical text, Pittura e scultura futuriste (1914), and in view of the realization of his masterpiece Materia (1912). He consulted many volumes on art-historical and philosophical subjects of which he drew up a list of titles. In particular, he deepens his knowledge of the thought of the French philosopher Henri Bergson, reading the book Matter and Memory (1896). Bergson”s theories on spontaneous memory, understood as an intuition of the fundamental unity of matter, suggest to Boccioni the idea of the interpenetration of planes as “simultaneity of the interior with the exterior + memory + sensation”, allowing him to combine in the course of the creative process personal memories (family, for example) to suggestions derived from ancient or primitive art, to the decomposition of forms of Cubist derivation. In the oil on canvas Materia, for example, Boccioni painted a portrait of his mother Cecilia Forlani, deified as the Great Mother, integrating the Cubist decomposition and the use of complementary colors of Impressionist derivation with the hieratic frontality of Greek statuary of the archaic period. Among the books consulted in 1912, in fact, Boccioni mentions, in his list, volume VIII, dedicated to archaic sculpture, and in particular page 689, of the multi-volume work by Georges Perrot and Charles Chipiez, Histoire de l”art dans l”antiquité (1882-1914) in which the two authors discuss the so-called law of frontality in ancient statuary.

Boccioni”s most notable paintings include Il Lavoro (The Rising City) (1910), Rissa in galleria (1910), Stati d”animo no. 1. Gli addii (1911) – in which the motions of the soul are expressed through flashes of light, spirals and wavy lines arranged diagonally – Forze di una strada (1911), where the city, almost a living organism, has preponderant weight compared to human presences.

The First World War and Death

In 1915 Italy enters the war. Boccioni, interventionist, enlists as a volunteer, along with a group of artists, in the National Volunteer Corps of Motorcyclists, but does not have the opportunity to enter into combat. In a letter from the front of October 1915, the painter writes, in fact, that the war “when you wait to fight, is nothing but this: insects + boredom = heroism obscure….”.

In June 1916 Boccioni (who at that time is waiting to leave for the front) with the composer Ferruccio Busoni is a guest of the marquises Della Valle di Casanova at Villa San Remigio, on the western shore of Lake Maggiore. In the same period Vittoria Colonna Caetani, while her husband Leone Caetani is at the front, spends her days in the quiet of Isolino di San Giovanni (the smallest of the Borromean Islands), that she has rented for the summer. Here she takes care of the garden and writes letters to her husband. After a first meeting at the Casanova”s, where Vittoria has been curious about the Busoni”s portrait, Boccioni and Vittoria begin to see each other every day. And, during the month of July, Boccioni is twice guest of Vittoria at the Isolino. The last stay ends on 23rd July; less than a month later, on 17th August, he will die because of a fall from a horse; in his wallet, the last of the letters received by Vittoria.

On August 17, 1916 Boccioni died at the age of 33 years at the military hospital in Verona, for the injuries suffered as a result of the accidental fall from his horse, which bolted at the sight of a truck. The fall had occurred the day before during a military exercise, in Sorte a Chievo, a hamlet of Verona, where his memorial stone is now located, in a small road in the countryside. Boccioni”s body is instead buried in the monumental cemetery of Verona, in the ancient calti of the second field, next to which his mother wanted to be buried. On the marble that closes and reports the name of the artist you can see the written testimonies left by other artists and acquaintances in visit.

In 1959, three of his works (Woman at a Table, Landscape and Unique Forms of Continuity in Space) were exhibited at the exhibition 50 Years of Art in Milan. From Divisionism to Today, organized by the Permanente.

Umberto Boccioni wanted to be present in his native Calabria with one of his sculptures. After his death, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti wanted to follow up on the artist”s desire by promoting the creation of a bronze cast of Boccioni”s plaster masterpiece: “Unique forms of continuity in space” of 1913.

After eighty years, the Boccioni-Marinetti project has come to fruition with the donation of the bronze from the Bilotti collection to the National Gallery of Cosenza. The specimen donated is the only one declared of particularly important interest by a Decree, No. 77


  1. Umberto Boccioni
  2. Umberto Boccioni
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