It’s time to ﬂy to Miami, perfect in springtime, and reach the Wolfsonian to watch The Rebirth of Rome, a program of interrelated exhibitions that examines the cultural output of interwar Italy. Each exhibition addresses the alliance between art, design, and ideology in Italy under Benito Mussolini. 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, DC.
Five visions for the Eternal City illustrate the persistence of Rome in Italian national consciuosness, ever since the ancient capital served as a core principal self-conception.
“Taken together, the exhibitions are a portrait of the country during the years of Fascist dictatorship. The works on view in these shows—decorative arts, public works, mural paintings, architecture, design—tell us a great deal about how Italy deﬁned itself during this signiﬁcant period in the country’s history and talk about the relationship between politics and aesthetics that inﬂuenced its identity,” explains Wolfsonian curator Silvia Barisione.
The Birth of Rome presents modern architectural and urban planning projects that cultivated the perception of an Italian nation rooted in a mythologized past. On display for the ﬁrst time, artist Ferruccio Ferrazzi’s colossal cartoon for the mosaic The Myth of Rome serves as the centerpiece of the exhibition. Ferrazzi designed the mosaic in 1938 for one of the buildings surrounding the recently excavated Mausoleum of Augustus. This visualizing of national origins through the idea of ancient Rome is complemented by four focus studies of additional building projects carried out during the years of Fascist dictatorship.
Many pieces, like Ferruccio Ferrazzi’s cartoons, were never seen before, not even in Italy. The cartoons were bought by Micky Wolfson during the eighties from Ferrazzi’s daughter and never shown before. While designing Wolfsonian’s building, the architect Mark Hampton arranged the 20 feet-high top ﬂoor just to receive them.
Rendering War: The Murals of A. G. Santagata show the Novecento artist Antonia Giuseppe Santagata’s 1920s and 1930s mural paintings for the buildings of the Association for Disabled and Invalid War Veterans (Case dei Mutilati) commemorated Italian soldiers of the First World War. These works countered the devastating reality of Italy’s experience during the war with heroic and often devotional imagery designed to help restore national pride. Rendering War showcases Santagata’s large-scale studies for the murals, including those for his frescoes in the assembly hall and courtyard of the Casa Madre dei Mutilati (1928–36) in Rome.
As Wolfsonian director Cathy Leff notes, these exhibitions, which showcase and investigate the museum’s extensive Italian holdings as well as strategic loans, “demonstrate that the material goods of a time and place are not only objects designed for function or decoration, but also are a form of persuasion. Whether it is overt, as in a poster or advertisement, or not as obvious, as in a vase or tea service, these goods reﬂect and inﬂuence culture. The Rebirth of Rome exhibitions are a valuable insight into how art and design affect our collective understanding of the world.”
In Echoes and Origins: Italian Interwar Design, drawn from The Wolfsonian’s collection and promised gifts from the museum’s founder, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr., Echoes and Origins showcases a wide range of works, including furniture, ceramics, glass, graphic and product design, and industrial objects. These works are a reﬂection of modern Italy, evidence of the cultivation of a style that embodied the Fascist regime’s concept of Italianità (Italianness), which gloriﬁed both the Roman Empire and the spirit of modernity. This exhibition is now on view and is discussed in greater depth in the article “Echoes and Origins: Italian Interwar Design” in this issue of ePropaganda.
“We don’t forget Fascism and the inﬂiction of a dictatorship – explains Silvia Barisione – and we provided a section dedicated to hylarious comics about the period, cleraly marking the separation between the violence of imposing an ideology and the initial liberal behaviour in arts.” After the proclamation of the Empire, classicism prevailed and arts and architecture became more celebratives, as shown in the exibition Augusteo. Architect Marcello Piacentini became the main interpreter of Mussolini’s vision of imperial grandeur, with an approach of “sventramenti” (disembowelments) and “isolamenti” (isolations) of ancient roman monuments […] The Rome of the Grand Tour – pictoresque, colorful, chaotic, its abandoned ruins casually coexisting with vernacular architecture – was completely denied by the regime, writes Silvia Barisione on the dedicated Wolfsonian publication.