Alberto Giacomo Spiridione Martini
( Oderzo, 24 novembre 1876 – Milano, 8 novembre 1954 )
illustrator and painter, forerunner of the surrealist movement.
Alberto Giacomo Spiridione was the son of Maria dei Conti
Spineda de Cattaneis, from an ancient noble family from the
Treviso area, and of Giorgio Martini, naturalist painter and
Between 1890 and
1895 under his father’s guidance, Alberto starts to paint and
draw, following the family tradition. Actually, his father’s
maternal relatives were known decorators and mosaicists from
During his training period, Martini realizes several drawings,
and reveals immediately a particular preference for the
graphics. Even if he devoted himself to fat pencils, he executed
also oils, watercolours and tempera of small size, thanks to
which, once bridged the mere school exercise, he attains the
first valuable results.
His favourite themes are the ones related to the countryside
from Treviso area, as well as to the countrymen at work:
therefore man and his relationship with nature, seen in progress
(for ex. Antica gualchiera
He gets practice
also upon flowers and shells, that he studies in an analytical
way, leaving a series of beautiful watercolours.
There are not only Vero exercises, we are dealing with themes by
the means of which Alberto shows he assimilates the Italian and
European late Romantic figurative culture, that was even
populist and humanitarian, a kind of culture that was aimed to
catch doubts and perplexities, of symbolist tune, on the meaning
of life, rather than to define a context.
Between 1894and 1896 he performs the fourteen watercolour china
paintings of the “Albo della morte, revealing northern cultural
In 1895 he begins
the first series of pen illustrations with china ink for
“Morgante Maggiore” by Luigi Pulci. However he soon abandons
that to dedicate himself to the illustrations for “ La secchia
rapita (1895-1935) by Alessandro Tassoni, a work he kept on
until 1903. For that literary masterpiece, La secchia rapita, he
executed 130 hero-comic drawings, that are mainly a youth
production and are, according to Martini himself, .. a curious
parade of ugly soldiers, starving and full of cooties…[...].
These works witness a great graphic ability in Martini, who is
about thirty at that moment, and end up his youth experience on
the level of precise literary sources and Nordic influences.
Even in the punctual reference to the text (the burlesque vein
by Tassoni, his baroque truculence and lithographic emphasis of
the low "sublime"),the characters that were elaborated by
Alberto seem to transform in a sort of grotesque revolutionary
genre that proclaims the freedom of action and invention upon
the character itself.
In these works it is evident the influence of the mannerist
German graphics of the XVI century ( the interest for Dürer,
Luca di Leida, Urs Graf, Baldun Grien and the esteem for
Sattler) an influence that is regained through a peculiar
In 1896-97 he performs a series of 30 pen drawings with china
ink whose title is “ La corte dei miracoli”.
He starts the illustration of the graphic cycle of the “ Poema
del lavoro” he will finish in 1898 (as a whole 9 pen drawings
In 1897he exhibits at the II Biennale of Venice 14 drawings
for the “La corte dei miracoli”. The same drawings will be shown
the following year in Munich and at the International
Exhibition in Turin together with the drawings made for” Il
Poema del lavoro”.
In 1898 Martini is
in Monaco and works as an illustrator for the reviews
Dekorative Kunst e Jugend. During the spring of that
same year, the meeting of Martini with Vittorio Pica in
occasion of the Esposizione Internazionale di Torino will be
fundamental: that famous critic from Naples will support him
from that moment on, proposing his art in the Italian and
In 1899 Martini
takes part to the III Biennale of Venice with his drawings for
“Il poema del lavoro”, the works that will be shown in Monaco
and in Berlin. From this year he executes a series of nineteen
chromolithographies ( illustrated post cards, posters for the
Carnival or parties and advertising affiches) for the
lithographic firms Longo and Zoppelli from Treviso.
They are works of inspiration that are vaguely liberty with
evident references to the Secession and to the English
pre-Raphaelite style. Vittorio Pica offers to the artist, in the
meantime, to collaborate as an illustrator to the review
Emporium and to the issues “ Attraverso gli Albi “ and “
In 1901 he performs the fist cycle of 19 pen watercolour
drawings for the illustrated edition of "La Divina Commedia"
that had been promoted by the competition Alinari from
Florence. He takes part to the IV Biennale di Venezia with his
works for “ La secchia rapita” that were partially bought by the
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna in Rome.
In 1903 he ends his illustrations for “La secchia rapita” (130
pen drawings made with china ink)and he exhibits some of them at
the V Biennale di Venezia.
The European experience
In 1904 he is for a
while in Paris. He performs the first ex libris for Antonio
Fogazzaro, V. Pica, G. Rovetta and Tom Antongini. He devotes to
another graphic cycle whose title is “La lotta per l'amore” (pen
and brush drawings in china ink).
he takes a successful part to an exhibition in London.
In 1905 he ends up the series” La lotta per l'amore” (as a whole
86 drawings ).he starts the illustrations for “ La parabola dei
celibi” with which he takes part to the VI Biennale di Venezia.
In the month of July he starts performing the illustrative
panels for Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories, he will work to, up
to 1909, and on, inaugurating a period of great creative
intensity in the context of the graphics with literary
1907is an important
year, thanks to the contacts that Vittorio Pica had interwoven
for him : as a matter of fact the artist begins the illustration
of Vert-vert by Gresset with two pen drawings in china
In occasion of a personal exhibition at the Leicester Gallery
he goes to London, where he eventually meets the famous editor
William Heinemann; with his help, in 1914, Martini will organize
a personal exhibition at the Goupil Gallery, in London.
he takes part to the VII Biennale of Venice, showing two
wonderful olio paintings “ Notturno” and “ Nel sonno” and
several drawings, among which “ La bellezza della donna” in the
room called L'arte del sogno, the art of dreaming.
He goes shortly to Paris where, once again thanks to Pica, he
meets Gabriel Mourey, a writer and French collaborator to the
review from Bergamo "Emporium", and Eugène Rodriguez, president
of the society "Les cent bibliophiles".
with literary cue
In the autumn of
1908 he attends the “ Mostra di belle arti” of Faenza, in the
section of "White and Black ", showing some drawings of the “
Parabola dei celibi” some illustrations for Poe’s and other
works inspired to the town of Venice. To this year belongs a
thick correspondence between Martini and the symbolist writer
Valerij Brjusov, he probably met during his stay in Monaco in
The Londoner editor Heinemann published the volume of short
stories by Perceval Landon, Raw Edges - Studies and Stories of
These Days, that contains four illustrations by Martini.
in china ink: “Crepuscolo veneziano”,” Una pagina crudele” and “
is at the VIII Biennale di Venezia with his pen drawings “La
bella straniera”,” Murano” and with eight illustrations for the
“ Extraordinary Stories” by Poe. He executes a series of
drawings for the work by Stéphane Mallarmé, “ Prose short poems”
and the first panels for the Macbeth by Shakespeare, to which
the artist will work until 1911, out of sure.
In 1910-11 he
performs the illustrative panels for the tragic poem by E. A.
Butti” Il castello del sogno” (1910), edit by Treves Bros from
After his father’s death, on the 28th October 1910, Martini
moves to San Zeno, in the countryside of Treviso, together with
his mother. In this period he achieves his most significant
illustrations, made for hamlet by Shakespeare, the graphic
cycle for Paul Verlaine’s poems (55 pen pastel coloured drawings
) and a series of puntesecche, such as “La sirena dormiente”,”
Le figlie di Leda”, “La sirena e il mostro”.
In 1912, encouraged
by Pica, Martini dedicates to the pictorial production, making
use of the pastel technique, above all.
He executes the "Sinfonie del sole" (L 'Aurora, La notte, I
fiumi) and the pastel painting “ Farfalla gialla”, example of
the numerous works of these years, that were characterized by
the theme of the woman – butterfly. The same subject that will
be present again in 1915, in a series of lithographies entitled
He takes part to the X Biennale of Venice with the pen drawings
in china ink, “ Autoritratto”,” Vittorio Pica”, “Hans St.
In 1914 he is at
the XI Biennale di Venezia where he exhibits the pastel painting
“Arlecchino, together with the portraits of the marchioness
Luisa Casati and of the countess Revedin.
One of the cards
from the series “ Danza Macabra”.
beginning of the First World War, he executes 54 lithographies
whose title is Danza macabra, by the means of which he reveals
his anti German feeling.
They were printed
in card format and were distributed to the Allied Army as a
propaganda against the Austro-Hungarian Empire: for this purpose
we have to remember that Charles Carry, attaché to the English
Embassy in Rome, sends his congratulations with the request of a
complete series for the English Ambassador at the Quirinale;
also the painter Federico Zandomeneghi is impressed and
"frightened" by the infinite fancy of Martini.
The artist starts a series of litographies, too, he ended in
1915, for the graphic poem” Misteri”, containing six
illustrations (Amore, Morte, Infinito, Follia, Sogno, Nascita).
The work, fore worded by a comment of Emanuele di Castelbarco,
will be published by the editing firm "Bottega di Poesia" in
In the month of December Martini’s mother dies.
The war period
In May 1916, at
Leicester Gallery in London, he exhibits four series of “Danza
macabra”, “Gli orrori della guerra”,six drawings for Poe and
the lithography “ Avanti Italia”. In September, in Liverpool,
he takes part to a collective exhibition, organized by the
Leicester Gallery: there, a part from the works shown in London,
he presents the lithographic series of “Farfalle e Bocche”.
In 1917-18 in
Bologna, while waiting to go to the war front, Martini starts to
miniate, with china ink and watercolour, the ballades “ Les
Orientales” by Victor Hugo, that were finished the following
January 1919, the personal
gallery of Lino Pesaro in
Milan was inaugurated.
for theatre starts from the years 1919-20 : he realizes 84 pen
and watercolour drawings and six tempera panels for the
costumes of the ballet “ Il cuore di cera”. In that occasion
the artist deals also with the choreography and of the literary
In 1920 he exhibits
again, together with the sculpture Hans St. Lerche and the
painter Mario Cavaglieri, at the Galleria Pesaro. The catalogue
of the exhibition holds Vittorio Pica’s introduction.
Martini begins the graphic cycle of ”Thirty one odd and cruel
fantasies”, the cycle will be finished in 1922, and published in
1924 by Edizioni Bottega di Poesia, directed by the Count
Emanuele di Castelbarco Visconti Simonetta. By the means of
Castelbarco, Martini gets in touch with aristocratic people of
that period, mainly noblewomen such as the Princess Paola
d'Ostheim and Wally Toscanini who will commission several works.
In 1922 he takes
part to the XIII Biennale di Venezia with his pen drawing
“Ritratto del marchese G.F.P.“, with some pastels and 13 works
out of the cycle “Trentun fantasie bizzarre e crudeli”.
In the spring of
1923 Martini conceives the idea of Tetiteatro: a theatre upon
the water entirely invented and dedicated, as the name goes, to
the goddess of the sea Teti. "It was in the spring of 1923 that
I invented the Tetiteatro – Martini writes in his Vita d'
artista – a drama invention that remained untouched even after
having travelled in the world, without his author. An
architecture Earth and Water theatre, a gigantic instrument for
the tunes of a new voice and for the new drama plastic art".
Martini executes, in facts, inspiring to drama or music works by
Wagner, Strauss, Eschilo, Wilde and others, a series of
drawings and scenographies for the realization of his theatre
upon water. Such illustrations will be published in the volume
“Il Tetiteatro” that is “ the theatre upon water” by Alberto
Martini, with the text by Emanuele di Castelbarco, edited in
1924 by Bottega di Poesia.
In 1924 he exhibits
at XIV Biennale di Venezia the pastel “ A Venezia”, in which he
portraits Maria Petringa, his future wife, who will be a source
of inspiration for several works by Martini, as the series of
portraits dedicated to her witnesses, such as the pastel “
L'album di Daumier” of 1924, presented to the Biennale di
Venezia in 1926; “Parrucca Bianca”, a work exhibited at the
exhibition of 1927 at the Galleria Scopinich of Milan; and the
oil painting “Serenade - Maria with the guitar”, in 1928.
In 1927 Martini
executes drawings and paintings to illustrate the edition of
November – December of the review "L'Eroica" . he decides to
found, with other people, a committee to honour Vittorio Pica:
several Italian and foreign artists join.
In February 1928,
Martini’s proposal is realized in the exhibition "Raccolta
internazionale d'arte offerta dagli autori in omaggio a Pica",
that was held in Milan at the Galleria Scopinich. For that
occasion Martini draws a cartoon , that is used for the
catalogue cover, as well a drawing in which he portraits Pica’s
period in Paris
embittered because of the hostility of the Italian critics, who
seem to ignore his works at the end of the 20s, Martini moves to
Paris where he has important friendships and numerous estimators
of his art. In Paris, Martini will stay until 1934, with the
exception of some short stay in Italy and a trip to Berlin in
During these years his wife, who had remained in Italy, rejoins
him from time to time. In the French capital town Martini has
contacts with artists and literary people. He is a friend of
Solito de Solis, musician and art lover, who introduces him in
the aristocratic context from Paris.
He starts painting
"in the black manner" exheuting works with a surrealist print:
examples of that are the oil paintings “ Conversazione con i
miei fantasmi”,” Fiore dello scoglio”,” La prigione sotterranea”.
1929-30: in this
period in Paris Martini, produces a remarkable series of works
"at the clear manner": Martini dedicates again to the
illustration in black and white of numerous texts; he performs,
in fact, pen drawings and water coloured paintings for "Une
saison en enfer" by Rimbaud, "Les fleurs du mal" by Charles
Baudelaire, "Poèmes di Mallarmé", "L'homme qui rit" by Victor
Hugo, "La croix de bois" by Dorgelès, "La danse macabre" by M.
Orland, "Les destinées" by Alfred de Vigny.
In 1930 he takes part to the XVII Biennale di Venezia with the
oil “L'uomo che crea”.
In 1932he devotes
in a special way to the applied arts: he executes a series of
projects for small glass sculptures, taking inspiration to the
stylistic canons of art decò and of XIX century, and also about
fifty illustrations for cloths or wall papers, probably
commissioned by the textile business man Adolfo Bogoncelli.
Coming back to
In the period
1934-1940, because of his uncertain financial situation, Martini
is forced to go back to Milan. here, in occasion of the
triennial, he performs the sketch for the
triptych “Battaglia d' uomini e demoni”; with
this work he engages to celebrate the conquers of the Italian
At the same time, however, mainly between 1935 and 1936, he
reveals his strong feeling against the XIX movement by the means
of the publication of the review "Perseo": drawing, captions
and sketches characterized by a satirical biting vein .
He goes on with the illustrations, started in Paris in 1929, for
“Aurelia” by Gérard de Nerval, he will end in 1944. In these
years there is the production of a pen drawing in china ink
for “Fioretti di San Francesco”, the illustrative
panels for the novel “Cuore” by Edmondo De Amicis
(1936) and a series of drawings for the tragedy by Guido
Stacchini” Il Titano liberato”.
In the period 1941-1952 he illustrates a water lithography
series “ La vita della Vergine” and other poems by R.M. Rilke.
He executes also a graphic cycle for” La vita di Cristo”
In December 1946 he takes part to the "Esposizione
internazionale di ex libris e illustrazione del libro" at the
Museo di Belle Arti of Nancy, where he is given a honour
In 1947 he executes
twelve puntesecche, collected under the title “Poema
mitografico”. In these years Martini keeps on to dedicate also
to the painting activity, once dealing with works characterized
by a mediocre naturalism, other times to works performed with a
realism that has a remarkable expressive efficacy.
Among the oil paintings that are most interesting we should
remember:” Anime gemelle” (1945),” Corteo di Venere” (1949), “La
valle di Cleopatra” (1950).
In 1952 he exhibits at the XXVI
Biennale di Venezia the pen works in china ink and coloured
pastels, entitled “La realtà e i sogni di gloria” and “ La
finestra di Psiche nella casa del poeta”.
On the 8th November
1954 he dies in Milan, at the Ospedale Fatebenefratelli.
he leaves a spiritual legacy, wishing the founding of a Museum
where his memories and documents about the Italian Surrealism
could be stored. Nowadays there is the Pinacoteca Civica
Alberto Martini from Oderzo.
http://www.oderzocultura.it/ Pinacoteca Civica Alberto Martini
translation by Irene De Angelis Curtis