The Song of Love (1914) by Giorgio de Chirico
Meaning of Symbolist Urban Landscape Painting

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The Song of Love
By Giorgio de Chirico.
Regarded as one of the
great 20th century paintings.

The Song of Love (1914)


Analysis of The Song of Love
Other Modernist Paintings Explained


Name: The Song of Love (1914)
Artist: Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978)
Medium: Oil painting on canvas
Genre: Surrealist-style urban landscape
Movement: Metaphysical painting
Location: Museum of Modern Art, New York

For an interpretation of other pictures from the 19th and 20th centuries, see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).

For analysis of works by
symbolist painters like
Giorgio de Chirico, see:
How to Appreciate Paintings.


An important contributor to modern art, the Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico is associated with both Symbolism and Classicism, but he is probably most famous for developing a particular style known as "Metaphysical painting" (c.1913-20) - which also attracted modern artists like Carlo Carra (1881-1966) and Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964). This so-called "pittura metafisica" was marked by the use of imagery based on classical Renaissance architecture and Greek sculpture, to create a mysterious and slightly unsettling atmosphere. This was enhanced by the inclusion of several symbolic objects, often with autobiographical meanings or classical references. De Chirico's early paintings - including The Song of Love (1914), The Uncertainty of the Poet (1913) and The Mystery and Melancholy of a Street (1914, Private Collection) - were revered by Surrealist artists for their dreamlike qualities, and for their emphasis on the poetic quality of objects. Important influences on de Chirico included: his love of Greek art, obtained from his childhood in Greece; and the symbolist painting of Arnold Bocklin (1827-1901) and Max Klinger (1857-1920) which he encountered during his studies at the Munich Academy.



Analysis of The Song of Love by Giorgio de Chirico

The Song of Love ("Le chant d'amour" or "Love Song"), with its mysterious and incongruous combination of a classical head, a rubber glove and a ball, was typical of those metaphysical works by de Chirico that so appealed to the Surrealism movement. When, for example, the Belgian artist Rene Magritte first saw a reproduction of it in the early 1920s, he could not stop tears coming to his eyes: to see thought for the first time, he later said, was one of the most emotional moments in his life (Le Patriote Illustre, 2 April 1967).

Influenced by contemporary psychology, and in particular by the idea of a stream of consciousness, the Surrealists held that, at an unconstrained or almost unconscious level, thought consisted of jumbled images and impulses; and they believed that de Chirico's early work showed him to be in touch with these lower layers of the mind, the source of verbal and visual poetry. (See also: Automatism in art: c.1925-52.)

De Chirico, however, had a different view of his work. He talked of the importance of dreams, of a mentality of childlike innocence, and of the need to avoid logic in the creation of beautiful images; but his focus was less on his own thoughts and psychology than on revealing the strangeness of the world. In manuscripts of this period he described the experience of seeing the world as "an immense museum of curiousness, full of odd toys", of grasping the enigma of seemingly insignificant things. The art of the future, he wrote, should:

"express sensations hitherto unknown; strip art of routine, rule, and tendency towards aesthetic subjects or synthesis; expunge man as a point of reference, as a means of expressing a symbol, a sensation or a thought; be liberated once and for all from the anthropomorphism that shackles sculpture. See everything, even man, as a thing. This is the Nietzschean method. Applied to painting, it might produce extraordinary results. This is what I try to demonstrate in my pictures." (Il Meccanismo del Pensiero)

In Song of Love de Chirico carried the idea of stripping art of convention and logic to its limits: there is no known reason for the juxtaposition of the objects in this painting, and although the works of man are present everywhere, man himself is strangely absent. The head of the Apollo, absurdly placed next to a rubber glove, was copied from a book on the sculpture of Ancient Greece by the French archeologist Salomon Reinach. As so often with de Chirico, this painting contains a number of private references. The train alludes to his childhood, and the arcades to the architecture of Italian towns; the glove alludes to a particular painting by Titian that de Chirico admired, and also anticipates the pointing 'hand of fate' found in the artist's later so-called 'alchemical' works; the ball can be read as a symbol of perfection; while the inclusion of the classical head suggests an allusion to the themes of poetry and clairvoyance symbolised by the god Apollo.

The painting was first shown in New York in 1914, and again at the Gallery of Paul Guillaume in Paris in 1922 in an exhibition which established the importance of de Chirico's metaphysical works in the eyes of a French post-war audience, and helped to poularize the classical revival in modern art.

Other Modernist Paintings Explained

The Sleeping Gypsy (1897) by Henri Rousseau.
MOMA, New York.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907) by Picasso
Museum of Modern Art, New York.

The Dream (1910) by Henri Rousseau.
MOMA, New York.

Portrait of Jeanne Hebuterne (1918) by Modigliani
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

The Green Blouse (1919) by Pierre Bonnard
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

The Mechanic (1920) by Fernand Leger
National Gallery of Canada, Ottowa.


• For the meaning of other symbolist pictures, see: Homepage.

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