Thayaht, Il grande nocchiere (Aeropittura del grande timoniere, 1939)
Il grande nocchiere, or Aeropittura del grande timoniere, is a painting Thayaht made in 1939, when it was also exhibited at III Quadriennale d’Arte Nazionale in Rome. While the title of the huge canvas (161X98.5 cm) is a clear reference to the Manifesto dell’Aeropittura futurista (1929), the subject is centred on a majestic automaton, which is an essential portrait of Mussolini conquering Europe. The artwork belonged to the collector Mitchell Wolfson, who recently donated his collection to a regional foundation in Genoa (Italy): under the section “Fascism and propaganda” of the Collezione Wolfsoniana one can find Il grande nocchiere.
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To fully understand Il grande nocchiere, one must date back to the year 1929, a milestone in Thayaht’s career: at that time, in fact, Ernesto Michahelles – the artist’s real name – met Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Futurism’s leader, and almost surely read the latest “Manifesto dell’Aeropittura futurista”. From then onwards, the connection between the eclectic artist and the so-called ‘Second Futurism’ is something ‘official’ and clearly traceable in his artworks.
Ten years later, the result of the whole process is shown in this painting: a complex allegory, despite his apparently simple composition. The main protagonist is a gigantic automaton-helmsman ('nocchiere' or 'timoniere', as already suggested by the title) who is taking control of a helm, on a light blue background where other details, such as airplanes, clouds and a map of Europe, emerge. These are references to Futurism both in terms of themes (war, high speed, the conquest of the sky) and style, given that different perspectives contribute to create a geometric and well-organised composition.
The new man shaped by the artist and by fascist politics is a hero, a 'superuomo' who wants to conquer the world. With the help of technology and under the influence of a strong propaganda, PNF contributes to create a new historical and critical dimension. On another level, Il grande nocchiere is a majestic portrait of Mussolini, placed at the centre of the scene, controlling the ongoing situation: even if it is not so explicit, one must look at the previous works of the artist, and especially at Dux con pietra miliare (1929), to understand and identify the subject. With its massive presence, the ‘painted-sculpture’ of the Duce is the embodiment of power, with a well-balanced presence between spiritual and profane, religion and politics, culture and ideology.
The monochromatic giant 'has broken the European chains, and the Savoia-Marchetti hydroplanes […] are flying upward, perhaps to rise over the trenches suggested by lines of barbed wire in the top right' (Esposito 2015, 341). In other words, all the elements depicted by the artist have a precise meaning and the knight-robot is taking control of them: Mussolini is guiding Italy towards freedom and power passing through a necessary step, war. This is a strong and explicit declaration, especially if we consider that in 1939 the whole Europe was about to be involved in a violent, extended conflict, the Second World War.
Esposito, Fernando. 2015. Fascism, Aviation and Mythical Modernity. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Fonti, Daniela (ed.). 2005. Thayaht. Futurista irregolare. Milan: Skira.