Home Magazine Antonio Ligabue

An uncanny and naïf individual, who spent his days in isolation using paint to escape from the misery of a solitary life. Antonio Ligabue is considered to be one of the most underrated painters form the 1900s, one of those who escaped from the noise and the bustle of the cities and burrowed in the misty and pristine settings of the Italian Po Valley. A scarred and neglected soul who spent his time searching for himself within nature’s most powerful symbology. 

Related articles: Alessandro Pessoli - Times are Changing: the Forum of Italian Contemporary Art  - A celebration of Arte Povera at Magazzino Italian Art

Adopted at a young age by a Swiss family, Antonio Costa, also known as Antonio Ligabue, spent his childhood in poverty, fighting with the harshness of his social and economic condition, while having to accept and overcome a series of illnesses. This particular combination of factors slowly developed the scurvy personality which he is known for nowadays. 

During his lifelong wandering, Antonio Ligabue was able to get in close contact with the most pure, hidden and powerful elements of nature, constantly looking for himself, tirelessly searching for his animal embodiment, and trying to enact a form of metamorphosis to become “beast”; engaging in an escape from his human essence, and transforming time by time into an animal vision of himself. 


Antonio Ligabue, “Tiger with Snake”. Oil on hardboard.


In Ligabue’s paintings, his feelings of misplacement overtake the hardboard’s surface, creating scenes filled with harshness and confrontational settings, displaying fights between animals like tigers, lions, leopards, dogs, snakes, eagles, roosters and many other species. Ligabue’s genius lies in his ability to transform his nightmares into mesmerized and colourful visions, creating images of inedited beauty in which the stillness of the landscapes that can be found in the Po Valley, leaves its place to the harshness and confusion of the artist’s subconscious, giving birth to a jungle-vision filled with forceful beasts and conflictual appearances. 



Elio Germano playing Antonio Ligabue in "Volevo nascondermi" (2020), a film directed by Giorgio Diritti.


Roaring tigers and frightened gazelles, majestic lions and leopards strangled by gigantic snakes. Eagles feeding on dead carcasses and roosters contending the dominance of their barn. The elements that gravitate in Ligabue’s works, create beautiful compositions in which both the predator and the prey are always present, embodying different sides of the artist’s conflicted mind, making his paintings act as metaphors of his own feelings of misplacement and inadequacy in an anti-natural and civilised world. Antonio Ligabue used his artistic expression to escape reality and to get closer to his primitive essence. Besides all that can be said about his mental condition, it is unquestionable that Ligabue spent his life genuinely feeding his metamorphic tendencies with paint, and viewing the animals as closer to him than humans; loving nature more than he loved society, whilst constantly trying to become a beast, rather than a civilised and accepted human being. 


Antonio Ligabue, “Self Portrait”, 1953-54. Oil on hardboard.


It is in our contemporary times, that artistic personas like the one embodied by Antonio Ligabue are seen as examples of pureness and freedom, despite all of the harshness and solitude that these come along with. In a society made of self-isolation and tendencies towards full positiveness, painters like Antonio Ligabue remind us about the animal that lives within each and every one of us, encouraging us individuals to return both to the love of nature and the emancipation of our beastly existence. 

See more about Antonio Ligabue on Kooness.


Antonio Ligabue, “Rooster Fight”. Oil on hardboard.


Cover image: Antonio Ligabue, detail from “Tigre Reale”, 1941. Oil on hardboard

Written by Mario Rodolfo Silva

Stay Tuned on Kooness magazine for more exciting news from the art world.