500 years after the glories of the Renaissance a new art movement burst forth in Italy to dazzle the west. It was exalted and explained by the poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, who published its manifesto in the Paris daily Figaro on 20 February 1909.
The Futurists were conventionally trained painters, sculptors, poets and composers who found themselves growing up in the climate of rapid social change in a new century in an old agrarian country, on the threshold of industrialisation and upheaval, and on the eve of world war one. With pitiless optimism they meant to explode tired habits and ancient form in a history-steeped country. They worshipped the machine, artificial light and fast motion, they were enamoured of speedy transport, city clamour and bustle and noise, above all gaily dynamic drive. Marinetti declared that a sleek new racing car was just as beautiful as the marble Winged Victory of Samothrace from ancient Greece, Giacomo Balla painted an electric street lamp raying out in myriad slivers of light, outshining the tired old moon.
In Futurist painting the picture plane is agitated by bold lashes and streaks of paint, by jagged shapes marching sideways or snaking around a vortex, all in the flush of vivid primary colour. The repeats make a fabric of flickering wedges, accented here by a stencilled number, there by another oddity as exclamation point, and often crisscrossing force lines signifying dynamics as well. Scintillating movement pressed on flat static ground is its main feature.
Of course like any other new art form, however rebellious, Futurism did not just spring from Zeus