François de Nomé’s Imaginary Ruins
These baroque paintings, with their theatrical chiaroscuro, saturated colors, and love of columns of every kind, were forerunners of the fantastic architecture depicted in Piranesi’s capricci — though for us they perhaps more immediately bring to mind the work of surrealists and futurists such as De Chirico, Dalí, and Ernst.
Nomé’s visions of imaginary cities and ruins, though exceptional, are not without counterparts in the Naples of his day. The paintings of Didier Barra (also born in Metz and with whom Nomé shared a studio in Naples) are similar enough that, up until the twentieth century, both his and Nomé’s work was attributed to a mysterious man named Monsù Desiderio.
There’s no question Nomé’s paintings bear comparison with Barra’s, especially in their fascination with perspective and their use of color. But nothing ever quite matches the menace of Nomé’s skies or the extravagance of his scenes. His paintings of Atlantis, the burning of Troy, and assorted Roman rubble demonstrate a real talent for discovering beauty in disaster — and a real love for dreaming up ever more elaborate architecture.
January 16, 2020
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