Vedere la musica

Art, from Symbolism to the Avant-Garde

Hans Thoma, Violinista al chiaro di luna, 1897, algrafia a colori

A Symphony of Masterpieces

Is it really possible to listen to music with the eyes? Can sound take on form, and the invisible colour?

Questions like these have created a long history of relationships between the figurative arts and music. We have explored them. And we are ready to recount them with a "polyphonic approach".

You will discover masterpieces from maestros such as Kandinsky, Renoir, Chagall, Klee, Kokoschka, Boccioni, Balla, Segantini and Casorati, as well as precious drawings by Picasso, Klimt and Le Corbusier.

Music to your eyes!

Harmonies and “chromatic symphonies”

Paul Emile Berthon, concerto mistico, 1901, litografia a colori
Opening times

The event runs until the 4th of July, 2021.

Open every day:
Monday - Friday, 9.00 a.m. to 7.00 p.m.
Saturday, Sunday and holidays, 9.00 a.m. to 8.00 p.m.

Purchase your ticket

Remember that booking is now mandatory.
You can do so by purchasing your ticket online!

From Symbolism to the Avant-Garde

The relationship between music and the visual arts is a long one.

But it was only in the late 19th century that this relationship underwent a real revolution, which began in 1880 with symbolism and ended, along with the avant-garde, around 1940.

It is this time period that the exhibition, curated by Paolo Bolpagni, explores and recounts with a symphony of masterpieces, nearly 170 of them, from 40 museums and as many private collectors.

They range from works by Vasilij Kandinsky, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Marc Chagall, Paul Klee, Giacomo Balla, Mario Sironi, Gino Severini and Alberto Savinio to Felice Casorati, as well as precious drawings by Pablo Picasso, Gustav Klimt and Le Corbusier.


Fascinated by the deepest and most mysterious dimensions of existence, the aspiration of symbolism was to create emotions and feelings similar to those generated by music.

Landscapes inspired by Chopin's Nocturnes or Beethoven's Claire de Lune, where physical reality is translated into images which envelop places and figures in a unity of harmonies and “chromatic symphonies”. But also the legend of the composer as a mad, tormented hero. Titanic, like Richard Wagner, or cursed, like Beethoven.
Hans Thoma, Violinista al chiaro di luna, 1897, algrafia a colori


No composer was as determined as Richard Wagner to orient not only music, but culture in its entirety.

The evocative power of his dramas, his ideal of the “total work of art”, his persona itself, have inspired an endless production of paintings, prints, engravings, sculptures and illustrations.
Leo Putz, Parzifal, 1900, olio e tempera su legno

The Legend of Beethoven

A thick, tousled head of hair, his threatening appearance, and his dark, pensive expression. Symbolism would also lead to the rediscovery of Beethoven, the symbol of the mad, cursed musician, the misunderstood genius.

But Beethoven was more than just the man: the composer became the immobile, invisible engine of works in which the protagonist was his music, or even its absence.
Alois Kolb, Ritratto di Beethoven / Questo bacio al mondo intero, 1909 circa, acquaforte e acquatinta

Italian Opera

Italian composers of opera had just as much influence on the figurative arts.
The change in artistic sensibilities at the turn of the century also profoundly changed the way that passions were perceived, conveyed and represented, condemning opera to ever-lesser relevance.

In contrast to its decline, however, was the ascent of poster design: it was the golden age of opera posters, thanks both to advances in printing technology and the talent of artists such as Aleardo Villa, Adolfo De Carolis, Giuseppe Palanti and Leopoldo Metlicovitz.
13. Emilio Mantelli, Fedra (copertina per l’edizione a stampa dell’omonima opera di Ildebrando Pizzetti, Sonzogno, Roma-Napoli-Palermo 1913)

The Early Twentieth Century in Austria and Germany

Music came back into the spotlight as the avant-garde burst onto the scene. This began with the Secession, an artistic, political, social and cultural revolution in Austria and Germany.

For its exponents, music played a key role. And so, with fascination for composer Franz Schubert added to that for Wagner and Beethoven, allegorical depictions flourished.
2. Arnold Schönberg, Carte da gioco fatte a mano, 21 marzo 1909, Museo Spielkarten für Whist/Bridge © Arnold Schönberg, by SIAE 2021

Italian Futurism

Futurism placed great importance in sounds. We can read this in Carlo Carrà's manifesto, or see it in Fucina, studio di rumori by Julius Evola. But that’s not all. Russolo, for example, as well as being a painter and engraver, was also a composer and creator of music requiring the use of “intonarumori”, specially constructed noise-generating machines. Giacomo Balla, on the other hand, would design and create a console from which to manage the 76 combinations of coloured light which took the place of the dancers in his piece “balletto di sole luci” to the notes of Stravinsky.
Giacomo Balla, Bozzetto per il balletto di sole luci “Feu d’Artifice”, 1917, Milano, Museo Teatrale alla Scala © Giacomo Balla, by SIAE 2021

From Cubism to Purism

More than music or musicians, Cubism and Purism were focused on musical instruments.

The Cubists, for example, chose violins, guitars and mandolins as subjects for their works. They also introduced the dimension of “time”, typically associated with music, to painting.

Purism would come from the experience of Cubism, where “everything in a work of art should be and seem a pure resolution”. The result? Works which present themselves as genuine architecture of objects, often musical instruments, constructed and laid out in accordance with harmonic schemes or geometrical and mathematical models.

The Birth of Abstract Art

Pure abstraction was only arrived at when the avant-garde artists rediscovered Johann Sebastian Bach.

The fascination exerted by the pure compositional cleanliness of his counterpoints, the idea of art without a subject, and the increasing renunciation of visual expression found acknowledgement in the aspiration of painting to reach the immaterialism and abstraction of his fugues.

Neoplasticism, with its search for rationality and purity of form, also features a significant musical presence, in particular in its references to visual rhythms.
4. Paul Klee, at night, 1921, matita, penna, acquarello su carta

International Abstract Art in the Twenties and Thirties

In the orchestra of abstract art, in its search for an exchange of views with music, the role of first chair undoubtedly goes to Kandinsky. While the titles of his paintings often incorporate the musical lexicon, in his writings the Russian artist developed the concept of “monumental art”, composed of the colour, sound and music of dance.

While the structure in a Kandinsky painting consists of colours brought together beyond any main note of harmony, in Schönberg's compositions the lack of distinction between lines and colours corresponds to that between melody and harmony. All this while Kupka continued his search to achieve a style of painting in which music becomes the model for a definitive liberation from the imitation of reality.

The Return of Figurative Art in Italy

The outbreak of the First World War led to the return of more traditional expressive forms. Music also continued to be an inspiration.

In Italy we see this in the works of Armando Spadini, in the still lives with musical instruments by Piero Marussig, or in the study for the portrait of cellist Gilberto Crepax by Anselmo Bucci. But of all of them, Alberto Savinio and Gino Severini would stand out. The former was a unique case of a composer, writer and painter able to combine the classical and modern, the human and animal. The latter, on the other hand, managed to combine Futurism, Cubism, Neopythagorean linear harmonies and almost Mattisean colour in perfect balance: the ideal summary and conclusion of this journey through the avant-garde.
Anselmo Bucci, Studio per il violoncellista Crepax, 1934, olio su tavola, collezione privata

Graphic Arts

Like every great concert, the symphony of this exhibition also concludes with an encore, in this case the evocation of some topics reworked in a different layout: that of the graphic arts.

From the lithography of de Feure and Toulouse-Lautrec to the cover of Debussy's cantata La demoiselle élue by Maurice Denis. In addition, the illustrations for scores, or the resurgence of Beethoven: celebrated by Dario Neri and Giovanni Costetti, or mocked by the dadaists on the cover of their “Almanach”.