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Aligi Sassu was born in Milan, Lombardy, from Lina Pedretti, from Parma, Lombardy, and Antonio Sassu, from Sassari, Sardinia. His father Antonio was one of the founders of the Italian Socialist Party (Partito Socialista Italiano) at Sassari in 1894, and had moved to Milan in 1896, where he had married Lina Pedretti in 1911. At the beginning of 1920, the Sassu family moved back to Sardinia to Thiesi, where Antonio opened a shop. After three years, the family returned to Milan, where Aligi got interested into arts. Together with friend and Futurist designer Bruno Munari, he decided to present himself to the Futurism leader Filippo Tommaso Marinetti.
In 1928, he established, along with Bruno Munari, the Manifesto della Pittura (Painting Manifesto), taking as basic assumption the display of anti-naturalistic forms. He deeply studied Diego Velázquez and the plastic nude. Of this period is L'Ultima cena, a painting that sums up Sassu's visual poetic.
In 1930, in Milan, he met Giacomo Manzù, Giandante X (also known as Dante Persico) and Giuseppe Gorgerino. In 1934, Sassu started studying Delacroix and the history paintings of the Louvre in Paris. In this period he also painted what will be his "logo" in the future, the horse, omnipresent in his future production.
In 1935, he established the Gruppo Rosso with, among others, Nino Franchina and Vittorio Della Porta. In 1936, he finished one of his most known paintings Il Caffè, as well as the Fucilazione nelle Asturie, painted in favour of the Spanish resistance. He joined the anti-fascist cultural movement of Corrente di Vita in 1938.
After the Spanish Civil War, he started studying Vincent van Gogh and moved back to Sardinia for some time. During this period, several paintings were dedicated to the Sardinian rural life. He also studied mural painting.
In 1963, he moved to the Balearic Islands, to Cala San Vicente then to Majorca, to the village of Pollença, Palma, Spain. In 1967, the cycle Tauromachie was presented by the Spanish poet Rafael Alberti. Red became Sassu's favourite colour. In 1976, he worked for the frescoes of Sant'Andrea in Pescara.
In 1964, the Spanish period begins, Sassu bought a house in Majorca, in Cala San Vicente. Sassu focused on Bull Fightings and on landscapes of the island, besides the mythological themes, which he deepened through the use of the acrylic technique.
From this year on he lives between Majorca and Italy, and in 1967 he moved to Monticello Brianza. In 1973, he created scenes and costumes of the Sicilian Vespers for the reopening of èTeatro Regio in Turin, and was dedicated a room in the Gallery of Modern Art in Vatican City. In 1976 he completed two mosaics for Saint Andrea in Pescara. In 1977 he moved to Can Marimon in Pollença.
In 1993, he completed "Miti del Mediterraneo", a ceramic mural of 150 square meters for the new building of the European Parliament in Brussels. The following year he presented Manuscriptum, a folder with engravings shown in Sweden at the itinerant exhibition "The bridges by Leonardo".
In 1995, he exhibited at the Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art in Bergamo and he is nominated Cavaliere della Gran Croce by the Italian president. In 1996 three hundred sixty two works, created between 1927 and 1996, were donated to the city of Lugano, founding the Aligi Sassu and Helenita Olivares Foundation is created.
On 17 July 1999, the day of the artist's eighty-seventh birthday, a big anthological display was opened in Palazzo Strozzi at Florence.
He died on his birthday, in 2000, at Pollença.