Corrado Cagli, “The battle of San Marino”, 1936, Encaustic Tempera on Hollow-Core Wood, 545 x 651 cm, Uffizi Gallery, Florence
Born in the city of Ancona in February of 1910, Corrado Cagli was an Italian painter of Jewish heritage. Little information on his formative years is available; however, it is known that, at the age of five, his family relocated to Rome. Cagli grew up in a largely assimilated secular family, who had come to terms with its Jewish religion as antisemitism became more aggressive in Fascist Italy. His ties to his Italian heritage were always strong; even in his later years of exile from Italy, it was important for him to maintain a tie with his birth nation.
Corrado Cagli helped organize the Gallleria La Cometa in Rome and, along with poet Libero De Libero, created an artistic circle of musicians, writers, architects, painters and sculptors. He was involved with New York’s Museum of Modern Art’s 1949 exhibition, “20th Century Italian Art” and facilitated the 1950 opening of the Catherine Viviano Gallery in New York City. Cagli was awarded the Guggenheim Prize in 1946 and, in 1954, the Marzotto Prize, given by the Marzotto fashion company for his contributions to the cultural rebirth of Italy after the war. Corrado Cagli died in Rome in 1976.
Corrado Cagli’s “Battle of San Marino” depicts the final battle of the Second War of Independence in which the Piedmont army, directed by King Vittorio Emanuele and supported by the French troops of Napoleon III, defeated in a fierce battle the Austrian forces commanded by Emperor Franz Joseph I. The battle is considered the founding moment of the Italian Risorgimento, the period leading to unification and the formation of the new state of Italy.
The battle scene, depicted from a bird’s eye perspective, with the hectic confusion of weapons, horses, infantry and knights crushed together amid the surrounding hillsides, clearly highlights Cagli’s relationship with traditional painting styles, with influences ranging from Paolo Uccello to Piero della Francesca. Owned by Francesco Muzzi, secretary of the Cagli Foundation, and graciously loaned to the Uffizi in 1978, it was finally donated to the Uffizi Gallery in 2003.
Note: An interview between author Raffaele Bedarida and Alessandro Cassin, Director of Centro Primo Levi, entitled “Corrado Cagli, the American Years” can be found online at Printed_Matter located at: http://primolevicenter.org/printed-matter/corrado-cagli-the-american-years/