Roberto Ferri (b. 1978) is an acknowledged Italian artist who began as a self-taught painter. Since 1999, he studied the masters of different periods, from the 16th to 19th century, like Caravaggio, Ingre, and Bouguereau. In 2013, Ferri created 14 canvases for Via Crucis for the Cathedral of Noto, Syracuse. In 2014, Ferri performed two official portraits of His Holiness Pope Francis placed in the Governorate and the Sala della Consulta of the Vatican City. His work also appeared in The Man Who Sold His Skin movie (2020).
The religious and mythological content of his works performed in an academic manner is impressive. We see gods, titans, heroes, and monsters as if painted by a skillful artist who lived centuries ago and was possessed by inhuman visions of ancient creatures that came out of Dante's Inferno.
Fig. 1. Roberto Ferri with his work, 2014.
Fig. 2. Via Crucis (instagram.com)
Fig. 3. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, 2012.
Fig. 4. The Prison of Tears, 2009.
Fig. 5. Metamorphose, 2021.
Fig. 6. The Oracle, 2020.
Fig. 7. Apollo and Daphne, 2020.
Fig. 8. Arachne, 2013.
Fig. 9. The Keeper, 2019.
Fig. 10. The Dream of St. Eulalia, 2019.
Fig. 11. Young Virgin Martyr, 2019
Fig. 12. The Game of Fade, 2016.
Fig. 13. The Sphinx, 2011.
Fig. 14. The Dream of Lucifer, 2017.
Fig. 15. Lucifer, 2013.
Fig. 16. The Ritual, 2016.
Supreme Or Human Too Human
One distinctive feature of Ferri's oeuvres is his constant interest in the human body - the feature that he shares with Renaissance painters who focused on the bodies, limbs, and muscles, striving for perfection in depicting them. The metamorphoses of the flesh are the main subject of Ferri's art. In a broad sense, any possible pose of the artist's model depicted on a canvas shows us the process of transformation of the body with all its joints and curves. Conceptually, this interest leads Ferri to mythology and religion. Using the plots of Metamorphosis by Ovid (e. g. Arachne, 2013), Ferri realistically depicts the scene of a human turning into a spider or a serpent. Another source of naturalism is Christianity, which may seem paradoxical at first sight. Although this religion opposes itself to anything mundane, as known, martyrdom is a cornerstone of Christianity. There's a well-known legend about Michelangelo Buonarotti that he crucified his model to depict the passion of Christ realistically. Religious narratives allow Ferri to show the suffering flesh in his works.
The Theatre of Cruelty
This apparent connection of pagan mythology and Christianity with corporality becomes the reason for their strong influence on the spirit of the paintings. Thus, Ferri's enthusiasm for the flesh and the esthetics of Renaissance art also provides a surreal and occult environment in his works, which makes him comparable, for instance, to surrealists like Felix Labisse. The combination of Ovid's paganism, Christian passions, and Renaissance corporality can be seen in paintings like The Theatre of Cruelty, 2010, with Sphinx looking at the hanging male body that lacks a head and an arm. Conceptually, Ferri's art urges us to treat gods and demons as emerging from human flesh. It reminds us of Eve being created from Adam's rib in the painting by Michelangelo (the motif of something growing from the human body is the recurring one in Ferri's paintings (The Angelic Touch, 2020, and others)). The mythology itself is shown here as human interest not in gods but in... humans whose bodies can be modified in thousands of different ways.
Fig. 17. The Theatre of Cruelty, 2010.
Fig. 18. The Creation of Eve, Michelangelo.
Fig. 19. The Angelic Touch, 2020.
Fig. 20. Hecate, 2018.
Fig. 21. Creatura Antica, 2015.
Fig. 22. Dies Irae, 2011.
Fig. 23. From Hell, 2021.
Fig. 24. Amor Sacro, 2015.
Fig. 25. Amor Profano, 2016.
Fig. 26. Universal Judgment, 2019.
Fig. 27. Resurrection, 2020.
Fig. 28. Psyche, 2015.
Fig. 29. Flora, 2019.
Fig. 30. Genesis, 2021.
Fig. 31. The Origin of Sin, 2021.
Fig. 32. Dionysus, 2021.
Fig. 33. Dionysus, 2021.
Fig. 34. Achille, 2017.
Fig. 35. Hector and Andromache, 2021.
Fig. 36. Gaia, 2013.
Fig. 37. The Kiss, 2015.
Fig. 38. Eternal Goodbye, 2021.
Fig. 39. The Kiss of Dante and Beatrice, 2021.
The Kiss of Dante and Beatrice
"On the morning of the thirteenth day of April of the year 1300, the penultimate day of his journey, Dante, his labors complete, enters the earthly Paradise that crowns the summit of Purgatory. <...> Beatrice calls out his name imperiously. She tells him he should not be weeping for Virgil's disappearance but for his own sins. She asks him ironically how he has condescended to set foot in a place where man is happy. The air has become populated with angels; Beatrice, implacable, enumerates the errors of Dante's ways to them. She says she searched for him in dreams, but in vain, for he had fallen so low that there was no other means for his salvation except to show him the eternally damned. Dante lowers his eyes, mortified; he stammers and weeps. As the fabulous beings listen, Beatrice forces him to make a public confession .... Such, in my bad prose, is the aching scene of the first meeting with Beatrice in Paradise" (Borges, gwern.net). In his text The Meeting In a Dream, Borges calls the first conversation between Dante and Beatrice humiliating for the poet. He supposes that the scene reproduces a similar episode described in the Vita Nuova ("That Dante professed an idolatrous adoration for Beatrice is a truth that cannot be contradicted; that she once mocked and on another occasion snubbed him are facts registered in the Vita Nuova").
Nevertheless, art allows us to construct a reality where things impossible in our world can happen. Following the strongest wish of the poet, Ferri depicts the kiss of Dante and Beatrice. The fact that the model is Beatrice indeed is indicated only by the presence of Dante. The figure of Dante's love lacks distinctive details. It's a typical image of reclining Venus that eventually turned into the portrait of a courtesan Olympia in impressionist art. Yet we must mention that Ferri emphasizes the perfection of the body to show the extent of the superiority of Dante's idea of Beatrice. Like in the case of Christianity, the body becomes the only medium to demonstrate immortal things ad oculus.
Fig. 40. Paolo and Francesca, 2021.
Fig. 41. Gorgone, 2009.
Fig. 42. Gaia, 2021.
Fig. 43. A Gift, 2016.
Fig. 44. Diaphanous Alcove, 2017.
Fig. 45. Icarus, 2021.
Fig. 46. The Song of The Soul, 2011.
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Sources: instagram.com, gwern.net