Romano DAZZI

(Rome 1905 – La Lima 1976)

Coptic Priest, 1925

Pencil on ivory paper
310 x  210 mm.
Dedicated lower right:  Alla Signora Fernanda Ojetti / con profonda devozione / Romano Dazzi / 1925
Lower left, Ojetti collection stamp

Florence, Ugo Ojetti collection; Florence, private collection

Libero Andreotti, Antonio Maraini, Romano Dazzi. Gli anni di Dedalo, Galleria Francesca Antonacci, Rome, 2009

General bibliography:
Ugo Ojetti, I disegni di Romano Dazzi, Milan, Bassetti e Tumminelli, 1920.
Disegni di Romano Dazzi, catalogue of the exhibition curated by Giovanna De Lorenzi (Florence, Uffizi, Gabinetto dei disegni e stampe), Florence, Olschki, 1987.
Giovanna De Lorenzi, Ugo Ojetti critico d'arte: dal Marzocco a Dedalo, Florence, Le Lettere, 2004.
Romano Dazzi, disegni, catalogue of the exhibition curated by Galleria Lapiccirella, (Rome, Palazzo Venezia) Florence, Lapiccirella, 2004.
Libero Andreotti, Antonio Maraini, Romano Dazzi, gli anni di Dedalo, catalogue of the exhibition curated by Francesca Antonacci and Giovanna Caterina de Feo (Rome, Galleria Francesca Antonacci, 14 May – 26 June 2009) Rome 2009.


Romano Dazzi, the son of well-known sculptor Arturo Dazzi, was born in Rome in 1905.  He displayed considerable artistic talent from a very early age, and indeed the Galleria d'Arte Bragaglia held an exhibition of his work, showing fully one hundred and forty of his drawings, in 1919 when he was still aged only fourteen.  The introduction to the catalogue was penned by Ugo Ojetti, one of many illustrious friends of the family.  The exhibition, astonishingly, was a huge success both with the public and with the critics, many leading lights in the art world at the time considering young Dazzi to symbolise the new generation that came to maturity after the Great War.  The artist's favourite themes included chiefly combat scenes and superlative portraits of wild animals (which he had actually seen at the zoo in his home town, where he would spend the entire day drawing).  Ojetti immediately noticed the boy's prodigious talent and decided to follow his art career very closely.  In those years Dazzi's drawings were still marked by an immature style characterised by rapid, almost "Expressionist" draughtsmanship which failed to coincide with Ojetti's calmer and more meditated taste.  The critic thus endeavoured to prompt the lad to adopt a new form of expression, teaching him to govern the exuberance of his own creativity with the disciplining strength of style.  The daily control that Ojetti exercised over the boy appeared to have a beneficial effect almost at once, yet Dazzi felt that Ojetti's stylistic placidity was a far cry from his own temperament.  The excuse to shake off this burdensome tutelage arrived in 1923, in the shape of an invitation from the Italian Government to join Marshal Graziani's entourage in order to record his military expedition to Libya in a drawing campaign.  The months that Dazzi spent in the desert were to have a lasting impact.  The quality of the work spawned by that experience is simply astonishing, but it was not always in line with Ojetti's precepts and so the two men's relationship began to deteriorate.  It was a bitter moment, and the critic was to build up a certain resentment towards his erstwhile protégé.
From then on, Dazzi began to focus on what were to become the hallmarks of his style:  the depiction of movement, the unfinished feel and the idealisation of form.  In Italy, however, such an approach was inevitably bound to fail, while the style prescribed by Ojetti was to remain a beacon of aesthetic taste for many decades to come.

The drawing of a Coptic Priest is dated 1925 and so it must be later than Dazzi's trip to Libya, yet it appears to have been very much influenced by his memories of Africa, which were to remain engraved in his mind for several years afterwards.  Writing in 1927–8, Dazzi tells us:  "[...] It is all the longing for the desert, the silence, the open space that swells my chest and takes me back with my thoughts to that life which I loved best, where I found my deepest self, and which it is so difficult to live again.  [...] It is the feeling of the direct communion between man and the world, between his world and the broader world, like a spirit seeking to rejoin the Great Spirit, without any further restrictions or corporal burdens" (De Lorenzi, 1987, p. 23).
The Coptic priest is portrayed in profile, sporting traditional headgear and a long tunic that envelops his body.  His eyes appear to be in the shade, while his grave and earnest facial features emphasise his mystic contemplation.  The drawing was made expressly for Fernanda Ojetti, the wife of Dazzi's friend and critic Ugo, as we can tell from the dedication bottom right, and it did indeed once form part of the Ugo Ojetti collection.