Le Affinitá Elettive

an exhibition of artworks by Adele Ceraudo

09 - 23 May, 2015

Graham Geddes – Exhibition Rooms, 828 High Street, Armadale VIC 3143

Italian Renaissance with a female edge in an unparalleled pictorial exhibition

Famous creations of the Renaissance will show a new identity in an unparalleled pictorial exhibition of artworks by one of the most ingenious and creative woman artists from Italy.

Her name is Adele Ceraudo and she has reinterpreted from a female perspective some of the greatest masterworks by famous Italian painters and sculptors of the Renaissance.

The result is an amazing collection of artworks that inject a new force and meaning in figures and stories that have traditionally mirrored male-oriented religions and mythologies.

Imagine Michelangelo's David transfigured as a young woman with the same posture as the statue but with a female body or think of Leonardo's Vitruvian Man as a feminine figure upsetting the geometrical symmetry of the original drawing. The same transfiguration process is applied to great works of art like Bernini's sculpture The Abduction of Proserpina, Canova's The Three Graces, Caravaggio's David and Goliath and The Deposition of Christ and other renowned paintings.

Titled “Elective Affinities”, the exhibition will bring to the Melbourne art scene a remarkable artistic achievement by a woman artist who has given Renaissance a female edge.

From Caravaggio's “The Deposition of Christ”

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2015

List of artworks

The Abduction of Proserpina

by Gianlorenzo Bernini
24 x 33 cm, Rome, November 2011

The Three Graces

by Antonio Canova
33 x 48 cm, Rome, February 2011

The Crucifix

from photo by Matteo Basile
48 x 33 cm, Rome, April 2012

The Entombment of Christ

by Michelangelo Merisi (Caravaggio)
48 x 33 cm, Roma, April 2012

Leda and the Swan

by Michelangelo
48 x 33 cm, Rome, June 2012

Psyche revived by Cupid's Kiss

by Antonio Canova
33 x 48 cm, Rome, August 2012

Vitruvian Man

by Leonardo da Vinci
33 x 48 cm, Rome, August 2012

La Pietá

by Michelangelo
33 x 48 cm, Rome, September 2012

David

by Michelangelo Buonarroti
33 x 48 cm, Rome, January 2013

The Creation of Adam

by Michelangelo
48 x 33 cm, Rome, April 2013

David and Goliath

by Michelangelo Merisi (Caravaggio)
48 x 33 cm, Rome, June 2013

Saint Sebastian

by Nicolas Reigner
48 x 33 cm, Rome, December 2013

Saint Sebastian

by Guido Reni
33 x 48 cm, Milan, 33 x 48 cm, February 2014
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Introduction

Until not long ago art was, on the whole, a man's domain. Even in the most prolific and celebrated period in the history of art, namely the Renaissance, examples of women artists were quite rare. The 16th century art historian and artist himself, Giorgio Vasari, in his famous biographical dictionary of Renaissance artists, The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, out of 142 names, included only one woman, a sculptor called Properzia de' Rossi. This fact was the exception that proved the rule.

Still in the 16th century, another book titled The Courtier, by the Italian humanist Baldassarre Castiglione, argued that both men and women should be educated in the social arts. This book’s wide circulation among the aristocratic class of Europe started to make it acceptable for women—though only for those of noble status—to engage in the visual, musical, and literary arts.
Giovanni Grattapaglia: La Vergine, Il beato Amedeo di Savoia e San Giovanni Battista sorreggono la Sindone c. 1650, affresco Palazzo Madama, Turin.
Duccio di Buoninsegna: The Holy Women at the Sepulchre c. 1308-11
This is some text inside of a div block.

However, for a long time the vast majority of women did not have the same access to institutions, materials and training as men had, and they suffered greatly from cultural prejudices that prevented them from attaining success as artists. Not to mention the status of “genius” which has always been a man's prerogative.

The few female artists who somehow have been able to emerge as prominent artists have been granted a different kind of greatness, one that is based on the idea that women are more inward-looking, and more delicate and nuanced in their treatment of their medium, thereby postulating the existence of a distinctive and recognizable feminine style.

Adele Ceraudo defies this theory in an audacious and effective manner. She has chosen some of the greatest masterworks by famous Italian painters and sculptors and has reinterpreted them from a female's perspective. The result is an amazing series of art works that inject a new force and meaning in the figures and themes that have traditionally mirrored male-oriented religions and mythologies.

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The Creative Process

The exhibition “Elective Affinities” marks a culminating point and, at the same time, a new beginning in Adele Ceraudo's remarkable artistic career. When, as a little girl, she first handled a ballpoint pen—her “biro” as she calls it in Italian—she immediately adopted it as her favorite means of expression. She would spend hours scribbling and sketching with it and gradually the biro became her extra limb. She could draw anything with it: people,places, objects and even things that did not exist but were alive and vivid in her imagination.
The Holy Shroud at the University of Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, 1988
The Holy Shroud at the University of Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, 1988
As she was growing up, her interests spread in different directions. After getting a Diploma in Arts in her native town of Cosenza, she studied architecture at the University of Florence for a short time, and then went to Rome where she took a course in acting and started performing as a theatre actress. She had put her biro aside for a while until she realized that her true calling was to become a visual artist with her own distinctive approach to the art of graphic composition.
She uses one model (herself), one too l(her inseparable biro), and a technique that can only be viewed as her own. She starts by having herself professionally photographed in a pose that brings her acting experiences into play. The photograph then becomes a preliminary image that she transforms with her biro into an original drawing with an eye opening pattern of changes in pitch, stress and tones that bring to life a new image—an image with a soul no photograph is capable of generating.

Ceraudo’s works fascinate art collectors and reviewers, and for this exhibition she has conceived a project that will put her artistic talent and technique to the utmost test: transforming famous creations by extraordinary male artist sby transfiguring their original figures into female images with her own body features.

Michelangelo's David becomes a She-David highlighting, not just the beauty of female shapes and forms, but the bursting energy and creativity of woman's spirit. Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man is transformed into the Vitruvian Woman demolishing any idea of geometrical symmetry expressed in Da Vinci’s drawing. Caravaggio’s painting of the biblical story of David and Goliath, just to mention another great masterpiece included in this exhibition, is reinterpreted with a She-David holding the sword above her shoulders as if she is yet to strike. And this despite that she is depicted, like Caravaggio's David, with Goliath's head hanging from her other hand. It thus represents the story in its symbolic meaning, which is the affirmation of the spirit over matter.

These are just a few of the works included in an exhibition which, as already pointed out, marks both a culminating point and the beginning of a new phase in Ceraudo's artistic career. A hint of what is yet to come is conveyed by an astounding image of the Crucifixion, which does not relate to any specific masterpiece but stands on its own as perhaps the boldest of all of Ceraudo's transfigurations. The “Elective Affinities” exhibition brings to Australia an unprecedented artistic achievement by a woman artist who has given Renaissance art a female edge.

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Bertrand Bergstrom

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The artworks

From Bernini's

The Abduction of Proserpina

Black and Red Ink on Paper
24 x 33 cm, Rome 2011

“The Abduction of Proserpina”, alsoknown as “The Rape of Proserpina”, is alarge marble sculpture by Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680). The sculpture is exhibited at the Galleria Borghese in Rome and it refers to a story of Greek-Roman mythology in which a young woman named Proserpina, the daughter of Ceres, goddess of agriculture, is abducted by Pluto, the god of the underworld.

Bernini's sculpture,a masterpiece of Italian Baroque art, depicts the very moment that Proserpina is seized by Pluto. Adele Ceraudo links her work to a detail of Bernini’s sculpture and precisely to the section showing the hands of the god grabbing the waist and a thigh of Proserpina.

While the yielding flesh of the young woman is graphically represented with masterly strokes that evoke Bernini's supreme carving skills, Ceraudo emphasises the sinuous beauty of Proserpina's body, and rather than echo the despair of the young woman in her vain attempt to free herself from Pluto's clutches, there is an element of sensual surrender in Ceraudo's work that in Bernini's time would have been severely censured.

The artist has reinterpreted the myth not as a case of sexual aggression, but as divine abduction.

From Canova's

The Three Graces

Black and Red Ink on Paper
33 x 48 cm, Rome 2012

The Three Graces were daughters of Zeus and handmaidens of Aphrodite. They were called Euphrosyne, Aglaia and Thalia and were believed to bestow beauty, charm, and goodness on young women, and to give joy and a feeling of well-being to people in general. Closely associated with the Nine Muses they were considered the patrons of music, poetry and dance. Canova's marble group shows them as they were depicted in ancient Greece and Rome—that is, as three naked young women embracing one another in sensual abandon. Adele Ceraudo's graphic representation of this work is quite faithful to the original, but with two fundamental differences. First, by fading out the faces of the three goddesses the artist emphasises the physical beauty of their bodies.

Second, by focusing on the muscular shapes of their bodies, Ceraudo gives them an aesthetic connotation that is absent from Canova's sculpture, and the female body is celebrated here in its athletic qualities rather than, as generally represented by male artists, in its feminine sensuality.

from photo by Matteo Basile

The Crucifix

Black and Red Ink on Paper
48 x 33 cm, Rome 2012

This astounding image of the Crucifixion does not relate to any specific masterpiece but stands on its own as the boldest of all of Adele Ceraudo's transfigurations.

Significantly enough, as in her other work, Ceraudo puts herself on the cross but she depicts only half of a crucified woman, clearly suggesting that the ultimate symbol of Christianity does not fully represent human suffering. It leaves out the suffering of women.

Like Mao Zedong’s famous saying, ‘women hold up half of the sky’, Ceraudo seems to be saying that what tend to be ignored is that woman’s suffering is the other half of Crucifixion.

During a theatre performance in Milan inspired by her artwork, Ceraudo brought this image on stage, showed it to the audience and tore it in two as a cathartic gesture opposing violence on women.

The female figure ripped in two was later stuck together and the image of the crucified woman was made unwittingly more dramatic and powerful.

from Caravaggio's

The Entombment of Christ

Black and Red Ink on Paper
48 x 33 cm, Rome 2012

This astounding image of the Crucifixion does not relate to any specific masterpiece but stands on its own as the boldest of all of Adele Ceraudo's transfigurations. Significantly enough, as in her other work, Ceraudo puts herself on the cross but she depicts only half of a crucified woman, clearly suggesting that the ultimate symbol of Christianity does not fully represent human suffering. It leaves out the suffering of women.

Like Mao Zedong’s famous saying, ‘women hold up half of the sky’, Ceraudo seems to be saying that what tend to be ignored is that woman’s suffering is the other half of Crucifixion.

During a theatre performance in Milan inspired by her artwork, Ceraudo brought this image on stage, showed it to the audience and tore it in two as a cathartic gesture opposing violence on women. The female figure ripped in two was later stuck together and the image of the crucified woman was made unwittingly more dramatic and powerful.

from Michelangelo's

Leda and the Swan

Black and Red Ink on Paper
48 x 33 cm, Rome 2012

Leda and the Swan is a story from Greek mythology in which the god Zeus, in the form of a swan, seduces or rapes a young woman called Leda. The subject was quite popular in the 16th century and was painted by many artists including Da Vinci and Michelangelo. It undoubtedly owed its popularity to the paradox that it was considered more acceptable to depict a woman in the act of making love with a swan rather than with a man.

Adele Ceraudo draws inspiration from a painting by Michelangelo that went lost or, most probably, was destroyed for its alleged indecency. Fortunately a copy was made by Rubens, which is preserved at the National Gallery of London.

Ceraudo has transformed the original by using two female figures (two images of herself) sitting opposite each another, one looking downward and the other upward with their legs folded and intertwined. Their contrasting expressions seem to represent Leda before and after having been raped by Zeus, who, disguised as a swan, has just flown away leaving behind some feathers that still hover in the air. What is most striking in this work is that the body of the duplicated woman is so thin as to reveal her ribs. It is possibly one of most powerfully effective reinterpretations of an ancient myth in symbolising an act of sexual violence on woman.

From Canova's

Psyche revived by Cupid's Kiss

Black and Red Ink on Paper
33 x 48 cm, Rome 2012

Canova's sculpture known as “Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss” was inspired by the myth as recounted by Latin author Apuleius in the Metamorphoses. The sculpture refers to the end of the tale when Cupid, the god of love (or Eros as he is known in Greek mythology), has just revived his beloved Psyche with a kiss. In the original, Cupid supports Psyche head and torso as she leans backwards and languorously reaches out to Cupid's head with her hands.

Adele Ceraudo's work concentrates on the moment of Psyche's revival and shows Cupid embracing rather than holding Psyche, who lifts her hands trying to encompass Cupid's head.

This work, though it closely corresponds to that of Canova's, is radically different in that it depicts two women and suggests a lesbian interpretation of the mythological tale. But given that the artist puts herself in the role of Cupid, this is also an extraordinary attempt by the artist to transform herself into a male figure. It's a metamorphosis that draws inspiration from the title of the book in which Cupid's and Psyche's love story was recounted than Canova’s sculpture.

From Leonardo da Vinci's

Vitruvian Man

Black Ink on Paper
33 x 48 cm, Rome 2012

For “The Vitruvian Man” Leonardo Da Vinci used the ideas of the first century Roman architect, Vitruvius, and drew the body of a man as a building to render the Renaissance theory that linked the proportions of the human body with architectural design.

For this work, Adele Ceraudo is not just concerned with replacing the two-fold male figure with that of a woman. She introduces a totally new perspective: the arms of her female figure are equally outstretched but break the symmetry of the original work, and the rest of the figure shows a muscular tension and a dynamism of movement that demolish any idea of geometrical perfection.

Perhaps this work should have been titled “The Vibrant Woman” in place of “The Vitruvian Woman”.

From Michelangelo's

La Pietá

Black and Red Ink on Paper
33 x 48 cm, Rome 2012

Michelangelo sculpted a few versions of the Pietà (meaning pity or compassion) and the one Adele Ceraudo takes inspiration from is the most famous, the one hosted in St Peter's Basilica in Rome which shows Mary sorrowfully contemplating the dead body of her son held on her lap.

Like in Michelangelo's sublime sculpture, in Ceraudo’s drawing Mary's face appears peaceful and suffused with a tender sadness that hides the intensity of her grief. But any further similarity with the original ends here. In Ceraudo’s work, Mary holds a framed rectangular mirror that reflects a distorted image of the dead Jesus, thus breaking the dramatic stillness of Michelangelo's Pietà.

By doing so Ceraudo affirms the impossibility of art—however exceptional the artist—to represent the fathomless pain of a mother clinging to the body of her dead son.

From Michelangelo's

David

Black Ink on Paper
33 x 48 cm, Rome 2012

Michelangelo’s David is universally recognised as one of the greatest masterpieces ever created by mankind. It stands nearly 17 feet tall at the Gallery of Academy in Florence and it is wise to remember that it represents the highest expression of the Renaissance spirit. After a long period of misery and gloom, man recovered confidence in himself and his mind was viewed as capable of understanding the universe.

Far from being a tortured soul trapped in an ugly bodily prison, man was regarded as rational, beautiful, heroic and worthy of happiness. He could choose to undertake incredible challenges in the face of seemingly impossible odds.He could actively pursue success, fight for victory and even ... slay a giant.

Yes, that was great for man, but what about woman? This is the question raised by Ceraudo’s reinterpretation of the figure of David.

Her female David is multiplied by three as if to compensate for woman's paradoxical omission from the rebirth of humankind, and her body is depicted to highlight not just the beauty of the female form, but the bursting energy and creativity of woman's spirit.

from Michelangelo's

The Creation of Adam

Black and Red Ink on Paper
48 x 33 cm, Rome 2013

The image of the near-touching hands of God and Adam from the famous frescos by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel is iconic of man's ascension from God. The fresco illustrates the story of God breathing life into Adam, the first human being, from the Book of Genesis.

It is also interesting to note that perhaps Michelangelo himself must have thought that the Bible story did not indicate how Eve received the breath of life for he seems to have resolved the issue by depicting a feminine figure encircled by the left arm of the Almighty. One possible interpretation is that this figure represents an as-yet unrealized Eve.

In Ceraudo’s would one would have expected a transfiguration of Adam into a woman. Yet it is God and not Adam whom Ceraudo transfigures into a woman. But the scene should not be taken literally. Her female God is surrounded not by angels, as in Michelangelo's fresco, but by a swarm of women.

This singular transfiguration is essentially a celebration of woman as the giver of life, and this meaning is made evident by the image of a pregnant woman at the centre of the artwork.

from Caravaggio's

David and Goliath

Black and Red Ink on Paper
48 x 33 cm, Rome 2013

Caravaggio’s painting of David and Goliath emphasises the gory connotations of this biblical episode by having Goliath's head dangling from David's hand and dripping blood.

David is perturbed and his expression is an intermingling of sadness and compassion, and the decision to depict him as pensive rather than jubilant creates an unusual psychological bond between he and Goliath. This bond is further complicated by the fact that Caravaggio depicted himself as Goliath. Ceraudo does the same but, and aside from the fact that she uses her own image, her approach to the story is a significant re-elaboration of the one depicted by Caravaggio.

In Ceraudo, David's expression is not pensive at all but rather stern, and he holds the sword above his shoulders as if he is yet to strike. Nevertheless Ceraudo’s David—like Caravaggio's—holds Goliath's head and this gives the impression that the artist wants to draw our attention to the story’s archetypical aspects, which, as already mentioned, represent the affirmation of the spirit over matter.

from Nicolas Reigner's

Saint Sebastian

Black and Red Ink on Paper
48 x 33 cm, Rome 2013

In the Middle Ages Saint Sebastian was still worshipped as a hero of the Christian faith and his image was associated with the resilience that saved him from his first death sentence. He miraculously survived the wounds from the arrows and returned to confront Diocletian, but was recaptured and stoned to death. His image started to soften in the first years of the Renaissance as his portrayals in art transitioned from a bearded soldier to an effete young man.

This change was brought about with particular emphasis by a Flemish artist, Nicolas Reigner (1591-1667), who Italianized his name as Niccolò Renieri, during the years he spent in Rome as official painter to Marchese Vincenzo Giustiniani, a prominent patron of Caravaggio. Reigner's Saint Sebastian became the Apollonian ideal of male beauty, all white flesh and thinly-veiled eros. The greatest of opposites were bound together perfectly in him. The physical with the spiritually ecstatic, tenaciousness with ravaged fragility, masculine and feminine at once, beautiful even in torture.

Adele Ceraudo's re-elaboration of Reigner's “Sanit Sebastian” is perhaps the most natural of her transfigurations. What was hinted in the Renaissance by Reigner is reimagined as a sort of “coming out” narrative, the perfect form of the Renaissance painters redrawn as the ultimate homoerotic symbol.

From Guido Renis's

Saint Sebastian

Black and Red Ink on Paper
33 x 48 cm, Milan 2014

Saint Sebastian, a young Roman centurion killed on the orders of the emperor Diocletian in 288 AD, is perhaps one of the saints most painted in the history of art, and one who could not have gone unnoticed by the genius of Guido Reni, an Italian painter of the Late Renaissance.

Along with the famous arrows, the symbol of Sebastian’s martyrdom is the rope that binds his hands, yet Reni's painting emphasises the female-like beauty of the young martyr rather than the instruments of his execution. Many other artists have followed this same motif, so much so that the late American novelist and political scientist, Susan Sontag, pointed out that, in his artistic representations, Saint Sebastian never registers the agonies of his body and his beauty and his pain are eternally divorced from each other. And art historians and critics tend to agree that this saint has become an enduring homo-erotic icon.

Ceraudo’s work breaks apart this interpretation: not only are the arrows and the rope vividly represented as instruments of torture, the feminine face and body lose all erotic reference and depict instead the mutilating effects of violence on women.

The Artistic Background
of Adele Ceraudo

Adele Ceraudo's vocation as an illustrator goes back to her childhood in her native town of Cosenza in Southern Italy. Even before starting school, she showed a marked disposition to sketch on paper whatever kindled her imagination, and with only a ballpoint pen that has since remained her preferred and unique drawing tool. During her school years she developed a real talent for drawing and when she reached adolescence, it was natural for her to pursue her studies in a Liceo Artistico (Arts College).
Veronica in her studio in Rome
The Holy Pope Francis with Veronica Piraccini at the Vatican, 2015.

On completion of her secondary studies, Ceruado first considered getting a degree in architecture and enrolled at the University of Florence. But she later realised that her aspirations lay else where and during a period of soul-searching she ventured into a career as an actress.

From Florence she moved to Rome and enrolled in an acting course, and at the end of the course started performing in theatre. She also took part in a number of film productions and seemed destined fora movie career. But, fortunately for the art world, she once again decided to change the course of her life and rediscovered her formative predilection for illustration.

She moved to Milan and committed herself to the art of drawing. Her first soloe xhibition was held in 2006 in her native town, which was followed by many other group and solo exhibitions throughout Italy. In 2010 she was among the finalists of the “Talent Prize” sponsored by the magazine Inside Art, and in 2011 she took part in the 54th edition of the Venice Biennale where Vittorio Sgarbi, the well known Italian art historian and critic, praised her work.

The Artist with her paintings (invisible) of the Holy Shroud
She has since become one of the most original and creative contemporary Italian women artists, and is frequently invited by art academies and universities to lecture on the art of drawing and the role of art in women's liberation.
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