Paolo Roversi’s exhibition at Ravenna’s MAR Museum, which opened on October 10 and runs until January 10, 2021, reads as a sort of homecoming for the photographer. Roversi was born in this serene Northern Italian city in 1947, amidst its magnificent specimens of late Roman and Byzantine architecture.
“Having such an extensive exhibition here is very emotional for me,” Roversi said at the opening. “Ravenna has always acted as a subtle subconscious influence in my work. Its art, its light, its soft winter fogs. The golden aura of its mosaics; the hieratic posture of religious figures; its spirituality. Once an English art critic said of my images that they were almost like Madonnas,” he continued. “It never occurred to me to see them that way, but actually they reflect a sense of purity, something immaculate and deeply religious.”
Curated by Italian Vogue’s photo editor Chiara Bardelli Nonino, the exhibition is an extensive survey of the photographer’s artistic vision. “Working on his huge archive, what struck me was the timelessness [of his images],” Bardelli Nonino reflected. “Even when he photographs fashion, which is obviously a time-bound phenomenon, his gaze remains somehow above the time frame. He actually refers to his fashion images as portraits.”
The exhibition’s curatorial approach is more experiential than chronological, starting from small-format, personal pictures and then opening up to his famous editorial work. “What I also wanted to underline is the cohesive quality of his vision,” said Bardelli Nonino. “His expressive range is broad, but he has always remained consistently true to himself throughout the years.”
One of the exhibition’s sections is dedicated to Roversi’s muses. Bardelli Nonino expounds: “His muses aren’t passive, idealistic subjects of his eye. They actively participate in creating the image. His gaze doesn’t impose, but reveals.” It’s a peculiar quality which is also highlighted by philosopher Emanuele Coccia in his essay on the exhibition: “Paolo Roversi has turned the studio […] into a unique alchemical theatre that no longer isolates people from the world and gives them a non-typical appearance; instead, it reveals their innermost nature. […] A face is photographed so that its light will never die.”
The spell Roversi’s portraits cast isn’t lost on longtime collaborator Maria Grazia Chiuri, who attended the exhibition’s opening (Christian Dior couture being one of its sponsors). “I adore Paolo’s pictorial approach, his way of referencing Italy’s classical history of art,” she reasoned. “There’s a cultural aspect in his work that I feel close to. His women are extraordinarily elegant and almost mystical figures. His way of representing and approaching female nature is deeply human and respectful, you feel the love and the beauty of his eye upon it. I’m not particularly keen on being photographed by men,” continued Chiuri. “But I accepted to sit for a rather intimate portrait with my daughter Rachele [Regini]. It was a marvelous experience—he makes you feel part of the artistic process, not just a passive, unresponsive recipient of his talent.”