Information on an unpublished work of prose

Written by  Manuela Ricci

Filippo de Pisis at Moretti's house in 1917.

In the summer of 1917, a twenty-one year-old Filippo de Pisis arrived in Cesenatico. The young artist was with his family, but the need to carve out some time and space for himself led him to take lodgings in the house of the poet, Marino Moretti, who wasn’t there at the time. De Pisis records his feelings here, he describes unusual details, ideas for works of prose that won’t all be published in various magazines.

Mostly they comprise diary entries, or more accurately, a passionate self-portrait of an adolescent engaged in a frantic search for a personal style, and outside the rules and tastes in vogue at the time to the greatest extent possible. These diaries cover a very significant period from about 1914 to 1919 during which time the foundations of the poetry and art of de Pisis were laid.

A short prose work dating from 1917 that was found is an invitation to reconstruct the event. The work was dedicated to Moretti and called L’esercito di terra (“The ground army”) and provides some clues on the relationship between the two artists.

There was already a memoir written about the event by Moretti and published in Il Resto del Carlino in 1966 called “My friend de Pisis”: “Finding myself in Rome in 1917 with my mother due to the war, the first world war that is, I received a short letter from my father one day (who was on his own in our house in the country) with one piece of news in it only, quite unusual, but looking back on it, I would almost say quite important. A young literature student from the University of Bologna had introduced himself to my father and asked him to show him our old house in Cesenatico as well as our old garden, and especially, my studio that overlooked the harbour.

This unexpected guest presented my father with a clipping of an article he had written as his credentials for entry into the house. The article was about me even though I was not very well known, however this was changing, and not slowly according to de Pisis. […] Some days later I got an even shorter letter from my father: he said that the literature student, a resident of Ferrara, but a student of Professor Alfredo Galletti in Bologna, had already taken over my studio. He even did his writing at my desk because there was no separate room for him in the rented villa at the seaside where he was spending the summer months with his family. I immediately thought that in order to get past that first visit, this student must have cajoled my father by telling him that inspiration for poems and prose would come to him from the same desk from where my first “masterpieces” had been written.

I should note that I was about thirty at that time and Filippo Tibertelli de Pisis was about twenty. From the literary point of view, he was therefore a novice, in addition to being perhaps the favourite student of the celebrated successor to Pascoli”.

Moretti continues: “When I finally got to meet him, it was about a year later, I had left Rome where I had been for four years, living by myself, as I had done in Florence. I was amazed that he did not refer to my desk which had also been his.

[…] I immediately understood that he was highly ambitious, even though he seemed prepared to publish his books, actually booklets, at his own expense for a couple of years. He even gave me one, maybe Canti della Croara but unfortunately it seems to have disappeared from my bookshelves.

Contained in three yellowed leaflets, the writings of de Pisis from August 1917 takes us back to that twilight atmosphere of stanthe crepuscolare movement of the “hovel on the canal” as one of those beloved interiors was described, both familiar and ultimately reassuring, as well as to the poetry of Moretti. It is in this room of middle class furnishings that the dissatisfied soul of the young man and his existential melancholy are metaphorically concentrated and expressed. This mood shifts between the mournful irony of de Pisis to the more clear-cut frustration of Moretti, even if ascribed to a brother who is “indolent and disappointed at this fin de siècle mess, impatient to leap into the new world, and leave absurd, outdated ideas behind”.

As Moretti matures, in the pages of the memoir, he shows a greater awareness of things and strikes a balance that renders him more judicious. On the other hand de Pisis’ writings reveal all the spontaneity of immediate sensation. This is shown in the extemporaneity, and the ease with which he manages to entrance himself by sudden visions, as fleeting as they are unexpected, and to focus on them and hold them at any moment on the page with quick, as yet uncertain lines. De Pisis lived through that 1917 in an obsessive search for unusual aesthetic illumination, and often, incredibly, the source of this lay in closed spaces: lived-in rooms, interiors crammed with outmoded, unmoving objects in unchanging time that is almost eternal. The objects he set his painter eyes upon are already taking colour. The extent of his prose work already forms the background and the lighting is right.

And although his artistic work was just “an impromptu commitment, intermittent, and somewhat marginal with respect to the literary work of the young Ferrara man” for the next ten years, this “Romagna” debut was to prove crucial to the artistic path taken by de Pisis.