In five years Rome must appear marvelous to all the peoples of the world, vast, ordered, powerful, as it was in the time of the first empire of Augustus.—Benito Mussolini, 1925
On November 22, The Wolfsonian unveils The Birth of Rome and Rendering War: The Murals of A. G. Santagata. The two shows complete Rebirth of Rome, a series of exhibitions exploring Italian art, design, and political identity during the period of Benito Mussolini’s dictatorship. Already on view are Echoes and Origins: Italian Interwar Design and From Italy to the Americas: Italo Balbo’s 1930 and 1933 Seaplane Squadrons.
Italy during the interwar years faced sweeping changes to its political landscape: the struggle to recover from the First World War and the resulting instability set the stage for the Fascist Party’s rise to power. As Wolfsonian curator Silvia Barisione explains, “Mussolini was determined to create a modern, unified nation that was rooted in the splendor and glory of the ancient Roman past. [His] vision was that of a Third Rome, a new Empire that took its cue from history but was thoroughly contemporary. The exhibitions in Rebirth of Rome provide a perspective on the years of Fascist dictatorship, a time when the nation was grappling with complex questions of its collective identity.”
The Birth of Rome
The focal point of The Birth of Rome is artist Ferruccio Ferrazzi’s colossal cartoon for the mosaic Il Mito di Roma [The Myth of Rome], exhibited for the first time. In 1938, Ferrazzi was invited to design a decoration for the façade of the National Institute for Social Security. Situated at the northern end of the Piazza Augusto Imperatore in Rome, a recently renovated city sector centered on the mausoleum of Emperor Augustus, the decoration would connect the modern buildings at the perimeter of the piazza to the ancient mausoleum at its center and, in this way, to the architectural legacy of the ancient capital. The design was realized as a three-story mosaic representing the founding myth of Rome. Ferrazzi was delighted by the invitation to create the work, noting that he was “fascinated by the idea of a fabulous narration…of a fantastic Roman reality” that the entire population would immediately know.
In addition to several studies and related images for Il Mito di Roma, the exhibition includes four additional architectural and urban planning projects: the Foro Mussolini physical education complex, the new district planned for the 1942 Esposizione Universale di Roma (EUR), Virgilio Marchi’s unrealized Futurist architecture, and the Italian pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Like Ferrazzi’s mosaic, these projects illustrate the pervasive influence of the ancient capital on Italian national consciousness, and are unrivaled examples of the scope, magnitude, and ambiguous legacy of Italian interwar architecture and art.
Rendering War: The Murals of A. G. Santagata
One way that Mussolini’s government sought to reconstruct the nation following the devastating losses suffered in the First World War was to involve Italian citizens directly in the newly established Fascist state. The regime set about organizing society into groups, each with its own network of facilities to house such needs as after-work adult recreation, maternity and infant care, and youth education. Rendering War focuses on the Case del Mutilato, or Houses of the Mutilated, a network of new buildings created for the Association for Disabled and Invalid War Veterans. One such veteran, Novecento artist Antonio Giuseppe Santagata, was commissioned to create frescoes for the Case del Mutilato in Rome and Genoa as well as for the Casa Littoria (local Fascist Party headquarters) in Bergamo. Rendering War presents several of Santagata’s cartoons and studies for these frescoes.
“The frescoes are quite typical of the Novecento movement in the way they reference neoclassical traditions. They offered Italian citizens a new narrative of heroism and martyrdom that would help to heal the nation after the First World War. There is a sense of both solemnity and celebration in these images, which ultimately commemorate the sacrifices of Italian soldiers,” says Barisione.
Rebirth of Rome coincides with the Year of Italian Culture in the United States, organized by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy of Italy in Washington, D.C. Rebirth of Rome is made possible by the Italian Consulate General Miami, the Italian Cultural Institute New York, the United States Consular Agency Genoa, and the Wolfsoniana–Fondazione Regionale per la Cultura e lo Spettacolo in Genoa. Additional support was provided by Gucci, Mediterranean Shipping Company S.A., the Poltrona Frau Group Miami, the Funding Arts Network, the Leon Levy Foundation, Aprile SpA, and Ansaldo Energy Inc. The Wolfsonian also thanks Mitchell Wolfson, Jr., Marcello Cambi in Genoa, and the Wolfsoniana–FRSC for their generous loans to the project.
Cartoon, Aurora, from Il Mito di Roma [The Myth of Rome], 1940
Ferruccio Ferrazzi (Italian, 1891–1978)
Tempera on paper
80 3/8 x 132 in
The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, XX1989.200.3
Bottom (click to enlarge):
Cartoon, Audacia [Audacity], from Aeronautica [Aviation], 1937
For the fresco in the courtyard of the Casa Madre dei Mutilati, Rome
Antonio G. Santagata (Italian, 1888–1985)
Charcoal and crayon on paper
114 x 62 1/2 in
The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, 84.5.44
Photograph, Marble stadium and Academy of Physical Education, Foro Mussolini, c. 1937
George Hoyningen-Huene (American, b. Russia, 1900–1968), photographer
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 x 9/12 in
The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, XX1990.2666