Livorno 1884 - Parigi 1920Amedeo Modigliani was born in Livorno, Italy, on July 12th 1884 as the fourth son of Eugénie Garsin and Flaminio Modigliani. Both the Garsins and the Modiglianis descended from the Sephardic jews that were expelled from Spain and Portugal in 1492, the survivors seeking refuge in various European countries. In the 19th century the Jewish community in Italy lived in freedom and prosperity, many of them doing business as merchants across the Mediterranean. Eugénie Garsin (Modigliani's mother) grew up in Marseille, France, and at the age of 15 is married to Flaminio, whose family was from a village near Rome, called Modigliani, but later moved to Livorno, in the Italian province of Tuscany. Tuscany is famous for it's literature, which may be why the mature Amedeo Modigliani would always seek the company of writers and poets. Although much of the art of Modigliani is inspired by his adult life in France, his motivation can usually be traced back to his youth in Italy. Initially, Amedeo Modigliani's father was a successful merchant and owner of a real estate agency, but went bankrupt and was in debt when Amedeo was born. Because of mining related business, Flaminio Modigliani (Amedeo's father) spent most of his time on the island Sardinia and the rest of the family went to live with the parents of Amedeo's mother. There Amedeo developped a particularly good relationship with his grandfather Isaac, who spoke four languages and had an interest in philosophy. Amedeo's philosophical interest is attributed to his contact with his grandfather.
In spite of the bad financial situation of Amedeo's father, and probably with the help of the affluent parents of Amedeo's mother, the Modigliani children got a good education, resulting in the first child Emmanuel becoming a lawyer and the third child Umberto a mining engineer.
In 1898 Amedeo begins his drawing classes and starts to paint frantically, neglecting his school work. He gets painting lessons from painter and teacher Guglielmo Micheli (1866-1926) in Livorno. Micheli is a "macchiaiolo" of the second generation, macchiaiolo is derived from "macchia" (stain) and refers to an Italian style of painting that is related to impressionism. During his teens Modigliani gets seriously ill several times, from pleuritis to typhus and tuberculosis. His reckless disposition begins to show when, in spite of his weak lungs, he starts to use hashish.
Due to his tuberculosis, Amedeo has to interrupt his lessons with Micheli in 1901 and his mother takes him on a trip through the South of Italy, visiting the museums in many different cities, where he develops an interest in sculpture. On his return to Livorno, he heads for the local marble quarry to create his first sculptures.
In 1902 Modigliani enrolls in the Florence School of Nude Studies, where his teacher is Giovanni Fattori (1828-1905). Modigliani already knew Fattori from the visits the latter had paid to the workshop of his former student Micheli, when Modigliani was present as a student. Fattori was one of the main first generation macchiaioli.
In 1903 Modigliani moves to Venice where he joins the Venice School of Nude Studies. In Venice Modigliani frequents the nightlife of "disreputable neighborhoods" and is recruited by an Italian nobleman to join occult sessions in the company of young girls and under the influence of soft drugs.
Now with plenty of Venice nightlife experience under his belt, Amedeo is "ready for Paris", where he goes in 1906. There he lives at several different address, among which Le Bateau-Lavoir, a block in Montmarte. Here he meets Picasso, Braque and poet Max Jacob who would become his best friend. In fact, much of the European artistic avant garde was then assembled in Paris, leading to a unique artistic cross-fertilization which formed modern art as we know it today and in which Amedeo Modigliani played a crucial role. His art is influenced by Toulouse-Lautrec, Cézanne, Brancusi, the European classical art, the African art, and by Pablo Picasso. Modigliani has a deep respect for Picasso as an artist. He uses some aspects of Picasso's cubism, and the way Picasso would depict his artistic friends during his blue period would remain one of the main themes in Modigliani's own work. He is part of The School of Paris, which refers to a group of international artists that lived and worked in France during the pre-World War II period. The core of the School of Paris was formed by Jewish artists from Central and Eastern Europe who had left their native countries, sometimes due to ethnic persecution, but also because of artistic reasons: The Jewish Faith didn't tolerate figurative images, so Jewish abstract artists were forced to look for an environment that tolerated figurative art. Their relationship with France is interesting. On the one hand they admired the French culture, on the other hand the French restraint was at odds with their Jewish and Slav temperament. Although Paris is the cradle of expressionism (Van Gogh), the mentality of expressionism goes against the French sense of restraint, and there are few, if any, true French expressionists. However, the School of Paris lived and breathed expressionism, partly because of the influence of Van Gogh, as well as the German expressionists, but first and foremost because of the Jewish background of many artists of the School of Paris. In 1918 Paris is bombarded by the German air force. Modigliani's art dealer Zborowski decides conditions in Paris are becoming too difficult and so he moves to the South of France, taking with him most of his artists, which includes Modigliani, who goes to live between Nice and Cagnes. Although he continues to paint, Modigliani's health is deteriorating rapidly, and his alcohol-induced blackouts become more frequent. He dies penniless on January 24, 1920.
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- TESTA SCULTOREA
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