As appeared in Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration, Volume 19, freely translated by Mattia Moretti.

Commonly referred to be the minor art craft, design is now often in a critical economic situation, while the commercial art itself is undergoing a decided improvement process. By the point of view of the artisan it is therefore understandably how difficult is to recognize this last fact. It seems the actual artistic production tends to  eliminate the matter of the subject, and only point out the beauty of the constriction style. Alan has drawn contras with the mediating sentence: The art design is moving in a wavy line, the depth of the constructions form follows the height of the ornament.

This internal process can be seen when on the question: What is actually an ornament? – Reflect.

Our time is looking for the naked scope, pure form, the design, material-and specialty-use item!Outwardly, it seems as if they do it for the sake of fashion. But in reality it just by looking – the ornament.
That this effort meets us in the form of a dogma, we could easily understand if we consider that the despotism of the unreal hollow ornament was of course an extreme reaction yield. Basically hostility is only against the false Ornaments, the useless ornaments. The ornament is the non-purpose expression, opposed to the heightened artistic expression.

Any request to the aesthetic of usage, imposed by the practical man himself, attracts an aesthetic, artistic, therefore it is supposed to be the  goal of the artistic product by itself. The more civilized man, is the one who is completely involved in his way of life. And this indeed dictated the purpose of utilities. The more purified is the life style, the more so is the form of the object.
The shape is adorned in a clean way to enhance the functional form. Contrasts are then eliminated by Jewelry form and functional role. And all the argument about which of the two is the "right" is completely passing over.

Logically, the Ornament could – but should be part of a developed, healthy functional form – despite all the efforts made by craftsmen to avoid it. Empire and Biedermeier period are not our style. We have a different view of life than our fathers case, a different spirit. But our spirit and our view of life have emerged from those, and so must our style emerge from that time.

Thus it is clear that we end the bare preaching style, because we stay for the ornaments. The primitive functional form is no longer the expression for the nowadays selfish Aesthetics of enjoyment. We need to achieve the new Ornament! – We should all want the ornament. We fight for it as we defend the truthfulness of the utility object. And then, the battle cry: Here ornaments! Construction form here!

There is no overcoming in Ornament. Walt Whitman’s words: a thing is without ornament at its best! – Is only partly correct. To deal with things with and without ornament is in art actually impossible. The ornament we recognize from the thing itself is what we may safely pronounce, without any doubt that for us the spirit of embellishment which cannot reach the depths of our souls is hateful. – PAUL BROECKER (HAMBURG.)

In a famous essay entitled “Et in Arcadia Ego: Poussin and the Elegiac Tradition”, the art historian and philosopher of art Erwin Panofsky takes in exam the influences of the influencing Latin motto “Et in Arcadia Ego” in the history of art. In particular, the essay of Panofsky is centered on the figure of the French artist Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) and his influencing painting “Les Bergers d’Arcadie".

The Latin sentence itself is a sort of recurring Motto in Latin literature:

The first appearance of a tomb with a memorial inscription (to Daphnis) amid the idyllic settings of Arcadia appears in Virgil’s Eclogues V 42 ff. Virgil took the idealized Sicilian rustics that had first appeared in the Idylls of Theocritusand set them in the primitive Greek district of Arcadia (see Eclogues VII and X). The idea was taken up anew in the circle of Lorenzo de’ Medici in the 1460s and 1470s, during the Florentine Renaissance

Taken by Wikipedia, voice “Et in Arcadia Ego”

In the history of visual art, we encounter the this theme in a painting by Guercino:

Quite surprisingly, Panofsy in his essay takes into consideration, as first insight, one of the latest interpretation of the theme, due to the painter Sir Joshua Reynolds:

Reynolds explained the presence of the Latin sentence as a sort of memento of the ineluctability of death. He also reported that even  King George III who had seen the painting said, "ay, ay, death is even in Arcadia."

The point here gives to Panofsky the opportunity to clarify the meaning and interpretation of “Arcadia”:

in the imagination of Virgil, and of Virgil alone, that the concept of Arcady, as we know it, was born— a bleak and chilly district of Greece came to be transfigured into an imaginary realm of perfect bliss. But no sooner had this new, Utopian Arcady come into being than a discrepancy was felt between the supernatural perfection of an imaginary environment and the natural limitations of human life as it is.

Erwin Panofsky, “Et in Arcadia Ego & the Elegiac Tradition”

The literary and allegoric myth usually associated with Arcadia depicted the simple mannered delights of “Arcady”, a dreaming folk is seeking to retreat from the pressures and complexities of urban life, in a pastoral country. Likewise, her warriors were seen as wild and uncouth highlanders who would rush headlong into battle wearing only the skin of wolves, bears or sheep (Paus. 4.11.3, cf. 8.1.5). Polybios, himself an Arcadian, calls his fellow countrymen “primitive” (4.21.2), while Strabon, a non-Arcadian, describes them as “wholly mountaineers” (8.1.2). Although this simplicity of the Arcadian character was to be idealised by Roman poets, the Arcadians did not possess an equal reputation for intelligence. Juvenal calls a blockhead an “Arcadian youth” (7.160), and even as late as the third century AD we witness Philostratos describing the Arcadians as “the most boorish of men” who lived in “squalor” (VA 8.7.12).

Contrasting to this, somewhat distorted, literary description of Arcadia, the presence of a grave and, then , of Death. Again Panofsky:

The phrase Et in Arcadia ego can still be understood to be voiced by Death personified, and can still be translated as "even in Arcady I, Death hold sway," without being out of harmony with what is visible in the painting itself.

Erwin Panofsky, “Et in Arcadia Ego & the Elegiac Tradition”

Death is everywhere, and mortality a condition which affected also the most naive shepards of Arcadia:

Thus Poussin himself, while making no verbal change in the inscription, invites, almost compels, the beholder to mis-translate it by relating the ego to a dead person instead of to the tomb, by connecting the et with ego instead of with Arcadia, and by supplying the missing verb in the form of avixi or fui instead of a sum. The development of his pictorial vision had outgrown the significance of the literary formula, and we may say that those who under the impact of the Louvre picture, decided to render the phrase Et in Arcadia ego as "I, too, lived in Arcady," rather than as "Even in Arcady, there am I," did violence to Latin grammar but justice to the new meaning of Poussin’s composition. Poussin’s Louvre picture no longer shows a dramatic encounter with Death but a contemplative absorption in the idea of mortality. We are confronted with a change from thinly veiled moralism to undisguised elegiac sentiment.

Erwin Panofsky, “Et in Arcadia Ego & the Elegiac Tradition”

The illustration of Aubrey Beardsley for the third volume of “Savoy” contrasts totally with the Poussin’s view of Arcadia. Here, the vision and concept itself of Arcadia, as described by Panofsky, is completely superseded. The Beardsley’s Arcadia has nothing in common with the retired and pastoral environment of the literal common place. Here Arcadia looks just like an English garden, in which strange and exotic flowers are presents, in which a dandy gentleman can walk as in an aesthetic Wunderkammer. It could be the garden of a Des Esseintes or, ante litteram, the Garda Lake’s residence of Gabriele D’Annunzio. This is definitively not the field of a sort of quite Eden on Earth, rather the decadent aesthetic and exotic beauty of a Villa’s Garden.

The dandy gentleman depicted here, is not facing the grave with the astonished and dreaming attitude of the Poussin’s shepards; here the dandy, who believes in the Total Work of Art, looks like he faces the Death represented by the grave challenging her, without necessarily being frightened nor surprised by the grave’s presence in his Garden. And he is not driven by a fool braveness, rather than the aesthetic and decadent belief on Beauty, she who will win everything, including Death.

Other visual artists who worked on the same subject include:

Giovanni Francesco Barbierini detto il Guercino (1591-1666)
Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665)
Laurent de la Hyre (1606-1656)
Peter Scheemakers (1691-1781)
Francesco Zuccarelli (1702-1788)
Richard Wilson (1714-1782)
Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792)
Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806)
Léon Vaudoyer (1803-1872)
Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898)
George Wilhelm Kolbe (1877-1947)
Augustus John (1878-1961)

Adolfo De Carolis (De Karolis) (Montefiore Asia (AP), Jan. 6  1874 – Rome, Feb. 7 1928) was an Italian painter, engraver, illustrator and author of art.
In 1888, by advice of the architect Giuseppe Sacconi, he enrolled at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Bologna
where he attended courses of fellow Domenico Ferri. In 1892, once graduated, he moved to Rome, following courses Domenico Bruschi and Alessandro Morani Art Museum Industrial and joining the group "In Arte Libertas" in 1897,
embracing aesthetic and philosophical positions, derived from the thought of John Ruskin and William Morris.

The believe in philosophical works of Ruskin pushed De Carolis to consider the artistic production as a sort of aesthetic and moral mission, in which the artisanal work of the artist follows his high spiritual attitude and role. Second consequence of this aesthetic attitude was the reconsideration of the whole artistic production and the removal of any limits or hierarchies towards artistic techniques.  His works are also influenced by the fifteenth century Umbrian and Tuscany art. The Reinassance played for De Carolis around the same role played by the revival of Gothic for Morris.

Adolfo De Carolis – Illustrations from “Il Notturno” of Gabriele D’Annunzio


Again, accordingly to the spiritual mission of the artist, every aspect of the human life should be fulfilled by art. The philosophical credo echoed the quest of a Gesamtkunstwerk, of the Total work of Art championed by Richard Wagner and by several national declination (especially Austrian) of the Symbolist and Art Nouveau Movements.

Adolfo De Carolis – Illustrations from “Fedra” of Gabriele D’Annunzio


This aesthetic belief is quite strong and then evident in the  production of De Carolis. While some production (such as the illustrations for Francesca da Rimini) are quite influenced by Ruskin and Pre-raphaelite taste, the artisticr relationship with the famous writer and aesthete Gabriele D’Annunzio influenced De Carolis towards a more symbolic and decadent style, such as one can see in the illustration of Fedra and Il Notturno. The new spelling of the surname "De Karolis," which uses the first  decade of the century,  attributable to the fashion of exoticism, influenced by d’Annunzio.

Adolfo De Carolis – Illustrations from “Francesca da Rimini” of Gabriele D’Annunzio


Coherently with his credo on the Gesamtkunstwerk, De Carolis was active also as painter and decorator. One of his masterpiece as decorator is the  villa Costantini Brancadoro of San Benedetto del Tronto finished in 1904.

Anyway his fame was definitively bound to his activities as book and magazine illustrator. Apart as main and most famous  illustrator of D’Annunzio (eventually, he illustrated not only books but also the famous Mottos of D’Annunzio, as we will see in a following article), he was also a successful illustrator of two of the most influencing turn of the century Italian art magazines "Novissima" and "Hermes". For this latter he prepared an article on Decorative Modern Art (February 1904), in which he states, again, the interest accrued over the years to the unity of the arts, decorative and applied arts.

Adolfo De Carolis – Illustrations from “LA figlia di Iorio” of Gabriele D’Annunzio



Adolfo De Carolis – Illustrations from “La Fiaccola” of Gabriele D’Annunzio




Original Lithograph, from "Le Pater" printed by F. Champenois and published by Henri Piazza in Paris, 1899.
Le Pater, consisted of a series of seven drawings. The seven verses of the Lord’s prayer are presented with illustrations by Mucha.
"Mucha felt that ‘Le Pater’ was his supreme achievement as an illustrator.

The following picture are digitized from my personal book collection.


Joseph Maria Auchentaller first contact with the Jugendstil movement was with the Secession in Monaco of Bavaria between 1892 and 1896, he collaborated with the famous magazine Jugend and complements the artistic maturity that will see him lead in the nascent movement in Vienna, which had been a member since its foundation.
The dedication to graphic art continues as far as he collaborated withl Ver Sacrum in Vienna, for whom he wrote some covers and a large number of illustrations inspired mainly floral, with a style heavily influenced by Japonisme. Other works denoted also the heavy influences of artists such as Gustav Klimt:

Copia di DSCF6969_ptCopia di DSCF6971_ptCopia di DSCF6972_ptCopia di DSCF6967_ptDSCF6964_ptDSCF6972_pt


In 1901 he moved to Grado, at that time a famous touristic resort of the Adriatic Coast. There, collaborating with architect On Julius Mayreder, Auchentaller fully decorated the Building of ‘Pension Fortino’. Also in Grado Auchentaller designed one of his most famous posters, "Seebad Grade.Österreichisches Küstenland, dated 1906 and printed in Vienna by A. Berger, an admirable example of Jugendstil atmosphere and charm.

Attentive to art of the billboard, which took the full force in society for the dissemination of ideas, messages and products, designed and created numerous posters in which speech and language base of Plakatstil marked by a strong stylization and summary graphics.
After 1902 the artist progressively detached from the Viennese melting pot scenario and from the aesthetic of Secession, devoting mainly to the portrait and landscape painting.



Stanisław Wyspiański was the best known artist in the turn of the Century Poland, as well as the leading painter and poet from ‘Młoda Polska’ , the Polish declination of Art Nouveau.

He was author of play, poet, painter: a pure eclectic artist as commonly used at the Turn of the Century. Many information over his life and artistic production could be found on the quite complete reference page on wikipedia.


What we are presenting here in is one of the masterpiece of the Polish artist, as well one of the greatest and fairly known Art Nouveau styled decoration. In August 1894 Wyspiański was in his birth city again, after an experience abroad. And in Kraków, he got heavily involved in the modernist movement. It was then he designed and partially made a polychrome for the Franciscan Church that was composed of flowery, geometrical and heraldic motifs.


These fitomoprphic motives constitute a real enhancement towards the symbolic decorative characteristic of Art Nouveau. The catholic Wyspiański conceived the illustration of a church using floral thus claiming for the creative and vivificate  attitude of God. The growing flowers are then symbols of the God creative power; the abstract geometric decorations are symbols too of the mysterious force which is hidden behind the Creation.


Floral elements are typically feminine ones. The unlimited and outstanding mysterious presence of God can’t be restricted to a single gender. It it also can’t be restricted to any human like representation. Abstract is the aesthetic predominance in San Francis church, intuitive but never acknowledgeable the Logos of God.



Sometimes I feel that the time really flows accordingly to the concept of time of the Greek mythology. Sometimes I really feel that that eventually it could be true, at least as far as history of art is concerned.

We are descending from the Classic Greek Art, in which the human beings, and specially their bodies, were constructed after the artistic ideal, and the artistic ideal after the daemonic (aka supernatural) essence. The Greek artist conceived her composition as a sort of representation of the daemonic perfection, depicting bodies who eventually were actual representation of that ideal. And the idealistic art should represent a model to which the real human beings tend to approximate, in order to tend toward the upper nature of the daemons. The concept itself of KaloKagathia, the marriage between the Beauty and the Good, was symptomatic of this attitude: the ideal beauty should be paradigmatic of an ethic social behavior, thus pushing the ethic attitude to copy the perfection (ideal) of the work of art. In other terms, social should have been a sort of imitation of the perfection of the art. Notwithstanding Plato.

The Platonic revolution, assigned to the art the infamous role of copy of the copy, copy of the Nature which was considered copy of the upper Metaphysic world of the Eidolon (Ideas). This was so impacting that basically the art production which followed was conceived as an imitation, at least, of the Nature. Being inspired, the naturalistic artist should take inspiration from the beauty of the nature, a mirror of the divine perfection. On the other hand, the plein-air painting of the Impressionists tended to impress on the canvas the momentum, the impression coming our, again, from a Nature conceived as a source of inspiration.

The fault came with the Symbolism, at the end, a sort of Nietzschiean Return to the Origin, to the Source, finally. How should be considered the Symbolist attitude toward Nature then ?

After having read Alfred Kubin’s sole roman, “Die Andere Seite” I was walking in a street, in a small village in northern Italy.

People continuously walking around a tower. At the upper of the tower, a clock which seems to attract all the people, and the people not being able to escape that fatidic attraction.

I was in that street, the same street as the one described and illuminated several times by Kubin. And I felt myself while I was reconstructing that street, and looking at that tower as per my influenced by Kubin eyes. I was able then to force the outside nature to my own vision. And my vision wasn’t a copy of the Kubin’s one; simply, I was using his same vocabulary, using which I was able to (re)describe the Nature. Once again, Daemon Triumphavit …


Click on the image to download.



I was impressed, reading the essay on the Italian Liberty architecture by the authoritative art historian Rossana Bossaglia, by the her concerns regarding the development of an Art Nouveau (Liberty, as the movement is known in Italy) architecture. In particular she complained about the lack of a real innovative research of new forms in architecture during the Art Nouveau period in Italy as was the case, for example in Belgium or in Spain.  Accordingly to Rossana Bossaglia, the problem with the Italian Art Nouveau architecture is the lack of a very meaningful research on the forms in the building’s own structure, thus relegating all the evocative suggestions of the Art Nouveau’ Lines to the decorative elements on the façade. In other terms, in Italy, accordingly to Bossaglia, the development of the national Art Nouveau style lacked a personality such as Victor Hortha in"Belgium, Odon Lechner in Hungary, Otto Wagner in Austrian or Anton Gaudi in Spain, thus limiting to very few examples the very contribution of Italy to the development to the international modernist style.

Anyway, even stated the lack of an outstanding personality or a school master, in Italy we could experience a very development of the know-how, of some techniques which are nevertheless impacting over the progression of the Art Nouveau style and technique. A brief digression here regarding the relationship between the style and the technique. In classical point of view, the work of art represents an ideal wedding (chemical ?) between technical skills, inspiration and personal style. The technique element, the Greek tekné constitutes a world of potential and possibility with which the artist could fully express his or her own feelings or inspirations. The point here is that classically an artist could really produce a work of art only after having mastered the expressive technique of his own artistic field. I have well printed in my head the words Arnold Schönberg, who in his theoretical masterpiece, Armonienlehere, complained that his fellows and disciples must know very well and master all the classical composition techniques prior to try any subsequent engagements into the new dodecaphonic arrangements. Giving life and form to a work of art (informing, using aesthetic terminology, a work of art) means basically mastering a technique at the same level which permits to a poet to fully express the complexity of his poetry and inspirations just after, and only after, having a deep knowledge of the language (including the possibility of providing complex images as consequence of mastering a complex vocabulary).

As far as the development of the Stile Liberty, the national declination of Art Nouveau in Italy, is concerned, one of the most exiting an fundamental contribution of the Italian artists at the turn of the century is due to their outstanding improvement of the iron workmanship techniques. Walking through some streets in Milan gives exactly the idea of the outstanding level that the technique of iron decorations reached during the turn of the century in Italy.


Artists such as Alessandro Mazzucotelli, Carlo Rizzarda or Umberto Bellotto, maybe not so known as other champions of art nouveau such as Alphonse Mucha or Gaudi, were eventually able to push to the extreme the ornamental possibilities of iron. Iron structures developed in other countries, of course: In the fin de siècle Barcelona or Paris, iron structures were used in architecture, sometime not just as decorative elements rather than as fully structural ones.


Anyway the technical level reached by the Italian artists permitted to create ornaments which present decorative ornaments with a very fitomorphic feeling. Moreover, seems that the researches for an art which could be overcharged by the same explosive mystic strength of Creative Nature, an art which could be able to mimic not the  naturalistic elements rather than the very inner force of the Nature itself, these researches boosted by improving these new techniques.


The expressive potentiality of an art as a mirror of the symbolic aspect of the nature was significantly improved by a technique which could release the flexibility potentiality of the metallic materials. The researches of Mazzucotelli and the other Italian artist of the iron constituted not just a technical step forward in the direction of fitomorphic ornament: they constituted also an improvements of its symbolic dictionary.



Ferdnand Khnopff vs Otto Eckmann

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