The "dark jungle" by Antonio Ligabue

On display at Asiago's Museo Le Carceri

by Lavinia Colonna Preti
Antonio Ligabue’s tigers at Asiago’s Museo Le Carceri — Veneto Secrets

The exhibition “Ligabue. Another world" curated by Marzio Dall'Acqua and Vittorio Sgarbi, organized by the Antonio Ligabue Archive Foundation with the Municipality of Asiago, offers the opportunity, until November 1, 2022 at Museo Le Carceri, to see over 70 works by one of the most mysterious and exciting artists of the 20th century.

Born in 1899 in Zurich from Elisabetta Costa, originally from the province of Belluno, of an unknown father, although recognized two years later by Bonfiglio Laccabue, the artist, who changed his surname to Ligabue years later, is defined as a visionary genius with an explosive expressive force.

Unique artist of his kind, marked by a strong psychic diversity since childhood, he soon found in painting his only form of reconciliation with a hostile world from which he had learned to isolate himself.

Antonio Ligabue’s tigers at Asiago’s Museo Le Carceri — Veneto Secrets
Antonio Ligabue’s tigers at Asiago’s Museo Le Carceri — Veneto Secrets

In his violence, in his animal expressiveness, Ligabue could be compared only to Van Gogh.

(Vittorio Sgarbi)

The “outside” was, in fact, too different from what Ligabue felt inside. His life, from an early age, was marked by abandonment and psychiatric care: entrusted in 1900 to an Italian-Swiss couple, he entered an institution for children with disabilities at the age of 14, and it is precisely here that the doctors for the first time would highlight his innate and extraordinary skills as a draftsman.

Following increasingly violent episodes, in 1917 he was hospitalized in the psychiatric clinic of Pfäfers and, due to a complaint from his adoptive mother, expelled from Switzerland and sent to his presumed father’s birthplace, in Gualtieri, in the province of Reggio Emilia in Italy. Here he lives on occasional jobs, municipal aid and subsidies and finds his “home” in the wild nature of the Po Delta which serves him as a refuge and source of inspiration.

Antonio Ligabue’s tigers at Asiago’s Museo Le Carceri — Veneto Secrets

From the pets of his early years, he paints gaping-jawed tigers, powerful lions and birds of prey that grab food or fight for survival: a real rough and violent jungle that he portrays, as part of the nature with which he identifies, depriving it of any moral connotation. A fierce energy that for him, rejected by the world, becomes a need for self-affirmation through the power of creation, as well as a way of communicating with it and feeling loved and accepted. It is precisely the union of this animalistic force, Vittorio Sgarbi will define him “an animal that paints”, with the candor of a “pure” soul that makes his painting so strong, hard, true, even in the beauty of colors and curves harmoniously perfect.

Ligabue gets very close to madness with his violent-depressive crises, his strange language, sometimes simple and sometimes grotesque when he speaks the language of animals to communicate with them, and at the same time, artist-shaman, he intrigues writers and artists for his ability to see beyond, to understand people, with an exceptional intuition that often manifests itself with shrewd irony. Like when he creates “ugly” paintings for clients he doesn’t like or, after his first solo shows, he portrays himself as Napoleon on horseback.

Antonio Ligabue’s tigers at Asiago’s Museo Le Carceri — Veneto Secrets

After 1937 he was interned for alternating periods in the psychiatric hospital of S. Lazzaro in Reggio Emilia from which he left in 1941 thanks to the interest of the sculptor Andrea Mozzali who will host him at his home. In 1948 he was definitively discharged and found refuge in the homeless shelter of Gualtieri.
The appreciation of his works is gradually spreading, thanks also to the support of some admirers friends, such as the artist Renato Marino Mazzacurati, and begins to earn through his art, managing to make small dreams come true, such as the purchase of a motorcycle and of a car with driver.

He died in 1965 after being struck a few years earlier by a paresis.

Antonio Ligabue’s tigers at Asiago’s Museo Le Carceri — Veneto Secrets

On display, in an excursus of his entire career, we find some of his most beautiful masterpieces, such as the “Leopard with skull” (1933), “Stagecoaches with castle” (1952), “Tiger attacked by the snake” (1953) and “Self-portrait” (1954).

An exhibition project that is really worth a trip, also for the pleasant setting of Museo Le Carceri, born in 2001 from the renovation of the old prisons of Asiago which has maintained the original conformation of the building allowing to exhibit even in the small rooms once used as cells.

Useful Info

Museo Le Carceri
Piazza Benedetto Cairoli 13
36012 Asiago, Vicenza

Fondazione Archivio Ligabue

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