Alberto Burri

Sacco e oro (Sackcloth and Gold)

Burri Sacco E Oro Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezzione Burri 1500 - © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016 © Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri, Città di Castello – by SIAE 2016
  • Alberto Burri
  • Sacco e oro (Sackcloth and Gold)
  • 1953
  • Burlap and gold on canvas
  • 126 x 111 cm
  • Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri - © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016 © Fondazione Palazzo Albizzini Collezione Burri, Città di Castello – by SIAE 2016

Alberto Burri first painted on old burlap sacks in 1944, when he was held as a prisoner of war in the United States. A convenient substitute for canvas – as well as a cheap and durable material for tents, sandbags, and camouflage netting – the sacks’ texture and weave appealed to Burri, and he brought several of them back to Italy upon his release in 1946. Hung on the wall in the form of a relief, these Sacchi (sacks) sag and peel away from their base, their inherent abjection further emphasized by Burri’s inclusion of holes, stains, and seams in the final composition. Bruised, battered, and stitched, the sacks may relate to his earlier role as a physician in the Italian army. 

By focusing on the painting support itself and nearly bypassing the act of painting altogether, works such as Sacco e oro (1953) short-circuited the furious debates concerning realism and abstraction that were occurring within Italy during the postwar period. In this work, Burri’s focus on the physical properties of the painting’s support recalls the use of the canvas weave as a textural element in paintings by Rocco Marconi (1420–1529). Burri’s emphasis on materials is seen again in the traces of gold leaf visible here and there from behind the burlap, recalling the luminous gilded panels of thirteenth-century Italian art. Many have understood this concealing of the gold to allude to Italy’s recent wartime trama, the scars of which are mimicked by the frayed and patched burlap sack.

Damian Lentini

Biography of Alberto Burri

  • Born 1915 in Città di Castello, Italy
  • Died 1995 in Nice, France
Trained as a physician, Alberto Burri began to paint while he was a prisoner of war in Hereford, Texas during World War II. Upon his release and return to Rome in 1946 he quit his former career and set up a studio. Burri had his first solo exhibition in 1947 at the Galleria La Margherita in Rome, showing paintings of landscapes and still lifes. He traveled to Paris shortly thereafter, where he was influenced by the work of Joan Miró (1893–1983) and Jean Dubuffet (1901–1985). Burri started to experiment with unusual pigments and resins in the early 1940s, creating sculptural canvases and assemblages blurring the line between painting and relief sculpture, such as his “Gobbi” (hunchbanks). Burri mostly utilized materials which were associated with his experience at the camp in Texas, like burlap, wood, tar and sheet metal. His most famous series are his “Sacchi” (sacks)—cut, torn and stitched burlap pieces in monochrome colors. Burri was the subject of a midcareer retrospective in 1957 at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. He was awarded the UNESCO Prize at the 1959 Bienal de São Paulo and the Critic’s Prize for his solo show at the 1960 Venice Biennale.