Rock Me Amedeo

What I am seeking is not the real and not the unreal but rather the unconscious, the mystery of the instinctive in the human race.” 

Amedeo Modigliani



Amedeo Modigliani  was born in Tuscany, Italy July 12, 1884 and died from tuberculosis in his adopted home city of Paris on January 24, 1920. He is known for painting nudes and portraits with distinct, elongated faces. Unfortunately, Modigliani's personal life often eclipses his many contributions to art. As a 'tragic legend' he is known for drinking, using drugs and dying young. 


To celebrate Amedeo I am going to have Bellinis, a traditional Italian drink. Here is a recipe for a Bellini Bar.... like a sundae bar but way better. I chose Barefoot Bubbly Peach wine for my Bellinis and was rewarded. Fab wine!!! Alright I have my drink so here we go!


Modigliani's signature style is kind of  (ok ... really) jarring at first; faces are elongated, necks are askew, and eyes are a single, piercing color with no detail. When you get over the 'WTF is this?!' reaction and take a moment to really look at the work you may find it hauntingly beautiful; I know I do.

The portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne 1, his common-law wife, is a gorgeous example.

Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne, 1918, Oil on canvas

Looking at something so unique one might wonder where his inspiration came from ... yay for art historians who have the answer! Like many of his fellow artists in Paris during the early 20th century Modigliani was enamored with African masks."He was singular in his adaptation of stylistic influences primarily from the Baule of today’s Ivory Coast (1978.412.425). Modigliani made sketches of the elongated faces of Baule masks and figures, heart-shaped and narrowing to a point at the chin beneath a small mouth placed unnaturally low on the face."2 The Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne has these characteristics and they are consistent throughout Modigliani's work. See my gallery for more examples.


One of the most interesting features of Modigliani's portraits is what isn't there ... the eyes; he doesn't paint eyes. There is a single color where the eyes should be. Blank eyes is another connection between Modigliani's portraits and African masks.3  Michael O'Sullivan argues "If Modigliani's portraits are like masks -- and they are, both in their reductive sameness and in the emptiness of their eyes -- they are masks that, paradoxically, show us something about the psychological inner lives of the sitters."4  I agree with this assessment. I imagined Modigliani's portraits with "proper" eyes and the ethereal quality was lost.

Modigliani applied his portrait style to reclining female nudes as well. In classical female nudes the woman needed a reason to be nude, like she is Venus5. In Reclining Nude,1917, Modigliani confronted the viewer with female sexuality by omitting classical references. Modigliani was taking a cue from Edouard Manet's Olympia,1863.

Compare the four female nudes below:

Sandro Botticelli The Birth of Venus between 1482 and 1485


Titian, The Venus of Urbino, 1538, oil on canvas 


 Eduard Manet Olympia,1863, oil on canvas


 Amedeo Modigliani Reclining Nude , 1917, oil on canvas


These paintings are all traditional reclining female nudes, but are radically different.  Modigliani omits all classical references in Reclining Nude so she isn't immediately identifiable as Venus or another classical figure that for some reason is always naked. She is, however, independent, confident and consumes the viewer instead of being consumed by the viewer. This shifts in how women are depicted in art.


My Bellinis are gone so let's wrap up. Modigliani was a bright, fleeting star that left an indelible mark on the world with his art. If you want to learn more, consider reading an interview with Modigliani 's model or watching Modigliani. Cheers!


1) Sadly, Jeanne committed suicide the day after Amedeo died. They are even buried in the same grave. Source:











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