Mimì Quilici Buzzacchi

Written by  Lucio Scardino
A centennial look back at an artist of Ferrara.
Mimì Buzzacchi was born one hundred years ago, on 28 August 1903. After moving from Modena to our province, Emma, known as Mimì, took her first painting lessons from Edgardo Rossaro, a bizarre artist from Piedmont.

For the impressionable sixteen-year old, this training was of considerable importance, especially in learning the use of the palette and still life drawing techniques. Her mentor encouraged her to study the work of Umberto Ravello, a painter killed during the war, and the young artist admitted in her diary to being particularly struck: «from the beginning, he felt the need to simplify, to eliminate the superficial details from objects, to reconstruct them in a form free from pointless excesses, in a scrupulously strict outline, rendering the shapes of things precisely without any exaggerated chiaroscuro, because too much light easily destroys the colour harmony».

At the same time the young Mimì was also attending the Florence studio of her uncle, Tammaro de Marinis. This highly cultured bibliophile introduced her to the techniques used in fifteenth and sixteenth century books. The young artist took a keen interest and determinedly taught herself to produce her own first wood engravings. 1925 was her watershed year: in June she took part in her first show, at the Castello Estense, where she encountered both established masters (Longanesi, Pisa and Forlani) and future friends (De Vincenzi, Virgili, Cattabriga and Nenci, her contemporary).
Mimì exhibited her views of Ferrara, Chioggia and Fiesole.
Mature for her age, and very self-critical, Buzzacchi at last succeeded in painting her first portraits, and progressively freed herself from an over-simplified chromatic technique that applied a paintbrush almost in the manner of an engraver. During the same period she produced attractive engravings of Ferrara, Dove si dice qualche cosa di Ferrara (1927).

Encouraged by De Marinis, Mimì also produced simple but sophisticated bookplates, to the delight of Ferrara bibliophiles, embellished with intelligently stylised elements drawn from the Casa Romei decorations. This interest in a discriminating reinterpretation of the past led her almost inevitably to the "Novecento" movement, urging a return to tradition, founded by Margherita Sarfatti, whose lecture in the Teatro Ristori in Ferrara in January 1924 was much admired by Mimì.

Significant members of this movement included the Ferrara artist, Achille Funi, who made a great impression on Mimì when she met him personally in 1928, exhibiting alongside him at the "Settimana Ferrarese" show. The young painter had prepared a showcase for her own work for this exhibition: 24 works including oils, drawings and wood engravings.

The subjects were all landscapes: the bridges of Comacchio, the Boicelli canal under construction, the Certosa in Ferrara, the church of San Benedetto, views of the Val Camonica and the Baths of Caracalla, and the very fine Luci monotone in canale, a canvas painted in Romagna with echoes of Corot's use of light. This small painting is among the forty or so of Mimì's works now held by the University of Ferrara; others can be found in the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, at the Cassa di Risparmio, the Chamber of Commerce and the Provincial Administration of Ferrara.
Again in 1928, she was invited to exhibit at the Venice Biennale and continued to show her engravings there every year until 1950, with the single exception of 1942. In 1929 she married Nello Quilici, a cultured journalist, essayist and academic from Livorno, who edited the Corriere Padano in Ferrara.

Subsequently, Mimì coordinated the art section of her husband's journal, contributing personally but also involved leading critics. Her illustrations include the unforgettable colour cover for La Rivista di Ferrara, run by her husband between 1933 and 1935, and a figurative frontispiece for the catalogue of the 1933 exhibition of Renaissance art in Ferrara, which skilfully depicts the Palazzo dei Diamanti from three different points of perspective.

At the end of the war she moved to Rome, where she appears to become aware for the first time of another fine Ferrara artist, Roberto Melli: she reworked the unforgettable images of the remains of San Benedetto in the tonalities of her fellow-exile (but simultaneously influenced by the "Roman school" artists such as Mafai). Like Bassani, Mimì reinvented Ferrara from memory and from afar: this can be clearly seen in the many views of the Castello Estense and, in particular, in the Paesaggio di Spina cycle dating to around 1958 when Mimì discovered (or rediscovered) the expressive possibilities and iconography of the reclaimed landscape of the Valli di Comacchio, setting it in bird's eye views which recall the work of Paul Klee and which depict «perhaps the most majestically bare, desolate and atonal landscape in all Italy».

Mimì Quilici Buzzacchi exhibited one last time in the province, at Comacchio, in the Palazzo Bellini, with the Paesaggi miei exhibition held in November 1987. She died in Rome less than three years later, on 16 June 1990.