Domenico Gnoli might have been one of the preeminent postwar artists had he not succumbed to cancer in 1970 at the age of thirty-six. Testament to this possibility is his rich retrospective on view at the Fondazione Prada. One exemplary painting is the triptych Maquette (1967). Though it measures less than two feet wide, it incorporates elements from his more celebrated outsize paintings—enigmatic, tightly cropped—in which clothing, shoes, and hair are scaled well beyond human proportions, with the dynamism of his early commercial work in magazine illustration, prints, and stage set design.
The scene introduces four adults standing in a circle, as if on a stage, as three children wait nearby. Gnoli crops the scene so that we see only the children’s heads and the grown-ups from upper thigh to shoulder. The group occupies the left and middle panels, the emptiness on the right creating both an eye-catching spatial rhythm and a sense of something else critical to the moment happening beyond what we are permitted to see.
The painting’s surface is equally complex, demonstrating Gnoli’s technical mastery. In melding a fresco-like background with precise lines of color inflected with subtle gradients that constitute the figures, Gnoli achieves the graphic quality of Pop art. But his play with layered forms places more emphasis on interpretation. Through the theatrics of the figures’ positioning—where the focal point is the children’s three nearly identical coifs and, to a lesser extent, the patterns of the women’s dresses—Gnoli seems to draw attention to the newfound importance of self-image among the social elite born in the wake of the postwar Italian economic miracle. His style relishes the sheen of materialism even as it warns of the ensuing homogenization.