Against you, O unclean world, I must protest!
It is with these words that Saint Pier Damiani opens his biography of Romualdo, the Ravenna saint who founded the Camaldolese congregation and is the protagonist of the famous painting created by Guercino and preserved in the Art Museum of the city of Ravenna.
Saint Pier Damiani's protest is aimed at the society of the 10th century and the Church of the time, which he considered devoid of virtue and led by "proud people who arrogantly exalt themselves for their vain eloquence or for their empty philosophy". A condemnation of ease and debauchery to which Pier Damiani contrasts the monastic wisdom of Romualdo, taken as an ideal model for a general reform of ecclesiastical and civil society. The life of the saint thus takes on the value of a warning, an exaltation of virtue and an exhortation to change.
Guercino focuses on the image of Romualdo in ecstasy. Next to him is the devil, portrayed with the features of a man with monstrous features, a reddish complexion and feet and hands with long claws, opposed by an angel intent on whipping him with a rod.
It is the representation of the "unclean world" in which insolent humanity clashes with perfection and divine virtue. Light and darkness are in constant struggle in an enveloping dance in which, alternately, one takes over the other.
It is on this image that the corporal action of the nanou group takes place, introduced by the narration of the museum curator. A choreographic installation in which the dancers move between the decomposed images of the painting, reproduced in a serial manner through monitors and prints, and distributed across the entire exhibition area of the museum in which the work is located, thus investigated and amplified.
The fragments and details are recomposed through an overall vision animated by the bodies moved by the contrasting forces of the painting.
The altarpiece with Saint Romualdo was commissioned from Guercino for the Classe monastery in Ravenna. It was created in 1642 and exhibited in the abbey church dedicated to the same saint together with the works of Carlo Cignani, San Benedetto, and Marcantonio Franceschini, Saints Bartholomew and Severus in Glory.
The group with the three altarpieces has been reconstituted and exhibited at the Art Museum of Ravenna city.