ALIGI SASSU (1912 - 2000)
born in Milan on July, 17th 1912. His mother, Lina Pedretti,
was of Parma provenance, while his father Antonio Sassu had been one of
the founders of the socialist party in Sassari.
In 1921 his family moves to Thiesi, in Sardinia, and stays there for
three years, a short but fundamental period for the mind of the artist
to be permeated by the impressions of what he was surrounded by.
As a matter of fact, it is right there where he gets to know horses for
the first time and where he sees all those strong colours of the
Mediterranean landscape. Having moved back to Milan, he gets passionate
in reading futurist magazines and essays, an interest he inherited from
his father, who took him at the young age of seven, in 1919, to the
first collective display of the futurists' works at Cova.
Still, it was not the first contact with that artistic movement, given
his father's friendship with Carlo Carrà.
this very period he first approaches colours.
In 1925 the economic problems that his family was facing force him to
leave school in order to work like an apprentice in a lithographic
studio, La Pressa; during the following year he works as an adjuvant of
a wall decorator. Still, he manages to conclude his studies attending
In 1927 he buys “Futurist Painting Sculpture (plastic dynamism)” by
Boccioni and gets the chance to admire some of this artist's works at
Fedele Azari's, who then had them in custody before they were displayed.
With Bruno Munari he gets to know that Filippo Tommaso Marinetti was
supposed to meet young artists at Hotel Corso, he decides to go there
with his works on Mafarka il futurista, written by Marinetti.
The following evening, during an event, Marinetti points them as “two
young promises of Italian art” and in 1928 he invites Sassu to send
two works to the Venice Biennale: Nudo plastico and Uomo che
si abbevera alla sorgente.
On March 31st of the same year Sassu and Munari sign Dinamismo
e riforma muscolare,
a painting manifest which was unpublished until 1977.
1929 he applies to the Brera Academy; here he meets Lucio Fontana with
whom he is designed to work a few years later in Albissola.
After two years he has to leave the Academy for economic reasons,
therefore he attends the Accademia libera, founded by the director of
Galleria Milano, Barbaroux, who allows Sassu and the other artists who
could not afford the courses in Brera to use his supports and models in
exchange for a picture per month for his gallery.
this academy does not last long and Sassu rents a studio in Piazza Susa
with Manzù to continue his work.
In 1929 he takes part of two collective displays in Milan.
This is the period of the antithesis with Novecento and of the beginning
of his famous series of Ciclisti and Uomini Rossi, coming
from the artist's passion for Masolino and Beato Angelico.
In 1932 he participates with other artists to an exhibition at Galleria
del Milione and, given the interest arised from this display, Sandro
Bini presents the first text about Sassu's work.
In the autumn of 1934 he goes to Paris and stays there for three months.
There he visits a Matisse exhibition and in the museums he studies the
work of great artists such as Gericault, Cezanne, the impressionists but
above all Delacroix, whose diaries he reads in Sainte Geneviève library.
first stay in Paris confirms Sassu's great love for French nineteenth
century painting and for the light of the many cafes which will soon
become one of his favourite series.
His topics are now taken from reality in its social implications and
from myth, often to be read in a symbolic way.
In 1935 he is back in Paris. In this second stay, his love for art and
culture grows together with his political engagement.
He shows his anti-Franco position with Fucilazione delle Asturie.
The civil war is being fought in Spain and Sassu, with other artists, is
actively engaged against fascism.
Back in Milan, he participates to anti-fascist disturbance actions and
he spreads clandestine press. With De Grada he also has contacts with
anti-fascist groups abroad. When Mussolini's troops are defeated in
Guadalajara, he prepares a manifest with De Grada praising rebellions,
persuaded that there could be one in Italy as well.
The morning of April 6th, 1937 the police of the OVRA, who
had been checking him for a long time, frisks his house and his studio
finding a draft of the manifest and the paper to print it.
Sassu is therefore arrested with a conspiracy accusation and put in the
jail of San Vittore in Milan for six months. He is then transferred to
Rome in Regina Coeli with the charge of overthrowing the State order and
the sentence to ten years confinement. During these months he faces a
serious crisis, especially due to the impossibility of studying and
Only when he is moved to Fossano, near Cuneo, in October 1937 he gets
the chance to write and draw. He creates more than four hundred drawings
without being deprived of any of them, they are mostly inmates portraits
and mythological scenes.
his father manages Marinetti and Doctor Veratti to intercede for his son,
as they were both well-liked by Mussolini: on July 27th, 1938
Sassu receives the royal grace.
He is supervised though, so that he is not allowed to attend public
places and to display his works.
However, he keeps creating opposition works, such as Spagna 1937
and La morte di Cesare, already conceived in jail.
In the period of his confinement, Corrente was born in Milan.
Because of his supervised condition, Sassu had to wait until March 1941
in order to have a solo display at Bottega di Corrente. Here's where he
shows his Uomini Rossi for the first time.
At the end of 1944 he lives in Zorzino, close to the Lake of Iseo and
there, after cooperating with the Mountain partisans, he lives the first
days of Italian liberation in 1945.
After all these events that had kept him far away from his family, he
finally goes back to Milan.
In 1947 he moves to Castel Cabiaglio, near Varese.
Despite the serious crisis of those years, he works intensely and tries
new techniques. He mostly paints religious works and Caffe’.
Sassu had gone to Castel Cabiaglio with De Tullio to work in an ancient
furnace of the place, there he creates about a hundred ceramics.
He is quite soon forced to leave that place and he decides to contact
Tullio Mazzotti, who invites the artist to work in Albissola.
Here he has the chance to meet many artists who are there for the same
reason and together they try new ways to conjugate shape and colour.
In 1954 he travels to Vallauris with Mazzotti and Fabbri. There he meets
Picasso for the first time as the Spanish master of Cubism was actually
working in that French city at that time.
meet again after two years at Californie, where Picasso had the
sculptures designed to be soon exposed at the Museum of Antibes.
In 1964 the Spanish period begins, Sassu buys a house in Mallorca in
Cala San Vicente. There is where the artist's so called new youth starts,
as Dino Buzzati had written.
Sassu focuses on Tauromachie and on landscapes of the island,
besides the mythological theme which is now reviewed and deepened by
using a new technique, acrylic. This allows him to create bright and
lively colours, like the ones he finds in Mallorca, considered by the
master as a second Sardinia.
From this year on he lives between Mallorca and Italy, where in 1967 he
moves to Monticello Brianza.
In 1973 he creates scenes and costumes of Vespri Siciliani for
the reopening of Teatro Regio in Turin and he is dedicated a room in the
Gallery of Modern Art in Vatican City.
In 1976 he completes two mosaics for Saint Andrea in Pescara and in 1977
his works are shown in Rotterdam, Toronto and Mallorca, where he leaves
Cala San Vicente and moves to Can Marimon in Pollença.
In 1981 he moves from Monticello to Milan in via Brera.
In 1982 he receives the acknowledgment “The men who made Milan great”
and presents his fifty eight watercolours he had made in 1943 as an
illustration to Promessi Sposi.
In 1984 a hundred and eleven works are shown in an anthological display
at Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara. The exhibition is then transferred
to Rome in Castel Sant'Angelo.
During that year another important anthological is presented in Palazzo
Reale in Milan, with two hundred seventy two works.
Other exhibitions take place in Seville and Germany, the following year
in Madrid and Canada, where an itinerant show on his Promessi Sposi
travels in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa.
1986 there are exhibitions in Palma de Mallorca, at the Rome XI
Quadriennale, the Milan Trienniale and at the House of Mantegna in
Mantova. He completes the hundred and thirteen works on Divina
Commedia, three of which are purchased by the Puskin Museum of
Bayer Munich hosts a large anthological with works from 1927 to 1985.
In 1992, eighty paintings compose an itinerant display in South America
which travels between San Paulo, Bogota and Buenos Aires.
In 1993 he completes Miti del Mediterraneo, a ceramic mural of
150 square meters for the new building of the European Parliament in
The following year he presents Manuscriptum, a folder with
engravings shown in Sweden at the itinerant exhibition “The bridges by
In 1995 he shows at the Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in
Bergamo and he is nominated Cavaliere della Gran Croce by the Italian
In 1996 three hundred sixty two works created between 1927 and 1996 are
donated to the city of Lugano, that is how the Aligi Sassu and Helenita
Olivares Foundation is created.
On July 17th, 1999, the day of the artist's eighty seventh
birthday, a big anthological display is opened in Palazzo Strozzi in
Exactly one year later, the evening of July 17th, 2000, Aligi
Sassu dies in his house of Can Marimon in Pollença.
During that year his ceramic works are shown at the International Museum
of Ceramics in Faenza, and then transferred to the museum of ceramics
“M.Trucco” and to the Civic Museum of Contemporary Art of Albissola.
From 2000 Besana Brianza hosts the Cultural Association Amici dell'Arte
di Aligi Sassu which, among a variety of initiatives, organized the
first sculpture anthological of the master in 2001, Picasso, Fontana,
art from Albissola to Vallauris
in 2003 and Cenacolo Verde. Cassinari, Migneco, Morlotti, Sassu and
Treccani in Brianza in 2005.
December 14th, 2005 the Italian President, Prof. Carlo
Azeglio Ciampi, conferred to the master the first class merit diploma
(gold medal) for school, culture and art for 2005, an acknowledgement
given to those engaged and recognized in the field of Education, School,
University and Research and, in more general terms, in the spread and
elevation of culture.
Natalia Sassu Suarez Ferri