One of the Twentieth Century’s most important works, and it’s an enigma
There is no street. The buildings on either side have contradictory perspectives; the space between has no existence and labelling it a street gives it an unearned meaning; it is merely a space.
Giorgio di Chirico was a painter born and trained in Greece around the turn of the last century. His paintings depicted impossible landscapes or collections of objects and should therefore be examined with an eye seeking meaning not found in the physical realm.
His works often led to flashes of inspiration in the mind of the viewer, and one such illumination led to de Chirico’s influence on the school of Surrealism, where Salvador Dali’s enigmatic paintings created such a later stir.
But this painting?
Examine the perspectives and lighting. They simply do not add up. Quite apart from the building façades, the shadows do not align. The girl with the hoop, a shadow herself, casts a shadow at odds with that thrown by the nearby building.
The vehicle — a horse float, maybe? — is almost immune from perspective apart from the wheels, and is lit by an impossible source, including the even tone of the interior which not only defies perspective, but is apparently wedged so hard up against the building face that it shares the baseline of the building against the “street”.
Okay, so it can't exist, but the eye skids around trying to make sense of it all. Like marbles tumbling around inside, no pattern lasts long enough to explain the contradictions.
Sense without form
The shadow girl is a reflection — like Plato’s Cave — of reality. I like to think that we animate the shadow, bowling the hoop along the street of life toward some future destiny, hinted at by yet another shadow. Our future selves, a statue?
We progress in a landscape full of objects and concepts which make no sense, but we accept them anyway, having no choice in the matter.
Like the hoop, we cannot stop, lest we fall over. There is no time to examine the landscape in detail. It passes by and is gone, just our dimming memories as a record, another reflection of the real to hold onto.
Enjoy the show, the artist is telling us. In a Taoist reality, we can never know the truth. It’s all shadows and illusions, layer upon layer. All we can cling to is the present moment, torn from our uncertain grasp in the moment of comprehension.
Like de Chirico’s paintings themselves.
Is my reality the same as yours?
That’s the real question, and in questioning our own senses, we come to the conclusion that nobody has the answer; if they claim truth, they are wrong.
What do you see in the painting?
And don’t tell me it’s just a street!