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L’eroe-artista e self-made man alle soglie del Novecento: Morelli attraverso gli scritti di Primo Levi


Published in 1906 on the occasion of the State’s purchase of the painter’s atelier, Primo Levi l’Italico’s monograph dedicated to Domenico Morelli was the final piece in a commemorative campaign orchestrated by the artist’s brother-in-law Pasquale Villari. The main purpose of this article is to interpret the volume in the broader context of the historicisation of 19th century Italian art. But this process of historicisation cannot prescind from the international art scene around 1900. Indeed, at the 1901 Venice Biennale, Primo Levi presented himself as a sceptical observer of contemporary art. Largely in line with the ideas of Max Nordau, Levi criticised Symbolism’s excesses of logocentrism, its tendency to evade reality, and modern art’s incapacity for fulfilling its social function. In light of this cultural criticism, Morelli appears in Levi’s writings as an antidote against the recent ‘aberrations’ of modern art. By preserving the Neapolitan painter from oblivion, the author offers an alternative vision of modernity in an attempt to oppose the proliferation of modernist aesthetics.