Mino Delle Site
Like the Great Master da Vinci, Domenico (known as “Mino”) delle Site was fascinated by flying machines. A leading exponent of Aeropittura (aerial painting), the Italian art-maker is best known for dozens of boldly hued studies in pastels, tempera, watercolor and oil of soaring airplanes and heavenly vistas, fantasies of flight broken down into moving, geometric components. Like Leonardo, Delle Site also tried his hand at many things, including sculpture, mural painting, travel posters, cinema sets and decoration, fashion and home décor designs, and poetry and journalism with sacred art also finding a place in his all-inclusive creative universe.
Born in the Southern Italian city of Lecce in 1915, Delle Sitte was already contributing drawings to a school district bulletin in the third grade. In 1930, he left for Rome to continue his art studies and within a year the teenager was in thrall to Futurism, an early modernist movement, centered in Italy, that wanted to recreate the world empowered by the raw energy, speed, and dynamism of modern machines. During the 1930s, Delle Site took part in all the major Futurist events across Europe. He experimented later with abstract and neo-cubist art, but his affinity to Futurism was the connecting thread in his six-decade long career.
Futurism was initially hostile to organized Christianity. Founding Father Filippo Tommaso Marinetti wrote in 1916 of a “new religion-morality of speed” that would transform the universe through mechanization. Elements of traditional mysticism were implicit in Futurist art forms like the aerial painting, practiced by Delle Site, which sought to transcend terrestrial limits with visionary imagery. After the Vatican came to terms with Italy’s Fascist government in the 1929 Lateran Treaty, Marinetti made an about face on the contentious religion question in his 1931 Manifesto of Futurist Sacred Art.
Marinetti contended that “only Futurism—the urgent and swift artistic ‘beyond’—is able to picture and shape all that lies beyond life itself.” The movement’s aesthetic, he argued, would achieve a needed regeneration of sacred art, beginning with the use of electric bulbs in churches in place of “carnal” candlelight. In his view, Futurism’s time-bending style of art, emphasizing “the simultaneity of states of mind” was well-suited for dealing with Roman Catholic dogmas like the Trinity. Delle Site took up the challenge in aerial pictorial studies like Winged Madonna where an airplane fuselage morphs into the Virgin and Christ Child.
Delle Site’s sketches of the Life of Christ in the Collection date from 1968, when the artist was working with abstract, cubistic forms, a stylistic change anticipated in his 1949 watercolor of St. Francis and the Wolf. The 30 ink drawings of Gospel stories from the Annunciation through the Ascension are exercises in minimalist mark making, where Christ’s beard is all that distinguishes him from other figures in outline. Delle Site’s use of line in so sparing, he even whites out sections of the Triumphal Entry. The artist was particularly drawn to the healing narratives, creating two versions of the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead and the curing of the woman with the issue of blood.
For an artist who once floated among the clouds, his Gospel sketches are curiously earthbound. Encounters with the divine occur at the upper margins of the drawings. We witness only the stunned reactions of the disciples in Delle Site’s depictions of the Transfiguration and the Ascension. Just the legs and nail-pierced feet of Jesus are visible at the top of his scene of the bystanders at the Crucifixion. The same wounded feet slip out of view as Christ soars up from the grave in two depictions of the Resurrection. We return to the cosmic vistas of Futurism in the only colored drawing in the suite, a high-energy study of the Crucifixion, where Christ hangs suspended among bold markings in variations of red, blue and black.