(b Rome, Feb 15, 1902; d Rome, March 31, 1965).
Italian painter. Mafai was the central figure of a group of artists called the Scuola Romana. His preference for lyrical, intimate subject-matter contrasted with the monumental neo-classicism of the Novecento Italiano. From 1922 until 1925 he attended the Accademia di Belle Arti in Rome. There he met his future wife, the artist Antonietta Raphael, who introduced him to the work of the Ecole de Paris. By 1927 the painter Scipione and the sculptor Marino Mazzacurati (1907–1969) gathered regularly in Mafai’s studio, giving rise to an association known as the ‘Scuola di Via Cavour’. During this period Mafai painted views of the River Tiber in a deliberately unschooled manner, self-portraits and still-lifes such as Quartered Bullock (1930; Milan, Brera), reminiscent of Chaïm Soutine. His series of still-lifes called Dried Flowers was begun after a year in Paris in 1930.
While Scipione went on to develop an increasingly expressionist style, Mafai responded to the formal research of Giorgio Morandi by stressing the tonal qualities in his paintings. This concentration on the subtle gradation of values endowed the commonplace objects of his still-lifes with a heightened, magical reality. After ...