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Picasso's relationship with Naples and Pompeii narrated in two-venue exhibition

by Andrea Carli

One hundred years ago, Picasso traveled to Italy with Jean Cocteau, a French writer and artist. The aim of the journey was to gather material and ideas for his collaboration with the Ballets Russes on Parade: the ballet would be staged in Paris in May 1917, from a scenario by Cocteau himself and music by Erik Satie.

During his stay in Italy, the artist went to Naples twice, in March and April 1917, and to Pompeii. An exhibition that spans two venues (the Museum and Royal Wood of Capodimonte in Naples and the Antiquarium in Pompeii) now recounts this travel experience.

The exhibition aims to highlight the importance of Picasso's first-hand encounter with antiquity in Pompeii and with traditional Neapolitan culture. This is an aspect that has been little researched by Picasso scholars.

The encounter with Neapolitan culture took place, in particular, through some of its greatest manifestations (nativity scenes, popular theater and puppet theater).

Picasso was captivated by the juxtaposition of the old town and modern Naples: the former, for its antiquity where history is still alive and that permeates everyday life; the latter, for its vitality imbued with dramatic accents.

In the Royal Palace of Capodimonte 's ballroom, the Parade Curtain, Picasso's largest work (of great importance for the history of modern art) is displayed.

The curtain measures 17 meters x 10 meters and is part of the collection of the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, but due to its size it is only displayed on rare occasions: at the Brooklyn Museum (New York, 1984), at the Palazzo della Gran Guardia (Verona, 1990), at Palazzo Grassi (Venice, 1998) and at the Center Pompidou in Metz (2012-2013).

The curtain is accompanied by a selection of works by the Spanish painter: in addition to a unique set of sketches from the Musée Picasso in Paris - which retrace the artist's creative path in the design of the costumes for Parade, highlighting the various cultural influences - the exhibition also encourages a reflection on some recurring subjects in Picasso's work, that were true stylistic elements, such as still life, the figure of the musician and of the musical instruments and the Harlequin mask. The Antiquarium in Pompeii displays the ballet costumes designed by the artist, who visited Pompeii in March 1917.

Confirming the influence of theatrical iconography on Picasso's work and celebrating his passion for masks, the costumes are displayed alongside a collection of African masks and a selection of archaeological finds from the Pompeii site, including theater masks, most of them displayed for the first time (antefixes, embossed plates, herms, statues...).

The original juxtaposition of ancient pieces and Art nègre is underlined in Pompeii by the sketch for the manifesto piece for Cubism, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, painted in 1907 and displayed for the first time with great fanfare in 1916.

(Picasso and Naples: Parade, Museum and Royal Wood of Capodimonte, Naples; Antiquarium, Pompeii. Curated by Sylvain Bellenger and Luigi Gallo. Until July 10)