A first glance, the figures of La Città che Sale (The City Rises) seem to emerge from a background that looks like television static. With this work, Umberto Boccioni officially took his place in 1911 in the school of Futurism. Yet his technique still owes much to Divisionism, a movement to which he had until then belonged, together with Gaetano Previati and Giovanni Segantini. This represented views of the suburbs of cities which were then on the road towards industrialization

In this first Futurist work, the setting is the same, and the brushwork looks fragmented, made up of little commas, in the same manner as in Divisionism. What has changed radically is the point of view that interprets the landscape. It is no longer just real-life social criticism; the viewer is drawn into and involved in the frantic action represented, in the work of the construction site, the violent force of horses and men, caught by a whirling, ascending force. The only elements which remain motionless are the buildings under construction in the background. Everything that is alive moves precisely because it’s full of vitality. 

In this scenario, human beings are overwhelmed, swept away by a flow, dragged by animal energy manifested through a mass of red in the center of the composition. Along with red, the other predominant colors are also primary ones, yellow and blue.

The first owner of this seminal work of art was the composer Dante Michelangelo Benvenuto Ferruccio Busoni, an Italian pianist and composer who made his fortune abroad. By buying the work in 1912 he demonstrated his lively artistic sensitivity, in step with the zeitgeist of the early 20th century.

In comparison with then-contemporary music and experimentations therewith,  Ferruccio Busoni was incredibly curious and attentive. This was all the more noticeable when one considers that the musical scene was then opening up to Arnold Schönberg’s innovative dodecaphony and to Igor Stravinsky. It is precisely in his Rite of Spring that similarities with The City Rises can be found: and not only chronologically, as they share the same rhythm of composition and the same disorienting effect for the audience.

A dynamic and frenetic representation of a new city and its citizens.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain