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Fausto Melotti's Harlequin at Pinacoteca di Brera

Updated: Aug 12, 2023

Welcome back to a new edition of the museum acquisitions series.

I am very pleased to report the news that a rare glazed polychrome ceramic by the artist Fausto Melotti (1901-1986), a recently rediscovered Harlequin from 1950, has been acquired by the Pinacoteca di Brera, in Milan.

The sale was concluded by Brun Fine Art and Allemandi Fine Art, two important antiquarian galleries with offices in Milan and Florence, and the museum acquisition was confirmed by the Fausto Melotti Foundation where the work has been registered.

Fausto Melotti, Arlecchino, 1950. Glazed, polychrome ceramic, 78.2x36x14 cm. Courtesy Fondazione Fausto Melotti, Milano

Born in Rovereto in 1901, Fausto Melotti arrived in Milan in the 1920s to enroll as Electrotechnical Engineer at Polytechnic, a degree he obtained in 1924. In 1928 he entered the Brera Academy of Fine Arts to study modern plastic arts under the guidance of sculptor Adolfo Wildt, along with his colleague Lucio Fontana.

Although Melotti's first approach to ceramic had taken place in 1930 fostered by the architect Gio Ponti - a brief collaboration as a designer-draughtsman for the Tuscan manufacturer Richard Ginori - it was only from the mid-1940s that the artist fully devoted himself to the production of sculptures in this medium, driven by the need to support his family in the difficult post-war period.

"For me, ceramic is a mess - he used to say - It is an amphibious thing and beneath it all there is always some small deception because you can never know exactly what you are doing. There is a supreme controller, heat, which builds up behind you and ends up directing operation.”

Yet beyond this verbal reluctance, Melotti continued to produce and exhibit ceramic works until the 1960s and beyond. He innovated the most classical tradition of sculpture creatively manipulating forms, volumes and shades, without renouncing his own stylistic autonomy and deliberate lightness and divertissement.

From the very beginning, the artist not only modelled bowls, plates and symbolic or organic-shaped vases (such as peacock-vases, sun-vases, bishop-vases, collar-vases) but also allegorical figures and animals. In addition, he did not neglect to work on architectural interior decoration projects (high relief wall decorations, friezes and fireplaces) in Italy and abroad, again alongside Gio Ponti or Melchiorre Bega.

One of the first to use the term "baroque" about Melotti’s (and Fontana’s) ceramic sculptures is Gio Ponti’s daughter Lisa from the pages of Domus Magazine at the end of 1940s: “fired sculpture, sculpture with colour, coloured volumes. This lively intervention of ceramic is, in some respects, a little like a Baroque flourishing, provisional, fanciful..”.

As a sign of the times, it is worth remembering that Fontana as well executed an imposing Harlequin in 1948, but in mosaic, for the interior of Roberto Menghi's Cinema Arlecchino in Milan, and that Melotti, in 1950, made in ceramic another famous mask of the commedia dell'arte, Pulcinella, for the vestibule of the Conte Biancamano liner connecting Genoa to Buenos Aires.

It was the beginning of the Made in Italy.


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