Painter and sculptor Aligi Sassu was born in Milan on 17 July 1912.

By Jean Marie Carey

Painter and sculptor Aligi Sassuwas born in Milan on 17 July 1912.

His parents, Antonio Sassu and Lina Pedretti, were founders of the post-war Italian Socialist Party, and the family was constantly on the move until 1920 when they settled once again in Milan.

Sassu became interested in painting during this newfound stability, making intensive studies of work by Diego Velázquez, Eugène Delacroix, and Vincent van Gogh. Though his formal academic training was repeatedly interrupted by financial difficulties, Sassu gained experience in printmaking and paint application through occasional work at a lithography studio and as a decorator’s assistant.

With a friend, Bruno Munari(1907-1998), Sassu wrote il manifesto della pittura Dinamismo e riforma muscolare in 1928, declaring an interest in the anti-naturalism of the early avant-gardes; this document remained unpublished until 1977. Such activity led to a meeting with Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944) and ideas about the melding of politics and painting.

Returning to both socialism and Delacroix for inspiration, around 1930 Sassu began using what would become his signature motif – the color red and the horse – in his paintings and metalwork sculptures. In 1935, he established the Gruppo Rosso and joined the anti-facist cultural movement Corrente di Vita in 1938.

Following another period of travel and upheaval during the Spanish Civil War and World War II, Sassu moved to Spain, returning to Italy for commission work in Pescara and Bergamo. Keeping the horse as an important thematic element, in the 1980s Sassu began to draw from literary sources to produce monumental-size paintings and mosaics referencing mythology, Boccaccio, and Dante. He also continued to make the horse as a figurative subject the focus of much of his painting work which forms something of a continuing series.

I Miti de Mediterraneo (The Myths of the Mediterranean), a 150-square meter mural of ceramic tiles, was completed in 1993 and installed at the then-new European Parliament building in Brussels. Sassu died on his birthday on 17 July 2000.


Cavalli Innamorati, 1998. The sculpture is located in the Legnano, Italy, town center. Photo by Mænsard Vokser, 2016.

Quattro cavalli, 1987, copyright © 2008 Archivio aligi Sassu.

Cavallo e marina, 1964, copyright © 2008 Archivio Aligi Sassu.

Cavalli di spuma, 1972, copyright © 2008 Archivio Aligi Sassu.

I Miti de Mediterraneo (The Myths of the Mediterranean), 1993, ceramic tile mural at the European Parliament building, Brussels, Belgium.

Reference: Matthew Gale. “Sassu, Aligi.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, .

Further Reading: 

Daniela Brignone. Aligi Sassu. Dipinti 1929-1997. Milan: Cairo Publishing, 2010. 

Archivio Aligi Sassu

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