Digital Renaissance, Giovanni Motta meets Giuseppe Veneziano 
Digital Renaissance, Giovanni Motta meets Giuseppe Veneziano 

Digital Renaissance, Giovanni Motta meets Giuseppe Veneziano 

By Ivan Quaroni - 9 Nov 2021

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Digital Renaissance is the title of the synergistic project by Italian artists Giovanni Motta and Giuseppe Veneziano, based on the creation of two different NFTs in which the dialogue between two different pop languages ​​finds a point of convergence in the shared DNA of Renaissance art through the reinterpretation of Raphael’s works. 

Renaissance of the art

In a time of expansion and growth of the expressive potential of art in the digital field of Crypto Art, the allusion to one of the most brilliant moments in the history of Universal Art, the Renaissance, seems natural.  

Digital Renaissance is made up of two video animations: Mystic Lollipop by Giovanni Motta and Madonna of the Sacred Heart by Giuseppe Veneziano. They represent the result of a creative meeting, which marks, at the same time, the consolidation of one of the most interesting artists of the Crypto scene and the debut of the most popular contemporary Italian pop artist in the NFT world.

Digital Renaissance is, however, a declaration of intent, a manifesto in two acts that promotes the idea of ​​rebirth based on the union between the present and the past in the name of a culturally sustainable future, where the teaching of the Old Masters coexist with the expressive potential of the digital age.

Digital Renaissance, a critical essay

by Ivan Quaroni, art critic and curator

Voilà ce Cœur qui a tant aimé les hommes

There are different expressive models within pop languages, different ways of seizing the vital spirit of mass culture and transferring it within the centuries-old operational domain of art. The planetary explosion of crypto art has shown how the inspiration of this pop culture, deriving from the web, television series, cinema, comics, and graphics, is occupying the artistic imagination of the new generations thanks to the pervasive diffusion of tools of digital creativity.

Giovanni Motta and Giuseppe Veneziano, who originate from analog painting, from the auratic conception of hand-made artwork, have perfectly understood the significance of this digital renaissance. Their effort was to translate the enormous work done into the development of a personal language, of a unique and recognizable style, within the space of the infosphere. For a pop artist, used to producing works that are understandable to as many people as possible, entering the virtual territories of the Metaverse is a natural, indeed necessary, evolution. In short, a way to make one’s message even more universal.

In the plurality of pop languages, Veneziano and Motta occupy two distinct positions, to some extent antithetical. The former, trained as an architect, comes from the experience of satirical comics, balancing it with the love for ancient masters and contemporary painting, the latter arrives at art from experiences in the field of communication and by retrieving the imagery of comics and cartoons of his youth. Both, albeit with a different perspective, have built a visual vocabulary in which the connection to the world of childhood is obsessively present, through references to cartoon characters or symbols of merchandise and products of capitalist society.

Giovanni Motta
Giovanni Motta

Both in the works of Giovanni Motta and those of Giuseppe Veneziano it’s possible to perceive the research for an innocent gaze, for a way of looking at reality without prejudice, with that purity of spirit that allows them to explore the present without falling into the trap of easy moralism or convenient philosophical, ideological or spiritual affiliations. It could be said that the dimension in which these artists thematically move is, to use a Nietzschean expression, beyond good and evil, that is, beyond the boundaries of common ethics. But with a fundamental methodological difference: Veneziano directs his innocent gaze on the fabric of social life, mixing current news with the history of art, politics with the way of life, eroticism with religion, fiction with reality, producing eye-opening images that often arouse conflicting reactions; Giovanni Motta personifies innocence using a symbol, little Jonny Boy, through which he plumbs the depths of the human psyche and soul to recover the primordial, uncontaminated energy of the child-ego in the jumble of childhood memories.

Motta’s approach is introjective, alchemical, transformative, whereas Veneziano’s is projective, critical, dubitative. To explain this fascinating specularity, we could say that the former tries to understand the world through himself, the latter tries to understand himself through the world.

From a stylistic point of view, the differences are even more substantial. Veneziano’s figures stand out against the surface, creating volumes with the combination of flat colors, as if it were a vector image, but using the old grid method. Many of his works are digitally designed in a rather handmade way, according to a methodology similar to the Dadaist collage, but the final result is always an extremely clean, perfectly legible, cheerful image, which adheres in a completely original way to the proverbial flatness of pop art. The colors adopted by the artist are an essential element of this grammar and derive, by his admission, from the colors of his native land Sicily.

There’s always a very detailed digital project behind Motta’s works. Indeed, it could be said that his art has always been methodologically influenced by digital tools. His way of constructing the figures is three-dimensional, the emanation of a volumetric thought. Not only the figure of Jonny boy but also the objects, environments, and landscapes reveal this pronounced spatial sensitivity. The solid dimension of each figure in his works purposely evokes the plastic compactness of certain toys. Ideally, this is his way of giving a tactile consistency to the images and above all to the sensations that emerge from distant childhood memories, retrieved through the practice of regressive meditation.

The place where the different worlds of Veneziano and Motta collide is the history of art. In particular, Raphael is the artist on whom these two Italian artists decided to meet and confront each other. The modality of this collaboration is that of a dialogue in the field of a shared artistic heritage, the one represented here by one of the leading figures of the Renaissance, and also of a thematic crossover. The point of departure is precisely the choice of a work by the Urbino master, as a model to be interpreted and reread by each artist with their own language, in which each of them integrates an element of the other’s pictorial vocabulary. A mash-up operation that is anything but simple, since it doesn’t consist in the simple production of a four-handed work, but in the creation of two distinct works, which must reflect the reciprocal specificities and authorial differences.

Curiously, both have chosen as a meeting point the subject of the Virgin and Child, a traditional motif of Christian iconography that depicts the symbols of the Marian premonition of the Mystery of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus.

Mystic Lollipop

Giovanni Motta’s choice falls on the Aldobrandini Madonna (or Garvagh Madonna), a small oil on panel from 1510 part of the collection of the National Gallery in London, which shows Mary seated on a stone bench with Baby Jesus in her arms in the act of receiving as a gift from infant St. John, his ideal predecessor, a red carnation that symbolizes the blood of the Passion and the mystical marriage between Christ and his Church. Against the background of this delicate composition, the focal point of which is constituted by the outstretched hands of the Nazarene and John the Baptist, the view of the rural landscape around Rome is framed by a double window, a reference to the predating Leonardo’s Madonna of the Carnation (1473, Alte Pinakothek, München).

Motta entirely revolutionizes the pyramidal structure of the painting by constructing a monumental plastic composition. In the volumetric transmutation of the Raphaelesque subject, the artist shows us, in fact, a Madonna no longer seated on the bench but sat up to support the weight of two new characters: one, in the position of Jesus, is Jonny Boy, the personification of the inner child constantly present in the works of the Veronese artist as a symbol of the inner potential of each individual; the other, in place of St. John, is an infant Hitler, emblem of evil here depicted in a hypothetical age of innocence, just like in one of Giuseppe Veneziano’s most famous and iconic paintings, The Third Reich Madonna, which in 2010 attracted media attention and divided Italian public opinion.

In Motta’s version, the Madonna wears a dress identical in color and craftsmanship to that of the Raphaelesque painting of 1510, but the blatantly artificial optical rendering recalls the tactile consistency of a toy. The same goes for the anatomy of the Virgin and the figures of Jonny Boy and Baby Hitler, who thus become plastic emanations of the artist’s imagination, intent on reconstructing the symbolic and emotional dimension of childhood.

In the optical fulcrum of Mystic Lollipop, the carnation of the original National Gallery painting is replaced with a Chupa Chups lollipop, a consumerist fetish which the artist transforms into a transactional object that evokes the affective and emotional sphere of early childhood. Jonny Boy’s gesture can be interpreted as an allegorical act of donating emotional and empathic abilities to soften the premature angularity of infant Adolf Hitler’s disposition. Or, in retrospect, it can be read as a retroactive act of mercy towards the future dictator. In any case, Motta here represents the possibility of an alchemical transformation of the individual that can’t manifest itself in the rectilinear and progressive dimension of history, but only in the atemporal domain of spirituality. Transporting the scene from the original backdrop, a typical Renaissance landscape, to a blue and serene sky, just barely disturbed by the slow passage of clouds and cut through by the flight of some birds, suggests the idea of ​​indefinite space, of an empyrean that emphasizes the sacred atmosphere of the scene and the almost hieratic nature of the characters. In addition to the sky, in movement, the only other moving part of Mystic Lollipop is the progressive luminescence of the Virgin’s halo, a blatantly pop detail that alludes to the neon aesthetics of the Eighties as well as to the kitschy junk of mass-produced religious souvenirs.

Madonna of the Sacred Heart

Giuseppe Veneziano is inspired by the Northbrook Madonna, painted around 1507, and currently in the permanent collection of the Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts. The work owes its name to the collection of the Counts of Northbrook in London, where it was kept until the 1970s. It’s a work from the Florentine period by Raphael, which represents the Madonna seated with the infant Jesus in her arms in front of a railing, beyond which the pleasant hilly landscape of Umbria stretches out.

In addition to flatness, that is to say the graphic synthesis that simplifies three-dimensionality through the combination of different shades of color, another typical element of Veneziano’s art is the iconographic appropriation of sources from the past (especially works of the Italian Renaissance), in which the artist replaces the original figures with historical personalities, contemporary celebrities or characters from the fictional reality of cinema, cartoons, and comics. Also in Madonna of the Sacred Heart, Jonny Boy takes the place of the Baby Jesus, whose upright position is changed into a recurring gesture in Giovanni Motta’s sculptures. Not only his old Monsters but also some sculptures by Jonny Boy, in fact, are depicted in the act of literally giving away their heart, a vital organ that metaphorically represents the feelings and interiority of the individual. Giuseppe Veneziano distorts the traditional symbolism of the Sacred Heart, stripping it of his iconographic attributes: the flames, the crown of thorns, the cross, and the rays of light that refer to the theme of the Passion of Christ. However, the Sicilian artist doesn’t renounce the subject of the sacrifice, evoked here by the mere nakedness of the heart muscle, of which we can even hear the pulsating beat like a delicate sound loop.

In the painful astonishment that accompanies Jonny Boy’s gesture of offering, we inevitably hear the echo of the words of the Eucharistic liturgy: “Take this, all of you, and eat of it: for this is my body which will be given up for you”. Yet, the dramatic intensity of Jonny Boy’s gesture of sacrificial immolation, which constitutes the fulcrum of the image, is counterbalanced by the staid expression of the Virgin, almost on the verge of indifference, and the reassuring landscape setting of the background, a sublime effort of graphic synthesis.

Here, as in his other works, Veneziano manages to find a perfect expressive balance, which allows him to re-actualize the miracle of ancient painting, enlivening it with a grammar suitable for current times.

Mystic Lollipop and Madonna of the Sacred Heart are proof of how contemporary digital art, albeit with new procedures and operating methods, new media, distribution channels, and new forms of use, can pick up the threads of a centuries-old, and never interrupted, dialogue with the teaching of the Old Masters. A teaching that is the only guarantee of continuity in the evolutionary process of art, constantly hanging in the balance between past and present, avant-garde and tradition, conservation and revolution, rupture and continuity. Only in this way the complex mixture of retrograde and antegrade motions which we call the future can be produced.

Ivan Quaroni

Graduated with honours in Modern Literature at the State University of Milan. Critic, curator and journalist, he has written for the magazines Flash Art, Arte and Arte in. He has curated numerous exhibitions in public spaces and private galleries and has published the books Laboratorio Italia. "Nuove tendenze in pittura" (New trends in painting) (2008, Johan & Levi), Italian Newbrow (2010, Giancarlo Politi) and Beautiful Dreamers. Il nuovo sogno americano tra Lowbrow Art e Pop Surrealism (The new American dream amidst Lowbrow Art and Pop Surrealism, 2017, Falsopiano). He teaches History of Contemporary Art at the Accademia di Belle Arti Aldo Galli in Como and Phenomenology of Contemporary Arts at the IED - Istituto Europeo di Design in Milan.

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