Artwork of the Day – Giovanni Segantini


Liverpool artwork of the day – Wednesday January 31 2007. ‘The Punishment of Lust’ 1891 by Giovanni Segantini (1858 – 1899) at The Walker

One of my favourites from the Walker. I have visited the gallery hundreds of times in past 2-3 years and about 80% of the time I just go straight up the stairs and across to the new exhibition rooms to see the latest show.

As I pass through those first 2 rooms sometimes I think how great it is to have all ‘this old stuff’ as I call it, here. Other times I wish I didn’t have to pass all this old stuff when I’m desperate to get to the new stuff.

But I never fail to spot this picture, brightening up the corner of the first room at eye level, its been there as long as I can remember, I almost give it a nod of hello as I dash past, its like an old friend.
Don’t know what happened to this photo of it though, perhaps its been cleaned since this was taken, its a lot brighter and bluer than it looks here.

The punishment of lust’ belongs to a series of paintings produced
between 1891-96 on the theme of bad mothers (cattive madri). Segantini
was inspired by Nirvana, a poem written by the 12th century monk Luigi
Illica in imitation of the Indian text Panghiavahli. Illica’s poem
contained the phrase ‘la Mala Madre’ (the bad or wicked mother with an
echo similar to ‘la mala femmina’ or prostitute) to describe those
women who refused the responsibilities of motherhood.

The souls of the women are
depicted floating against a snowy background based on the Swiss Alps
where Segantini spent much of his life. The grandeur and spirituality
of the Alps was a constant inspiration to Segantini whose last words
before he died were: "I want to see my mountains".

In the painting the spirits
of the women are punished for having committed the sin of abortion
consciously or by neglect. Segantini had lost his mother when he was
seven years old and was probably passionate to represent the trauma of
the mother for the loss of her child. Segantini believed that a woman’s
role in life was motherhood and that a woman who objects to this was
mean, bad or selfish. His beliefs drew from both religious and
metaphysical ideas: the sanctity and motherhood of the Virgin Mary
combined with the fertility of nature.