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Il contadino pittore

The peasant painter


Jean-François Millet was born in 1814 the son of peasants but not, as in the case of other painters, from proprietary and wealthy peasants, but from the poorest category of the social scale.

In order to give him a better future, his parents entrusted him to private tutors who took care of him or sent him to study.

The initiative was successful and little François even went to study in Paris at the prestigious Academy of Fine Arts.

Millet, however, did not prove ungrateful, as he never missed the opportunity to go home to be a farmer and help his parents in the hard work of the fields.

He adapted himself to paint portraits, historical-mythological and erotic-gallant paintings that were those required by the "market", we would say today, to have the opportunity to paint what really mattered to him: peasant life.

The choice of these themes, as the subject of paintings, can really be defined against the current, because no one did it. The public found these pictures trivial and out of place.

With perseverance Millet, however, was right and his poetics influenced the elite of the time, not only in painting with Pissaro, Gauguin, Van Gogh who copied many of his works and the Italian Segantini, but also in literature with Victor Hugo who was inspired by his paintings.

Although they attacked him with the label of "social denunciation", Millet's intent was not political, but heroic: he wanted to instill dignity and value in a condition considered inferior, describing with emotional participation the work in the fields in all its forms since dawn at sunset.

And it is sunset in this image, which portrays the moment of the Angelus.

The Angelus is a Catholic prayer that is recited in three moments of the day: at dawn, at noon and at sunset.

They are three short texts interspersed with the Ave Maria and take their name from the first words of the prayer: "Angelus domini nuntiavit Mariae".

A moment that Segantini will also resume with his suggestive idea.

It is the end of the day, tired from a whole day of work, before returning home, we give thanks to Mary and participate in the mystery of the incarnation of God.

Millet creates a skilful play of light between the sky, the grazing light of the sunset and the two figures intent on praying, leading us, the spectators of the scene, to reflect on this aspect of existence.

Andrea Giuseppe Fadini


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