Modernist Art: Carlo Carra’s ‘Funerali dell’anarchico Galli’

Futurism was an important and vibrant art movement which was founded in the early 20th century in Italy. This article will explore one instance of a futurist artist’s work.

funeraloftheanarchistgalli

Carlo Carra’s ‘Funerali dell’anarchico Galli’ depicts a scene in the funeral of Angelo Galli. The painting is typical of the futurists in its colours and technique of painting. Carlo Carra is believed to not be an active anarchist at the time he painted this picture. Although he still believed in some of their ideas and dream of political justice. Galli was shot during a general strike in Milan in 1904. His funeral became a violent engagement between the police and Galli’s supporters. Milan was at this time a city fractured by industrialization and politics. Sylvia Martin explains: 

Around 1890 Italy found itself in a difficult position due to the effects of industrialization. The aristocracy as much as the upper bourgeoisie cleaved to traditional power structures, while the growing proletariat developed a popular movement that fought for social justice. In this political situation, repeated and often bloody conflicts took place, especially in Milan, where the workers were well organized. The crisis reached its first culmination in 1898.(1.)

The police were ordered to restrict Galli’s mourners access to the graveyard because the state felt that Galli’s grave would become a site of political resistance and demonstration for the Anarchists. Neither side backed down, the police were ordered to keep the Anarchists away from the graveyard, and the Anarchists saw the police as the iron fist of an unjust regime.

The artist Carlo Carra, an Anarchist at the time of the funeral, witnessed the confrontation. Carra wrote in his autobiography:

In front of me I saw the coffin, covered over and over with red carnations, which rocked threateningly back and forth on the shoulders of the bearers; I saw how the horses began to shy, how sticks and lances clashed, such that it seemed to me that sooner or later the coffin would fall to the ground and be trampled on by the horses.(2.)

Carra, inspired by this vivid scene, recreated the funeral seven years later in the painting ‘Funerali dell’anarchico Galli’. The painting illustrates the violence and energy, both important concepts to futurists, in the clash between the Anarchists and police. The loose representation of the bodies intertwining gives an impression of the infinite number who attended. The bold movement and position of the man in the middle is a representation of the body language and mood of the crowd. It shows the counteracting force of the people against the police. Carra utilizes bold, sweeping strokes with the brush to illustrate the energy and fury of movement. This technique captures the clashing sticks, lances and bodies. The use of the colours red, black and brown are powerful in effect and vivid in aesthetic. The red and black, colours of death and passion, also represent the traditional colours of Anarchism. The use of a reddish brown meshes the suits of the anarchists with their dark shadows, ensuring a sense of movement and confusion. The use of the reddish brown also refers to the industrialization of Milan. Using the colour of rust and iron seems to indicate that the workers are defined, coloured by their work and the emerging industrialization of Milan. Carlo Carra’s artwork is a vibrant, interesting recollection of an important historical period of Milan. Exploring not only the nature and form of movement but also important social events in Italian history.

1. Sylvia Martin, Futurism, London: Taschen, (2006), p. 36.

2. Carlo Carra in Sylvia Martin, Futurism, London: Taschen, (2006), p. 36.

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