Milan-based Fabio Massimo Ulivieri is an eminent clinician with a passion for painting or, better to say, with historical and philosophical interests associated with painting, the practice of which for him is not an otium in the Ciceronian sense of the term but an existential complement. As a sensitive and intelligent person, Ulivieri does not merely accept tout courtthat he happened to be born in Milan. He wants to understand how involved he is in the reality he lives in and, once he undertakes such an investigation, he wants to share the results with others and to do that he has chosen the means of painting. What results from that is a complex set of both aesthetic and philosophical data and the original pursuit of the recipients’ involvement.

“What is a big city?” And being one of its citizens, “How can I represent it” Ulivieri questions. The first answer is that it is a space where time does not matter as the old and the contemporary coexist there in absolute harmony, hence the required remark that it is more important the long-term component, that is its great historical monuments. Such a conviction led him to turn Milan into a “Città del silenzio”( City of silence ) in D’Annunzio’s style. And the second answer,that is the need to give life to a pictorial expression able to accomplish a memorial task. The speculative mentality of the doctor from Milan has accepted the idea of bringing out a production of architectural nature. In fact the urban glimpses by Ulivieri have the same stamps as Masaccio’s, with the basic difference that the latter ones contain on the panel their full disposition of volumes while Ulivieri’s search creates a symbolic representation. Their symbolic value lies in two factors, the colours, for example the white underlying the sacredness of the Duomo, coming from a sober palette and the fact that he always paints only part of the whole. Representing the wholeness of the Duomo would have meant to submit a realityeverybody can see daily, while showing a double lancet window to stir up memories of the whole sacred building has a completely different value, that is to turn a visual element into a spiritual acquisition.

Bard of Milan,Ulivieri started his relationship with the vestiges of the city in 1988 and has developed four nuclear interests: theCa’ Granda, the Duomo, the Castle and the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, the only cycle where the pictorial values prevail over the architectural symbols.The various projects have had an uneven chronological trend and their production stopped in 2014.The Ca’ Granda, now seat of a universityand the Castle, before becoming part of Ulivieri’s philosophical assumptions and of his poetic spirit, made of grace and humility, had the same demiurges, the new Duke of Milan Francesco Scorza and the Florentine architect Filarete who took part marginally also in the building of the Duomo being considered by Medici, who recommended him, the most up-to-date contractor of his time.ActuallyFilarete finished none of the two enormous buildings but he left deep trace to his successors and his name to the main tower of the Castle, at the time the most impressive military building in Europe. Yet Ulivieri is not really interested in the story of the Castle which Francesco Scorza got built after the short-lived season of the Golden Ambrosian Republic on the Viscontis’ ruins, but in the value of its being proof of the past glory of Milan and even more in the memorial significance of its walls showing the time when the power of few people used to oppress a lot of them. With emotion Ulivieri confers the depicted ruins of the Castle the sense of the glory which is unable to differentiate from the brutality of power and from the atrocity of dreadful times and maybe he sides the citizens who tried many times to knock down that witness of deep sufferings. Today on the bright canvasses of the doctor from Milan coexist both a rage over old wrongs and the celebration of politically glorious years, the last ones lived by Italy before being crossed  by French armies and Spanish troops.

With the big hospital Francesco Scorza, mercenary leader, entitled Duke by his marriage with the last of the Visconti line, Bianca Maria, illegitimate but recognised daughter of Filippo Maria, a swordwoman of fine mind, started a great procedure of captatiobenevolentiae to secure respect and loyalty from his new subjects. It is notable that Ulivieri chose and submitted on his canvasses only pieces referring to the part built by Filarete, destroyed by the allied bombings in 1943 but rebuilt with model restoration by using source material. The delicate details proposed by the painter show with their shapes and with the sober colour depicting them clear memories of the medieval hospital,a place which became model of many other realizations in Northen Italy and where, in the words of Carducci “ albergò tanto dolore” ( so much pain dwelt), a suffering whose secular extent is perceived by the soul of a person of deep man’s and doctor’s sensitivity.   

Milan Cathedral, devoted to Santa Maria Nascente,is the largest church in Italy, the fourth one among the major religious records in Europe. It met the ambitions of the Duke Gian Galeazzo Visconti, who wished to exalt its splendour to turn it into the sacred centre of a united Italy, something he in vain dreamt of achieving, under the patronage of the golden Madonnina, shining and blessing from more than a hundred metres above the ground.The Duke’s magnanimous plan seems to have inspired Ulivieri who, among the canvasses devoted to  theResurrezione del Duomo dedicates one to the patron  saint of Milan, with supreme stylish elegance, making the small statue shine on the pristine white of the canvass.

Being nearly at the end of our exegesis of the work of Ulivieri, it is worth mentioning the deepestof his exegetes Pedro Fiori, who, referring to the first three chapters of the Mitografia di Milano, the global title of his great work, reminds how “the epiphany [ the meagre bits of images outlined by the doctor on his canvasses ] of the myth” has always represented a truth in fieri , connected with the “irrational knowledge”. Actually the painter conveys nothing irrational in his production as he offers a clear access key to the sacredness and monumentality of Milan. Fiori though rectifies and cities Cassirer according to whom the basic feature of the mythical thinking is the lack of distinction between the symbol and the object it refers to.In fact the few strokes  carefully outlined by Ulivieri refer to the buildings, myths and symbols of his city, but in order to recall the myth of a past greatness which concerns the recipients of his work. Appropriately Fiori concludes his examination defining every fragment of myth a “totally absorbing reality” able to determine “the presence of the absence”.

The last part of the Mitografia di Milano differs from the previous ones for a stronger commitment to provide an overall view of Leonardo’s masterpiece rather than limitingitself just to an identifying mention. Carried out at the end of the fifteenth century, The Last Supper, painted on a wall with a Northern exposure overlooking the refectory of Santa Maria delleGrazie, the church chosen by Ludovico il Moro to celebrate his house, brought from the beginning serious preservation problems, so much that even Leonardo himself could realize that. The spiritual Resurrezione  Ulivieri mentions about, has ended up being confused with the twenty-year restoring procedure which has allowed to save as much as possible of a work always regarded as one of the most notable outcome of the Renaissance painting. Ulivieri though did not take account of this patient work and shaped only the central figure of Christ with on either side the slim silhouttesof the other diners with the sole exception of a red body identifying Judas. The conceptual framework proposed in the picture revels the author’s intent to confer the greatest possible visibility to Judas, coloured in red, the colour of shame and blood, so that to exclude all the other diners and to stage the sole tragedy of the betrayal. The serenity of Christ, who is not the central figure in this viewing, is opposed to the torment of the traitor, who lost his individuality and survives temporarily himself and his sin before disappearing for ever from the world and from the community of the just. Some people wanted to see in in Ulivieri’s painting a general element of mystery, which can be detected only on the canvass dedicated to the last stage of the Milan tetralogy. To tell the truth, the brush of the philosopher doctor makes the mystery not so apparent as a deep sense of sacredness, of an impending epiphany of Heaven, of a Holy Grail theme in an expectant atmosphere looming on the whole.. With such an expressionistic stroke, Fabio Massimo Ulivieri takes leave fornow of his great homage to the glory of Milan, a city which seemed even to Napoleon himself worthy of rivalling Paris.

Aldo Maria Pero