GIULIO CESARE ANDREA “JULIUS” EVOLA
1898 (May 19): Giulio Cesare Andrea (mainly known as Jules or Julius for most of his life) was born in Rome, Italy.
1914: Evola met Giovanni Papini, who in turn introduced him to the founder of the Futurist movement Filippo Tommaso Marinetti.
1915: Evola began painting. His Sensorial Idealism period began.
1916: Tristan Tzara, Hugo Ball and others created the Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich.
1918: Upon returning from WWI, Evola had a spiritual crisis and contemplated suicide. Reading the early Buddhist text titled Majjhimanikàjo helped him recover temporarily.
1919: Evola exhibited his Futurist works at the Grand National Futurist Exhibition.
1920: Evola adhered to the Dadaist movement and corresponded with Tristan Tzara.
1920: His adherence to Dada was the beginning of his Mystic Abstract period. Interior Landscape, 10:30 and Abstraction belong to this period.
1920 (January): The first exhibition focusing solely on Evola’s paintings took place at the Bragaglia Art House.
1920: Evola published a pamphlet, Abstract Art, in the Collection Dada series.
1921 (January): Evola’s first exhibition abroad, at Berlin’s Der Sturm Art Gallery
1921 (May 9): Evola’s art was exhibited at the Grotte dell’Augusteo in Rome.
1923: More fascinated by philosophy and mysticism, Evola abandoned painting altogether.
1925: Evola’s Philosophical Period began.
1925: Evola published Essays on Magical Idealism.
1934: Evola published Revolt Against the Modern World.
1945: In Vienna, Evola was hit by shrapnel during a Russian bombing and remained paralyzed from the waist down.
1958: Evola’s book Metaphysics of Sex was published, and Evola began painting again, this time on themes connected to sex and women.
1963: Art historian Enrico Crispolti organised a retrospective of Evola’s work at La Medusa gallery in Roma.
1974 (June 11): Evola died in Rome, in his home (197, Corso Vittorio Emanuele).
Giulio Cesare Andrea Evola (1898-1974), [Image at right] known to most as Julius Evola, was an occultist, philosopher, expert on Eastern religions and political thinker, who characterised Italian conservative thought throughout the twentieth century. Born into a Catholic family, son of Sicilian parents. Vincenzo Evola (1854-1944) and Concetta Mangiapane (1865-1956), Evola seems to have opposed Christian religion since his early teenage years, when he discovered the writings of Otto Weininger (1880-1903) and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). In his own words, he “spent entire days in [his] library, in a dense but free reading regime” (Evola 1963:5).
By going through a process of de-gentrification, through the Florentine avant-garde movement, Evola discovered Giovanni Papini (1881-1956), author, poet and editor of several journals, which attempted to defy the Italian status-quo at the beginning of the century. It is through journals such as Leonardo (established in 1903) and the Futurist Lacerba (1913), both edited by Papini, that Evola first encountered two milieus which would heavily characterise his early years: art and occultism (Giudice 2016:115-22). Through Papini, Evola was introduced to the founder of Futurism, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944), and to Futurist painter Giacomo Balla (1871-1958), who in turn encouraged the young Evola to begin his artistic career as a painter. Evola’s first steps in the world of fine arts, then, may safely be dated to 1915, under the tutelage of two of the greatest representatives of the Futurist movement (A.M. 1920:3).
Evola’s involvement with the occult establishment in Rome was also very precocious. His first encounter with members of that milieu can be found in his collaboration with the Theosophical journal Ultra (established in 1907); his speeches at the Lega Teosofica Indipendente (Independent Theosophical League), an Italian splinter group of the Theosophical Society; and his friendship with the editor of Ultra and future member of Italian parliament, Decio Calvari (1863-1937). Evola remembered Calvari as a “personality of real value” who would introduce him to “the first notions of Tantrism” (Rossi 1994:44).
Evola’s deep interest in spirituality began in 1917-1918, when, having returned from World War One, he faced a spiritual crisis so profound that he contemplated the idea of suicide. Evola recovered from this crisis between the end of 1919 and the beginning of 1920, after having read a passage of an early Buddhist text, which he refers to as Majjhimanikàjo, obviously alluding to the Majjhima Nikaya (III c. BCE – II c. BCE). The passage in question reads: “He who, accepts death as death, and having accepted death as death, thinks about death, and thinks ‘Mine is Death’ and rejoices, he, I say, does not know death” (Batchelor 1996:12).
Evola’s brief painting career may be divided into two precise periods, the first one beginning just before leaving for the war in 1915 and ending with the overcoming of his spiritual crisis in 1920. This first period, which Evola himself called Idealismo Sensoriale (Sensorial Idealism), was marked by the Idealism propounded by journals such as Leonardo and by the pictorial techniques of Futurist painters such as Balla and Arnaldo Ginna (1890-1982), author of the Futurist Cinema Manifesto and member of the Theosophical Society (Ginna:1916).
Sensorial Idealism, according to art curator Enrico Crispolti, “represented the need for something more solid [than earlier Futurist painting] of a more precise aesthetics as well as a more synthetic technique, fresher and less chaotic” (Crispolti 1998:23). That Evola was interested in a more spiritual approach to painting may already be noticed in one of his 1917 articles dealing with art, “Ouverture alla Pittura della Forma Nuova” (Oeverture to the Painting of the New Form), in which the author argued for a necessity to reach a new spirituality unattainable by Futurism (Lista 1984:142). Spirituality, even in the Futurist period of Sensorial Idealism, was thus very prominent in Evola’s artwork: “The form is called spiritual in that it does not imply an intellectual representation of the object, nor the transcendental interpretation of the object […], rather, it is something absolutely foreign to the object, which is locked deep down within us” (Lista 1984:142).
The spiritual dimension of Evola’s Futurist period was attested to by Ginna, who remembered the exchange of books between himself and Evola in the following passage: “Evola, like me, was interested in occultism, reaching, according to his own inclination, his own conclusions. I do not know how to precisely define Evola’s studies and experiences, I only know that each of us held in our hands Theosophical books by Besant and Blavatsky and, later on, the Anthroposophical works of Rudolf Steiner” (Ginna 1984:136).
Of this period, Evola’s most characteristic paintings are without a doubt Fucina, Studio di Rumori (Forge, a Study on Noises, ca. 1917), Five o’clock tea (ca. 1918), [Image at right] and Mazzo di Fiori (Bouquet of Flowers, 1918). In 1919, Evola was invited to showcase his artwork at the Grand National Futurist Exhibition. There, the ideas derived from Sensorial Idealism were clearly manifested:
The paintings relating to Evola’s first phase of his research […] manifest, though a notable inclination towards a synthetic intention, an attention towards a dynamic ‘sensorial’ exaltation, still strongly conditioned by certain eventual correspondences rather than by an evocative-representative urge or by an abstract analogical resolution.
In his “Ouverture,” Evola wrote: “New form = spiritual form exclusively – greatest synthesis = beauty of the individual against the beauty of nature = architecture of thought. With regards to technique = abolition of flatness (decorative) + dynamic volumes of the three dimensions with lines that represent forces only” (Lista 1984:143).
At the end of 1919, Evola discovered the work of Tristan Tzara (1896-1963) and wrote his first letter to the Romanian artist, adhering to the Dadaist Manifesto Tzara had written in 1918. His wholehearted embrace of Dadaism signals at once the abandonment of the Futurist milieu and the need for a new expressive medium that only Dada could seem to provide Evola with. As art historian Federica Franci rightly pointed out, “while pre-war avant-gardes had a direct link to the art of the past (the expressionists with Van Gogh, the cubists with Cézanne, the futurists with Divisionism and Neo-impressionism), only the Dadaists drastically severed every bond with art’s old paradigms” (Iannello-Franci 2011:45).
His correspondence with Tzara began with a letter dated October 7, 1919, from which the reader can glean the florid condition of the vibrant Italian avant-garde scene, and the blossoming of a collaboration between the Italian and the Swiss/French avant-garde: “I am creating a Modern Art Journal in Rome (Govoni, Marinetti, Onofri, d’Alba, Folgore, Casella, Prampolini, Tirwhytt, Depero etc.). If it were possible to get in touch, as I wish, I would be most happy to ask you to be the first collaborator and to make this journal a source of Dadaist propaganda in Italy” (Valento 1991:16). 1920 was Evola’s annus mirabilis with regards to his artistic career. His “mystical abstract” period can be said to begin in this year, which was marked by two important events in Evola’s life: his first personal exhibition at the Bragaglia Art House in January, and the publication of his short essay Arte Astratta (Abstract Art) in the prestigious Collection Dada series. In a letter dated February 21, 1920, it is Evola himself who certifies the beginning of his mystical abstract period, writing to Tzara: “I have exhibited some Dadaist paintings in Rome” (Valento 1991:21).
In Arte Astratta, Evola’s spiritual tension, which was creating a gulf between him and his Futurist colleagues such as Balla, Marinetti and Enrico Prampolini (1894-1956), was analysed even more deeply than before. “Modern art will fall soon,” Evola concluded at the end of his essay, “and this will be the sign of its purity. It will fall, moreover, because it has been created with a method from the outside / because of a gradual elevation of sickness over partly passionate reasons / rather than from the inside / mystically.” Evola’s idea of art in this important essay is that of the artist’s work as a tiny fragment of light in a world of darkness:
Abstract art may never be historically eternal and universal: this, a priori – PLOTINUS, ECKHART, MAETERLINK, NOVALIS, RUYSBROEK, SVEDEMBORG [sic], TZARA, RIMBALD [sic]… all of this is but a brief, rare and insecure lightning through the great death, the great nocturn reality of corruption and disease. In a similar way, it is the rarity of unspeakable gems among the enormous muddy [G]anges (Evola 1920:14).
The spiritual nature of Evola’s abstract paintings may be gleaned by the titles of his works of the period going from 1919 to 1921: Paesaggio Interiore, [Image at right] IIlluminazione (Interior Landscape, Illumination), 1919-1920; Paesaggio Interiore: Apertura del Diaframma (Interior Landscape: Opening of the Diaphragm) of 1920-1921; Paesaggio Interiore, Ore 3 (Interior Landscape, Three o’Clock), 1920-1921; La Fibra si Infiamma e le Piramidi (The Fibre Inflames Itself and The Pyramids), 1920-1921; La Parola Oscura (The Obscure Word), 1921. Evola exhibited fifty-six works at another event at the Bragaglia Art House in 1921, alongside fellow artists Aldo Fiozzi (1894-1941) and Gino Cantarelli (1899-1950). He then showed sixty of his paintings at Berlin’s Der Sturm gallery. During the first of these events, Evola also read some Dadaist compositions he had written about the subject of what being a Dadaist artist meant to him: “Instead of simplicity, he chooses fiction; against passion, a whim; against the idol, himself, infinite and unspeakable nothingness […]. He lives only to deny and destroy and has no other function, because of his suffering in living. This is Dada” (Valento 1991:40)
However, Evola’s suffering, his spiritual crisis, which had plagued him from the end of the Great War, did not abandon him. In a letter dated July 2, 1921, the Roman painter wrote to Tzara:
I live in a state of constant tiredness, in a state of still stupor, in which all activities or desires are frozen. It is terribly Dada. Every action disgusts me: even having feelings I see as a malady, and I only have the terror of passing the time in front of me, of which I don’t know what to do with […] Such a state of mind, even though with different intensity, already existed within me: like in a show: I mean to say, there was someone on the outside looking, and he took notes on this strange occurrence: hence my art and my Dadaist philosophy. Nowadays, I realise that there is nobody left in the theatre, that everything is useless and ridiculous, that every expression is a disease (Valento 1991:40-1).
At the age of twenty-three, in 1921, Evola decided to end his career as a painter to try and solve the problems of his soul through a more spiritual approach.
The first book to be published by Evola after his crisis was Saggi sull’Idealismo Magico (Essays on Magical Idealism 1925), which contained an appendix dedicated to art entitled “Sul Significato dell’Arte Modernissima” (On the Meaning of Hyper-Modern Art). In it, Evola still seems to follow the developments in the contemporary art world and has his personal criticism towards abstract art in general, and Futurism and Dadaism in particular. Conscious that the subject matter would be alien to most who would buy a text on magical idealism, Evola used terms that are at once more understandable and immediate for both the art connoisseur and the profane. It is very hard to give an idea of the spiritual state, which corresponds to the latest works of abstract art,” he wrote,
as is to have a possibility to not only penetrate and live them in any way, but also to just realise their value, if one is not very familiar with the technique of ‘pure art’, and if one doesn’t have within him already a certain stage of extremely interior and rarefied consciousness, to which the author has arrived (since only like may understand like). He who, not being equipped with these conditions, approached abstract art as he would approach for example [the art] of a Shelley or a Beethoven, would not find but an incoherent and incomprehensible whole, and therefore would be disgusted and shocked by the very possibility of such manifestations (Evola 1925:193-194).
In other words, arte modernissima was closely linked to spiritual development, the lack of which would keep the viewer outside of the artist’s realm.
For the following thirty years, Evola wrote about esotericism and politics, and did not devote any special attention to art. More than thirty years after Essays on Magical Idealism, however, Evola published his Metafisica del Sesso (Metapysics of Sex 1958), a text with wide-ranging topics such as sex and inhibition in the bourgeois modern world; sexual techniques in initiatory contexts; and the sexual role of woman as initiator of spiritual awakening. Evola, enthused by the subject matter of his book, began painting again: a third period, entirely dedicated to women and womanhood. Written in a historical period when feminist battles for women’s rights were on the rise in Italy, Metaphysics focused instead on the transcendent sacralisation of sex. His then publisher, Vanni Scheiwiller (1934-1999), helped organise an exhibition of Evola’s paintings at the prestigious Medusa gallery in Piazza di Spagna, Rome. Enrico Crispolti was the curator of the event, which Scheiwiller described as “a success: everything sold out” (Scheiwiller 1998:17). Of this later period in life are the Nudo di Donna (Afroditico) (Female Nude, Aphroditic, 1960-1970), Cosmos (1965-1970), and the most famous painting of the period, La Generatrice dell’Universo (The Generatrix of the Universe, 1968-1970). [Image at right]
Julius Evola died in his home in 1974 at age seventy-six.
Image #1: Julius Evola at the Casa d’Arte Bragaglia, 1921.
Image #2: Julius Evola, Fucina, Studio di Rumori, 1917-1918.
Image #3: Julius Evola, Paesaggio Interiore, Apertura del Diaframma, 1920-1921.
Image #4: Julius Evola, La Genitrice dell’Universo, 1968-1970.
A.M. 1920. “Il Pittore Futurista J. Evola.” Roma Futurista 3:3.
Batchelor, Stephen. 1996. “Existence, Enlightenment, and Suicide: The Dilemma of Nanavira Thera.” The Buddhist Forum 4:9-33.
Carli, Carlo Fabrizio. 1998. “Evola, la Pittura e l’Alchimia: Un Tracciato.” Pp. 49-60 in Julius Evola e l’Arte delle Avanguardie, tra Futurismo, Dada e Alchimia. Rome: Fondazione Julius Evola.
Crispolti, Enrico. 1998. “Evola Pittore. Tra Futurismo e Dadaismo.” Pp. 19-31 in Julius Evola e l’Arte delle Avanguardie, tra Futurismo, Dada e Alchimia. Rome: Fondazione Julius Evola.
Evola, Julius. 1963. Il Cammino del Cinabro. Rome: Scheiwiller.
Evola, Julius. 1958. Metafisica del Sesso. Rome: Atanòr.
Evola, Julius. 1934. Rivolta contro il Mondo Moderno. Milan: Hoepli.
Evola, Julius. 1925. “Sull’Arte Modernissima.” Pp. 139-52 in Saggi sull’Idealismo Magico. Rome and Todi: Atan òr.
Evola, Julius. 1920. Arte Astratta: Posizione Teorica. Rome: Maglione e Strini.
Ginna, Arnaldo. 1984. “Brevi Note sull’Evola nel Tempo Futurista.” Pp. 135-37 in Testimonianze su Evola, edited by Gianfranco De Turris. Rome: Mediterranee.
Ginna, Arnaldo. 1916. “Il Cinema Futurista.” L’Italia Futurista 9:2-4.
Giudice, Christian. 2016. Occultism and Traditionalism: Arturo Reghini and the Antimodern Reaction in Early Twentieth Century Italy. Göteborg: Göteborgs Universitet.
Iannello, Andrea A., and Federica Franci. 2011 Evola Dadaista: Dada non Significa Nulla. Caserta: Giuseppe Vozza Editore.
Lista, Giovanni. 1984. Balla le Futuriste. Lausanne: L’Age d’Homme.
Marinetti, Filippo Tommaso. 1909. “Le Futurisme.” Le Figaro, February 20, p. 1.
Nanamoli, Bikkhu and Bodhi Bikkhu, trans. 1995. The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha: A Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya. Somerville: Wisdom Publications.
Rossi, Marco. 1994. “Julius Evola e la Lega Teosofica Indipendente.” Storia Contemporanea 25: 39-56.
Valento, Elisabetta. 1994. Homo Faber: Julius Evola tra Arte e Alchimia. Rome: Fondazione Julius Evola.
Valento, Elisabetta, ed. 1991. Lettere di Julius Evola a Tristan Tzara (1919-1923). Rome: Fondazione Julius Evola.
15 March 2017