Born in Leghorn in 1903 Alberto Zampieri was an extremely precocious artist. When he was thirteen years old he was already working on ‘plein-air’ paintings of views of Leghorn and the surrounding countryside. He produced lively impressions from life using his newly purchased oil paints bought in the famous shop in Via Indipendenza that sold frames and art materials and that was run by the enthusiast Gustavo Mors (in the 20’s the shop became Gino Belforte’s famous Bottega D’Arte, where Zampieri often showed his paintings in collective exhibitions). It was Mors, as purchaser of one of his freshly painted works, who advised the young man and made him follow a career as an artist.
Mors’ Bottega – like the legendary Caffè Bardi – was the meeting point for the numerous artists that the city of Leghorn produced in the decades spanning the 19th and 20th centuries. The Bottega and the Caffè were unique places to learn and develop and Zampieri knew how to make good use of them. He worked diligently in both places, socialising with the permanent and visiting artists of Tuscan painting that was based on and developed from Fattori’s concepts. Those artists who came from Leghorn (Bartolena, Puccini, Nomellini, Ulvi Liegi, Ghiglia, Lloyd, Gambogi, Fanelli, Pagni) were effectively revitalising the Post-Macchiaioli vocabulary of the tradition by pursuing autonomous and independent paths. In the first decade of the 20th century when Alberto Zampieri began his career, the young generations in Leghorn were well aware of the pictorial depth of Mario Puccini or of the artistic figure of Nomellini, but an increasingly more important role for them was by adopting Benvenuto Benvenuti, a young man of a highly moral-intellectual character and persuasion who at the beginning of the 20th century had been struck by, and had definitively opted for Divisionism. From that time on he had done a successful work of conversion insisting that the ‘dictat’ of the venerated Lombard master Vittore Grubicy De Dragon penetrate the circles of Leghorn. Many were the artists who responded to the divided brushstrokes of the first two decades of the 20th century: Romiti, Castaldi, Baracchini Caputi, Caprini, Cocchi and Domenici were all involved in it for various periods of time.
Alberto Zampieri fitted naturally into this artistic culture in ferment (and became one of its most educated and scrupulous participants) a culture that aimed at breaking away from the language of the Macchiaioli and Naturalism and was more or less aware and ready to welcome the sensitivity and aspirations of the 20th century, even through phases of experimentation and linguistic research. Not yet in his twenties, Zampieri approached Divisionism and studied reality through the alchemies of light. Naturally gifted, he produced high quality works, such as “Concerto per violino” (Violin Concerto) (1918), “Crocetta” (Small Cross) (1922), “Ai giardini pubblici” (In the Park) (1923), using a studied, precise technique. He used pure colours and composed sophisticated chromatic fabrics using short, close, broken, nervous brushstrokes, crossed with complementary colours. In contrast to these studied and almost scientifically precise works are studies where the study of Divisionist light is less programmatic and calmer, more ‘Tuscan’ and emotional. Broad, rapid strokes of luminous colour capture the vibrations of light and the broken brushstrokes follow and support the structure of the drawing as in “Mattina in Via del Fagiano” (Morning in Via del Fagiano) (1919), “Scali delle Cantine” (The Dockyard), “Campagna livornese” (Leghorn countryside) painted in 1922 and “Calambrone” (1925).
During the 20’s Zampieri devoted himself to drawing. He had an especially gifted hand, a steady, positive and strong stroke. His works were well composed with a restrained fresh narrative tendency “Portone in Via del Fante” (Door in Via del Fante), “Intorno al tavolo” (Around the Table), “I cestanti” (The Basket Makers), “Osteria” (The Tavern). As he himself put it he only worked spontaneously with a pencil in his hand, producing drawings with sure, instinctive strokes – “Chiacchiere” (Gossip), “L’omino dei palloncini” (The Balloon Seller), “In tram” (On the Tram), “Interno di osteria” (Interior of a Tavern), “Donna che cuce” (Woman Sewing), without subjecting himself to those trains of thought and explanations that are characteristic of his oils.
Zampieri, who had a pleasant, subtle sense of humour worked on producing amusing caricatures for the newspapers to scrape a living in his youth. In the 20’s it is mostly his graphic work that is of importance, and already this focused on the human figure. He applied himself to this work with renewed vigour in the years following the Second World War, often undertaking engraving work and producing compositions that tend towards the essential, with clear and convincing lines “Figura femminile con giglio” (Woman with a Lily), “Bimbo con palla” (Young Boy with a Ball).
Zampieri, who during the third decade of the 20th century devoted himself to studying landscape tradition, almost immediately completed by the inclusion of the human figure, moved further away from the temptation of the sketch from life and began to use much more challenging formats. Landscape painting soon gave way to the figure that became increasingly important during the 30’s to become the most profound and genuine leit-motif of his art.
His interest in Divisionism and pure landscape waning, Zampieri began a new period of creativity applying his paint in thick impasto, his figures are marked by their simple chromatic masses, with Cézanne-like structural vigour. The artist participates in the life and events of ‘others’ that he captures in the simple moments of every-day life “Interno di Osteria”, “Il falciatore” (The Mower), “Giocatori dal Biagioni” (Players at the Biagioni), “Vecchio sobborgo industriale” (Old Industrial Area), “Spiaggia a Viareggio” (The Beach at Viareggio) and with greater and greater emotional tension he emphasises feelings, emotions and human relationships. He becomes more and more interested in figurative subjects that are repeated and taken up again and again even many years later, a well-researched figurative repertoire that rapidly assumes a symbolic value. One only has to think of the carefully analysed, well defined and modified versions of the old police station, card players, clientele of country taverns, smoky bars and small city cafes, workers and railway workers, people on the tram, 3rd class railway passengers, motives that recall Daumier, revived by Zampieri from the Twenties onwards. A pensive, calm humankind that lives a life a suffering and solitude, a simple and strong social presence that he interprets without any rhetoric or intellectual complacency but with a fraternal spirit of sharing and expressive, intense participation.
During the Thirties the artist began a successful process of linguistic synthesis and study and strengthening of forms, his painting becomes increasingly simplified, chiaroscuro accents are abandoned as are the play of light and the depth of shade “Giovanil pudore” (Youthful Modesty), “Maternità” (Motherhood). This synthetic tendency becomes the feature of the artist’s work in the 50’s, he increasingly neglects realist references while reality and the subjects of inspiration assume universal and symbolic significance “Le tre generazioni” (Three Generations), “Maternità rosa” (The Baby Girl).
An intelligent and knowledgeable artist, Zampieri was well aware of the tendencies of contemporary figurative art and was well-versed in the compositional rules of the 20th century but he never once allowed himself to copy, his cool objective self-appraisal prevented him from following the fashions or styles of the day, a self-criticism that would not have developed without these personal and exhausting processes of refinement and clarification. He had a deep understanding of the Masters of the past that he regularly drew close to on account of the restoration work he did to earn a living but which, unfortunately, at the same time reduced the time he could spend painting (as in the 60’s when his artistic production dropped markedly). The Old Master tradition is always more apparent in his language that over the years rids itself of superfluous narrative elements.
Zampieri’s favourite subjects were without doubt women, but also children, men working and the urban landscape. Like his friend Giovanni Zannacchini (way back in 1921 he was among the founders of the Leghorn Group with Zampieri) who loved to capture modern life and technology, trains, power-stations, petrol pumps and chimneys, Zampieri too, right from his youth, was attracted to the dynamics of progress and modernity, in particular the city, emblematic of modern society. His vivid urban landscapes with their sombre skies are articulated with solid, static volumes “Il Ponte alla Fortezza”, “Paesaggio urbano” (Urban Landscape), “Periferia” (The Suburbs). His city has deserted streets, is silent and is padded in the uniform grey of concrete. Man is absent, hidden in those factories with their shaded windows, but then all this grey is interrupted by the positive, bright tone of the parked cars.
The artist depicts a gallery of male characters with warm empathy, capturing them in their dignified silence, sometimes with a touch of irony, for example, the gloomy ‘carabinieri’ isolated behind the bars of their Old Police Station like the pensive Condemned of Rosa’s decadence, hunch-backed hard-working mechanics and railway workers, monumental, burly cooks as in the appealing work of 1955, the gaping customers of the old cafés.
He represents children very tenderly and women are portrayed in their pensiveness and intimate isolation. He uses a minimal, bold style with uninterrupted rhythm, excluding superfluous objects, narrative and surroundings. Avoiding any type of decorativism, he studies and captures the very essence of the figure, hands and faces contain the innermost thoughts of the portrayed subject “Figura su sfondo rosso” (Figure against a Red Background), “Le due amiche” (The Two Friends).
Written by: Giovanna Bacci di Capaci Conti – Translated by: Catherine Biggerstaff
Alberto Zampieri was born on 15 January in a house in Piazza XX Settembre where he passed his childhood with his mother Teresa to whom he was always very close.
At the age of thirteen Zampieri was very versatile, he played the violin, was very good at drawing (encouraged by Angiolo Tommasi), went to the Istituto Tecnico (where he was later awarded his diploma) and began painting in oils.
He worked tirelessly in the workshop of the Belle Arti run by Gustavo Mors who by purchasing some of his sketches from life encouraged him to persevere in following an artistic career.
He becomes part of the artistic circle of his birth town of Leghorn, makes friends with and respects “all the artists, first those who remained at home, later with those who gradually returned from the various fronts”. He is one of the “Branca” of the Caffè Bardi, the famous and stimulating meeting place for artists.
He experiments with Divisionism, producing works that strictly follow its theories, alternating them with more spontaneous studies.
Begins work as a caricaturist for the satirical Leghorn newspaper Don Chisciotte, under the name of “Obert”. He later worked for other newspapers as a caricaturist, for example, the “Corriere di Livorno”, the “Nuovo Giornale di Firenze”.
On 15 July the artists Baracchini Caputi, Cavagnaro, Cipriani, Cognetti, Guzzi, March, Michelozzi, Natali, Razzaguta, Renucci, Romanelli, Romiti, Tarrini, Zampieri and Zannacchini meet in Romito’s studio and form the famous Leghorn Group.
Zampieri takes part in the first exhibition organised by the Leghorn Group. The artist had already exhibited his work at local collective exhibitions (Pro Soldato – 1917, Pro Casa dell’Arte – 1919). From this time on Zampieri becomes a regular exhibiter in Leghorn and in other cities (Florence, Milan, Viareggio, Rome), but exclusively in collective exhibitions.
Together with other Leghorn artists he founds the coterie the “Cenacolo degli illusi”.
He begins to get interested in methods of painting restoration he broadens his knowledge by studying the Old Italian masters, is a frequent visitor to museums and attends courses on restoration.
He starts to restore old paintings. This work earns him a living and he continues to paint. He works for private and public organisations and collaborates with the Superintendency on the monuments of Florence.
He moves to Pisa to work for the local Civic Museum that gives him important works to restore.
He lives in Via Manzoni, later in Via Vittorio Emanuele together with his wife Jole Bonaldi who is the owner of a small shop for women’s accessories.
He exhibits with the Leghorn Group in the historic Galleria Pesaro in Milan.
Zampieri’s painting “Venditore di frutta” (The Fruit Seller) exhibited in Florence at the Palazzo Pitti, is purchased by the King Vittorio Emanuele. The Royal Family buy another of Zampieri’s works in 1940, at the 10th Leghorn Town Council Exhibition.
Because of the volume of work commissioned by the museums in Genoa attached to Palazzo Bianco and Palazzo Rosso Alberto he sets up a studio in Genoa where he works for three days.
Zampieri divides his time between work and art, for several years he shows works at numerous regional exhibitions.
By invitation of Fortunato Bellonzi, he takes part in the “VI Quadriennale Nazionale d’Arte”, Rome.
He exhibits at the “VII Quadriennale Nazionale d’Arte”, Rome.
The artist’s mother dies in Pisa where she moved to be near to her sons Italo and Alberto.
Work commitments force him to move to Genoa.
He writes the introduction to the posthumous exhibition of his friend Mario Cocchi who had been like a brother to him.
Restoration work becomes increasingly challenging: from the late 50’s the time Zampieri dedicates to his painting drops dramatically, his appearances at exhibitions suffers drastically for the entire decade.
He returns to Leghorn for good, living in Via Zambelli.
Contact with the city, the places of his youth and with old friends, reawakens in Zampieri his enthusiasm for painting that had, however, never waned.
Without neglecting his restoration work, the artist begins to paint once more with renewed enthusiasm.
He has his first anthological exhibition at the Bottega d’Arte where he exhibits paintings, watercolours and dry-point etchings.
The artist shows regularly at collective exhibitions.
Zampieri is elected president of the Leghorn Group, a position that he holds until his death.
His wife Jole dies.
As president of the Leghorn Group the artist has the satisfaction of honouring a duty undertaken way back in 1920 by its founder members. After problems and never-ending administrative complications, Zampieri succeeds in what had by then become a dream – to pay homage to his artist friend Mario Puccini. He has his body taken to the Memorial Chapel of Montenero, to rest in eternal peace amongst the famous of Leghorn.
The Parish of San Martino di Salviano organises the artist’s anthological exhibition.
On 11 May Zampieri passes away in Pisa, with his loving nephew Alberto, who had been like a son to him, at his bedside.
Written by: Giovanna Bacci di Capaci Conti – Translated by: Catherine Biggerstaff
© Studio d’Arte dell’800