Enrico Prampolini, Metamorfosi cosmica (1935)


Metamorfosi cosmica is a polymateric artwork which reproduces the vision of a landscape seen from an aerial perspective, in which elements of the landscape (land, rocks, water) are represented through shapes and lines created with different materials (oil, sandpaper, and bark). At the same time, it is a representation of the evolution and the life cycle of nature and of the matter. It needs to be understood as a form of artistic expression and not a technique.

Main Principles

  1. A New Theorization of the Relationship Between Subjectivity and Objectivity

  2. The Rationalization of Aesthetics: the Straight Line


During the 1930s, Prampolini started experimenting with polymateric art, drawing on ideas expressed by Boccioni in 1914, notably on the occasion of a querelle with Papini. Papini criticized Futurist artistic forms like collages or ‘tavole parolibere’, accusing them of simply displaying the bare materiality of things, depriving the artist of any creative agency. Boccioni replied that as soon as an element of reality enters a work of art, its nature changes; it assumes symbolic meanings and a lyrical function which create emotional reactions in the viewer. This is the principle that governs the idea of polymateric art: elements of material reality disrupt the artwork and acquire aesthetic, spiritual and metaphysical meanings. The artwork thus becomes a bridge between the material and the ideal worlds. Besides Italian futurism, this form of art draws inspiration from the dada collages (1917), and the surrealist sculpture-objects (1933). It spans two decades of avant-garde experimentations and echoes international influences.

In order to test the expressive possibilities of fragments of reality when they are transfigured into symbolic, metaphorical objects in a work of art, Prampolini assembled different materials and fixed them onto panels. As Prampolini will clarify in his 1944 pamphlet about Arte polimaterica, the aim of this artistic expression was that of replacing the reality painted on the canvas with the reality of materiality itself, and thus to move beyond traditional forms of representation of reality. In other words, polymateric art had to draw the emotional value of reality from its special and rhythmic interplays. Such conceptual step resulted in a simplification of lines, which at the same time attempted to create rhythmic patterns while maintaining the fluidity of forms of reality itself.

The collages thus created both have a purely plastic value and an ideogrammic nature, like De Chirico’s paintings, i.e. they develop and evoke ideas through their visual representation. An overarching idea developed by Prampolini’s polymateric artworks, which we find in Metamorfosi cosmica, is the eternal becoming of the matter and the life cycle of the cosmos, which is why the concept of ‘metamorphosis’ is central to polymaterism. The aim of these artistic experiments was to expand art’s expressive potential, since the aesthetic possibilities of traditional painting had been exhausted, as Prampolini explained in his 1944 volume Arte Polimaterica. The artist stated the need to go back to the aesthetic language of the ‘primitives’, by which he meant artistic traditions preceding the Renaissance, whose works were ‘typical examples of supreme balance between the representation of the matter and the expression of the spirit’ (p. 3): what he aspired to and tried to achieve through his polymateric works.


Lista, Giovanni. 2013. Enrico Prampolini futurista europeo. Rome: Carocci.

Prampolini, Enrico. 1989. Verso i polimaterici, edited by Guido Ballo. Modena: Galleria Fonte d'Abisso edizioni; Milan: Fonte d'Abisso Arte.

Salaris, Claudia. 2009. Futurismo: l’avanguardia delle avanguardie. Florence: Giunti.

Laura Pennacchietti