A female figure is portrayed stretched out on a surface—her body stiffened in an extreme effort that culminates in feet crossed one over the other, in a pose that recalls the Crucifixion in Christian iconography. Partly clothed she is supine on a flowered surface. Apparently ignoring any laws of perspective, the woman painted by Margherita Manzelli appears almost as if she were on display, exposed to the viewer’s voracious glance. She intentionally hides her arms and hands, as if these might be details capable of revealing private stories. However, her body, thin and slightly bruised, betrays a proud will, the nature of which is legible especially in her facial expression. Her face is defined by large, searching eyes and by a smile that recalls the one of ancient Greek statues, making the observer feel like an intrusive guest. The ambiguity of the situation that the work sets out is underscored by the title, Niente pianti in pubblico—antibiotici (No Tears in Public—Antibiotics), 1998, in which the allusion to illness, whether physical or psychological, is given without any details that might satisfy the viewer’s curiosity.
The black background of the painting indicates that the figure belongs to the realm of mental images. According to Manzelli, her paintings—which almost exclusively depict the isolated figures of young women—are not intended as portraits and are not based on photographs or on the use of models. Instead, these are figures that inhabit the artist’s imagination, characters that come alive through psychological tension, allowing them to emerge from the folds of the unconscious. Young but prematurely aged, the women painted by Manzelli are possible alter egos for the artist—sometimes fragile figures, but capable of forcefully asserting their presence. Along with the performances the artist has on occasion created for the openings of her exhibitions, Manzelli’s paintings are existential declarations, precise moments along a long and continuous, introspective path.