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The Soothsayer's Recompense

Giorgio de Chirico, Italian (born Greece), 1888 - 1978

Made in France, Europe


Oil on canvas

53 3/8 × 70 7/8 inches (135.6 × 180 cm)

© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

* Gallery 269, Modern and Contemporary Art, second floor

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950

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This painting is one of a series of melancholic cityscapes that de Chirico painted featuring a lone statue in a deserted Italian piazza. The antique statue represents the sleeping Ariadne, who according to Greek mythology was abandoned by her lover on the desert island of Naxos. The confrontation of the classical world with a modern steam engine in the distance creates an uneasy ambiguity of time and space.

Additional information:
  • PublicationMasterpieces from the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Impressionism and Modern Art

    The Soothsayer's Recompense belongs to a series of melancholy cityscapes that Giorgio de Chirico painted shortly before World War I. In these enigmatic images of deserted piazzas hemmed in by arcaded buildings, the artist used exaggerated perspective and a clear, sharp realism to create a troubling, dreamlike atmosphere. Here, an antique statue stands within a deeply shadowed and eerily silent city square, its mysterious empty spaces suffused with a sense of loneliness and foreboding. The statue represents the sleeping Ariadne, who in Greek mythology was abandoned by her lover Theseus on the island of Naxos. De Chirico juxtaposed the classical statue with the puffing steam engine behind it to create a disturbingly ambiguous sense of time and place in which the ancient and modern worlds collide. The pictorial space is neatly bisected by an imposing railway station and a wall that stretches across the piazza, giving the work a stagelike quality. The sandy foreground is the realm of immobility and quiet, while the area beyond the low brick wall suggests movement and activity as the locomotive runs along the horizon, sending a billowing cloud of smoke in its wake. Michael R. Taylor, from Masterpieces from the Philadelphia Museum of Art: Impressionism and Modern Art (2007), p. 176.
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    Giorgio de Chirico embraced enigma as the central theme in his painting and writing. To this end, he collided styles and imagery from the past and present, fusing them into an art of evocative ambiguity. In The Soothsayer's Recompense, he employed a precise painting style and linear perspective, familiar since the Renaissance as means of representing three-dimensional space. But rather than promoting legibility, here these devices are subverted, serving instead as instruments of poetic and philosophical suggestion. The tower, colonnades, and smokestack (which could belong to either a train or a factory) are frequent props in the artist's dream worlds. While together they evoke the melancholy that De Chirico associated with northern Italian cities, each refers to a different epoch--medieval, Renaissance, and industrial, respectively--thereby defying a stable location in time or place. The classical statue of Ariadne, darkened by a long shadow that dominates the foreground, underscores this melancholy, for she was the Greek princess deserted by Theseus after helping him to escape the Labyrinth. John B. Ravenal, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 309.

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