Room Three - I bersaglieri contro i russi nella vittoriosa battaglia al fiume Cernaja ( The Italian Bersaglieri Corps against the Russians in the victorious Battle at the River Chanaya)

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The next stop is entrusted again to Vincenzo de Stefani, that describes an event from the Crimean War 1855-1856 with the title I bersaglieri contro i russi nella vittoriosa battaglia al fiume Cernaja (The Italian Bersaglieri Corps against the Russians in the victorious Battle at the River Chanaya). During this engagement, the Piedmont army was able to victoriously halt the umpteenth, desperate attempt of the enemy to break the siege that had been going on by then for some long months inside the legendary fort of Malakoff. Setting it on the river and immersing the scene in fog, De Stefani describes a ferocious fight using bayonets. The soldiers are engaged in a bitter and dramatic hand-to-hand combat, during which they even resort to throwing stones. The painting is masterfully composed in an almost absolute lack of space and air. In the background, there is an indistinct mass of men moving against each other, while moving towards the foreground the fighting becomes progressively heavier and harder. The bodies, arched over, struck, face the others that throw themselves forwards. Their looks are at the same time terrorised and ferocious. On the extreme right two buglers, call their fellow soldiers from far away to a new attack. Soon the Piedmont army will triumph but at the centre of the scene, we find trace of an intense, anguished line of suffering men: one, with his back to us, his face in profile is lifting a heavy load, looking directly at the enemy stretched out at his feet but not completely defeated yet. Looking upwards, we see one of the most intense characters in the painting: the soldier who at the centre, cries out, staring at the spectator. This mute, intense cry of great symbolic value almost seems to reach his fellow soldier behind him who, with arm raised, is ready to throw down the stone that he holds at his head. The use of harsh colours, even if alleviated by the gloomier setting (but also by the damage inflicted on the painting through time and careless restoration) is made more symbolically intense in the group of Bersaglieri soldiers on the right, among which the red, white and blue of the uniforms stand out. The intense naturalism of the scene, so skilfully constructed, reminds us of some works of the Neapolitan painter Michele Cammarano. This is an unavoidable reference as the young man from Verona was a student in Rome at the Cesare Maccari studio in the years immediately preceding his being commissioned for the works at San Martino.

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