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Giovanni Segantini
The angel of life (Christian goddess)

1894
Oil on canvas and traces of gold powder, cm 276 x 217

This impressive canvas was supposedly commissioned in 1891 or shortly earlier by the banker Leopoldo Albini, together with the Pagan goddess (1894-97). The two paintings were meant to form a diptych on the subject of the woman, seen as Christian and mystical mother in this painting, and as worldly and lusty vision in the other one. Leopoldo Albini (Milan, 1850-1918), son of Luigi and Gerolama Mantegazza, was a famous stockbroker; he probably allocated the two masterpieces to his home in via Borgonuovo 2; later he lent them to Segantini's exhibition at the Sforza Castle in 1894. He eventually gave the canvas by bequest to the Modern Art Gallery in 1918.
Segantini was likely inspired by the Nordic subject of Madonna zum dürren Baum, the tree on which the Virgin sits symbolizing the Passion on Christ with its bare and thorny limbs.
The two figures appear as idealised portraits of Baba, the nanny, and Gottardo, the artist's son. A circle of angels was meant to the be added to the picture, but was eventually discarded by Segatini, who talks about it in a letter written on 21 May 1891.
The Virgin's pose recalls some medieval Enthroned Madonnas, due to Pre-Raphaelite artists who brought back those kind of motif. The landscape is fully Symbolist and inspired by Japanes engravings.
The painting got exposed with great success both in Italy and abroad, starting with the 1894 exhibition, organized by Alberto Grubicy, and the Annual Secessionist Exhibition, in Munich, 1895.
The golden frame was probably designed by the artist himself. He also painted some smaller versions: an oil and gouache on paper (Szépmüvészeti Mùzeum, Budapest) and two drawings (Segantini Museum, Saint-Moritz).