Drawing is the counterpoint to the various artistic and architectural activities of Marcello Pietrantoni (MP). In over half a century, he has transformed the blank sheets of an album (from albus, the Latin word for white) into an unending diary, sometimes revealed and sometimes side-lined with respect to other works of the period. A foundational counterpoint that lends meaning metaphorically to the melodic lines of his multiform symbolic and creative expressions.
In the dizzying diagonal trajectory of the drawings, the concomitance of body and psyche, two concepts he holds essential, pulsates in a whole series of representations, ranging from the most minimal to the most surprising and abnormal. As a suggestive hypothesis, it is also worth noting that a derivation put forward for album is from albiz or albaz, a possibly Germanic root evoking ghostly white apparitions.
MP has described the body as “the ground of all mental events.” Moreover, “It is the body that makes the world.” The psyche, the classical breath or afflatus, the soul in some cultures and eras, is also the element of combination with creation, with the elusive depths of the unconscious, with the functions of the mind and the action that dramatically stems from this whole. Challenging the mysterious and necessarily conventional concept of time, we thus arrive at the Pantodapon, (1) to each thing its own vortex (from the Latin vertere), spinning and deviation. We are now in a vortex of every thing that has undergone dizzying acceleration. The impact of this deviation is like that of an unknown land and spiralling disorientation. According to Arnaldo Benini, “The distinction between consciousness and mind is indefinite and often arbitrary.” The difference is between the ability to think and the state in which thought occurs. (2)

When we implicate consciousness and seek to penetrate it, we enterinto what enables the mind, among other things, to plan and to act (here Benini quotes B. J. Baars, In the Theater of Consciousness). As Benini rightly and succinctly puts it, consciousness is “the theatre of the mind”.(3) He also writes, paraphrasing Baars, of past, present and future as moments of existence, pointing out that tomorrow appears before yesterday in every language. MP has always channelled his efforts into critical reflection on the present, sometimes aiming at a paradoxical pursuit of timelessness, the time of human beings immersed in phenomena that constitute self-experience. Drawing on scientists and philosophers, Benini writes that millennial experience confirms that it is impossible to say what time is. As he acutely observes, all we can say is that “time is time.” (4) François Jullien asks whether it was really necessary to invent time. (5)

If Foucault is right to describe man as a recent invention, MP has often given the present author the impression of posing a question about drawing closer to the end, to a relationship with the cosmos that does not entail this invention. In some of the drawings we have looked at together over the years, he has drawn attention to a scorching and esoteric posterior light, an absence of life other than that of the physicality of the works and their presentation of marked psychic implications. In a nutshell, the psychic, the sacred and time are among the cornerstones of his doxa, understood as a questioning of the divine developed over the years rather than simple opinion. The relationship with the cosmos can also be likened to Schopenhauer’s pendulum, swinging between opposites, given the inaccessible (cosmic) power that the artist metaphorically places in the explosion of Tuono (“Thunder”).
Pantodapon, the present-day everything, in conflict, in the breath of life and the fear it arouses amongst the living, in the living forms gradually produced by technology, in the partial life of parasites (viruses). In short, the virtual pendulum that swings between elements of different signs, on the assumption that this really is a new era and not the tail end of the old one, of the Anthropocene. Moreover, it is time as an immediate element of consciousness, an “irrational phenomenon impervious to any conceptual formula”, as Benini puts it with reference to Eugène Minkowsi. (6) It is therefore no wonder that the contents of consciousness, i.e. the data of perception as a whole, should emerge in a host of different forms also in the works that have filled up the blank pages of the album over the decades. In his thinking as in his artistic practice, MP walks a line that is not easy but realistic through the complexity of the precarious balance - or imbalance - between what exists, what is designed and created, and what manifests itself endlessly in nature. As Trịnh Xuân Thuận wrote in the introduction to his book Le Chaos et l’Harmonie - La fabrication du Réel, “Symmetry is only interesting when it is interrupted.” (7)

More than one of MP’s various series of drawings bear out this author’s assertion that reflection, design and drawing hinge on what Trịnh Xuân Thuận describes as born out of “unbalanced situations”. Paradoxically enough, this is precisely their measure. His Simmetrie Improbabli, (8) and also a sort of partially drawn autopsy of Villa Allegonda (9) and De Stijl, are expressions of the attention to the matrix of summetria, proportion and what is hidden that MP has connected in different periods and with differing intensity to the intricate relationship between Truth and Beauty, something unfathomable other than by means of conventions. As Schopenhauer appears to have advocated, we should leave “reason in the lobby and fall back on intuition in order to understand beauty”. (10) In the history of the last fifty years, the longed-for harmony has often been devastated by rifts and conflicts in a context reminiscent of certain 16th-century paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, recently resurfaced in a new and disturbing landscape. It is a pendulum swinging between situations that ultimately tend towards opposites and causing our more or less metaphorical tribes of today to lose their ritual paths. This is another investigation that MP undertook years ago with the partially drawn works of Lago Bianco, l’ago nero. (11) Also technologically, as we have now put it for decades, the rifts of various kinds are the result of implacable obsolescence. In L’Archivio fotografico, (12) his series based on a collection of photographic images, which are then drawn with remarkable discretion, the “as it was” of photography, the term of comparison with the (possible) drawing of the here and now, emerges simultaneously, or almost, with irretrievable instants, memories and raw materials. And the question of the ability - on the threshold of possibility and its opposite - “to attain”, as Charles Edouard Bouée writes in Confucius et les automates, “a balance between movement and permanence, between the increasing acceleration of time and the human capacity for adaptation”. (13)

And of the living being, let us add. As in some images of L’Archivio fotografico, as well as its not too obvious resumption in the drawings and other works of his, the transition of the 20th century and the critique of modernity, in the strict sense, are like a serious and empathic reflection on its leading figures and its project, something watered down despite the initial premisses. For example, the figures climbing the stairs in Oskar Schlemmer’s Bauhaus Stairway (1932, oil on canvas) do so as though there were a perpetual descent - which is not directly shown - on the other side, as in so many works of Escher. Drawing runs through the visual arts with varying degrees of intensity. This intensity is simultaneously a quantity and a degree of energy. The crossing is ambiguous. On the one hand, a memory of drawing as profile and line and hence an important element of dimensionality persists in all of us. On the other, drawing is a project whose presence is felt and whose existence is statistically ascertained. As MP himself observes, he has with his drawings, at different degrees of frequency, reconnected the strands of a - primarily graphic - language with the fate of humankind. A reality of which he has always grasped the tragic terms, the fact that we humans are “things of nature.”

For him, if art is no longer clairvoyance, this is also due to our presumption over the years and perhaps the ages, always assuming that this clairvoyance was not, more than anything else, a yearning moulded by cultures and beliefs, the myths of times and places (including prehistoric times, in the present writer’s opinion). In L’Œil et l’Esprit, a powerful essay written just after halfway through the last century, Maurice Merleau-Ponty describes the body, our body, as a thing among things. (14) MP has drawn on this discussion of eye and mind - as the title is correctly translated in English - in various phases of his artistic practice to reflect on the human body. As Merleau-Ponty tells us, this is “caught up in the fabric of the world and its cohesion is that of a thing”. (15) In this perspective, things became “appendages” or “extensions” of the body. Here we take a long step towards the years of MP’s early drawings (and other works), bound up to a greater extent with a sort of curious anti-objectuality, a pursuit of something prior to the time before ours that tended towards an ideal archaicism rather than any critique of modernity. Like the one carried out by the French philosopher in other respects, his is a search for the terms of a beginning that defined or were to define vision, painting and the miracle of the body in relation to the world, the “inexplicable animation [...] and also the fragility of this miracle”, as Claude Lefort wrote in his comment on Merleau-Ponty. (16)

Even though we are considering an artistic career of over five decades, it is superfluous to construct a rigid taxonomy concentrating on thematic and temporal categories rather than the baselines that actually have been and are the raw materials of ceaseless work. In his drawings, from the most recent (cf. Pantodapon, not least given the present situation of pandemic) to those of previous decades, we enter a sort of agora, in the broad sense of the term used for the central public gathering space of ancient Greek city states.
From the drawings of Le Forme della Coscienza (“The Forms of Consciousness”) to Tuono, we perceive the reverberation of the world, perhaps the cosmos, but also of our own inner world. If the body is the world, as the title of the book Il Corpo è Mondo asserts, attention should be drawn to Bernard Andrieu’s observation in another context: “The corporeal world is neither the world nor the body.” In his view, the body has learned to incorporate the world to the point of becoming worldly “through habitus in its functions and its modes of tactile action.” (17) In our view, MP has borne these aspects in mind also in his sculptures. For him, shifts in meaning are constant praxis, also between different symbolic languages, a trópos, a transfer. Again in our view, the ancestral reference that informs MP’s various artistic expressions is related to the mysterious and perhaps primordial continent of Ur. (18)

This hypothetical original continent - which can almost be seen here as a metaphor of the beginning of time, another concept of great importance for the artist - is juxtaposed with the sense of history and its myths, like the Greek goddess Penia, the personification of want and poverty in a (historical) society of unequals. Underlying Le Stanze della Terra (The Rooms of the Earth) is a vision of the world that, as MP puts it, “must swing back and forth”, an expression derived from the beloved and substantially closed micro-universe of the Hopi, a people that lived in a symbiotic relationship with nature in Arizona half a millennium ago. According to MP, they lived in an ideal city where every object, fashioned by means of elementary and almost primitive methods, not only “extended the human body with continuity but was also an archaic artefact in which an anti-design approach could be discerned.” These extensions, forerunners in a sense of the technological prostheses of centuries later, did not prevent the downfall of the ideal city, in much the same way as the impossibility of repeating rites regarded as eternal brought a world to extinction in MP’s Il Lago Bianco, l’ago nero. (19)

With apologies to Schopenhauer, this is again the motion of his pendulum, swinging between pain and boredom as between life and death, or death postponed. MP’s disillusioned reflection on the end, understood in all its complexity, is not devoid of clear-sighted - and refined - Weltschmerz, cosmic anguish. He worked on L’Eterno Ritorno (The Eternal Return) over a number of years and with different techniques. “The disintegration of things [in the drawings] is accentuated by the white light behind.” He has in any case often sought to go beyond chronological time in the realm of the imagination. (20) The probably unsolvable question regards the above-mentioned Weltschmerz or world weariness on the one hand and the species with its striving for perpetuation, like all living creatures, on the other. In Greek mythology, one of the cornerstones of MP’s thought, it was the poor and outcast Penia that gave birth to Eros, the god of love. The words of Zarathustra, to which I attach vital importance, and hence Nietzsche’s eternal return involve burning questions about sacrality as well as the implications of this circularity and its probing of the immutability of what is subject to change over the millennia, also in other horizons. Moreover, MP’s investigation also regards knowledge: “The models are the heavens and the earth, which move along their path, the Tao or Way.” As Serge Bramly observes, “Not embracing this identity with the primordial forces in life [...] means departing from the order of the world.” (21) MP asks himself what is the material of the cosmos. In the light of his drawings, one of the possible answers is given by Johan Huizinga with reference to the Rigveda: “The primordial being Purusha, i.e. man, has served as material for the cosmos. […] In the same way, Gangleri asks in the Snorra Edda: ‘What was the beginning? How did it begin? What was there before?’” (22) The album of drawings is thick.

Franco Torriani, August 24, 2020


Pantodapon: a composite word derived from the Greek panto- meaning “all”: of every kind, sort, species, family, race or people; miscellaneous, various.

Arnaldo Benini, La Coscienza Imperfetta - Le neuroscienze e il significato della vita, Garzanti, Milan, 2012, p. 37.
The author wishes to thank Grolier Inc., New York, publishers of The Grolier International Dictionary, the source of linguistic and etymological information on various terms used here, e.g. albus.

Ibid. The work Benini quotes here is Bernard James Baars, In the Theater of Consciousness. The Workspace of the Mind, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1997, p. 162.

Ibid., pp. 101 and 102. The works of reference that Benini specifies in the notes are Paul Ricoeur, Temps et récit, Seuil, Paris, 1983-85, and Ernst Tugendhat, Heidegger und Bergson über die Zeit, in Aufsätze 1992-2000, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main, 2001, pp. 11 ff.

François Jullien, Les trasformations silencieurs, Grasset & Fasquelle, Paris, 2009.

Arnaldo Benini, op. cit., p. 108. Benini refers to Eugène Minkowski, Le Temps vécu. Études phénoménologiques et psychopathologiques, Presses Universitaires de France, Paris, 1968.

Trịnh Xuân Thuận, Le chaos et l’harmonie - La fabrication du Réel, Fayard, Paris, 1998, p. 17.

“Improbable Symmetries”, a work produced by MP in 1979–80. See Franco Torriani, Symétries improbables de Marcello Pietrantoni, Editions Rencontre, Brussels, 1979.

Villa Allegonda, a work produced by MP in 1979.

Trịnh Xuân Thuận, op. cit., p. 26.

“White Lake, Black Needle”, a work produced by MP in 1977–78.

MP began work on L’Archivio fotografico in the mid-1960s and continued for about five years. Tired of painting and of his work on this “photographic archive”, he then devoted himself to architecture. The present author wrote as follows at the beginning of the 1990s: “With this maniacal collection of images, he abandons the private sphere to embrace a public vision of the world.” The photographs were often of buildings and urban landscapes. This investigation of the representation of architecture was accompanied, as though underground, by a counterpoint of drawings, a juxtaposition of past and present, a descent into the imaginary architectonic realm and the fleetingness of human history. See in this connection the chapter “L’archivio fotografico” in Franco Torriani, Marcello Pietrantoni, Shakespeare & Company, Milan, 1990, pp. 23 ff.

Charles-Edouard Bouée, Confucius et les automates - L’avenir de l’homme dans la civilisation des machines, Grasset & Fasquelle, Paris, 2014, p. 171.

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, L’Œil et l’Esprit, Gallimard, Paris, 1985, Prèface de Claude Lefort (originally published as L’Œil et l’Esprit in Art de France, 1961, no. 1, and Les Temps Modernes, XVII, 1961, nos. 184-85, pp. 193-227).



Bernard Andrieu, Le monde corporel - de la constitution intéractive du soi, Éditions L’Âge d’Homme, Lausanne, 2010, p. 23.

The name is derived from the German prefix ur-, meaning primordial, ancestral, etc., and has nothing to do with Ur of the Chaldees, Abraham’s birthplace, or the Sumerian city of Ur in Mesopotamia.

See note 11.

Franco Torriani, Tra Aion e Chronos, in Marcello Pietrantoni, L’eterno ritorno, 5 Continents Editions, Milan, 2006, p. 86.

Serge Bramly, Il sistema “I King”, Pianeta, no. 54, September–October 1973, p. 54.

Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens, 1938; the Italian translation is quoted in a note in Franco Torriani, Tra Aion e Chronos, op. cit., Homo Ludens, Il Saggiatore, Milan, 1983, pp. 199–200.
The Edda referred to by Huizinga is the fundamental work of the medieval Norse mythological and linguistic heritage not only of Norway but also of the Scandinavian countries and the northern Germanic area.
The Icelandic scholar, poet and politician Snorri Sturluson (1179–1241) wrote the original part, known as the Prose Edda and the Younger Edda, and additions were made over the centuries. Huizinga uses the Icelandic name Snorra Edda, meaning Snorri’s Edda, in Homo Ludens. While various interpretations have been put forward for the word Edda, its meaning remains uncertain.
In this literary monument of a typically Nordic geographic and cultural area of the 12th–13th century, the Christian Snorri focused great attention of local mythology as well as the by no means simple relations between Christianity and pagan traditions. The “Gangleri” referred to by Huizinga was the name used by the legendary King Gylf, who may never have existed, when travelling in disguise as a poor wayfarer and beggar in search of the gods.Attention should also be drawn to the introduction written by Umberto Eco to the Italian version of Homo Ludens (Einaudi, 1973). Among his many other activities, MP was Eco’s assistant for five years.

|     Disegni    |