Born in Ferrara but Roman by adoption, Giovanni Battista Crema (1883-1964) worked relentlessly for over sixty years, interpreting the modernity and contradictions of the twentieth century with his art.
A selection of works from public collections, museums and private collections and unpublished documents from the archive of the artist's heirs, including the touching autobiographical manuscript ‘Memorie inutili di un sopravvissuto‘ (Useless memories of a survivor).
From the humanitarian socialism of his youth, when he attended Giacomo Balla's cenacle, to the original blend of realism and symbolism of maturity, Crema's story depicts the imagery of an artist with a strong narrative vocation, expressed both in triptychs and large works, as well as in easel paintings and small pencil drawings.
The exhibition is divided into seven thematic sections, preceded by an introductory room in which the artist introduces himself through two self-portraits from different times and a bust by Silverio Montaguti.
Arriving in Rome in 1903, after training in Ferrara and Naples, Crema was fascinated by the pointillist technique – which he discovered by attending the cenacle of artists gravitating around Giacomo Balla, and to which he remained firmly attached throughout his life. He initially shared with them a fascination for proletarian subjects and social denunciation.
The exhibition first examines themes regarding international symbolism and with an excursus on the iconographies of Ferrara, especially from the Este era, from Ugo and Parisina to Marfisa.
After focusing on portraits, domestic life scenes and female nudes, the exhibition turns towards the painter’s experience on the front line. Crema depicts realistic scenes of military life, including departing soldiers, trenches, grenade launches and sieges. The artist also took an active part in the Second World War when the Ministry of the Navy commissioned him with a prestigious assignment as a "war painter” to document life on-board military vessels.
In the last section, the large 1935 painting entitled Century XX, on loan from the Lucio Dalla Foundation, is exhibited. The work converses with the panels of the monumental Itala gens polyptych, in which Crema, through a parallelism between the themes of art and faith and science and war, paints his tormented relationship with modernity.