Cagnacico di San Pietro (1897 – 1946), born Natale Bentivoglio Scarpa, was an Italian magic realist painter, heavily influenced by the German movement called New Objectivity. His paintings have a photographic air about them, making them look highly contemporaneous.
Zoologia (1928) is a classic example of the photorealistic style he employed. Even when showing erotic imagery, Cagnaccio makes it look more sinister than titillating. In Zoologia sex and violence are intertwined, with the implication that humans’ biological drives are no different than animals’. The book shown in the right lower corner, titled “Zoologia” gives the name of the painting, while also explaining what prompts the brutality of the sex scene, the animal instincts still lurking in our genetic tapestry.
Although it can’t be read in this particular image of the artwork, the authors listed on the book cover are Adam and Eve. Below the picture of a monkey, di San Pietro added “Edition revised and corrected by modern society”.
The man (who is none other than the painter himself) is pinning down the woman, who looks away, crossing her legs. She seems to be smiling: is she enjoying the irony or is she simply resigned? The man stares at her as if waiting for an answer.