Art History Lab

Giorgio de Chirico: A Surrealist Pioneer and Architectural Visionary

Giorgio de Chirico: An Enigma of the Art World

It is difficult to discuss the art world without mentioning the Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico. Born in Volos, Greece, in 1888, and raised in Athens, his parents imbued in him a love of Greek mythology that would later be reflected in his art.

De Chirico was known for his unique style that blended surrealist and metaphysical ideas, creating artworks that remain a point of discussion to this day. This article delves into the life and works of Giorgio de Chirico to provide a broader understanding of his impact on the art world.


Growing up in Greece, de Chirico had a melancholic disposition that would later be mirrored in his art. The influence of Greek mythology can be seen in his earlier works.

He often depicted figures from mythology and infused his art with an eerie quality that captured the enigmatic nature of ancient mythologies.

Early Training

De Chirico studied in Athens and later in Munich, where he was introduced to Symbolist artists such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Otto Weininger. It was in Rome, where he settled in 1909, that he began to develop his unique style.

His early training is evident in his works, with the influence of Nietzsche seen in his exploration of the concept of the eternal return, while Weininger’s philosophy influenced the symbolism present in his early works.

Mature Period

De Chirico’s artwork during his mature period is characterized by his Metaphysical Town Square series. These pieces portrayed empty town squares, devoid of people, which created feelings of mystery.

Some notable works from this period include The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon and Gare Montparnasse (The Melancholy of Departure). De Chirico’s work during this period was heavily influenced by recollection and grief, which he imbued in his paintings to evoke emotions in his audience.

In his series, de Chirico explored the concept of architecture, creating surreal landscapes that played with perspectives and dimensions. Ferrara, in Italy, was a particular source of inspiration for de Chirico, with the city’s old architecture inspiring his works.

In his paintings, Ferrara’s buildings were transformed into mythic structures, lending them an otherworldly aura. Additionally, during this period, de Chirico incorporated mannequins in his artwork, which he used as symbols of decay and lifelessness.

Late Period

During his late period, de Chirico adopted a more classical style, drawing inspiration from artists such as Titian, who was popular during the Baroque and Renaissance periods. De Chirico’s artwork changed to incorporate various mediums, including sculptures and theatrical sets, which he viewed as more challenging than painting.

Giorgio de Chirico’s Paintings

The Enigma of an Autumn Afternoon (1910)

This painting is one of de Chirico’s most notable Metaphysical Town Square pieces. In it, he created an empty town square, devoid of people or movement, only still, static buildings.

The piece is haunting with the riddle it leaves the viewer to solve, leaving one to consider the duality of the real and the unreal. The Child’s Brain (1914)

The Child’s Brain, while influenced by de Chirico’s contemporaries in the Surrealist movement, was still able to stand on its own.

It captured the dreamlike quality of the surreal while incorporating psychoanalytic readings that further added depth to this work.

Gare Montparnasse (The Melancholy of Departure) (1914)

With this piece, de Chirico explores the themes of urban alienation and trains, evoking feelings of isolation and longing. The trains, absent any human presence, further illustrate the idea of people burdened by a city and yearning for escape.

The Disquieting Muses (1916)

A significant number of de Chirico’s paintings used references from Greek mythology, and The Disquieting Muses was no exception. Here, the painter uses the nine Muses of Greek myth as inspiration, fusing them with elements of his hometown, Ferrara.

The painting is haunting, creating an air of mystery that draws the audience in.

Great Metaphysical Interior (1917)

De Chirico used an image of a chaotic room in Great Metaphysical Interior, which is often interpreted as a reflection of his troubled digestive system. Like much of de Chirico’s early works, it also explored architecture and its ability to elicit emotions from the viewer.

Giorgio De Chirico’s Self-Portrait (1922)

In this painting, de Chirico brings the artist and the artwork together, creating a self-portrait that was a departure from his previous works. This period saw him veer away from abstraction and return to figurative painting.


Giorgio de Chirico may be an enigmatic figure in the art world, but his works continue to command attention and spark debates. This brief overview of his life and some of his notable works reveals an artist who wasn’t afraid to push boundaries and create art that spoke to the viewer’s emotions and intellect.

His impact on the art world can be seen in the works of artists who claimed him as an inspiration, such as Ren Magritte and Salvador Dal. De Chirico’s influence only continues to grow, ensuring his place in art history as an icon for generations to come.


Giorgio de Chirico’s art and style continue to influence many in the art world today. The impact of his surrealism and metaphysical concepts, as well as his use of architecture in his artwork, has inspired many artists and architects.

His legacy stems from his unique vision of the world and the emotions it evokes in his audience.

Influence on Surrealists

Giorgio de Chirico’s influence on the Surrealist movement was profound. The founder of the movement, Andr Breton, viewed de Chirico’s work as modern contemporary mythology, which was instrumental in inspiring the Surrealists to explore the subconscious and the fantastic.

Despite some tensions between the groups, de Chirico’s influence on Surrealism was undeniable, with his works inspiring many notable artists such as Salvador Dali and Max Ernst. However, de Chirico later rejected the movement, deriding it as “leaders of modernistic idiocy.” He felt that the movement had gone astray from its initial intentions, and its members had failed to understand his philosophical ideas.

Architectural Influence

De Chirico’s architectural works have had a profound impact on the field of architecture. His ideas regarding urbanization and the visions and designs for future cities continue to inspire architects today.

Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni was one of the many who found inspiration in de Chirico’s architectural ideas. In his film, The Eclipse, Antonioni used an empty piazza reminiscent of de Chirico’s Town Squares to evoke an eerie sense of emptiness.

Even video game developers have looked to de Chirico for inspiration. The game designer behind the PlayStation videogame, Ico, cited that de Chirico’s work inspired the game’s atmosphere.

The game’s setting is a castle in disrepair, and as the player progresses through the castle, they are confronted with visuals reminiscent of de Chirico’s work.


De Chirico’s achievements as an artist and philosopher were many. His works were an attempt to connect with the classical past, invoking tragedy, riddles, and sadness.

His exploration of Greco-Roman classics resonated with people, inspiring discussions about the relevance of these ancient texts in the modern world. One of his significant achievements is his ability to create art that melded his ideas and his craft.

His realistic style was simple yet seductively intriguing, holding his viewers’ attention with superb craftsmanship, even when he explored abstract ideas. De Chirico used the old methods of painting, using glazes and multiple layers to create his distinctive style.

His work was a fusion of his philosophy and craftsmanship. De Chirico’s Artistic Style

De Chirico’s distinct style of art was evident in his early works, which were steeped in his philosophical ideas.

He sought to connect with the world on a more profound level, evoking emotions in his viewers with the simplicity of his images. His works were seductive, with a cutting-edge air that held viewers in awe.

De Chirico’s use of perspective in his works made them stand out. He played with spatial relationships, creating art that was both haunting and intriguing.

His use of architecture in his art cemented his place as a pioneer of the Metaphysical art movement.

Recommended Reading

For those who want to delve deeper into Giorgio de Chirico’s life and work, there is a host of great books to explore. The Memoirs of Giorgio De Chirico (1994) is a self-portrait of the artist, where he chronicles his life and explores his philosophies.

It’s an excellent read for those interested in learning more about the artist’s myth, philosophy, and its social implications. Giorgio de Chirico: The Changing Face of Metaphysical Art (2019) is a comprehensive book that examines de Chirico’s life and works.

The book analyzes his contributions to the art world and provides a unified logic for understanding his artistic output. It situates de Chirico’s work into the context of his times, examining the Nietzschean ideology and visual themes that influenced his art.

Finally, readers can explore the Importance of Travel with the artist in books like Florence, Milan, Turin, and the Fascist Cultural Centers: A Journey through Italian Art and Architecture. This book takes readers on a journey through Italy’s cultural centers where de Chirico sought inspiration.

The journey ends with a visit to Piraeus, the artist’s Greek harbor of origin, which would inspire de Chirico’s later works. In conclusion, Giorgio de Chirico’s impact on the art world remains visible to this day.

His unique style of blending surrealism and metaphysical concepts, combined with his architectural influence, continue to inspire many artists and architects. De Chirico’s contribution was not only limited to the art world but also his philosophy, which explored the relevance of classical past and the subconscious.

His works have had a profound impact and continue to inspire artists in various fields even today. The takeaway is that de Chirico was a visionary artist who was not afraid to experiment with emotions and perspectives, inspiring us all to think out of the box.

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