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Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (Italian, 1876–1944)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

(b Alexandria, 22 Dec 1876; d Bellagio, 2 Dec 1944). Italian writer and theorist. He was educated by Jesuit monks in Alexandria until 1893, when he moved to Paris. Having obtained a Baccalauréat, he studied law at the Università degli Studi di Genova, from which he graduated in 1899. In 1898 he published poetry for the first time, in particular the free verse Les Vieux Marins: this was awarded a prize by Gustave Kahn and the Symbolist poet, Catulle Mendès, and was recited by Sarah Bernhardt at the ‘Samedis populaires’ held at her theatre in Paris. In late 1898 Marinetti settled in Milan where he was to found and run the international review Poesia (1905–9), in which Symbolist poets and forerunners of free verse collaborated. However, he maintained close links with French culture. In Paris he published the epic poem La Conquête des étoiles in 1902 and his first satirical tragedy Le Roi bombance in 1905; the latter, still influenced by Symbolism and Alfred Jarry, was not performed until 1909, at the Théâtre de l’Oeuvre in Paris. In 1907 he visited the Abbaye de Créteil, whose circle heavily influenced Marinetti’s Futurist ideas.

In 1909 Marinetti published his ‘Manifeste de fondation du Futurisme’, which aroused immediate international repercussions (see Futurism). This manifesto proclaimed a new kind of poetry, exalting the love of danger, aggression, speed and war (‘the war’s only hygiene’) and the excitement of great crowds, revolutions, industry and technology. Marinetti urged the destruction of museums, libraries and academies. His ideas were extended to figurative art in the Manifesto dei pittori futuristi (1910), signed by Giacomo Balla, Umberto Boccioni, Carlo Carrà, Luigi Russolo and Gino Severini. In 1910 the manifestos were declaimed in riotous soirées throughout Italy. Marinetti also publicized Futurism abroad, where it had an important influence, for example on Cubo-futurism in Russia. Marinetti visited St Petersburg and Moscow in 1910 and 1913, and London in 1911, when he gave a lecture on Futurism at the Lyceum Club. On that occasion he challenged to a duel an Irish journalist who had denigrated the Italian army. During 1911 Marinetti fervently supported the Italian campaign in Libya, in which he served as a war correspondent for L’Intransigeant. He also reported in 1912 on the war in the Balkans. In the same year Marinetti presented Futurist exhibitions in Paris, Berlin, Brussels and also in the Sackville Gallery in London, where the catalogue contained English translations of key Futurist manifestos. Marinetti had an important influence in Britain on christopher Nevinson and on the development of Vorticism, even though Ezra Pound was to describe the Italian as a ‘corpse’ in the Vorticist manifesto published in Blast in 1914.

In May 1912 Marinetti published the ‘Manifesto tecnico della letteratura Futurista’, which was to revolutionize poetic techniques and contemporary prose. Marinetti declared the abolition of syntax, punctuation, adjectives and adverbs and instead proposed placing nouns at random and using verbs in the infinitive: ‘after free verse, behold words at last in freedom.’ The typography of the printed ‘words in freedom’ ( parole in liberta) developed so that on the page the poems had expressive pictorial qualities (e.g. A Tumultuous Assembly, Numerical Sensibility). These works were highly influential on the figurative use of words in Futurist paintings by such artists as Carlo Carrà. In Paris from 1912 to 1914 Marinetti frequently visited Guillaume Apollinaire, Blaise Cendrars, Max Jacob, Pierre Reverdy and the artist–poet Pierre Albert-Birot, all of whom were greatly influenced by the ‘free words’ of the Futurists. In Italy, after initial conflicts, Marinetti formed an alliance with Ardengo Soffici and Giovanni Papini, from 1913 using their review Lacerba to publish his ideas. His Futurist theories developed to cover areas other than literature and the visual arts: for example in 1914 he organized a series of conferences in London launching the manifesto Abbasso il tango e Parsifal condemning two dance styles that he considered decadent and degenerate. As well as dance, Marinetti’s ideas concerned music, drama, film and such applied arts as industrial and graphic design, ceramics, textiles, bookbinding and metalwork. He also himself experimented with the plastic arts, for example in the Self-portrait (Dynamic Combination of Objects) (priv. col., see Belloli, 1982, p. 86), made of polychrome woods, matchboxes, various brushes and a grey silk handkerchief, hung from the centre of the main ceiling of the Doré Gallery in London in 1914.

At this time Marinetti strenuously supported Italian intervention in World War I. In Milan in September 1914 the Futurists, led by Marinetti, fought each other as a pro-war demonstration, and on a similar occasion in 1915 Marinetti was arrested together with the future Fascist leader Benito Mussolini. Marinetti encouraged the Futurists to depict warlike subjects in their paintings (e.g. Severini’s Cannon in Action, 1915; Frankfurt am Main, Städel. Kstinst.). In July 1915 Marinetti volunteered for the Lombard cyclists battalion, in which he was wounded and decorated for bravery. On his return he again became involved with politics, founding the Futurist Political Party in February 1918. This was anti-clerical, anti-monarchist, nationalist and proposed left-wing policies. Mussolini used its support in his rise to power in 1922, even though policy differences quickly appeared. Marinetti continued to support Fascism, even though the regime favoured a classical figurative style of art, which most of the first generation of Futurist artists adopted. Marinetti, however, persisted in promoting Futurist ideas and art.

In 1920 Marinetti constructed his first Free-word Tactile Tables (e.g. ‘Paris–Soudan’: Tavola tattile in libertà, 1920; Rome, Luce Marinetti priv. col.), which anticipated the ‘poem-objects’ of Dada and Surrealism, and in 1921 he published the ‘Manifeste du tactilisme’. In 1925 he moved to Rome where he continued to direct the Futurist movement, which had its headquarters in his house. In 1929 he was first made a member of the Reale Accademia d’Italia and then asked to direct the Secretariat of the Accademia’s Classe Arti e Lettere. In the late 1920s and 1930s Marinetti supported the phase of Futurist painting known as Aeropittura. He himself practised and theorized about ‘aeropoesia’, poetry concerned with the sensation and speed of flight. In 1933 he produced Futurist Words in Freedom/Tactile, Thermic, Olefactory, printed in coloured lithographs on metallic panels as pages of the Libro di latta aggressivo e contundente (1933), the world’s first experimental object–book of poetry, produced by the Lito-latta Nosenzo of Savona in a limited edition of 250 for bibliophiles and edited by the Futurist poet Tullio d’Albisola.

Marinetti’s aggressive nationalism reappeared in October 1935, when he went as a volunteer to the Italian war of conquest in Ethiopia (1935–6). His fascination with technology and warfare continued to inspire his poetry. In 1939 he created the ‘poesia dei tecnicismi’, which brought into poetic language terms specific to science, technology and contemporary arts and also utilized neologisms of the worlds of labour, finance and modern economics. In 1942 he celebrated with ‘poesia armata’ the military campaigns of the Axis powers in World War II. On 20 July 1942 he enrolled as a volunteer at the Russian Front, fighting in the battles of the Don, but was repatriated through illness after four months. In September 1944 in Venice, convalescing after an operation brought about by war fatigue, he gave to the Futurist painter and writer Giovanni Acquaviva (1900–72) his last Futurist manifesto La Patriarte (International Institute of Studies in Futurism, Milan, unpubd), in which he proposed an art of renewed expressive synthesis. In October 1944 he moved to Bellagio di Como where he was appointed keeper of the archives of the disbanded Accademia d’Italia and died soon after.

Carlo Belloli
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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