Roberto Ferruzzi (1927-2010) was born in Venice into a family of artists. He is the grandson of the Roberto Ferruzzi who painted the famous “Madonnina”. He attended art school in Venice, where he studied with the artist Aldo Salvadori. In 1951 he traveled abroad, staying for short periods in Austria, Germany, Denmark and Sweden, before settling down for a year in Oslo, establishing his reputation in artistic circles with his painting, but also devoting himself to mosaics and ceramics, and obraining many commissions for works in public buildings and private homes. Afterwards he went to London, and then to Paris, where he remained for two years studing landscape and the nude. In 1956 he returned to Scandinavia to paint and carry out further commissions. Moving to Chile the following year, he made brief study trips to Spain, Brazil, Argentina and other South American countries. He was in Santiago, Chile, for three years, where he did a great deal of painting as well as mosaics and ceramics for churches, educational institutions, hospitals and hotels, and at same time did a great deal of drawing. He subsequently worked in Northern Europe again, and then in Greece, Yugoslavia, back in London and finally Venice, where he had his studio. During these years of traveling abroad he collaborated with well-known architects, set-designers and met and spent time with artists of many nationalities: Dufy, Lhote, Marquet, Desnoyer, Bonel, Girard, Rolf Nesch and Aikaas, always learning from their invaluable experience, advice and insight without compromising his own artistic identity, and in fact winning their praise and recognition. The great Chilean poet and 1971 Noble Prize laureate Pablo Neruda wrote this tribute to him:
Hay una Amèrica lavada por grandes tempestades y luego aderezada por el fuego solar. Todo brilla, verde y volcànico, todo florae hasta morir; todo se estremece trinando. Derrochador planeta!
Hay otra Amèrica de soledad, de pobladores fatigados, de oscura desdicha, da luchas memorables, de andrajos sangrientos o de la muerte instantànea.
Bobo Ferruzzi, veneciano, escogiò esta Amèrica dolorosa, la sintiò, la viviò y la expresò con energìa y ternura. Porque hay amor en la vision de este veneciano amargo. Pintò con clàsicos colores, los mismos que antes lucìan en la vestidura de los angeles, la tristeza de los arrabales remotos, de hombres maltratados y olvidados.
Que el intenso mensaje de Bobo Ferruzzi cuente y cante en el mundo, porque la verdad de su pintura nos descubre la tràgica belleza que los dioses transitorios quieren esconder. Y non para que los pueblos no sufran sino para que no se sepa.
La pintura de Bobo Ferruzzi rompiò las cerraduras e illumino los rincones con una luz azul.
There is an America cleansed by great storms and immediately set to rights again by the heat of the sun. Everything is brilliantly fresh and vivid, everything flowers until the last, everything dies singing. Prodigal planet! There is another America of weary peasants, obscure misery, remarkable struggle, slow-bleeding poverty or sudden death.
The Venetian Bobo Ferruzzi has discovered this wretched America, he has felt it, seen it, and expressed it with force and tenderness, because there is love in this saddened Venetian’s vision. He has painted in classical colours, those colours that formerly gleamed in angels’ robes, the desolation of remote corners, of ill-used and forgotten men.
May Bobo Ferruzzi’s intense message carry and sing throughout the world in order that the truth of his painting reveal the tragic beauty that transient gods would hide from us – not so that people should not suffer but only that we should not know of it.
Bobo Ferruzzi’s painting has burst asunder the locks and illuminated dark corners with sky-blue light.
Pablo Neruda, Isla Negra Dicembre 1966
The artist’s house
The name of the square is Campiello agli Incurabili.
A labyrinth of alleys and little squares, right behind the sunny Zattere, leads to a place that seems to have remained unchanged since time immemorial.
Ferruzzi’s house used to be a storehouse for charcoal and wood: sailing ships would unload the logs at the Zattere and barges would bring the fuel ashore. His loving hand has made it a most delightful living place: this large space, now cleverly divided up with mezzanines and partitions, has an antiquarian style with modern comforts. Here, the eye does not know what to dwell on: the Istrian stone paterae, or the glazed ceramics from Faenza, a basaltic Persian lion or stunning 14th-century German bronze plates that alternate with ancient marble fragments. From among the paintings emerges the dusty memory of Ferruzzi’s celebrated grandfather, the Roberto Ferruzzi whose wonderful “Madonnina” toured the world so many times.
Finally, from behind a charmingly frayed curtain appear the paintings of Bobo, who bears his grandfather’s name and has long been a highly-estimated artist. Moments of contemplation, shimmerings of light. Venice, the grand dame outside the window, the sleeping beauty, Anadiomene rising from the water of the lagoon, appearing unexpectedly, resplendent in the last ray of sunshine, like the azure veins in the pillars from Acre celebrated by Ruskin.
As a child, living in the Pensione Bucintoro, which his parents owned, he was sent to accompany artists staying as guests in the hotel, to carry their paintboxes for them through the streets. So it was that Ferruzzi encountered Dufy, Lothe, Marquet, Zuloaga, Blanc, F. Desnoyer and others, who came to paint the beauties of Venice. In their company Bobo’s eyes were opened, dispelling the stylistic mannerism then prevailing in the lagoon. Painting had entered his blood, and was never to leave him.
Ferruzzi’s real master was Aldo Salvadori, a painter of neo-Quattrocento limpidness and sense of solidity, who was then teaching mosaics. The young Ferruzzi was, as they say, quick with his hands. He liked to work clay, mix colours, place mosaic pieces in position, dust old bronzes, run his fingertips over the thickly applied paint of earlier artists, and even restore a piece of furniture or build a boat.
Veneziano nel mondo
A Venetian rooted in the silt of the lagoon, Ferruzzi has followed the instincts of his predecessors: voyages, discoveries, overseas adventures. When he decided in 1951 to go abroad, Ferruzzi was already a painter in the full sense, that is, with a strong, distinctive style. He began with Austria, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway. A long stay in Chile was followed by a return to Norway, and then a number of years in France, England and the USA. The years passed. That skinny-looking young man, with an unmistakable Venetian accent despite the five or six languages he spoke fluently, was remarkable for his inventiveness, his creativity, and even more for his unmistakable “culture”.
Heir to other artists who travelled the world, from Titian to the Tiepolos, from the Riccis to Rosalba Carriera, he recognized in them a “school” beyond compare. With his restless hands he made designs for precious fabrics, fashioned ceramic figurines with astounding speed, decorated plates and vessels. In Oslo, fabrics alternated with ceramics and mosaics. He ended up working in Nymphenberg, a famous centre of porcelain production. His work modeling Pulchinelli and little animals, and sometimes complete orchestras, with grace and extraordinary dynamism, was admired by all.
During the three years spent in Chile, he worked on social themes, sometimes tragic. Pablo Neruda, who later became a close friend, appreciated this way of discovering “a sad America”.
Who and what were the influences on our globe-trotter painter over the decades? The list might perhaps start with Byzantine art, with the mosaics that Ferruzzi did as a young student of Aldo Salvadori. Some artist friends of Ferruzzi, such as Desnoyer or Salvadori, have always painted with decisive strokes, in blocks of colours. The tendency towards abstraction of a de Stäel, whom he very much admired, has been important to Ferruzzi; going back further, so too was the great example of Matisse, with his brilliant intensities of pure colour.
Other kindred artists, especially French, such as Dufy, and Marquet, as well as Vuillard have to be mentioned. There is even some affinity with Munch, and not only because Ferruzzi lived for a long time in Oslo, in a house belonging to the great Norwegian artist.
The light of Venice
Ferruzzi likes “to construct”, even if instinctive spontaneity seems to prevail. Venice, for him, is an architectonic entity which has to be organized in a succint way: and what produces this reductio ad unum is the light. This is the key: Ferruzzi is a painter of light. And this is perfectly in the spirit of Venice. Ferruzzi’s Venice is not therefore a city of Romantic abandonment, that is to say of haziness and pure bedazzlement. He has succeeded in capturing the light in its constructive quality. An artist en plein air, an artist “who looks”. The light scans the grouping mass in the Venetian panorama, measures their intensity, but also gathers from them perceptions of tonality and timbre.
What characterizes Ferruzzi, distinguishing him from other similar painters, is his extraordinary sensitivity to colour. The heritage of Titian and Tiepolo is a strong one. For a Venetian, colour will never be the content of form, as it might for a Tuscan; it is the very substance of form. Colour-as-light becomes colour-as-form. The strokes are all rapid and sure, in keeping with the old Venetian style of applying touches of paint. This is where Ferruzzi’s great skill lies, in the linking of “wrist” to “eye”, and eye to brain. It is all achieved in an instant, and that certain dab of light has to be accurate. Venice becomes a ballet of colours playing between the houses, water and sky, between counterpoints of cadmium reds and emerald greens. The views of Burano and Malamocco set the tone.
This is Venice, Ferruzzi’s Venice. A city of light and colour that magically accord.
Paolo Rizzi (1932 - 2007)