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Politics of History in Fascist Italy

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Politics of History
in Fascist Italy

Claudio Fogu


Toronto Buffalo London
© University of Toronto Press Incorporated 2003
Toronto Buffalo London
Printed in Canada

ISBN 0-8020-8764-7

Printed on acid-free paper

Toronto Italian Studies

National Library of Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Fogu, Claudio, 1963–

The historic imaginary : politics of history in fascist Italy /
Claudio Fogu.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

isbn 0-8020-8764-7

1. Fascism and culture – Italy – History – 20th century.

2. Fascism – Italy – History – 20th century. I. Title.

dg571.f63 2003 945.091 c2003-900675-1

This book has been published with the assistance of a grant from the
University of Southern California.

University of Toronto Press acknowledges the financial assistance to its

publishing program of the Canada Council for the Arts and the
Ontario Arts Council.

University of Toronto Press acknowledges the financial support for its

publishing activities of the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing
Industry Development Program (BPIDP).

List of Illustrations vii

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 3

1 History Belongs to the Present 21

2 Il Duce Taumaturgo 52

3 Historic Spectacle 72

4 The Historic Imaginary and the Mass Media 96

5 The Contest of Exhibitions 114

6 Fascist Historic Culture 165

Epilogue 190

Notes 207
Index 261
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1 The central hall in the Milanese Museum of Risorgimento in

1926. 67
2 Floor map of the Milanese Museo del Risorgimento in 1926. 68
3 Antoni Sciortino, Anita, 1928. Courtesy of the Associazione nazion-
ale volontari garibaldini, Rome. 78
4 Mario Rutelli’s plaster cast of Anita (1928). Courtesy of the Archivio
centrale di stato, Rome. 80
5 Mario Rutelli, Anita, 1932. 81
6 The parade accompanying Anita Garibaldi to Genoa’s central train
station on 2 June 1932. Courtesy of the Associazione nazionale volon-
tari garibaldini, Rome. 87
7 The parade passing through the Arco in onore dei caduti in Genoa.
Courtesy of the Associazione nazionale volontari garibaldini,
Rome. 89
8 Map with the instruction for the formation of the parade in Rome
on 4 June 1932. Courtesy of the Associazione nazionale volontari
garibaldini, Rome. 92
9 The parade passing through Via Nazionale in Rome. Courtesy of the
Associazione nazionale volontari garibaldini, Rome. 93
10 Floor map of the Mostra garibaldina, Rome, 1932. 123
11 Room 1 in the Mostra garibaldina. Courtesy of the Associazione
nazionale volontari garibaldini, Rome. 124
viii Illustrations

12 Room 20 in the Mostra garibaldina. Courtesy of the Associazione

nazionale volontari garibaldini, Rome. 125
13 Room 24 in the Mostra garibaldina. Courtesy of the Associazione
nazionale volontari garibaldini, Rome. 126
14 The Gallery of Uniforms in the Mostra garibaldina, Rome, 1932.
Courtesy of the Associazione nazionale volontari garibaldini,
Rome. 128
15 The facade of the Mostra della rivoluzione fascista, Rome, 1932.
Courtesy of the Archivio centrale di stato, Rome. 136
16 Ground floor map of the Mostra della rivoluzione fascista. Courtesy
of the Archivio centrale di stato, Rome. 137
17 Room A in the Mostra della rivoluzione fascista. Courtesy of the
Archivio centrale di stato, Rome. 140
18 Room C in the Mostra della rivoluzione fascista. Courtesy of the
Archivio centrale di stato, Rome. 142
19 Room E in the Mostra della rivoluzione fascista. Courtesy of the
Archivio centrale di stato, Rome. 144
20 Room E in the Mostra della rivoluzione fascista: particular of the
back wall. Courtesy of the Archivio centrale di stato, Rome. 146
21 Room O in the Mostra della rivoluzione fascista. Courtesy of the
Archivio centrale di stato, Rome. 148
22 Room O in the Mostra della rivoluzione fascista: particular of the
photomontage Adunate by Giuseppe Terragni. Courtesy of the
Archivio centrale di stato, Rome. 149
23 Room P in the Mostra della rivoluzione fascista. Courtesy of the
Archivio centrale di stato, Rome. 151
24 Room R, the Hall of Honour, in the Mostra della rivoluzione fascista.
Courtesy of the Archivio centrale di stato, Rome. 153
25 Room T, the Mussolini Hall, in the Mostra della rivoluzione fascista.
Courtesy of the Archivio centrale di stato, Rome. 155
26 Reconstruction of Mussolini’s last office at Il Popolo d’Italia, in the
Mostra della rivoluzione fascista. Courtesy of the Archivio centrale di
stato, Rome. 156
Illustrations ix

27 Room U, the Shrine of the Martyrs, in the Mostra della rivoluzione

fascista. Courtesy of the Archivio centrale di stato, Rome. 158
28 Room S, the Gallery of Fasces, in the Mostra della rivoluzione fas-
cista. Courtesy of the Archivio centrale di stato, Rome. 159
29 Return view of the Hall of Mussolini from the Gallery of Fasces in the
Mostra della rivoluzione fascista. Courtesy of the Archivio centrale di
stato, Rome. 161
30 André Masson, Acéphale, 1932. 191
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To all of my friends, on both sides of the Atlantic, I owe a collective debt

of gratitude. Without your constant encouragement and reminders that
there is more to life than completing a manuscript, paradoxically this
book would never have seen the light of day. Some of you, of course,
have also greatly contributed to its conceptualization, writing, and end-
less revisions. Primi inter pares are my fellow musketeers from my gradu-
ate school years at UCLA: Kerwin Klein, Michael Wintroub, and, above
all, Wulf Kansteiner, the best of friends and my primary intellectual
partner. We all lived through glorious intellectual times and imagined
together a brave new world of scholarly breakthroughs. I hope you will
find in this book some of that enthusiasm we shared, and, I hope, so will
my friends and mentors at UCLA – Robert Wohl, Lucia Re, Saul Fried-
lander, Carlo Ginzburg, and Perry Anderson. I cannot thank you
enough for having refrained from curbing my enthusiasm even when it
went against your convictions and better judgment. Along these lines, a
very special thank you I reserve for Sande Cohen, Sam Weber, and Hay-
den White, whose critical readings of my writings have helped sharpen
my theoretical constructs, and in the process made me a better histo-
rian. Another grazie goes to my closest associates in the study of Italian
fascism: Luisa Passerini, Massimo Baioni, Giovanni Belardelli, Kriss
Ravetto, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, and Jeffrey Schnapp. I trust each of you will
find in this book an echo of our many conversations and your specific
contributions to my thinking.
Finally, this book would have never been completed without the con-
tribution of several institutions that either financed my research or
opened their archives to me. Included among the former are the Wolf-
sonian Foundation in Miami, Florida, the Shumann Center at the Euro-
xii Acknowledgments

pean University Institute in Florence, Italy, the Mershon Center at Ohio

State University, Columbus, and the College of Letters Arts and Sciences
(LAS) at the University of Southern California. Among the latter are the
Archivio centrale di stato, the Biblioteca di storia moderna e con-
temporanea (BSMC), the Istituto nazionale del Risorgimento, the
Archivio della federazione nazionale volontari garibaldini, and the pri-
vate archive of Cesare Maria De Vecchi in Rome. To the directors and
personnel of these institutions I owe all my gratitude, and in particular,
I thank Erika and Giuseppe Garibaldi, Paolo De Vecchi, Marianne Lam-
onica, Richard Ned Lebow, and all the librarians at the BSMC. And to
those who helped me chart my own history, my family, I thank you.
Politics of History in Fascist Italy
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My dear Raymond, I am writing from the fascist exhibition itself because

there are comfortable tables to write: hence the idea of writing to you. The
exhibition is filled everywhere with black flags with embroidered skulls,
especially in the shrine of the dead. One of these flags figures in the recon-
struction of Mussolini’s squalid study in Milan. I am quite astonished. I
didn’t know this history. I am even startled. It won’t evidently lead me to
buy a shining croix du feu, nor will it change me a bit, but the effect is very
Georges Bataille, 19341

With these words, addressed to his comrade-friend Raymond Queneau,

Georges Bataille reported on the spot his very strong impression of the
Mostra della rivoluzione fascista (MRF) (Exhibition of the Fascist Revo-
lution), a historical exhibition set up in Rome between 1932 and 1934 to
celebrate the tenth anniversary of Mussolini’s March on Rome. This was
Bataille’s first visit to fascist Italy. A few months earlier he had published
his seminal essay ‘The Psychological Structure of Fascism.’2 In it he had
developed a theory of the fascist phenomenon as the subordination of
homogeneous social relations to heterogeneous ones – that is, of the cohesive
rule of law and economic structures to the flexible world of sacred
bonds, psychological ties, ‘unproductive expenditure,’ and ‘excess.’3
The essay was the result of two years of intensive reading and was aimed
at providing a general theory of fascism that extended also to Nazism.4
Why then would Bataille be so astonished by the historical exhibition of
a phenomenon he had just theorized? Could this exhibition have
4 The Historic Imaginary

caused Bataille to waver in his theoretical assessment of the common

heterogeneous core of Italian Fascism and Nazism?
Set up by a team of journalists, historians, and thirty-four of Italy’s
best-known artists, the MRF – the Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution –
constituted a ‘modernist Gesamtkunstwerk’ of exceptional artistic qual-
ity, which also managed to attract over three and a half million visitors.5
In 1934 fascist Rome avant-garde aesthetics and mass culture seemed to
have found a point of intersection that had no rivals either in the Soviet
Union or in the Western democracies, and that could not have been
more distant from Nazi Germany, where modernist masterpieces had
begun to be removed from German art museums and Hitler’s speeches
insisted on the antithetical relationship between Nazism and ‘degener-
ate’ modern art.6 Quite plausibly, then, the aesthetic avant-gardism of
this exhibition could not have failed to impress an attentive observer
and surrealist sympathizer like Bataille. In fact, recent scholarship and
exhibitions of art and design under fascism may have begun accounting
for Bataille’s reaction by documenting how the enduring marriage
between avant-garde aesthetics and fascist image politics differentiated
the Italian fascist regime from the Nazi one precisely in the area of
unproductive aesthetic expenditure and excess.7
Everything, from the personal preferences of the two dictators, to
their policy statements, to the political histories of the avant-gardes in
Italy and Germany, conspired to create two parallel paths. Whereas the
amateur painter Adolf Hitler used his power, speeches, and financial
resources to first denounce all forms of ‘degenerate’ avant-garde arts
and then identify Nazi art with a state-approved, vaguely defined ‘Ger-
manic style,’ the ex-journalist and futurist sympathizer Mussolini sought
actively to endorse the talent of avant-garde artists for the cause of fas-
cism, and he never gave in to reactionary demands to sanction an offi-
cial art form of the fascist state.8 And, although recent scholarship has
also revised an all too monolithic view of Nazi art,9 and – on the Italian
side – highlighted the thematic nazification of fascist culture in the sec-
ond half of the 1930s,10 the idea of a fascist form of modernism has been
supported by recent research on both the cultural origins of Italian fas-
cist ideology and the cultural politics of the regime.
Today most scholars agree that fascist anti-ideological discourse was
itself a most powerful form of ideology, that fascism’s lack of a doctrinal
core was amply compensated for by a rhetoric that deployed culturally
available language, and that this cultural language was primarily that of
French-Italian modernist thought.11 In particular, fascist rhetoric coa-
Introduction 5

lesced and anchored itself around two modernist poles of ideological

structuring: the rhetorics of virility ushered in by futurism,12 and the
antimaterialist revision of Marxism practised by George Sorel and revo-
lutionary syndicalism,13 with the vociani – the Florentine avant-garde
united in La Voce – providing fascism with the rhetorical glue to unite
nationalism and modernism.14 The fascist claim to be ‘neither left nor
right’ was therefore intellectually grounded in that common search for
new secular-religious values that characterized the whole spectrum of
Italian modernist culture.15 Translated into ritual- and image-politics,
this claim meant that fascism pursued a unique balance between mod-
ernist aestheticization and popular-cultural sacralization of politics. In
fact, above all, fascist modernism came to challenge the double ‘Great
Divide’ (to use Andreas Huyssen’s fertile image) that most historians,
theoreticians, and critics of ‘modernism’ have traditionally posited
between ‘high’ modernism and ‘low’ mass culture and – within modern-
ism – between modernist and avant-garde attitudes.16
Although the term modernism was first used as a positive aesthetic con-
notation in the Romance language-speaking world around the last
decade of the nineteenth century (as in modernisme and modernismo), the
critical notion of modernism was developed mainly from an Anglo-
German perspective. In most English-speaking literature modernism
refers to the ‘art for art’s sake’ attitude that marked the beginning of
the symbolist movement in poetry, and expanded to embrace all those
high-cultural practices that emphasized the self-referential, ironic, and
experimental role of art and rejected its mimetic and representational
function and, often, even its ethical ends.17 Thus defined, the modernist
sensitivity has been identified, on the one hand, with high art’s resis-
tance to any contamination by mass culture and entertainment, and, on
the other, with an insistance on the Kantian autonomy of the work of art
against the aestheticization of life and the appropriation of mass cul-
tural elements pursued by modernism’s other/double, the avant-garde.
As Walter Adamson has recently argued, the theoretical hold of this
double distinction has been amazingly resilient.18 Yet this resilience
might not be due solely to the canonical status of influential theories
such as Theodor Adorno’s, Clement Greenberg’s, and Peter Burger’s.19
Equally significant may have been the subaltern position of Spanish and
Italian artists, intellectuals, and movements in the theoretical and his-
torical characterization of a cultural sensibility (modernism) to which
they were probably the first to give a name and even a theory.20
From the early 1900s aesthetic avant-gardism and intellectual modern-
6 The Historic Imaginary

ism in Italy grew in relation to Catholic modernismo, the early twentieth-

century movement for the reconciliation of Catholic religion and
modernity. Cultural modernists shared with Catholic modernisti a drive
toward spiritual regeneration, mysticism, and a sense of mission, as well
as the heretical goal of reaching out directly, as the high priests of a new
aesthetic religion, to the Italian masses.21 Thus, the modernist attitude
of the vociani merged an ‘art for art’s sake’ orientation with the idea of
organizing a proper ‘party’ of modern artists and intellectuals.22 By the
same token, Milanese futurism did not merely appropriate mass culture
techniques to aestheticize life; it was also the first avant-garde movement
to respond aggressively to mass culture, seeking to transform it com-
pletely.23 It was this mass culture spirit, rather than its aestheticist pre-
war premises, that survived in so-called second generation futurism and
led to its political endorsement of fascism as well as its diversification
and maximum expansion in the 1920s and 1930s.24 Hence, sustained by
Mussolini’s ‘aesthetic politics’25 and the ‘lyrical’ oxymorons that charac-
terized fascist ideological discourse,26 the interaction between the insti-
tutionalization of fascist image-politics and avant-garde aesthetic prin-
ciples continued throughout the ventennio (the two decades of fascist
power from 1922 to 1943). Fascist modernism, therefore, differed not
only in size and temporal extension from the ‘reactionary modernism’
that characterized Nazi culture, but also in scope and kind.27 The mod-
ernist character of fascism resided neither in the ‘spiritualization of
technology,’ nor solely in its appropriation of avant-garde techniques,
but rather in its self-presentation as a modernist political movement for
the age of mass politics.28
Implicitly, then, recent studies of Italian fascism have addressed
Bataille’s puzzlement before the Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution by
highlighting the peculiar blend of modernist rhetorics and avant-garde
aesthetics that distinguished fascist image-politics from the racial utopia
relentlessly projected by its totalitarian rival and future ally. But what
about the fact that Bataille connected his ‘astonishment’ specifically to a
‘history’ he ignored? What did Bataille mean by ‘history’? The res gestae
of fascist violence and defiance of death symbolized by the skull exhib-
ited in the reconstructed study of Mussolini? Or the historia rerum
gestarum staged throughout the fascist exhibition?
Stimulated by these questions, and informed by the recent cultural
turn in the study of fascism, my research has focused on the fascist poli-
tics of history in 1920s and 1930s Italy in order to show the centrality of
this field of cultural production to the formation and evolution of a
Introduction 7

fascist-modernist mass culture. By politics of history I mean both the

vision of the relationship between historical agency, representation, and
consciousness elaborated by fascist ideologists, and its institutionaliza-
tion into mental, discursive, and visual images designed for mass con-
sumption. This double focus has set my research path on a tightrope be-
tween history and theory, between intellectual and cultural history, and
between the close reading of philosophical texts and the ‘thick’ analysis
of cultural artefacts. Uniting these directions of research, however, has
been the commitment to look for the poetics of history underlying fas-
cist ideology, that is, the deep rhetorical structure that connected the
fascist producers of ideological images to those who institutionalized
them into visual artefacts and to the Italian audiences who received
them. I have thus examined discursive statements by Mussolini and
prominent fascist ideologues in search of a vision of history that could
be defined and classified theoretically as properly fascist, while simulta-
neously looking closely at visual and ritual representations of history in
search of signs of its institutionalization. In the end, the answers have
come from the intersection of these two directions of research. In the
book, however, the two research paths are presented sequentially. In
Chapter 1 I offer a close reading, genealogical analysis, and theoretical
definition of the fascist vision of history. Chapters 2 to 6 focus on the
means by which this vision was institutionalized, the key images around
which the fascist politics of history organized themselves, and the cen-
tral events-moments in their evolution.
The reader interested in a smooth narrative account, periodization,
and social-political contextualization of the fascist politics of history
might not be entirely satisfied either by my approach to the evidence or
the results of my analysis. On the one hand I privilege a conjectural par-
adigm of investigation based on clues leading to identify structural,
unconscious, or simply submerged levels of historical agency. On the
other hand, my analysis stays anchored to a conjunctural context of ref-
erence that frustrates any recourse to the explanatory power of narra-
tive. In addition, the structure of the book is closer to a sociological
study, with a theoretical hypothesis fully elaborated in the first chapter
and verified empirically in the following ones, than a standard historical
monograph with a thesis-interpretation developed through the alterna-
tion of narrative and analysis. Inevitably some readers will object to the
shifts in analytic focus and narrative pace between the chapters, or,
more generally, to the theoretical bent of the first and last chapters and
the microhistorical bent of the others. However, I would like to remind
8 The Historic Imaginary

the reader from the outset that the topic of this research – the politics of
history – required a self-reflexive posture that other historians may avoid
in researching other subjects. There is no question that the study of any
aspect of historical cultures – whether the philosophy of history, histori-
ography, or the public use of history – calls the historian to a continuous
and active engagement with the philosophical, epistemological, and
methodological underpinnings of his or her own research and writing
practices. Not one of the least challenges and pleasures in this process
for the historian of history lies in paying great attention to the formal
organization of his/her text. Both the analytic structure and narrative
organization of this book respond, therefore, to my desire to show the
fruitful interaction between history and theory at all levels of the histo-
rian’s craft. First, of course, at the level of the subject, I show the ways in
which philosophical conceptions of history and historical representa-
tions, either professional or designed for a mass audience, may share
fundamental characteristics. Second, at the level of the analysis, I use
theoretical tools developed in a variety of disciplines – literary and cul-
tural studies, psychoanalysis, art history, and iconology – to read closely
the organization, performance, and reception of historical representa-
tions. Last but not least, in my conclusions, I invite the reader to reflect
upon the results of my historical analysis from the point of view of the
speculative philosophy of history. My sincere hope is that even readers
who are in principle hostile to these premises may find in the empirical
level of my analysis sufficient reason to read the book until the end and
evaluate it on the basis of the answers it offers to the questions raised at
the beginning.
The first answer this study offers to Bataille’s puzzlement before the
Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution is that this exhibition staged no
mere aesthetization of fascist res gestae. Rather, it revealed that Italian
fascism had coalesced around a modernist vision of the relationships
between historical agency, representation, and consciousness that was
aimed at undermining both liberal-positivist and Marxist-materialist phi-
losophies of history, and was also distinct from the racial paradigm dom-
inating all aspects of the Nazi vision of history.29 As George Mosse has
argued, Nazism subscribed to an apocalyptic view of history in which
German ‘history overcame itself’ in the eschatological projection of the
Third Reich.30 Dominated by the utopia of the Reich, both present and
past were superseded by visions of the future. Whether in literature,
speeches, or doctrinal treaties, the Reich was posited at one and the
Introduction 9

same time as the fulfilment of the Germanic spirit, as immanent in all of

German history, and as the dawn of the end of time.31 In practice,
however, Nazi politics of history were dominated by a combination of
opportunism, moralistic commentary, and racism that allowed the ap-
propriation of any part of the German past for eternal values’ sake.
Whether in academic historiography, education, monuments, films,
commemorative ceremonies, or other public sites of memory, the pan-
orama offered by Nazi politics of history was remarkably consistent and
monochromatic.32 Nazis, Rudy Koshar writes, ‘portrayed themselves not
as proactive or even revolutionaries, but as simple, loyal stewards of a
racial destiny’ that was not even exclusively national.33 In fact, in Nazi art,
appropriation extended to any Aryan past that could be eternalized –
ancient classical Greece above all – even at the cost of rejecting parts of
the German past, such as the Gothic age and style.34 Nothing could have
been further away in both theory and practice from the politics of his-
tory pursued by Italian fascism throughout the ventennio and, in particu-
lar, from the Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution.
It was not so much that fascist historiography and discourse were free
of either racial or eschatological overtones. The obsessive identification
of the fascist regime with the Roman imperial past in the 1930s in-
creased with the barbarous invasion of Ethiopia (1935) and was accom-
panied by a dramatic surge in racist and anti-Semitic discourse.35 On the
other hand, as Piergiorgio Zunino clarifies, the selective appropriation
of fascist precursors and the repeated affirmations of the fundamental
unity of Italian history never quelched the ‘necessity to insert fascism in
an eschatological dimension,’ in which ‘neither the past nor the present
furnished sufficient justifications for the regime.’ With every new
project, phase, or goal, Zunino writes, came corresponding calls for a
‘second wave,’ a ‘third time,’ or a new challenge.36 Yet all this pertained
primarily to the realm of discourse – that is, to publications that encom-
passed historical scholarship and popularization, conferences, newspa-
per and journals and from which most Italians came to know about the
unified historical course of their national history.37 In the visual mass
representation of history, fascism instead gave cultural sway to one of its
most popular mottoes: Il fascismo fa la storia, non la scrive (Fascism makes
history, it does not write it). Predicated on this polarization of ‘making’
versus ‘writing’ history, the MRF had given visual form to a uniquely his-
toric vision of history.
I define this vision as ‘historic’ because it mobilized and reified the
10 The Historic Imaginary

discursive distinction between the popular-cultural notion of historicness

– referring to epoch-making events belonging to the transtemporal pres-
ence of consciousness – and that of historical-ness – referring to facts
belonging to the past – by appropriating the former and rejecting the
latter.38 Specifically, fascism transfigured the idea of historic eventful-
ness into the mental image of fascist historic agency. That is, it con-
ceived and presented itself as a historic agent whose acts possessed the
qualities of immediacy and unmediated signification we commonly
attribute to historic events. Just like a historic event, the fascist act of
representation was aimed at giving presence to the past in the mind of
the observer, thereby eliding the medium of narrative between histori-
cal agency and consciousness. In fact, fascism celebrated its historicness
by institutionalizing a historic mode of representation at all levels of
visual and ritual mass culture.
If Bataille’s amazement before the MRF may be plausibly connected
to its avant-garde visualization of fascist historic agency, this book also
shows that this exhibition was no isolated cultural event. The MRF was a
key moment in the process of the consolidation of a fascist historic cul-
ture, which had started in the mid-1920s and would last throughout the
1930s. This cultural project was not limited to avant-garde exhibitions
such as the MRF, but encompassed all traditional sites of history, from
museums and archives to monuments and commemorations. And it
mobilized not only avant-garde artists and modernist intellectuals, but
also some deep-seated rhetorical traits in the minds of Italians. In fact,
the principal contention of this book is that the fascist politics of history
referred to the Latin Catholic notion of ‘presence’ in visual representa-
tion (imago) and therefore tapped into that mixture of fear of, and
attraction to, the ontological fusion of the image and prototype that had
for centuries characterized the response to images in Latin Catholic
visual culture.39 While the elaboration of a fascist mode of historic rep-
resentation relied on modernist aesthetic principles, its mass appeal
depended entirely on the widespread literacy of Latin Catholic rhetori-
cal codes in Italian popular culture. My main argument, therefore, is
that the institutionalization of fascist historic culture led to, and was sus-
tained by, the formation of a collective historic imaginary that was at the
root of fascism’s mass appeal and the intellectual challenge that observ-
ers such as Bataille recognized in the fascist politics of history.
In a sense, then, this is a study of a specific aspect of fascist mentalité. I
do seek to describe the relations between visual and mental images of
history at the level of a fascist collective subject. Yet the notion of his-
Introduction 11

toric imaginary that I develop in this study is also designed to highlight

something at once more essential about fascism, and more dynamic
about the nature of collective mentalities.
The term imaginary, as a noun rather than an adjective, appears rarely
in Anglo-American literature, but it has been a frequent topic of inquiry
in Romance-language scholarship, in which individual or collective
imaginaires (or immaginari) have been the subject of extensive historical,
literary, and sociological research for quite some time.40 Irrespective of
their disciplinary orientation most studies – including this one – have
relied on a rather intuitive notion of the imaginary.41 Collective and
individual imaginaries have been identified as consisting of mental
images, situated somewhere between the faculty of the imagination and
the structures of collective mentalities, and guiding the former toward
the formulation of specific ideological fantasies and projections; their
formation has been aptly described by Luisa Passerini as related to ‘the
unleashing of the imagination in relation to the written word’ and ‘the
interaction between texts, their authors and readers, those who heard
about them, those who appropriate and use them, those who fight or
develop their resonance, and, finally, of course, the referents of these
texts themselves.’42 To this basic definition, this study has added a spe-
cific, though not exclusive, concentration on visual, rather than textual,
In this respect, my notion of a historic imaginary can be usefully dis-
tinguished from the more familiar notion of mentality, of which it is
both part and counterpart. If, as Fernand Braudel has famously put it,
by mentality we understand that ‘collective mental prison’ that repre-
sents in relation to the freedom of the imagination what the past repre-
sents in relation to the present, the subject of this study may be thought
of precisely as that mental area of conflicts and negotiations between mentality
and imagination where past and present, subject and object, representation and
action are not clearly distinct.43 Thus the historic imaginary analysed in this
study is both a relational field and an inventory of images, which, as Pas-
serini suggests, may be best visualized as akin to a ‘medieval bestiary’ – a
never-ending collection of mental and represented creatures irreduc-
ible to either reality or fantasy and revealing instead the rhetorical codes
that underlie the combinatory operations of our historical imagina-
tion.44 By fascist historic imaginary, I mean therefore the ensemble of
mental icons in which the historic essence of fascism was imagined and
from which it was projected into visual and ritual representations that
aimed at making the past present, rather than seeking legitimization
12 The Historic Imaginary

from the past. At the same time, my specific focus of attention has not
been on the repetitiveness of these images across a unified cultural land-
scape – as implied by the notion of mentality – but rather on their trans-
figurations across time, media, and agents.
The period I consider is the fascist ventennio. The visual sites of histor-
ical representation I explore range from history museums, exhibitions,
and archives, to monuments, commemorations, and their reproduction
in print and film. The historical agents I examine include museum cura-
tors, journalists, modernist critics, cine-operators, avant-garde artists,
and Mussolini himself. The last figure, however, as both agent and men-
tal image, is, as this book points out, the dynamic fulcrum around which
the fascist historic imaginary revolved. The imaginary Mussolini sponta-
neously constructed by most Italians was the unifying referent for the
successive transfiguration of fascist historic images. In this respect, The
Historic Imaginary may serve as both a follow-up and a complement to
Luisa Passerini’s pathbreaking Mussolini immaginario.45 This pioneering
study of the fascist imaginary provided the first periodization and thick
description of the relationship between mussolinismo – the spontaneous
myth-cult of Mussolini, the man, preceding his takeover of power – and
ducismo – the proper myth-cult of the Duce (leader) of fascism.46 Her
study convincingly showed that mussolinismo-ducismo was a largely auton-
omous and even competitive ideological compound in relation to fas-
cismo, and that the ‘Mussolinian imaginary’ of Italians was the principal
and most enduring factor in ensuring a measure of mass consensus, and
even enthusiasm, for the regime at all times. Confirming the gist of Pas-
serini’s argument, this book shows that the evolution of the fascist his-
toric imaginary was intertwined with the gradual transfiguration of
mussolinismo into ducismo. Passerini’s study, however, focused solely on
the mental images of Mussolini produced in biographies of the dictator
before and during the regime, concluding that the key moment in this
process of transfiguration was the institutionalization of Mussolini-Duce
as an ‘a-historical figure’ in the 1930s.47 Concentrating instead on the
visual politics of history under fascism, The Historic Imaginary suggests
that the pivotal element in the transformation of mussolinismo into
ducismo, was, from the beginning, the historic – rather than the ahistori-
cal – image of the Duce, and that this image was also the key point of
ideological convergence between ducismo and fascismo itself.
The book begins by showing that a properly fascist vision of history
was not the province of regime historians or ideologues but was con-
tained in the famous Mussolinian motto ‘Fascism makes history.’ This
Introduction 13

popular slogan projected an image of fascism as a historic agent whose

acts were simultaneously historical and historiographical in the ‘actual-
ist’ sense that they made the past present in the consciousness of the
masses. Chapter 1 shows that the actualist notion of ‘history belonging
to the present’ elaborated by fascism’s prime philosopher, Giovanni
Gentile, corresponded to a modernist theory of the historic imagination
that anticipated, and then sustained philosophically, the self-image of
fascist historic agency.
Essentially, Gentile posited actualism itself as a reform of Hegelian
dialectics aimed at affirming the absolute immanence of theory and
practice in the ‘pure act,’ against all transcendental components of
idealist as well as materialist thought. Consequently, the actualist philos-
ophy of history rejected both Hegelian and Marxist notions of transcen-
dental History, positing instead what I call a catastrophe of the histori-
(ographi)cal, that is, the reciprocal immanence of the historical and the
historiographical act. Every historical action was the fulfilment of a past
act, just as any historiographical act gave presence and meaning to a cer-
tain past. Quite aside from Gentile’s active participation in the formal-
ization of fascist doctrine, historiography, and public discourse, his
catastrophe of the histori(ographi)cal act found its best expression in
the visual and ritual representation of history. And, in this respect, the
fascist politics of history developed in a quintessentially modernist direc-
tion aimed at challenging not only the positivist conception of historiog-
raphy but also, and above all, the transcendental basis of both liberal
and Marxist philosophies of history. My genealogical analysis, however,
shows that Gentile’s theory of the historic imagination not only antici-
pated the ideological image of fascist historic agency but also rooted it
in the fertile terrain of Latin Catholic visual culture. In fact, the empiri-
cal chapters that follow demonstrate that, while the actualist philosophy
of history offered an intellectual support to sustain the ideological elab-
oration of the fascist historic imaginary, its consolidation was predicated
entirely on the resonance between modernist aesthetic principles and
Latin Catholic rhetorical codes.
While the first chapter presents a close reading of texts, the following
chapters take a different approach, in both form and content. They pro-
ceed diachronically through the entire duration of the regime (1922–
42), and the analysis focuses on different venues for the visual-ritual rep-
resentation of history under fascism: historical museums and archives
(Chapter 2), monuments and commemorations (Chapter 3), the mass
media (Chapter 4), and historical exhibitions (Chapters 5 and 6). As a
14 The Historic Imaginary

whole, these empirical chapters turn a microhistorical set of lenses onto

the creation, development, and evolution of a historic mode of repre-
sentation in fascist Italy.
Given the development of microhistory in studies of early modern
popular culture, the choice of this particular approach in these chapters
may appear out of place at first. However, it is a response to some
specific objectives that have nothing to do with the predilection for
the anecdotal over the synthetic, or the exceptional over the normal.48
In the first place my choice of reducing the scale of observation to the
level of the single cultural artefact, event, or reproduction serves to
renounce, and in part denounce, the posture of moral-scientific dis-
tance that has characterized social-political studies of fascism for
decades. Over time, this posture has not only privileged the ideological
and/or class dimension of the phenomenon over all others (e.g., the
psychological and cultural), but it has also implicitly supported the the-
oretical polarization of ‘fascism’ and ‘culture’ as antithetical terms.49 In
practice this posture consigns the cultural events I analyse to that all-
encompassing, all-equalizing, and most uncritical rubric of ‘propa-
ganda,’ and considers them, ipso facto, peripheral to either a historical
or theoretical explanation of the fascist phenomenon. Reversing this
view, my close reading of fascist texts, rituals, and images identifies in
the resonance between high-modernist Italian culture and popular cul-
ture rhetorical codes a specific non-ideological and non-socially-deter-
mined historical agent that underpinned the production of historic
rituals and images under fascism, and guaranteed their appeal for both
Italian intellectuals and the masses. At the same time, the reduced scale
of observation allows this study to also challenge the comprehensive
visions delineated by some macrohistories of fascist culture without fall-
ing into unproductive polarizations between social and cultural history,
analysis and narrative, and so forth.50 My close reading of the relation-
ship between fascist ritual and image politics insists on their significant
autonomy from the supposedly totalitarian logic sustaining the fascist
sacralization of politics, and on their closer dependence on longer-last-
ing traits of the Italian Catholic imaginary.
Second, as Carlo Ginzburg puts it, the basic theoretical-methodologi-
cal model of microhistory is the semiotic relationship between langue
and parole (language as speech-act and language as syntax-grammar), in
which the latter stands for all forms of ‘lived experience’ and the former
for ‘the invisible structures within which that lived experience is arti-
culated.’51 In this respect, my choice of a microhistorical approach
Introduction 15

responds to the necessity of respecting the complexity and conjunctur-

ality of agency while at the same time attempting to tackle the question
of mass reception. The analysis of organizational acts, just as much as
that of ritual performances and visual images, always refers back to the
longevity and mass literacy of Latin Catholic rhetorical codes in Italian
fascist culture, thereby also fulfilling the third and most important char-
acteristic of the microhistorical approach. The central tenet of these
chapters is to highlight the to-and-fro between high culture and popular
culture, thereby combining conjunctural and longue durée levels of inter-
pretation in order to locate different levels of agency, including the
structural one of the fascist historic imaginary itself. Thus, the close
reading of exceptional representational events and agents does not
hinder the comprehensiveness of the account, but rather unveils the
sequence of spectacles and images around which fascist historic culture
Our story begins with the interaction between the ritualization of the
March on Rome – as the historic event that had ushered in a historic
agent, fascism – and the modernist revision of history museums and
archives in 1920s Italy. At the centre of this revision we find our first
protagonist, historian and curator Antonio Monti, and the first icon of
the fascist historic imaginary, a Duce Taumaturgo – that is, the image of
Mussolini as healer of the psychological wounds of the Great War –
transformed by Monti into a ‘thaumaturgic’ criterion of representation.
In Chapter 3 I turn my attention to the contribution of the thaumatur-
gic Duce himself to the institutionalization of the fascist historic imagi-
nary. Analysing Mussolini’s personal direction of all commemorative
events connected with the 1932 cinquantenario garibaldino (the fiftieth
anniversary of national hero Giuseppe Garibaldi’s death), I show that
Mussolini personally and purposefully orchestrated this celebration as a
historic spectacle aimed at highlighting the incommensurability of fas-
cism and Garibaldianism. This chapter demonstrates that the Garibal-
dian celebrations did not merely celebrate the final absorption of the
cult of the fatherland into the cult of fascism, as Emilio Gentile has sug-
gested, but also brought to completion the imaginary transfiguration of
the Duce Taumaturgo into the historic Duce.52 At the same time, my
close reading of the representation of the cinquantenario in newspapers
and newsreels in Chapter 4 also reveals that the significance of these
celebrations was not limited to the unusual amount of personal involve-
ment and initiative assumed by Mussolini in their organization. The
central agent in the organization, performance, and reception of the
16 The Historic Imaginary

Garibaldian celebrations was the widespread literacy in Latin Catholic

rhetorical codes that connected encoders (Mussolini), recoders (mass
media), and de-coders (viewers and readers) of the events. The close
reading of the organization, performance, and mass media reproduc-
tion of the cinquantenario therefore reveals that, by 1932, a properly fas-
cist historic imaginary had been formed and was the principal agent in
the construction of fascist historic culture. In fact, the following chap-
ter shows that the Garibaldian cin-quantenario constituted only the first
act of a single historic spectacle soon to be completed with a final his-
toric act: the historic representation of the fascist historic imaginary
itself in the Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution that opened the com-
memorative frenzy of the fascist decennale – the tenth anniversary of the
March on Rome.
By all accounts – including those revealing its very strong impact on
antifascist intellectuals such as Bataille – the Exhibition of the Fascist
Revolution was the most successful cultural event in the whole history of
the fascist regime. Predictably, this exhibition has assumed a central
place in the scholarly debate on fascism, highlighting the attending split
between ritual and image, the sacred and the aesthetic, in the study of
fascist culture. Focusing on its eclectic synthesis of avant-garde aesthet-
ics, several scholars have seen in this exhibition the quintessential site of
the fascist aestheticization of politics.53 Countering this view, Emilio
Gentile has forcefully argued that the exhibition constituted the first
temple of the fascist faith, encapsulating the very subordination of fas-
cist modernism to the fascist sacralization of politics.54 Both interpreta-
tions, however, have partially failed to approach the exhibition on its
own grounds – as a historical representation – and have thus divorced it
from the ‘contest of exhibitions’ that immediately preceded it: the Mos-
tra di Roma nell’ottocento (MRO) (Exhibition of Nineteenth-Century
Rome) and the Mostra garibaldina (MG) (Garibaldian Exhibition),
which were included in the commemorative program of the cinquante-
nario. My fifth chapter contextualizes the MRF in relation to the rhetori-
cal encoding and critical reception of these two historical exhibitions,
which constituted a crucial moment of intellectual confrontation
between the ‘historical’ (MRO) and the ‘historic’ (MG) modes of repre-
sentation. The MRF, in fact, was designed to challenge both exhibitions
as history and representation, and it did so not only by putting on stage
a historic representation of the fascist historic imaginary itself, but also
by doing so self-referentially. The MRF projected the temporal form of
the decennale onto time itself, transfiguring the historic Duce into a fas-
cist unit of historic time: the decade.
Introduction 17

We cannot know with certainty if Bataille’s immediate reaction was

more in response to the historic site (Mussolini’s reconstructed study)
that he referred to in his letter, or to the overall historic encoding of the
exhibition. Yet his post-1934 antifascist writings and initiatives, discussed
in the epilogue, carried unmistakable traces of the long-lasting effect of
the MRF’s excessive historic figuration, documented in my last empiri-
cal chapter. Bringing into focus the combined impact of the MRF on
the institutional regimentation of the past and the spectacular evolution
of fascist exhibition culture in 1930s Italy, Chapter 6 shows that the
modernist impulse of the fascist historic imaginary did not subside in
the second decade of the fascist regime. On the contrary, it was institu-
tionalized into a proper historic culture that redirected the fascist his-
toric imaginary away from ‘history belonging to the present’ and toward
‘history belonging to the future.’ Demonstrating the very material
impact of the MRF on the evolution of the fascist historic imaginary
itself, the temporal image of the decade became ubiquitous in fascist
discourse, ritual, and image politics throughout the 1930s. Projecting
the fascist present toward the future, the fascist decade provided a Latin
futurist answer to the utopian periods of fascism’s totalitarian rivals –
the apocalyptic one thousand years’ Reich of Nazism and the rev-
olutionary five-year plans of the Bolsheviks. It is no surprise that, in
the midst of the Second World War, the fascist regime kept pouring
resources into the project of a Universal Exhibition centred around the
celebration of the second decade of fascist civilization. In fact, I con-
clude this study by suggesting that in the architectural remnants of this
never-completed exhibition, now integrated into a post-fascist Rome, we
may still capture an uncanny reminder of fascism’s most visionary
project, and its legacy.
The Historic Imaginary contributes to the recent cultural turn in the
study of fascism, but its main historiographical goal is to overcome the
historical-theoretical impasse in which studies of fascist modernism and
mass culture seem to have recently fallen. Collectively, these studies
have documented both the high level of intellectual elaboration of fas-
cist ideology and the way in which fascist values were transmitted
through a barrage of ritual- and image-politics. In so doing, they have
successfully challenged the long-standing historiographical dogmas of a
supposed antithesis between fascism and culture and of the totalitarian
paradigm of interpretation that for several decades reduced culture
itself to a dependent variable of state politics. At the same time, as
shown symptomatically by the polarized interpretations of the MRF,
these studies have also tended to deliver two alternative images of the
18 The Historic Imaginary

Italian fascist phenomenon supported by contending paradigms of

interpretation and disciplinary traditions. Inspired by George Mosse’s
seminal work on the ‘sacralization of politics,’ several historians and
sociologists have turned their attention to the ritual culture orches-
trated by the fascist party, and its syncretic appropriation of Catholic lit-
urgy and organizational schemes.55 In contrast, a number of literary
scholars and cultural critics have sought to give historical content to
Walter Benjamin’s famous theory of the fascist aestheticization of poli-
tics by focusing their attention on fascist image-politics and visual
culture.56 Hence, below the surface of a common deconstruction of ob-
solete interpretative frameworks and worn-out dichotomies, the study of
fascist mass culture has raised a crucial question: Where was the point
of connection between ritual- and image-politics, between the cult of
fascism and fascist modernism?
This study suggests that the central nexus between the fascist sacral-
ization and aestheticization of politics was the formation and institution-
alization of a fascist historic imaginary. And, along these lines, this book
seeks to champion a more sustained exploration of the fascist imaginary
in, for example, the diffusion of the fascist rhetorics of virility at a
broader popular culture level than that analysed by Barbara Spack-
mann, as well as beyond the Italian fascist cultural and geographical
borders and the temporal limit of 1945. At the same time, in exploring
the connection between Bataille’s amazement and the historic imagi-
nary visualized by the Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution, The Historic
Imaginary also seeks to contribute to a more constructive engagement of
cultural studies of fascism with a theoretical tradition that was most sen-
sitive to the Catholic framework of fascist visionary politics. I am refer-
ring, of course, to that surrealist posture best represented by Bataille –
but also present in the work of Benjamin – that contextualized fascism
in relation to a notion of modernity that, while maintaining a basically
Marxist understanding of capitalist modernization, owed its principal
intellectual debt to Nietzsche and Freud rather than Durkheim and
Weber. Bataille’s modernity was characterized not only by the fateful
dissociation of ‘the sacred’ from ‘the religious,’ but also by an associa-
tion of ‘the sacred’ with desire, bodily functions, and excess, which
could not be reduced either to the Weberian notion of secularization
via rationalization, or Durkheim’s idea of the sacralization of politics via
rituals. Bataille’s sacred in modernity was the result of cultural de-
Catholization. Despite the universalist claims of his theory of fascism,
Introduction 19

fascist Italy must have thus appeared to Bataille as the cultural and polit-
ical laboratory of a specifically Catholic Mediterranean type of moder-
nity (and, hence, as the spiritual ‘other’ of Protestant Atlantic
capitalism) much more than the precursor and prototype of Nazi Ger-
many. It is not by chance that, although Bataille may have never read a
single page of Gentile, his discussion of the fascist appropriation of
the sacred resonated much more with the absolute immanentism theo-
rized by the philosopher of actualism than with any of the Heidegger
that Bataille had read. For Bataille, as for Gentile, fascism was the mani-
festation of the ‘disjunction between the sacred and transcendental
substance.’ Fascism, in Bataille’s words, had recognized that ‘God
represented the only obstacle to the human will’ and therefore that
with the Nietzschean ‘death of God,’ the will had surrendered ‘to the
passion of giving the world an intoxicating meaning.’57
At a methodological level, then, this study seeks to build a bridge
between the critical-theoretical insights of surrealist thought and the his-
torical study of the relations among mental images, philosophical ideas,
aesthetic principles, and rhetorical codes around which the fascist imag-
inary coalesced and in which it expressed itself in public rituals and rep-
resentations. Along these lines, theoretical and historical works on visual
perception and iconology have also informed my approach.58 In particu-
lar, Ernst Gombrich’s analysis of normative style and W.J.T. Mitchell’s
useful notion of hypericon have been indispensable for approaching
very different modes of representation with an eye to their common per-
ceptual encoding.59 All the same, this study does not seek to yield a the-
orization of fascist iconology any more than it claims to be a Bataillian
interpretation of fascism. To remark on the family resemblance between
Gentile’s philosophy of the historic, Bataille’s theory of the sacred, and
Gombrich’s notion of normative style is not to up this study’s theoretical
ante but rather to highlight its ‘new historicist’ premises and goals. That
is, I wish to confirm with Aram Veeser and Stephen Greenblatt that, just
like every theoretical act of ‘unmasking, critique and opposition uses the
tools it condemns and risks falling prey to the practice it exposes,’ the
power of all histories lies not in revelations of ‘an absolute otherness that
compels us to suspend our values in the face of an entirely different sys-
tem of consciousness, but rather in the intimations of an obscure link
between those distant events and the way we are.’60 What is essential here
is the historical sensitivity of the insights offered by French intellectuals
in the 1930s to the longevity and significance of Latin Catholic culture in
20 The Historic Imaginary

modernity. Understood from this new historicist perspective, the notion

of the historic imaginary developed here seeks to contribute to a rethink-
ing of modernity in general, and modern historical culture in particular,
in light of the endurance of Latin Catholic rhetorical codes in the collec-
tive Western imaginary.
As I discuss in my epilogue, the cultural deconstruction that the fas-
cist politics of history effected on the transcendental notion of history
cannot be underestimated or explained away as propaganda. The post-
modern crisis of historical culture reminds us of the success of this oper-
ation and the fateful demise of the time-honoured notion of historical
consciousness. Whether we consider the ‘incredulity toward metanarra-
tives’ (as classically defined by Jean-François Lyotard),61 or the ritual
announcements of the ‘end of history’ (first declared by Alexander
Kojève in 1949 and reiterated by Francis Fukuyama in 1989),62 or the
transfiguration of the fascist decade into the temporality of fashion, it
seems clear that the postmodern age is more properly a posthistoric(al)
one. We no longer believe in History as a transcendental whole, nor do
we perceive historic events in the fascist-immanent sense of making his-
tory. Our minds no longer oscillate between historic present and histor-
ical past. We live, as it were, in a historic infinitive tense. Yet it might just
be the case that from this perspective we may finally acknowledge that
what we proudly referred to as modern historical culture was a his-
toric(al) one from the beginning; that is to say, one predicated on the
subordination, but not disappearance, of the immanent conception of
history implicit in the Latin Catholic tradition of historia magistra vitae to
the modern idea of a single transcendental History. The fascist politics
of history successfully reversed this subordination but, in the process,
consumed both transcendental and immanent poles of the oscillation.
The unavoidable suggestion emerging from this study is that, by decon-
structing modern historic(al) culture, the fascist politics of history set
the stage for the formation of our own posthistoric(al) imaginaries.
Chapter One


No wonder, gentlemen, if side by side the shirkers of war we find the shirk-
ers of history, who, having failed – for many reasons and maybe because of
their creative impotence – to produce the event, that is, to make history
before writing it, later on consume their revenge diminishing it without
objectivity or shame.
Benito Mussolini, 1929

It was with these words, delivered to the fascist senate on 24 May 1929,
that Benito Mussolini responded to Benedetto Croce’s opposition to the
conciliation pacts between the Vatican and the Italian state, and simulta-
neously offered a spectacle the whole fascist intelligentsia had been wait-
ing for: a direct intellectual confrontation between the ‘Duce’ of fascism
and the ‘Laic Pope’ of liberalism.1 On the surface, Mussolini’s analogy
between shirkers of war and shirkers of history connected Croce’s oppo-
sition to the Concordat to the conspicuous absence of the Great War
and fascism in Croce’s recently published Storia d’Italia dal 1870 al 1914.
Yet, behind the polemical jab directed toward the philosophical cham-
pion of liberalism, there also lurked the suggestion that the ideological
dichotomy between fascism and liberalism entailed two opposite con-
ceptions of the relationship between res gestae and historia rerum gae-
starum: fascism made history by producing ‘events,’ liberalism wrote it to
unmake them. Overnight, in fact, Mussolini’s aphoristic sentence was
transformed into one of the most popular fascist mottoes, ‘Il fascismo fa
la storia, non la scrive’ (Fascism makes history, it does not write it),
thereby losing its polemical bite but sharpening its ideological stakes.2
Turning temporal succession into all-out opposition, the slogan pro-
22 The Historic Imaginary

jected an image of fascism as merging its rejection of political represen-

tation (liberalism) with the obliteration of historical representation
(historicism). Could the catchphrase ‘Fascism makes history’ have been
the expression of a genuine philosophy of history sustaining fascist
That Mussolini’s public attack on Croce was perceived as a momen-
tous intellectual event in the history of fascist culture was immediately
clear from the newspapers headlines and editorials of 25 May 1929.
Emphasizing the words ‘imboscato della storia’ (shirker of history), the
fascist press enthusiastically connected Mussolini’s speech to the intel-
lectual debate that, between 1928 and 1929, had pitched Croce’s Storia
d’Italia against the first recognized masterpiece of fascist historiography,
L’Italia in cammino, published in late 1927 by the prominent historian
Gioacchino Volpe.4 The nearly concurrent publication of these two anti-
thetical histories of Italy had brought the ‘question of history’ to the
forefront of fascist intellectual discourse right after the closure of a pub-
lic inquiry into the ‘question of art.’ As in the case of the public debate
over art, the fascist propaganda machine had immediately proceeded to
enhance Mussolini’s intellectual stature by highlighting the perfect fit
between the Duce’s speeches and the fascist culture elaborated by mili-
tant artists and intellectuals such as Volpe. Yet, a comparison between
the two debates also reveals that, from the point of view of fascist ideol-
ogy, the two questions – of art and history – were not at all equivalent,
and much was left out by the press presentation of the Duce as intellec-
tual primus inter pares.
The controversy over the desirability of a fascist aesthetic had been
created and framed by two speeches delivered by Mussolini in 1925 and
1926. In the first, given to the Academy of Arts of Perugia, Mussolini
had exhorted Italian artists to create a ‘traditionalist and simulta-
neously modern’ art and to avoid producing ‘anything that could
resemble a State art.’5 In the second address, which took place at the
opening ceremony of an art exhibit in Milan, he had insisted, instead,
on a principle that was to become the hallmark of fascist political cul-
ture: the fundamental identity of art and politics.6 Encouraged by both
speeches, fascism’s leading intellectual review, Critica Fascista, had
invited artists, intellectuals, and prominent fascist leaders to discuss
how they intended to accomplish Mussolini’s implicit mandate: to
express in art the aesthetic essence of fascist politics. The diverse posi-
tions subsequently expressed in the pages of Critica Fascista conveyed to
contemporaries and future historians alike the fact that neither tradi-
History Belongs to the Present 23

tional nor avant-garde artists could lay absolute claim to being the stan-
dard-bearers of a fascist aesthetic. On the other hand, neither Mus-
solini nor the fascist party ever sought to push the search for intel-
lectual consensus into direct state control and direction of cultural
activities.7 The object of fascist ‘aesthetic politics,’ Simonetta Falasca-
Zamponi reminds us, was the living Italian masses, and its goal was ‘to
give them style,’ not to dictate stylistic criteria to artists whose task was to
bring inanimate matter to life.8 Despite the more interventionist poli-
cies enacted in the second half of the 1930s by both state and party, the
implicit pact between Mussolini and Italian artists to allow the develop-
ment of a competitive aesthetic sphere under fascism held throughout
the ventennio.9 Unlike Hitler, Mussolini never imposed or even articu-
lated a binding conception of fascist art.10 In the absence of an official
policy on art form or content, in fascist Italy the question of art
remained both open to competitive claims and dependent on a contin-
uous dialogue between professional artists and the aesthetic politics the
regime cultivated in its self-representation.11 But what about the rela-
tionship between the question of history raised by the publication of
Volpe’s and Croce’s histories of Italy and the dichotomy between lib-
eral history writing and fascist history making elicited by Mussolini in
his 1929 speech? Did this speech leave the definition of a fascist concep-
tion of history open to the elaboration of militant historians, just as his
1925 speech had anticipated the arguments, conclusions, and lasting
agreement to leave the fascist signifier open to competitive appropria-
tion by individual artists or artistic movements? Or did it refer to a
uniquely fascist politics of history?

Fascist Politics of History

There is no denying the popular association of fascism with a pre-

modern and mythical, as opposed to historical, form of collective men-
tality best expressed in nostalgia for ancient imperial Romanità in fascist
discourse, art, and architecture in the 1930s and even earlier. Yet recent
scholarship has tended to re-evaluate the perceived hegemony of
Roman-ness in fascist culture. As Piergiorgio Zunino has concluded in
his vast exploration of fascist ideological writings, the fascist sense of
time was characterized by an acute sense of discontinuity between past
and future rather than a desire to forge a mythic identity between the
Roman past and fascist present. For Zunino, therefore, Roman-ness pro-
vided ‘a sea in which anyone could fish out anything for any occasion: a
24 The Historic Imaginary

reminder, a justification, a title of whatsoever nobility,’ rather than a

properly mythic horizon. The ‘Romans of Modernity,’ a slogan elabo-
rated, formulated, and repeated incessantly by all strata of fascist publi-
cists, encapsulated not only the emotional charge attributed to the
ancient Italian past, but also its ideological fragility. The texts, institu-
tions, commemorations, public buildings, and ritual segments of fascist
culture that celebrated or referred explicitly to the Roman past were
obsessive to the point of ineffectiveness. They constituted categorical
imperatives without consistency; their compulsiveness was an index of
their imaginary poverty. Roman-ness and modernity thus offered to the
historical imaginary of Italians a tautology of reference without dialecti-
cal tension: Rome had been modern in its time as fascism was Roman in
the present.12
While neither government nor party ever devised a policy directed at
influencing the orientation and contents of Italian historiography until
the mid-1930s, the fascist intelligentsia was immediately aware that the
development of a fascist vision of national history would be key to the
construction of mass consensus as well as the fascist state, and to the for-
mation of the fascist ‘new man.’13 As Zunino has shown, from the early
stages in the formation of the regime the construction of a fascist sense
of history was an urgent priority for a large group of journalists and mil-
itant intellectuals who sought a historical legitimization for fascism’s rise
to power in the recent ‘national past’ – that is, in the period between the
unification of the Italian nation during the so-called Risorgimento
(1848–70) and the Italian ‘victory’ in the Great War (1918). Fascist his-
torical discourse thus immediately assumed a thematic coherence and
continuity that had no parallel in other cultural sectors. It was, in fact,
from ‘books that situated themselves between historical scholarship and
popularization, conferences, newspaper and journals’ that, in the 1920s,
most literate Italians began apprehending how the unified historical
course of their national history had been punctuated by a select cohort
of fascist precursors.14
The discursive construction of a fascist past proceeded along two
gradually converging lines: the affirmation of the revolutionary disconti-
nuity between liberal and fascist Italy, and the exaltation of the genea-
logical line that led from the Risorgimento to fascism. On the first front,
the stigmatization of liberal Italy’s moral climate, institutions, and poli-
cies was almost unanimous and monochromatic. In every conference,
pamphlet, and editorial, the liberal cinquantennio (1860–1922) was
characterized by the very weaknesses which the fascist movement had
History Belongs to the Present 25

denounced in its rise to power. Small-mindedness, uncertainty, passivity,

lack of faith, resignation, egoism, and agnosticism were the terms with
which the moral senility of the liberal period was universally scorned.
Along the second discursive line, fascism was presented as the fulfilment
of the process of Italian national unification, and every major Risorgi-
mental figure was caught in the network of fascist anticipations. At the
same time, the celebration of Risorgimental precursors was far from a
monotonous inventory of their proto-fascist gestae. Rather, it proceeded
alongside the identification of the historical limits of their actions. From
the two discursive lines, there gradually arose a fascist historical imagi-
nary rotating around two popular and complementary images that were
diffused through all levels of propaganda: a ‘faceless’ liberal Italy and an
‘incomplete Risorgimento.’
Neither of these two images originated with fascism, but in fascist dis-
course they found a unique point of intersection. Among fascism’s
Risorgimental precursors a crucial place was immediately accorded to
the controversial apostle of republicanism, Giuseppe Mazzini. Mazzini,
of course, had been the leader of the democratic republican faction
during the Risorgimento, refusing any compromise with the Pied-
montese monarchy that had led the process of national unification to
military and political fruition. Yet his patriotism and moral Catholic doc-
trine of the citizen’s duty to the state left ample room for a selective
appropriation of his thought and action by fascism. Mazzini was thus
purged of all problematic traits and monumentalized as the prime
Risorgimental critic of the liberal state and the ideal point of origin of
the highest fascist values, including anti-liberalism, a sense of duty and
sacrifice, fierce patriotism, spiritualism, and, above all, the subordina-
tion of the individual to the national collectivity in the ethical state.15 As
a fascist precursor, Mazzini not only towered above all others, but also
functioned as the ideal point of intersection for the two popular images
of an incomplete Risorgimento and a faceless Italy. Furthermore, in the
exaltation of Mazzini, fascist historical discourse found a crucial point of
contact with the writings of fascism’s prime philosopher and intellectual
organizer, Giovanni Gentile.
It would be hard to underestimate Gentile’s contribution to both the
formation and organization of fascist intellectual culture.16 From the
early 1890s to the end of the Great War, Gentile had joined Croce in a
close alliance for the construction of a neo-idealist philosophical front
seeking to dethrone positivism from its alleged cultural and intellectual
hegemony.17 By the first decade of the new century, their journal, La
26 The Historic Imaginary

Critica, had become the central point of philosophical reference for a

revolt of young Italian intellectuals against the materialist corruption
and ideological trasformismo of liberal politics in the Giolittian era.18 And
notwithstanding serious philosophical disagreements that emerged in
1912, during the war the two philosophers had strengthened both their
friendship and their common intellectual cause. With the rise of fas-
cism, however, their relationship was severed.
Although Croce greeted Mussolini’s seizure of power in 1922 with
timid optimism, and personally recommended Gentile for the post of
Minister of Education in the first fascist government, he rapidly turned
against both figures after the assassination of the socialist leader Gia-
como Matteotti in 1924. In 1925, therefore, Gentile and Croce found
themselves on opposite sides of the ideological barricade as authors of,
respectively, the fascist and antifascist manifestos of Italian intellectu-
als.19 These two antithetical manifestos gave to Italian intellectuals the
first and last opportunity to make public their support for, or opposition
to, fascism, and to their authors a lasting symbolic leadership of the
opposing camps. In fact, although in time several signers of either man-
ifesto would switch sides or no longer recognize themselves in either of
the two texts, the history of Italian intellectual culture under fascism
continued to revolve throughout the 1920s around the philosophical
and political divorce between Gentile and Croce. For most non-Marxist
Italian intellectuals, the question of militancy for or against fascism con-
tinued to depend on their attributing, with Gentile, a proper ‘religious
character’ to fascism, or on their rejecting, in Croce’s own words, such
an ennobling label for such a ‘bizarre mix of authoritarianism and dem-
agoguery, absolutism and Bolshevism, atheism and courtship of the
Catholic Church, of sugary mysticism and cynicism.’20 For the two pro-
tagonists, however, highlighting the question of the ‘religious’ character
of fascism also meant giving a political tone to the end of a philosophi-
cal alliance that had been crumbling since 1912. In that year, in fact,
Gentile had finally presented his ‘reform of Hegelian dialectics’ in the
guise of a new philosophical system named attualismo (actualism),21
which Croce, however, had promptly denounced as a kind of ‘religious
solipsism’ and ‘idealist mysticism.’22
As Croce rightly intuited, actualism greatly contributed to the cultural
climate of irrational spiritualism, antipositivism, and antimaterialism
that made the fascist movement attractive first to disgruntled youth and
intellectuals and then to conservative liberals in the aftermath of the
Great War, so much so that even the contemporary Gentilian philoso-
History Belongs to the Present 27

pher Augusto Del Noce has frankly admitted that there existed a pre-
established harmony between actualism and fascism.23 Contrary to the
acrimonious debate concerning the relationship between Heidegger’s
philosophy of Being and Nazism, the only controversy concerning the
relationship between actualism and fascism is not about how much of a
fascist Gentile was, but rather how actualist fascism was. While continu-
ing to write philosophical essays and treatises throughout the 1920s and
1930s, Gentile published dozens of articles lending ideological legiti-
macy to the regime and its cultural policies – an activity that peaked in
1932 with his famous collaboration with Mussolini in the writing of ‘La
dottrina del fascismo’ for the Enciclopedia Italiana. In addition, Gentile
not only remained faithful to the regime until the very end but, after the
end of his ministerial experience, continued to play a prominent role in
the fascist political sphere. Finally, Gentile remained fascism’s most
powerful and active intellectual organizer, as the founder of the Nation-
al Institute of Fascist Culture and of the Italian Encyclopedia, director of
the ‘Normale’ University of Pisa, editor of eight academic journals, and
co-owner of four publishing houses.24 Yet, on the ideological plane,
Gentile’s main contribution was his Risorgimental interpretation of fas-
cism founded on the actualist elaboration of Mazzini’s thought.
Long before the rise of fascism, Gentile had begun elaborating an
original interpretation of Mazzini as the Italian ‘anti-Marx’ and the the-
oretician of an ‘antidemocratic’ form of liberalism based on the individ-
ual’s duty to the state rather than on the rights of the individual.25 By
1924, however, he would refer to Mussolini as the ‘new Mazzini,’ and in
the following years he would describe the formation of the fascist state
as the realization of Mazzini’s aspirations for an immanent union of
individual and state.26 Hence Gentile constructed around the figure of
Mazzini a Risorgimentalist interpretation of fascism aimed at offering
philosophical legitimacy to the institutionalization of the regime and
epochal coherence to the development of fascist historical discourse.27
With Gentile, liberal Italy received a selected number of proto-fascist
faces, which accompanied the Risorgimento toward its historical fulfil-
ment in fascism. United in Gentile’s Risorgimental epoch, the revolu-
tionary hero par excellence Garibaldi, the state-builder Cavour, the
post-Risorgimento patriot Oriani, and the ex-Garibaldian and proto-
nationalist statesman Crispi – to mention only the principal figures of
anticipation – punctuated the historical fulfilment of Mazzini’s ‘Young
Italy’ in the fascist ‘Third Rome.’
By 1927, then, when Gioacchino Volpe’s L’Italia in cammino finally
28 The Historic Imaginary

appeared, the fascist intellectual sphere was saturated with expectations

for a fascist history of Italy that would mediate between Gentile’s Risorg-
imental paradigm and nonprofessional historical discourse. Volpe’s
political and intellectual credentials were impeccable. His nationalist
sympathies – already well known before the Great War – had developed
into active support for the fascist movement, sanctioned by his collabo-
ration with Mussolini’s journals Il Popolo d’Italia and Gerarchia (1920–3).
In 1925 he had publicly endorsed the regime and signed Gentile’s Man-
ifesto of Fascist Intellectuals. In the same year, Volpe was nominated to the
directorship of the newly instituted Scuola di storia moderna e contempora-
nea (School of Modern and Contemporary History). From this secure
institutional position he came to exercise a leading and lasting role in
the reorganization of Italian historical studies.28 Between the mid-1920s
and the early 1930s, Volpe’s School led a proper passage en masse of
Italian historians from social to political historiography and from
ancient to modern Italian history, thereby making the themes and histo-
riographical practices of Italian professional historians increasingly
compatible with fascist ideology.29 However, the central role that Volpe
came to play in the organization of historical culture under fascism was
neither the result of his nationalist leanings nor the natural outcome of
the professional credit he had acquired as the leading medievalist of his
generation. Rather, it derived principally from the intellectual leader-
ship he had come to exert on war-generation historians as the most
authoritative and outspoken proponent of a new intellectual habitus
grounded in the active participation of Italian intellectuals in the Great
War effort.30
Along with several other young historians and schoolteachers, Volpe
had served the last two years of the war in the Propaganda Section (Sec-
tion P), hastily organized by the Italian army after the disastrous defeat
at Caporetto in October 1917 and headed by the Gentilian pedagogist
Giuseppe Lombardo Radice.31 Volpe’s involvement in this central intel-
lectual cell of the Italian war front nurtured his conviction that Italian
historians needed to reconnect themselves with the political life of the
nation, and abandon their positivist distaste for recent Italian history in
favour of historical syntheses addressed to the general public. But Sec-
tion P had also been behind the formation and diffusion of the histori-
cal myth of the war’s Risorgimental origins. This experience gradually
led Volpe to redirect his research interests from medieval to modern
Italian history, and to endorse, in Giovanni Belardelli’s words, the ‘posi-
tive function of historical myths’ and the role that the historical imagi-
History Belongs to the Present 29

nation ‘had always played in periods of national resurgence.’32 Volpe

thus emerged from the war as a prime representative of a generation of
militant historians whose direct involvement in the intellectual war front
entailed the assertion of historiography as a combat weapon for the con-
struction of the present. His postwar calls for historians to become civic
leaders of the nation not only resonated with widely held reservations
about the highly refined, specialist tendency of prewar Italian historiog-
raphy, but also seemed to support the development of a historical
mythology to be diffused at the mass level of journalistic discourse.
No wonder, then, that the fascist press anticipated L’Italia in cammino
as a prime historiographical product of the new fascist Italy. Volpe’s his-
tory of Italy from 1815 to 1915 was concise, directed to the broader, edu-
cated public, and certainly relevant to the contemporary political life of
the nation. At the same time, however, as a model for a historiography
of the fascist era, Volpe’s book was directed against, rather than in sup-
port of, the historical mythology circulating at all levels of nonprofes-
sional historical discourse. As Volpe himself explicitly put it, L’Italia in
cammino was aimed at discrediting all attempts to create a ‘fascist’ history
and ‘put the mask of the present over the face of the past.’33 With L’Ita-
lia in cammino Volpe intended to open an ideal space for a historiogra-
phy that would reject altogether the fascist label while remaining within
the intellectual boundaries of fascism’s fellow traveller. This intention
was nowhere more evident than in Volpe’s presentation of the relation-
ship between the Risorgimento and the liberal era that followed it.
Although Volpe admitted that the Risorgimental process had been
plagued by the absence of popular participation, the historical legiti-
mization he offered fascism had nothing to do with the intertwined
images of an incomplete Risorgimento and a faceless liberal Italy.
Volpe’s narrative tied fascism to a century-long process of national for-
mation in which the growth of nationalism from an intellectual to a full-
blown political force was connected to the growth and organization of
social energies, and culminated in the Italian decision to claim ‘Great
Nation’ status by intervening in the Great War. In addition, while
emphasizing the political ascendancy of nationalism, Volpe’s overall
judgments on both liberalism and socialism were essentially positive in
view of their respective contributions to the organization and seculariza-
tion of the Italian masses, and to the development of the state through
foreign policy. L’Italia in cammino therefore exalted fascism’s social inte-
gration of the Italian masses, but in a state built up by the liberal leader-
ship. By the same token, Volpe’s periodization stressed the historical
30 The Historic Imaginary

continuity between the Risorgimento and the liberal state without offer-
ing historical legitimacy to Gentile’s Risorgimental paradigm. Where
Gentile insisted on the philosophical continuity between the Risorgi-
mento and fascism, and between Mazzini and Mussolini, Volpe put the
relationship between fascism and Risorgimento on the plane of socio-
historical processes developed during the liberal era and culminating in
the Italian intervention in the Great War.
L’Italia in cammino, then, did not perform the anticipated function of
historiographical liaison between Gentile’s Risorgimentalism and fascist
historical discourse at large.34 Rather, it sought to strike a third way
between Gentile’s philosophical interpretation of fascism as the fulfil-
ment of the Risorgimento, and the indiscriminate production of precur-
sors undertaken by militant intellectuals and journalists.35 In fact, the
debate that followed the publication of Croce’s Storia d’Italia augmented
rather than attenuated Volpe’s equidistant divergence from Gentile’s
Risorgimentalism and nonprofessional historical discourse. Notwith-
standing the press campaign orchestrated from above against the
greater editorial success of Croce’s book, the exchange of hostile
reviews between the protagonists themselves was received by the major-
ity of Italian professional historians as an invitation to integrate, rather
than polarize, their perspectives.36 Most antifascist historians publicly
sympathized with the political stance implicit in Croce’s provocative
periodization of Italian history, but criticized the philosophical cage of
his ‘ethical-political’ history, instead praising the social character of
Volpe’s history ‘without adjectives.’ Several went so far as to criticize
openly the tautological movement sustaining Croce’s critique of Volpe’s
philosophical ignorance, his explicit attribution of an efficient and prin-
cipal role to (his own) philosophy in the formation of liberal elites and
the liberal state, and his polemical refusal to include the Risorgimento
in his treatment of Italian history – a refusal motivated by an a priori dis-
tinction between the ‘epic’ history of the Risorgimento, good only for
‘kids and teenagers,’ and the ‘real’ history of the liberal era, addressed
to the ‘cultured classes whose office is to lead.’37
Conversely, many young historians of the new fascist Italy met their
nonfascist or antifascist colleagues halfway by refusing to choose be-
tween Croce and Volpe. Instead they sought to conciliate their teach-
ings to better fight against both the proponents of a revolutionary dis-
continuity between the fascist present and the recent national past and
those who asserted the uninterrupted continuity of Italian history from
Roman antiquity to the present.38 Thus, rather than fixing philosophi-
History Belongs to the Present 31

cal, political, and moral boundaries between liberal and fascist concep-
tions of history, the acrimonious debate that pitched Volpe’s L’Italia in
cammino against Croce’s Storia d’Italia ultimately contributed to the
drawing of a boundary between professional historiography and non-
professional historical discourse. This, however, was exactly the line that
Mussolini’s 1929 intervention in the historians’ debate sought to cross.
As its rapid transformation into motto would soon confirm, rather than
settling the question of history, Mussolini’s polarization of fascist history
making and liberal history writing reopened the debate on a historical-
rhetorical plane entirely different from that of the historians.

Mussolini and the Question of History

Mussolini’s labelling of Croce as a ‘shirker of history’ (imboscato della sto-

ria) mobilized all the moral political charge the epithet had acquired
during the last two years of the war as being synonymous with ‘bourgeois
traitor,’ thereby conflating the political event of Croce’s opposition to
the Concordat with the historicist imagination sustaining his epochaliza-
tion of liberal Italy. The moral logic of Mussolini’s attack implied that
Croce’s negative political response was prefigured in his ‘shameful’ peri-
odization of an epoch that – starting with the fait accompli, in 1870, of
the conflicted relationship between liberal state and church and ending
before the fait accompli of Italy’s intervention in the Great War – belit-
tled the very events that marked the historical origin of fascism (the
Great War) and its history-making claims in the present (the Concor-
dat). Yet the rhetorical vertigo of Mussolini’s response neither summa-
rized the positions expressed by Volpe in the debate against Croce nor
supported their common enemy. Even though Croce was singled out as
the quintessential representative of the ‘creative impotence’ of the lib-
eral imagination in either producing or recognizing history-making
events, the rhetorical horizon of ‘shirker-ness’ also included Volpe and
did not entirely exclude even those fascist historians who, unlike Volpe,
had interpreted fascist history making as a mere continuation of war pro-
paganda in peacetime. Historically, in fact, Volpe and all the members of
the army’s Section P had been among the earliest group accused of
shirking during the Great War, suspected first of having found refuge
from the dangers of combat in the safety of propaganda and then of hav-
ing grossly inflated their own role in the victorious conclusion of the
war.39 Intellectually, L’Italia in cammino had not washed out this stain. On
the contrary, while rich in political implications for the historicization
32 The Historic Imaginary

and legitimization of fascism, the book was a clear retreat from the mili-
tant habitus Volpe had advocated for historians after the Great War.40
It was Croce himself who, in recalling the episode twenty years after
the fact, correctly recognized that Mussolini’s 1929 attack on his Storia
d’Italia was not directed at this book alone but rather at the fundamen-
tal aesthetic-philosophical premises of historicism, that is, in Croce’s
own words, that ‘just as for a work of art, so also for a new political, social,
and moral order, one cannot determine its character and thus form an
epoch before a new arrangement has been reached.’41 In the first place,
Croce’s comment implicitly acknowledged the common denominator
between his history of Italy and Volpe’s. Despite the polar opposition
characterizing most interpretational aspects of their books, Volpe’s and
Croce’s histories shared the reaffirmation of an epochal imagination
firmly grounded in the philosophical tradition of German historicism.
Whereas Croce’s Storia d’Italia had neatly bracketed the liberal epoch,
truncating all lines of continuity with the Risorgimento and the Great
War, L’Italia in cammino had epochalized the integration between Italian
state and society in the pristine chronological space of a century (1815–
1915). Second, Croce’s comment explicitly acknowledged that the issue
raised by Mussolini’s 1929 speech related to the debates on both art and
historiography that had impassioned the fascist public sphere between
1925 and 1929.42 Although the two debates had followed one another,
Mussolini’s speech reaffirmed that, from the point of view of fascist
aesthetic politics, the question of art and the question of history were
neither separate nor temporally successive but simultaneous and inter-
twined. The accusation of ‘creative impotence’ against Croce’s imbosca-
mento (shirker-ness) from history-making events in the past as well as the
present rested on the implicit claim that the creative and imaginative
power of forming epochs no longer belonged to the historian as homo
aesteticus-moralis-politicus. Mussolini’s idea of fascist history making
ascribed this power to an immanent conception of epochal agency that
was embedded in the very rhetorical style of his speech.
As Barbara Spackman has recently argued, Mussolini’s speeches were
central to the construction of a fascist discursive regime founded on a
‘rhetorization of violence’ intimating that ‘words should submit to the
law of action and tend toward praxis.’43 Mussolini’s rhetoric consistently
broke down the opposition between language and action in such a way
that actions could be understood ‘not as prediscursive but as part of the
discursive formation itself.’44 In the speeches that marked the construc-
tion of the regime, such as the famous ‘Discorso dell’Ascensione’
History Belongs to the Present 33

(1927), Mussolini had relied on a ‘rhetoric of crisis’ aimed at ‘stockpil-

ing violence’ discursively in order to ‘present the state of things beyond
the time of discussion.’45 His 1929 response to Croce, however, differed
radically from earlier examples in this respect. Mussolini’s argumenta-
tive register in this speech actively ‘epochalized’ the historical connec-
tion between the ‘event’ of the Concordat and the Mussolinian ‘speech-
events’ that had marked its making – from the speech of June 1921
before the liberal Chamber of Deputies, to the speech before the Grand
Council of Fascism in early 1929, to the speech of 13 May 1929 before
the fascist Chamber of Deputies.46 There is no trace of a rhetoric of cri-
sis in this speech, nor did the ‘shirker’ passage simply rhetoricize vio-
lence against Croce. Mussolini’s histoire événementelle of fascist speech
events opened a window onto an epochal conception of the relationship
between res gestae and historia rerum gestarum irreconciliable with any ver-
sion of historicism, positivism, materialism, or idealism, and irreducible
to the myth-making horizon of fascist historical discourse. To para-
phrase Spackman, the rhetorical appeal of Mussolini’s juxtaposition of
liberal history writing and fascist history making rested on its sudden
stockpiling of ‘eventfulness’ rather than violence, and it pointed toward
the popular culture roots of the fascist imaginary rather than the futur-
ist rhetorics of virility.
As the popular motto ‘Fascism makes history, it does not write it’
would make explicit, Mussolini’s rhetorical conflation of speech and
epochal eventfulness referred the idea of fascist history making to the
notion of historicness inscribed, since the dawn of modern historical cul-
ture, in the discursive expressions ‘historic event’ and ‘historic speech.’
Semantically, these expressions were born of the differentiation in-
troduced by late eighteenth-century historians between the adjectives
‘historical’ and ‘historic,’ assigning to the former the meaning of
‘belonging to the past’ and to the latter that of ‘forming an important
part or item of history; noted or celebrated in history.’47 Yet the discur-
sive notion of historicness has never coincided with this historicist defi-
nition which presupposes a transcendental conception of history (i.e.,
the historic event is significant in the eyes of history). On the contrary,
we normally define an event historic when we perceive it as belonging
simultaneously to consciousness and reality, in so far as we experience it
as opening up a new epoch by unveiling the meaning of history.48 In the
historic event, therefore, we literally perceive history as immanent
rather than transcendental. Indeed, despite the fact that no romance
language has ever coined an analogue of the adjective ‘historic,’ the
34 The Historic Imaginary

notions of ‘historic event’ and ‘historic speech’ have appeared in all

European languages to differentiate between the temporal attribution
of ‘past-ness’ to historical facts and the perception of ‘epochal-ness’ in
historic events.49
Clearly, Mussolini’s polarization of history making and history writing
mobilized precisely this discursive and antihistoricist notion of historic-
ness, projecting the idea of fascism as a historic agent whose acts were
not ‘significant’ in the eyes of history (and historians), but, rather,
actively signifying history in the present. Accordingly, the logic of Musso-
lini’s speech effectively reified the ideological opposition between liber-
alism and fascism into an ontological dichotomy between historical and
historic conceptions of agency, representation, and consciousness. The
inscription of liberal ideology under the sign of the ‘historical’ corre-
sponded to the projection of a fascist historic agency that acted upon
historical facts, representations, and consciousness. By the same token,
Mussolini’s speech ascribed to the fascist subject a historic imaginary that
declinated history in the present tense and inscribed historical meaning
under the immanent rubric of presence, and against the transcendental
horizon of historical time.
Lest we dismiss Mussolini’s advocacy of the fascist historic imaginary
as a mere cipher of the fascist rhetorics of virility, we need to recognize
immediately that the immanent conception of history it evoked in-
scribed itself within the intellectual context of a modernist challenge to
the transcendental notion of historical consciousness. It is not so much
that Mussolini’s polarization of the ‘historical’ and the ‘historic’ reso-
nated with Nietzsche’s famous opposition between the ‘historical’ and
the ‘supra-/un-historical’ and, along this path, with a whole series of
dichotomies between literary modernism and historicism, spatial form
and linear time, and speech acts and narrative writing.50 Rather, the fas-
cist notion of making history inserted itself in a generational reorienta-
tion of modernist sensibility after World War I away from the
Nietzschean critique of German historicism and toward the search for a
new historical sense that, in the words of T.S. Eliot, would involve ‘the
perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence.’51
As Hayden White has recently suggested, the evolution of a modernist
conception of history in twentieth-century literature and philosophy
was intimately associated with the widespread experience of the Great
War as a modernist event. In particular, White has pointed out that
after 1918 modernist literature and thought shifted focus from the cul-
History Belongs to the Present 35

tural critique of narrative to that of historical consciousness itself.52

One may dispute the theoretical implications of White’s definition of
historical modernism, with its insistence on the existential incommen-
surability between historicist conceptions of historical agency, represen-
tation, and consciousness, and ‘the experience of a different “history”’
brought about by the Great War.53 But any reader of Walter Benjamin’s
Theses on the Philosophy of History, Martin Heidegger’s Being and Time,
T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland,’ Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain, Sigmund
Freud’s Nostalgia and Melancholy, or Paul Valery’s Europe Today will rec-
ognize in these writings unequivocal signs of a modernist sensitivity
toward the rupture created by the Great War in the transcendental fab-
ric of historical consciousness. Among these signs, one should not hesi-
tate to insert the notion of a historic imaginary elicited by Mussolini’s
Naturally, this insertion does not mean that one should equate a slo-
gan – ‘Fascism makes history’ – with sustained philosophical elaboration
or literary experimentation. Rather, Mussolini’s invocation of the fascist
historic imaginary should be regarded as a document that points simul-
taneously to the rhetorical contiguity between modernist thought and
fascist mass culture, and the historical origins of such contiguity. Just as
fascism and its rhetoric of virility constituted a consistent political temp-
tation for much of the modernist generation of 1914, the modernist
ideas of this intellectual generation were expressed in countless Musso-
linian speeches and institutionalized in many a fascist motto.54 Read in
this light, the logic of Mussolini’s attack on Croce was not simply virilist
– in the sense suggested by Spackman that it reaffirmed a discursive
regime where language itself functioned ‘as one of the realities of force
and violence’ – but properly historic, in the sense that it sought to simul-
taneously enact and historicize a modernist form of mass consciousness
in which language and force had abandoned the realm of historical cri-
sis and entered that of historic eventfulness.55 Unequivocally, Musso-
lini’s conflation of liberal ideology and historicism under the sign of
‘shirker-ness’ referred the fascist claim to have destroyed the boundary
between res gestae and historia rerum gestarum to the historical-intellectual
context of the Great War. In fact, the historic logic of the speech
pointed away from the critique of Croce’s Storia d’Italia and the histori-
ans’ debate in the late 1920s and toward the actualist philosophy of his-
tory elaborated during the war by Croce’s philosophical nemesis and
fascism’s prime philosopher, Giovanni Gentile.
36 The Historic Imaginary

Actualism: A Modernist Philosophy of History

Any cursory glance at the titles of Gentile’s production between 1897

and 1914 reveals immediately that the principal thematic nucleus
around which his philosophy had evolved was the relationship between
philosophy, the history of philosophy, and the philosophy of history.56
The ‘absolute immanentism’ in which Gentile identified the philosophi-
cal kernel of actualism found its pre-actualist formulation in the ‘circu-
lar union’ of philosophy and history that Gentile had elaborated in the
first decade of the century. In the seventeen texts (two books and fifteen
essays) specifically devoted to the topic, Gentile managed to articulate
the circularity between philosophy and history from every possible
angle: from the reciprocal immanence of philosophy and the history of
philosophy to that of philosophy of history and history per se.57 In fact,
the philosophical genealogy of Croce and Gentile’s fateful detachment
from one another can be surely traced to their earliest exchanges in the
late 1890s on the question of history and, in particular, to their antithet-
ical evaluation of Marxism as a philosophy of history. For Croce, what
was dead in Marxism was its philosophy of history, while materialism was
alive as a useful historical methodology. For Gentile, the opposite was
true: as materialist theory Marxism was mistaken; as the last speculative
philosophy of history, it needed to be overcome.58 It is not surprising,
therefore, that Croce’s 1913 condemnation of actualism revolved pre-
cisely around a critique of an undeveloped aspect of Gentile’s philoso-
phy of history.
While attacking actualism for its mystical flattening of all conceptual
distinctions, Croce pointed his finger at the implicit antithesis Gentile
had posited between past and present. By ‘reducing everything to the
sole distinction between past and present,’ Croce contended, actualism
resolved itself into a reversed absolute positivism. Everything was in the
present-act, nothing in the past-fact. With this a priori distinction actual-
ism could not but end by identifying history (res gestae) ‘with the series
of images of historical facts that have been given at various times, no
matter whether generated by historians or poets, by men of intelligence
or idiots.’ Hence, actualism produced for Croce ‘a full immersion in a
motionless present, devoid of oppositions.’ Its mystical essence was both
cause and consequence of its negation of all philosophical distinctions
on the basis of the a priori polarization of past and present.59
Croce’s critique of actualist time touched a central nerve in Gentile.
In response to this challenge, Gentile at last turned away from the spec-
History Belongs to the Present 37

ulative problem of the circular relationship between philosophy, the his-

tory of philosophy, and the philosophy of history, to face the more
analytic question of the relationship between res gestae and historia rerum
gestarum. This development was reflected in Gentile’s 1915 publication
dedicated entirely to this problem, ‘L’esperienza pura e la realtà storica’
(Pure Experience and Historical Reality), and was translated into full-
blown theoretical terms in 1918, in his most influential political-philo-
sophical text, ‘Politica e filosofia’ (Politics and Philosophy). By no
means the final statements from Gentile on the matter, these two texts
nevertheless provided a basic perimeter that enclosed within a coherent
vision all the other immanent relations (i.e. between philosophy and
the history of philosophy, the philosophy of history and history itself)
articulated by Gentile in previous and future writings. Most significantly,
they offered an answer to Croce’s objections rooted in Gentile’s original
reading of the grandfather of idealism: Immanuel Kant.
In the first text, ‘L’esperienza pura e la realtà storica,’ Gentile ad-
dressed himself specifically to historians by elaborating an actualist con-
ception of historical experience in response to Kant’s Critique of Practical
Reason. According to Gentile, Kant had left this concept ‘obscure’
because he had construed experience as the medium that connected
subject and object through the ‘sensible qualities’ belonging to both.60
Identifying experience instead with the act of thought, Gentile claimed
to remain faithful to the Kantian ‘revolution of philosophy that estab-
lished the subject at the center of consciousness,’ while divesting it of
the transcendental dualism between reality and consciousness that Kant
had been unable to overcome. Pure experience, Gentile argued, could
not be transcended, as Kant had erroneously posited, because every-
thing Kant conceived as noumena existed in the very act of thought,
which therefore was, ‘autoctisi,’ that is, immanence of subject and ob-
ject, sense and intellect. At the same time, Gentile conceded that the
actualist collapse of experience and consciousness in the pure act had
been anticipated by Kant in his Der Streit Der Fakultäten (The Contest of Fac-
ulties) and, in particular, in the section dedicated to the contest between
philosophy and law.61
In this justly famous discussion, Kant had conjoined philosophical
speculation with observation of a historical phenomenon of his own
time, the French Revolution. The philosopher, however, was not con-
cerned with the facts of the Revolution, or how they were to be judged,
but solely with ‘the attitude of the onlookers as it reveals itself in public
while the drama of great political change is taking place.’ For Kant, this
38 The Historic Imaginary

attitude was characterized by disinterested sympathy mixed with ‘the

passion and enthusiasm’ that all men direct exclusively toward the ideal
and the moral. This enthusiasm was the sign of the Revolution’s Sub-
lime. It made historical facts coalesce into a unique event that Kant
proposed calling a ‘historical sign’ – that is, a ‘signum rememorativum,
demonstrativum, prognostikon’ (a sign that will be remembered, that dem-
onstrates, and that predicts). With the French Revolution, history had
spoken its transcendental language to the consciousness of its readers
rather than its protagonists, because, for Kant, the readers of his present
time represented the readers of yesterday and those of tomorrow. The
revolutionary event had thus proven the eternal law of progress through
the impression it had left on their consciousness, and, in so doing, had
signified the contemporaneity of all temporal dimensions – past (signum
rememorativum), present (signum demonstrativum), and future (signum
prognostikon) – in the historical consciousness of the masses, rather than
of Great Men.62
Clearly Kant had produced in this text the first philosophical theori-
zation of historic eventfulness. And, quite consciously, Gentile consid-
ered The Contest of Faculties to be an unfinished ‘fourth critique’ of
history, which he aimed to correct and complete.63 For Gentile, in fact,
by thinking of historical experience from the point of view of reading
historical signs, rather than writing history, all distinctions between real-
ity and representation, past and present, evaporated immediately. The
progress of history revealed itself as immanent in the movement of
thought during the act of reading. From the point of view of actualism,
reading a history book, a historical document, or a historic event were
all activities belonging to the transtemporal presence of experience.
Because we can never transport ourselves to the past, we always make
that past attuale (actual) by thinking its content within ‘our present
awareness of thinking ourselves thinking the object.’64
Elaborating on the Kantian definition of historical experience, Gen-
tile concluded that the very word ‘history’ contained the essence of his
actualist philosophy of history. Actualism, he argued, did nothing more
than unify the two meanings of the word ‘according to which history is
on one occasion the entire complex of historical facts and on another
their representation’ into one: ‘history is the only thinkable reality, and
the only science because it is consciousness of itself.’ From this perspec-
tive, the difference between historiography and art appeared to Gentile
as ‘analogous to the difference between the experience of being awake
and that of dreaming,’ the difference being that the philosopher can
History Belongs to the Present 39

judge the artist and the conscious man the dream, but not vice versa,
since ‘every experience can only be judged by a superior experience,
that overcomes it, and therefore cannot recognize other value [to the
inferior one] than being an integral part of itself.’65 And, upon these
premises, Gentile proceeded to explain the polarization of past and
To think about, read, or write history means to ‘devalue all old experi-
ences on the basis of new experiences,’ according to the same principle
by which we may interpret a dream by ‘reconnecting it to the whole his-
tory of our individuality’ only within the experience of being awake. All
the distinctions we make between real and fictional facts, past and
present, are concretely born in the experience of reading ‘and come to
the surface of consciousness according to the rhythm of its develop-
ment.’ For Gentile, then, the actualization of history corresponded to
the moment, in reading, when the subject awakens from the absorption
in the narrative of historical facts and begins to ‘pour on [the] preced-
ing reading the entire mass of judgments already organized by [his/
her] culture and individual experience.’ The Gentilian event was there-
fore no longer the sublime eruption of a historical sign from the tran-
scendental continuum of history, which Kant had identified with the eye
of the disinterested onlookers of the French Revolution. For Gentile, it
was the immanent condition of every individual act of reading that dis-
solved the medium of representation between thinking and writing into
a historical self-generation.66
Situating the subject of history (both res gestae and historia rerum ges-
tarum) in the experience of reading, ‘L’Esperienza pura e la realtà stor-
ica’ gave philosophical expression to the Kantian notion of historic
eventfulness while at the same time inverting its value. Abstracted from
the historical context of the French Revolution, Gentile’s notion of his-
torical sign embraced both events and documents, thereby replacing
the funding notion of transcendental history with that of the reciprocal
immanence of the historical and the historiographical act. In so doing,
however, Gentile clearly went much further than completing (as he had
wished) Kant’s unfinished critique of history.
In the actualist conception of historical experience we may imme-
diately capture the first kernel of a modernist philosophy of history.
Gentile’s insistence on the self-creative sublimity of the reading event
captured not only the antimimetic essence of any modernist critique of
representation but also the yearning for a new historical sense that
would render justice to the presence of the past in consciousness. At the
40 The Historic Imaginary

same time, this essay still left obscure a central question concerning the
relationship between res gestae and historia rerum gestarum. What concep-
tion of representation and agency did the identification of historical
experience with the semiotic activity of reading signs imply? The answer
to this question would come in ‘Politica e filosofia,’ a text in which Gen-
tile completed his modernist philosophy of historical experience, but to
the unique tempo of his own reading of the Great War as the historical
sign of a momentous re-orientation of historical consciousness itself.

History Belongs to the Present

According to most accounts, including Gentile’s own, ‘Politica e filoso-

fia’ constituted not only one of Gentile’s most influential philosophical-
political texts but also the key text in the fateful encounter between
actualism and fascism. In considering its publication in the nationalist
journal, Politica, Del Noce has argued that ‘Politica e filosofia’ signalled
Gentile’s definitive detachment from liberalism by proposing actualism
as the critical consciousness of a nationalist mass movement in the
making that Gentile would later identify with fascism.67 By the same
token, Gentile’s most recent biographer, Giovanni Turi, has identified
‘Politica e filosofia’ as the founding text of that Risorgimentalist inter-
pretation of fascism, which, as noted earlier in this chapter, Gentile
developed with two articles on Mazzini published in the same nationalist
journal in 1919 and then elaborated on in most of his fascist period writ-
ings.68 In fact, Gentile himself would later refer to the fundamental the-
sis of this article – the obliteration of the autonomy of philosophy from
politics – as having established actualism as the philosophical anticipa-
tion of fascism well before their political convergence in 1922. These
readings ‘in hindsight’ have certainly rendered justice to the crucial
role that this text played in the ideological encounter of actualism with
fascism, yet they have also obscured a much deeper level of conjunctural
convergence between the actualist philosophy of history, the Italian
response to the war-trauma, and the formation of a specifically fascist
Essentially, ‘Politica e filosofia’ proposed that actualism had surpassed
its idealist precursors because it had not only dissolved the fundamental
dichotomy they had maintained between history and philosophy but, in
so doing, also allowed the ‘resolution of philosophy into politics.’ As a
philosophical history of philosophy, actualism had acknowledged the Ris-
orgimento as the historical realization of philosophical modernity. For
History Belongs to the Present 41

Gentile, Italian patriot thinkers had overcome the Renaissance dichot-

omy between spirit and nature by means of the very ‘idea of a concrete
Italy ... which had become an active idea, producing itself its own real-
ization.’ As a historical philosophy of history, however, actualism had also
recognized that the conscious unification of politics and philosophy had
not taken place in the Risorgimento but in the contemporaneous devel-
opment of Marx’s philosophy of praxis. Historical materialism had
incited the proletariat to unify on the basis of a correct understanding
of human action as the unity of will, ends, and program for the dissolu-
tion of the state. For Gentile, the historical importance of Marx’s philos-
ophy of history rested on its having become ‘the critical consciousness
of the communist movement that refers itself to Marx.’ The crucial goal
of actualism, therefore, was nothing short of unveiling the implicit phi-
losophy of Risorgimento politicians within a counter-Marxist philosophy
of history.69
This task Gentile took up in the central section of ‘Politica e filosofia,’
in which he elaborated on the reciprocal immanence of philosophy and
history with unusual clarity, but also took his argument in an unprece-
dented direction. For the first time, Gentile presented the identity of
politics and philosophy as the consequence of a preliminary choice be-
tween two opposite orientations of the historical imagination. ‘One
moment,’ Gentile wrote, ‘history belongs to the past, the next moment it
belongs to the present; but, most of the time, we only see the former, which
is actualized in a historiography that presupposes entirely its object; and
thus, only with great effort we are able to see the latter, which presup-
poses nothing, because it creates its object.’70 Quite predictably, the
concept of history belonging to the past coincided, for Gentile, with the
positivist conception of the historical fact determined in past-time and
past-space, and it corresponded to a ‘representation of ourselves to our-
selves beyond the heat of passion and action, since the fact is given as
accomplished.’ From the perspective of positivism, history (the tran-
scendental whole) ended up being identified with the nature of natural-
ism, an ‘irretrievable past that does not depend on us, but conditions
us.’ The ‘historicity of history,’ Gentile instead proposed, ‘is intelligible
only if we orient ourselves toward the opposite concept of history
belonging to the present: that is, history that is all present and immanent
in the act of its construction.’71 This was the mental reorientation that
actualism had laboured to induce philosophically and that now, in
1918, Gentile believed had been historically realized on the Italian war
42 The Historic Imaginary

Quite literally, Gentile read the Italian victory in the Great War as the
historical sign of a collective reorientation of the historical imagination
toward history belonging to the present. In the first place this victory
was the result of a successful reaction of the Italian war front to the dou-
ble event-sign that in October 1917 had come to endanger not only the
Italian war effort but also Gentile’s whole philosophical enterprise: the
Bolshevik Revolution and the defeat at the Italian army at Caporetto. By
all accounts, the prolonged retreat that followed this defeat had pro-
duced a collective shock of unprecedented proportions throughout the
Italian military war front, but its effects on the intellectual war front had
been equally momentous.72 According to Gentile, the political success
of the October Revolution had interacted with the contemporaneous
psychological trauma suffered by all Italians over Caporetto, thereby
feeding the spectre of an internal enemy undetected by other commen-
tators. The traumatic defeat at Caporetto had temporarily helped to
transform the victory of the Bolshevik Revolution into a new historical
sign of transcendental history. After Caporetto, therefore, the internal
enemy that the Italians had confronted, fought, and successfully
defeated was not the revolutionary appeal of the October Revolution,
but the very transcendental conception of the historical sign articulated
by Kant in the face of the revolution of his times.73 Their subsequent
military reaction and victory represented the defeat of all forms of tran-
scendentalism (Catholic, Kantian, and Marxist) by a historic form of
The Italian resistance and victory had ‘fulfilled the Risorgimento’ in
the sense that Italian soldiers had actively internalized the historiograph-
ical image of the present conflict as a ‘fourth war of independence’ for-
mulated by Gentile himself among others, and propagandized by the
entire intellectual war front. At last, on the Italian battlefields, the histo-
riographical and historical acts had come to coincide in the conscious-
ness of political leaders, intellectuals, and the masses. Thus, the Italian
experience in the Great War had acquired for Gentile a universal value.
It constituted not only the signum rememorativum, demonstrativum, and
prognostikon that superseded both the French Revolution and the Italian
Risorgimento, but also, specifically, the historical sign that the Kantian
distinction between onlookers and actors had been definitively over-
come. On the Italian war front, intellectuals, political leaders, and a
Catholic populace had experienced history as immanent rather than
transcendental. For Gentile, the stage was set for the birth of a new polit-
ical subject whose philosophical vision would be founded entirely on his-
History Belongs to the Present 43

tory belonging to the present. And, since actualism had correctly

anticipated this reorientation of the historical imagination, Gentile con-
cluded his essay by claiming that actualism had overcome Marxist histor-
ical materialism with a more ‘realistic’ philosophy of history.74
Appearing as it did at the end of Gentile’s most influential political-
philosophical text, this unorthodox claim to realism has been largely
ignored by scholars of actualism, who have concentrated their attention
solely on the central place of ‘Politica e filosofia’ in the Risorgimentalist
turn of Gentile’s mind and the ideological evolution of actualism toward
fascism. From the perspective of this study, however, Gentile’s claim
deserves specific attention on both philosophical and historical grounds
precisely because it subordinated Gentile’s ‘Risorgimentalism’ to the
overcoming of the Marxist philosophy of history. Clearly, Gentile’s polar-
ization of ‘history belonging to the present’ and ‘history belonging to
the past’ theorized, anticipated, and sustained philosophically the ideo-
logical opposition of fascist history making and liberal history writing
enunciated by Mussolini in 1929. But, as we have seen above, this polar-
ization had nothing to do with the Risorgimentalist interpretation of fas-
cism developed by fascist historians in the 1920s. Rather, it anticipated
the more philosophical proposition made by Gentile in several 1920s
writings that fascism constituted a ‘risorgimento’ (resurgence) in act,
that is, the idealist-religious response to the materialist doctrine of ‘revo-
lution.’ The resonance between the popular image of fascist historic
agency and an actualist philosophy of history suggests therefore that
actualism may have entered much more directly into the intellectual
genesis of fascist ideology than most scholars have recognized.75
If, as Zeef Sternhell has repeatedly argued, the principal ideological
roots of Italian fascism were planted in the intellectual humus of the
‘antimaterialist revision of Marxism,’ in Italy this humus had been fertil-
ized by actualism.76 Gentile had not only been the principal Italian pro-
tagonist in the ‘reinterpretation of the ideological corpus associated
with Marx’s thought’ but also, the only one who had focused his atten-
tion on the Marxist philosophy of history. Therefore, if – as Del Noce
claims – there was a ‘pre-established harmony’ between actualism and
fascism before their ideological encounter in 1922, this harmony had
developed on the terrain of the historic imagination that Gentile theo-
rized in 1918.77 In fact, Gentile’s claim to realism may have had even
more historical substance than mere philosophical anticipation of fas-
cist history making. The historical connection between the actualist
exorcism of Caporetto and the fascist claim to the historic imaginary
44 The Historic Imaginary

that emerged from the Great War finds significant support in the litera-
ture concerning the early development of a fascist mentalité.
As most studies of the Italian war experience have shown, the defeat
at Caporetto in October 1917 represented not only the central trau-
matic event in the Italian war experience, but also one of the fundamen-
tal factors in the formation and early mass appeal of fascist ideology.78
In particular, Elvio Fachinelli has argued that, during the three months
of retreat that followed the defeat at Caporetto, there rose an ‘image of
an endangered fatherland, dead or under deadly threat,’ which spread
rapidly throughout the home front and survived well after the victory,
‘traversing the entire aftermath of the Great War.’ Rather than subsid-
ing with the military counterattack, this image had provoked an ambiva-
lent reaction in both soldiers and civilians. The perceived death of the
fatherland had been feared because it represented the ‘loss of the
supreme value for which all Italians had fought,’ but it had also been
desired, ‘or even accomplished, in the imagination of some, in so far as
the fatherland had been the cause and origin of the colossal and useless
pains they had suffered during the conflict.’ It was, in fact, by tapping
into this widespread ambivalence, and countering it with an ‘obsessive
denial’ of the death of the fatherland, that the early fascist movement
managed to achieve so much support among war veterans.79
Seen from the ethno-psychological perspective developed by Fachi-
nelli, Gentile’s theory of the historic imagination may be seen as respond-
ing to the same ambivalent imaginary from which the fascist mentality
arose and doing so with a catastrophic conflation of historical agency,
representation and consciousness that paralleled and supported the
fascist transposing of the ‘ideal of fatherland onto an absolute plane,
entirely unknown until then.’80 In fact, this conjunctural configuration of
forces is supported by Fachinelli’s observation that the lasting appeal
exercised by fascism over large sectors of the Italian population through-
out the ventennio was rooted in its ability to transform and institutionalize
its obsessive denial of the death of the fatherland into an ‘archaic an-
nulment of time.’81 Just as in archaic communities, the fascist move-
ment responded to the ambivalent perception of the death of the found-
ing value-figure of the nation-state with ritualized denial and, once in
power, institutionalized a proper ‘catastrophe of the sacred.’ The fascist
regime transposed the fatherland under the mythic sky of its Roman
origins, while colonizing the collective time of Italians with ‘omnipresent
rituals reaffirming the existence and greatness of the fatherland against
the periodic resurgence of doubt concerning its destitution.’ Hence,
History Belongs to the Present 45

Fachinelli concludes, the fascist annulment of time not only prevented

the development of a proper form of historical consciousness, but also
forced the regime to ‘move just like the tight-rope walker on the rope,’
stepping on the fine line between mythic affirmations of eternal time and
ritual negations of historical time.82
Fachinelli’s study of the origins and evolution of the fascist annulment
of time confers both historical and theoretical texture to the connection
between Gentile’s notion of history belonging to the present and the
self-identification of fascism with a historic imaginary. The actualist phi-
losophy of history and the fascist historic imaginary were indeed joined
in an exorcism of the war trauma. From this perspective, the mistransla-
tion of Mussolini’s 1929 speech into the popular motto ‘Fascism makes
history’ may be the best confirmation of the enduring connections
among the formation of the fascist historic imaginary, the war trauma,
and the actualist philosophy of history elaborated by Gentile in its after-
math. By the same token, throughout Gentile’s fascist writings and par-
ticularly in his 1935 essay, ‘The Transcendence of Time in History,’ one
can locate precise textual traces of a continuous dialogue between an
actualist philosophy of history and the fascist annulment of time during
the ventennio. At the same time, this enduring connection also suggests a
crucial qualification to Fachinelli’s thesis. The mass appeal of the actual-
ist-fascist annulment of time was neither as archaic as Fachinelli posits it
to be nor anchored solely to obsessive denial. Rather it was rooted in the
cultural resonance between Gentile’s modernist philosophy of history
and the Latin Catholic roots of Italian popular culture.

Actualism: Between Cultural Modernism and Historic Semantics

Gentile was a prominent member of the intellectual generation enter-

ing the Italian cultural scene between 1900 and 1914 whose modernist
project Walter Adamson has aptly defined as ‘a cultural regeneration
through the secular-religious quest of “new values.”’83 According to
Adamson, at the religious end of the modernist spectrum we would
encounter the Florentine Avant-Garde, united around the review La
Voce, while at the secular end we would meet Marinetti’s futurists.84 But
where can we situate Gentile? What new values did actualism introduce
or support? And what role did Gentile play in the modernist intellectual
At first sight, the answer to these questions would appear to be
unequivocally documented by the reciprocal influence Gentile and the
46 The Historic Imaginary

vociani exercised upon each other, as well as Gentile’s public silence on

futurism.85 Indeed, the intensity of Gentile’s exchange with the vociani
between 1909 and 1913 confirms Scipio Slataper’s testimony that, by
1911, La Voce was already transforming itself from Crocean to Gentil-
ian.86 Yet, upon closer examination of the central argument of actual-
ism, this first impression could also be reversed. The new philosophical
dogma actualism affirmed was the concept of autoctisi, a neologism that
appeared for the first time in 1912 in the founding document of actual-
ism, ‘L’atto del pensare come atto puro’ (The act of thought as pure
act).87 On the idealist-secular side, autoctisi meant that every action was
an act of thought and every act of thought was pure because it was an act
of spiritual self-consciousness. But on Gentile’s Catholic religious side,
autoctisi was fundamentally related to the affirmation of only one version
of the Christian God: the God of creation. It thus meant ‘self-creation,’
and it summarized in one concept Gentile’s claim to have definitively
emancipated Christianity from both Greek philosophy and the Protes-
tant Reformation.88 As Del Noce has suggested, actualism proposed a
syntactical synthesis of Catholic religion and idealist philosophy that
may be summarized as ‘switching the declination of God from the third
to the first person.’89 And with this catastrophic conflation of creation
and self-creation, the actualist syntax of the intellectual act came to con-
verge with the futurist syntax of the artistic act as self-generation, despite
the distance that continued to separate Gentile’s philosophy of art from
futurist aesthetics.
As Antonio Gramsci correctly intuited, the intellectual horizon of
Gentile’s autoctisi was the same as futurism’s: the elimination of the
medium (representation) from all (discursive, aesthetic, political) prac-
tices.90 In fact, the modernist nucleus of actualism may be identified in
the systematic signification of ‘presence’ at all linguistic levels: syntacti-
cal, semantic, rhetorical, and grammatical. We could equally summarize
actualism as the syntactical subjectification of objects, or the semantic
contamination of philosophical and religious language, or the transla-
tion of rhetorical analogy into catastrophe, or the grammatical activa-
tion of select nouns into predicates: from ‘fact’ to ‘acting,’ from
‘philosophy’ to filosofare (to do philosophy). At the root of the actualist
imaginary we thus find the quintessentially modernist utopia of a self-
generating actant mimicked in Gentile’s famous habits of writing all of
his texts as spoken discourse without first drafts or corrections and of
subverting all orthographic rules.
This syntactical homology between futurism and actualism positioned
History Belongs to the Present 47

Gentile’s philosophical modernism squarely at the centre of the mod-

ernist Italian spectrum – mid-way between the Florentine (La Voce) and
the Milanese (futurist) avant-gardes – a position that Gentile consciously
exploited to exercise influence at both ends of the spectrum.91 Indeed,
Gentile’s proposition of a modernist intellectual habitus alternative to
the critical one embodied by Benedetto Croce might be safely identified
as the crucial point of conjunction in the Italian modernist camp before
and during the war.92 Yet, it was not until the publication of ‘Politica e
filosofia’ that the modernist middle ground occupied by actualism since
1912 would find mature philosophical expression. While on the spiritual
side the essay offered the vociani a Risorgimental religion that they
would soon embrace on their path toward the political endorsement of
fascism, on the secular side it articulated a modernist philosophy of his-
tory that celebrated the ‘funeral of the passatista (past-lover) philoso-
pher’ (Croce) in much the same way as the futurists had done in 1914.
Seeing it from the metahistorical perspective developed by Hayden
White, Gentile’s claim to have overcome dialectical materialism with a
more realist philosophy of history offered more than a polemical re-
sponse to Croce’s motto ‘all history is contemporary history.’ Histori-
cally and philosophically, ‘Politica e filosofia’ situated itself at a crucial
juncture between speculative and analytic traditions in the philosophy
of history. While Gentile’s prewar texts had belaboured the speculative
tradition of Kant, Hegel, and Marx, seeking to purge from it its tran-
scendental error, the notion of history belonging to the present re-
ferred exclusively to the analytic relationships among historical agency,
representation, and consciousness. Actualism, therefore, did not re-
sume the tropological course of nineteenth-century philosophy of his-
tory – replacing Crocian irony with an updated version of the romantic
‘historical sublime’ – as White himself too hastily proposed.93 Rather,
Gentile’s notion of history belonging to the present theorized a collapse
of res gestae and historia rerum gestarum that may be best conceptualized as
a catastrophe of the histori(ographi)cal act – in the original Greek sense
of ‘catastrophe’ (from the verb katastropheo), meaning to unify two dis-
tinct entities at a higher level. And with this catastrophe actualism fit all
the historical theoretical parameters of a quintessentially modernist phi-
losophy of history.
Actualism certainly proposed a new way ‘of imagining, describing,
and conceptualizing the relationship obtaining between the agents and
acts, subjects and objects,’ and ‘events and facts,’ described by White
himself as the landmark of all modernist conceptions of history.94 And it
48 The Historic Imaginary

surely participated in the evolution of European modernist sensitivity

after the Great War, characterized by James Longenbach as the search
for a new historical sense that would involve ‘the perception, not only of
the pastness of the past, but of its presence.’95 In fact, as we shall see in
the following chapters, with the notion of history belonging to the
present, actualism came to play a central role in the formation of fascist
modernism. The actualist catastrophe of the histori(ographi)cal act
connected the fascist rejection of political representation and the futur-
ist theory of aesthetic self-generation with the elimination of the
medium of (historical) representation between (historical) agency and
(historical) consciousness. At the same time, the modernist thrust of
actualism did not simply interrupt the transcendental course of modern
historical semantics but gave theoretical form to an immanent paradigm
of historic semantics that had both predated and survived it.96
Gentile’s concept of history belonging to the present did not so much
refer to the transcendentalized notion of historicness theorized by Kant
as it translated philosophically the original notion of historic present
devised by early modern grammarians to indicate the use of the present
tense instead of the past frequently made by Greek and Latin authors in
‘vivid’ narration of past events.97 This genealogical connection between
Gentile’s philosophy of history and the ancient signification of vividness
was inscribed in the very etymology of the term actualism. Actualism
derived from the Latin actus (and its later synonyms and derivatives,
actio, actualis, actualitas), which, in turn, translated the Greek term
energéia as used in Aristotelian philosophy in opposition to dynamis
(potentiality).98 Actus was the ‘vis efficax quae in aliquo agit,’ the active
force aimed at producing an effect, opposed to páthe, the passive quality
of potentiality. At the same time, in Latin rhetoric, actus meant also ‘fig-
ura’ and ‘ornamentum orationis,’ indicating ‘vigour of style.’99 The con-
cept of actus, therefore, did not simply translate energéia but recorded
also the Latin confusion of energéia with its rhetorical double, enàrgeia,
which meant vividness, palpability. Neither of the two terms, in fact, had
given birth to Latin etymological equivalents, but their hybridization in
Latin Catholic popular culture was determinant for the discursive con-
struction of the modern idea of historicness and its deflection in the
actualist philosophy of history. Actualism and the discursive notion of
historic eventfulness found their cultural premises in the rhetorical
recoding of enàrgeia in Latin Catholic visual culture.
As the early modern grammarians’ definition of the historic present
testifies, the genealogy of the term historic led directly to the ancient rhe-
History Belongs to the Present 49

torical connection between classic historiography and the cluster of

meanings attached to the Greek term enàrgeia.100 ‘If you were a classical
historian,’ Carlo Ginzburg reminds us, ‘you were supposed to convey
the truth of what you were saying by using enàrgeia, in order to move and
convince your reader.’101 Enàrgeia was the principal rhetorical quality
requested of historians, playing the role that evidence would later play
in modern historiography. Often, Greek historians achieved enàrgeia by
using what later grammarians called the historic present, but this syntac-
tical operation referred to a much more complex rhetorical scene.102 In
Greek culture, enàrgeia did not simply mean vividness, but also indicated
a unified representational effect of reality and truth achievable by both
visual and literary means (painting and sculpture as well as prose and
historiography). In short, enàrgeia referred the very idea of truth to the
viewer/reader’s perception of presence in mimesis (art/narrative),
thereby affirming the equality of the visual and the discursive in Greek
This unified rhetorical core of enàrgeia did not survive intact in Latin
Catholic culture but was severed into a number of interconnected terms
that separated the reality effect of discursive enàrgeia from its visual
effect of presence. The discursive link between enàrgeia and the signifi-
cation of historical truth was translated in Latin rhetoric by the
sequence evidentia in narratione (narrative vividness), illustratio (descrip-
tion), and demostratio (to point at an invisible object). This sequence
gave paradigmatic status to the epistemological foundations of classical
historiography (historical narrative – description – vividness/truth) but,
at the same time, destabilized the relationship between written dis-
course and the immediate signification of truth.103 On the visual front,
instead, the Greek association of presence and truth was dramatically
reinforced in the Latin conception of imago (image).
The original referent of imago, the mortuary statues of Roman emper-
ors, revealed a semantic affiliation of this term to the Greek ‘word/
idea/thing kolossos, which tied visual representation to the mimetic sub-
stitution of an absentee’ (the dead person).104 Yet, as Ginzburg argues,
whereas the Greek kolossos conferred to its referent the attribute of inter-
mediary between presence (life) and absence (death), Latin attributed
to the imperial imago ‘a properly metonymic role, being considered as
part of an identity.’105 In the Latin imago we find not only evidentia (enàr-
geia) but also actus (energèia): the affective force necessary to perceive
the fusion of representation with its referent. Imago, in fact, evolved to
signify the real presence of the representational referent in all visual
50 The Historic Imaginary

representations. It was this signification of ‘real presence, in the strong –

the strongest possible – sense of the word,’ that came to constitute the
rhetorical foundation of the Catholic conception of representation.106
The intensification of enàrgeia in the Latin concept of imago recorded
therefore a paradigmatic caesura not only between Greek and Latin
rhetoric but also between Greek and Latin Christian visual cultures.
Via the dogma of transubstantiation and ritual practices such as that of
the ‘King’s two bodies,’ the Latin notion of imago was appropriated by
the Catholic Church and codified in the powerful motto that sustained
its massive production of religious imagery: invisibilia per visibilia (to
make the invisible palpable through representation).107 For centuries,
throughout the Catholic world, the production of, and response to, ever
more affective forms of verisimilitude (from high art to ex-votos, icons,
and religious waxworks) were dominated by a mixture of fear of and
attraction to the ontological fusion between the image and its proto-
type.108 This reinforcement of visual enàrgeia in Latin Catholic culture,
which entailed a subordination of the discursive to the visual at the level
of high art production, is apparent in the longevity of the Latin motto ut
pictura poesis (poetry must follow painting) in modern culture. However,
the endurance and consequences of this subordination in popular cul-
ture may be best inferred from the emergence of the modern concep-
tion of historic eventfulness. The rhetorical line that connects historic
semantics to the ancient scene of enàrgeia passes through the formation
of a visual paradigm of historical consciousness: a historic imaginary
grounded in a mixture of fear of and attraction for the ontological
fusion of historia rerum gaestarum and res gestae (image and reality). Far
from dissolving under the weight of historical semantics, the Latin Cath-
olic rhetorical tradition found its most stable recoding ever in the mod-
ern notions of historic speech and event, which fused the epic and the
didactic elements of historia magistra vitae in the association of immanent
meaning and epochal eventfulness. And it was this Latin Catholic yearn-
ing to make history (visually) present that the actualist philosophy of his-
tory at one and the same time theorized, sustained, and politicized.
Just like the philosophy of history it announced, then, ‘Politica e
filosofia’ opened two parallel but distinct paths for the contemporary
reception of Gentile’s Risorgimentalism. On the one hand, the essay
proposed actualism as the elaboration of the Risorgimental political
philosophy of Mazzini and the philosophical anticipation of a second
Risorgimento that Gentile himself would soon identify with fascism. On
the other hand, Gentile’s essay claimed to be the theoretical elaboration
History Belongs to the Present 51

of a submerged paradigm of historic imagination that emerged with the

Great War – not the Risorgimento. If the ideological drifting of Gentile
toward fascism can be read in line with the first option, the same cannot
be said of the contribution actualism made by giving philosophical con-
sistency to a popular-cultural paradigm of historic semantics grounded
in the evolution of Latin Catholic visual culture. It was, in fact, at the
level of the visual representation of history during fascism that the actu-
alist philosophy of history came to play a key (if often indirect) role in
the institutionalization of the fascist historic imaginary. As the following
chapters show, actualism offered a philosophical roof to connect the
ideological subordination of writing history to making history present
with the consolidation of a historic mode of representation at all levels
of fascist mass culture. The web of connections anticipated in this chap-
ter found prominent expression in those public sites of historical repre-
sentation where image- and ritual-politics, Mussolini and the masses,
fascist present and Risorgimental past, and modernist aesthetics and
Catholic rhetorical codes effectively met during the regime. It was in his-
tory museums, monuments, exhibitions, and anniversary commemora-
tions that the actualist catastrophe of the histor(iograph)ical act was
implemented and the fascist historic imaginary made visually present.
Chapter Two


On 20 April 1920, an anonymous Italian Great War veteran published

an article in the Milanese journal Riforma sociale entitled ‘I musei del
dolore’ (‘The museums of suffering’). The article began with the
author’s recollection of the uneasiness shown by a bus full of Milanese
passengers when a war cripple, his face disfigured by a deep scar,
boarded the car. In response to the blatant display of ‘bourgeois indif-
ference and denial,’ the anonymous author advocated the creation of
‘museums of suffering aimed at opposing the idealization of war in any
form’ in all belligerent nations. These museums would document ‘the
sufferings of the recent war’ and the ‘devastating effects of all wars on
man’s physical body, his intelligence and moral faculties, the natural
environment, places and things.’ They would thus educate all men to
‘hate war,’ representing its horrors by means of ‘photographic material,
statistics, illustrative graphics, and plaster casts reproducing the most
horrifying wounds and mutilations in vivid colours.’1
Although fairly original in its formulation, this Italian veteran’s call
for museums of suffering closely paralleled the contemporaneous pro-
ject for the creation of an International Anti-War Museum (Internation-
ales Anti-Kriegs-Museum) in Berlin.2 Both initiatives carried a pacifist
message and an internationalist scope. Yet in the Berlin Anti-War
Museum there was no trace of the pedagogical piety found in the words
of the Italian veteran, and its realization rejected altogether the Italian’s
call for the hyper-realist aesthetics of illustrative graphics and plaster
casts. The creator of the Anti-Kriegs, Ernst Friedrich, was a militant
anarchist, an aspiring artist, and, since 1918, a well-known member of
the Liebknecht’s Freie Sozialistische Juden (Socialist Youth). His
museum, funded entirely by donations by leftist organizations and indi-
Il Duce Taumaturgo 53

viduals, opened in 1924 with the explicit intent of challenging and ridi-
culing the imposing Prussian museum of war in Berlin, the Zeughaus.
Like Friedrich’s famous book Krieg Dem Kriege (War to War), the Anti-
War Museum was quintessentially dadaist in form and content. Its prin-
cipal rhetorical registers were paradox, juxtaposition, and desacraliza-
tion, as in the hundreds of helmets it used as flower pots, or in the
photograph showing a mountain of cadavers labelled Kriegs-Stilleben
(War Still Life).3 Its foundation clearly belonged to the history of the
German avant-garde, its success to the political openness of the Weimar
Republic, and its end to the devastation wreaked by Nazi squads in
March 1933.
In many respects, then, the Italian veteran’s plea for museums of suf-
fering was much closer to that ‘older set of languages about suffering
and loss’ that characterized the memorialization of the Great War in
France and England than to the avant-garde language of the German
Anti-War Museum.4 Like most Great War memorials in the victorious
countries, the initiative of the Italian veteran avoided expressing trium-
phalism, anger, or celebration of military valour per se, asserting instead
an ‘overall sense of indebtedness.’5 It gave voice to a diffuse feeling of
religious piety and was meant to function as a ritual site of bereavement.
And yet, the story of this original initiative does not belong to the history
of bereavement in the victorious countries either. Rather, it opens a
unique window onto the interaction between the Italian exorcism of the
war trauma and the formation and institutionalization of the fascist his-
toric imaginary.
In 1920 the Italian veteran’s plea was ignored. Its author, however, did
not remain anonymous, nor did he abandon the project. Behind the
anonymity was hidden the name of Antonio Monti, head archivist and
future curator of the prestigious Museum of Risorgimento in Milan
(MRM), who, in 1924, founded an Archivio della guerra (War Archive),
whose origins he would recall six years later in a signed article entitled
‘La carezza di Mussolini all’archivio della guerra’ (‘Mussolini’s Caress to
the War Archive’). In this text Monti recycled the episode of the disfig-
ured veteran but dramatically transfigured the circumstances of this rec-
ollection. No longer the source of bourgeois uneasiness, the scarred
veteran was presented in 1930 as the recipient of Benito Mussolini’s ‘lov-
ing caress’ during his first official visit to Milan, as prime minister, in
October 1923. The veteran’s ‘tears’ were no longer metaphorical, as
they had been in the first account, but were recounted by Monti as ‘real’
tears of gratitude, springing forth after Mussolini’s touch of the soldier’s
54 The Historic Imaginary

‘deep facial scar.’ ‘That caress,’ Monti asserted, ‘generously bestowed by

Mussolini upon the Milanese veteran, in the courtyard of the Sforza Cas-
tle, led to the opening of the War Archive.’6
A sincere convert to fascism, Monti reworked textual images and
memory in the same way any novelist would. In addition, the image of a
thaumaturgic Duce conjured up by Monti elaborated on the popular
image of Mussolini as the ‘Man of Providence’ propagandized by Musso-
lini himself in his War Diaries (1923) and by several of his early biogra-
phers.7 Monti, however, was no novelist, and the significance of his
transfiguration of memory cannot be separated from the fact that he
had neither been a front line soldier, nor remained an anonymous vet-
eran. During the last fourteen months of the war, Captain Monti had
served with the official commission that had judged the moral and mili-
tary responsibilities of Italian officers in the defeat of Caporetto. After
the war, Professor Monti had become a key player in the construction of
fascist historical culture.8
Seen in this light, the self-reflexive texture of Monti’s reworking of
memory – ten years after its appearance in the anonymous article of
1920 – offers anecdotal but compelling evidence of the intimate and
lasting relationship between the Italian response to the war trauma and
the fascist annulment of time. Quite plausibly, Monti’s original proposal
for the constitution of museums of suffering was born of his prolonged
exposure to the symbolic deathbed of the fatherland (Caporetto), not
from a chance encounter with a disfigured veteran.9 Similarly, the fail-
ure of his 1920 call for museums of sufferings may have had more to do
with the ambivalent mixture of fear and desire regarding that imaginary
event than with public indifference to the pious intentions of Monti’s
anonymous plea. Pointing a finger toward the incommensurability be-
tween the enormous sufferings inflicted by the war and the idealization
that had caused it, Monti’s museums of suffering would have exposed
rather than covered this ambivalence. Fascism offered instead the
appropriate exorcism of the war trauma, and Monti’s museum could
thus reemerge as a patriotic archive under the obsessive framework of
fascist denial.
At a symptomatic level of analysis, then, the belated transfiguration of
the war cripple from a victim of bourgeois hypocrisy to the recipient of
Mussolini’s thaumaturgic touch suggests that – just as for many intellec-
tuals of his generation – Monti’s endorsement of fascism was sustained
by collective expectations of a historical pharmacon that would heal the
psychological wounds of the Great War.10 And, along these lines, the
Il Duce Taumaturgo 55

textual image of the thaumaturgic Duce also foregrounds the crucial

role that Catholic imagery played in encoding these expectations.11 Yet,
below the surface of a creative act of self-justification for the author’s
political conversion from Catholic pacifist to fascist, we find another
trace of a more collective phenomenon. Quite aside from the real or
imagined status of the first recollection, the location indicated by Monti
for the imaginary meeting between the war veteran and Mussolini in the
square below the Sforza castle was the latter’s first visit to Milan, as
prime minister in October 1923. While the exhaustive chronicles of this
visit mention neither Mussolini’s visit to the Sforza castle, nor the
encounter with the disfigured veteran, the reason for this first official
visit of Mussolini as prime minister to Milan is well known. It was a
highly symbolic occasion: the celebration of the first anniversary of the
‘March on Rome,’ 27 October 1923. As Mabel Berezin argues, the cere-
monies organized in this first commemorative occasion ‘established a
repertoire of ritual actions’ that came to dominate the construction of
fascist imaginary throughout the ventennio.12 From 1923 onwards the
yearly celebration of the March on Rome encompassed the entire range
of ritual genres that characterized the formation of fascist ritual culture.
The celebration of the founding event of the ‘fascist revolution’ thus
came to represent the fascist seizure of power as a mental historic site
rather than a mere site of memory. It translated into ritual form the his-
toric imaginary elicited by Mussolini’s 1929 speech: the March had not
been a mere historical fact but a historic event that signalled not only
the birth of a new historical epoch but also the emergence of a historic
agent in history. The epoch it announced was incommensurable with
any earlier one because fascism presented itself as making history rather
than seeking legitimization from history.
In 1930, then, Monti did not simply transfigure a personal episode; he
endowed it with an iconic charge that cannot be overlooked. The imagi-
nary link established by Monti between the thaumaturgic Duce, the cel-
ebration of the March on Rome, and the origin of his war archive gives
us a clue to the crucial role that fascist ritual culture played in the con-
struction of the fascist historic imaginary. As a textual image the Duce
Taumaturgo pointed explicitly to the founding interaction between the
formation of fascist historic imaginary and the popular cult of Mussolini
(mussolinismo). The cultural construction of this cult had begun well
before his ascendance to the leadership of the fascist movement, but
had assumed during the ventennio the collective proportions of a proper
ideology.13 As documented by Luisa Passerini, mussolinismo came to con-
56 The Historic Imaginary

stitute not only the earliest, most enduring, and most ‘spontaneous’
expression of fascist faith, but also fascism’s autonomous double.14 Adu-
lated by his followers or vituperated by his foes, until the very end – and
even after his death – Mussolini was never entirely equated with fascism.
As witnessed by the abundance of jokes mocking prominent party lead-
ers, and the popular refrain that everything that went wrong was not the
responsibility of Mussolini but of the fascist gerarchi (officials) that sur-
rounded him, the popular cult of Mussolini was not only independent
of the cult of fascism but even directly undermined it.15 In fact, the
evolution and mass appeal of the imaginary Mussolini remained
throughout the ventennio inherently collective, dialogical, and largely
independent of party-state control.16 As Passerini explains, in its first
phase of codification between 1922 and 1926, Mussolini’s image had
been charged with the providential essence of ‘a refuge from the men-
aces of modernity.’ Its ‘uniqueness’ was celebrated as an oxymoron
‘capable of containing within itself all oppositions’; its first collective
value was established as representing ‘Italianness’ itself.17 Later on, how-
ever, mussolinismo began evolving into a more institutionalized cult of
the Duce in connection with the atmosphere of sacredness and rituality
in which the regime sought to envelop itself. For Passerini, in this cru-
cial phase of mutual exaltation between masses and leader, Mussolini’s
image expanded beyond the confines of its earlier identification with
‘Italy’ and toward an ‘ahistorical figure that [did] not succumb to the
flux of time, and, positioned in an eternal present, embodie[d] the
immortal primacy of the Italian spirit.’18 Seen in this context, Monti’s
image of the Duce Taumaturgo situated itself at a crucial nexus in the evo-
lution of the spontaneous myth of Mussolini (mussolinismo) toward a
properly fascist cult of the Duce (ducismo). It took the ahistorical Musso-
lini a step toward the status of historic agent and maker of history, but in
so doing, it also revealed the self-reflexive iconicity of all Mussolinian
Monti’s textual image elicited and deflected the thaumaturgic tenure
of Monti’s own history-making activities. The very act of transfiguration
underscored how Monti’s war archive sought to be ‘thaumaturgic’ by
recoding and intensifying the pious purpose he had earlier envisaged
for the musei del dolore. Unlike similar institutions established in Italy and
abroad, the Milanese War Archive was not meant to be ‘an assortment of
weapons or a reconstruction of battle scenes’ but rather a collection of
unofficial documents illustrating how, in Monti’s words, ‘Italy had been
able to neutralize [...] the imposed, and sanctioned violence of war, by
Il Duce Taumaturgo 57

means of innumerable acts of compassion and human solidarity.’19 At

the same time, linking the origin of the archive to the ritual site of fas-
cist historicness, Monti’s fantasy of history sought to present his image-
making activities as protagonist in the fascist collapse of historical imagi-
nation and politics under the rubric of making history.
More than a symptom, then, Monti’s Duce Taumaturgo constituted a
proper hypericon: an image that speaks of the nature of historical repre-
sentation during fascism.20 On one hand this image suggests that, just like
the emergence of a historic imaginary during the Great War, the elabo-
ration of a historic culture in 1920s Italy was intimately connected to the
popular source of fascist ritual culture, Latin Catholic rhetorical codes.
On the other hand, however, it invites us to analyse Monti’s image-mak-
ing activities as primary ideological sites where the historic imaginary that
erupted with the Great War began to be translated into a proper mode of
historic representation during the first decade of fascist rule.

The Thaumaturgic Archive

When Antonio Monti joined the Milanese Museum of Risorgimento

(MRM), in 1911, the museum did not even have a catalogue and was
arranged in ‘picturesque and chaotic disorder.’21 By the time he was
appointed director of the museum in 1925, his quantitative and qualita-
tive changes were already so extensive that the museum was looked
upon as the model for all other Risorgimento museums in Italy. In
Monti’s own words, the MRM, having been a series of ‘personal shrines,’
had become ‘a scientific institute aimed at providing the specialized
means necessary to the study of the thought, the intellectual currents,
and the spiritual movements centred around the Risorgimento.’22
All exhibition rooms had been restructured according to strict chrono-
logical criteria, and the library and archive had been thoroughly aug-
mented, rationalized, and catalogued. By the early 1930s, all of his peers
credited Monti with having transformed completely this old institution
(founded in 1884) into the first ‘modern’ institute of contemporary his-
tory in Italy.23 However, in the eyes of both fascist authorities and Italian
historians, it was the constitution of the Great War Archive that granted
Monti undisputed leadership in the modernization of historical repre-
sentation under fascism and that established his ‘Great War-Risorgi-
mento’ museum complex as the model to which all others should
gradually conform.
The archive’s original nucleus was a collector’s gift, but between 1926
58 The Historic Imaginary

and 1930 Monti launched a competition for the collection of war docu-
ments among Italian students and teachers of all levels. Excluded, how-
ever, were relics and ‘objects of any kind,’ because they did not fit with
the specific goal of the archive, which was, in Monti’s own words, ‘to
document the grafomania [compulsive letter-writing] of Italian soldiers,
[which was] one of the chief characteristics of a war marked by long and
enervating pauses.’24 By 1930 the competition had produced a grand
total of 500,000 filed and catalogued documents so that, in 1934, in com-
memorating the tenth anniversary of its constitution, Monti could refer
to the original process by which the archive had been constituted as fix-
ing ‘definitively and without possible equivocation its unique nature
and goals.’ Specifically, the archive was intended to document the con-
flict as a ‘gigantic psychological fact’ that continued to affect the lives of
the men who fought, just as much as those of their sons and daugh-
ters.25 This was a task, Monti added, that the archive performed by
means of catalogues compiled with the specific aim of attracting the
likes of those ‘scholars and teachers who, during the war, had greatly
contributed to the resistance and propaganda effort with a massive pro-
duction of pamphlets, conferences, and posters.’26
Monti singled out the subject catalogue as the archive’s most ‘scien-
tific’ contribution, insisting on headings pertaining to cultural activities
supporting or produced by the war effort in connection with the ‘psy-
chological factors’ pertaining to war conditions.27 And, in order to dem-
onstrate the scientific nature of this catalogue, he commented at length
on the documents that a hypothetical scholar could have consulted
under the heading ‘Wartime Religion’ for a study of ‘the popular ex-
pression of religious sentiment and, in particular, of the southern sol-
dier’s cult of the Virgin Mary.’ He then proceeded to illustrate four sec-
tions of documents (ex-votos, amulets, manuscripts, and images), all of
them pointing to the soldiers’ faith in the ‘thaumaturgic intervention of
the Virgin.’ At the same time, he insisted on the process by which these
documents, ‘collected by the archive, and there compulsively examined
(compulsati), studied and catalogued, reacquire[d] all their flavour and
expressiveness.’ In this way, the subject categories offered scholars
organic units together with an invitation to focus on the affective partic-
ulars of each item – the ‘strangest’ ex-votos shaped as coffins, the awk-
ward ‘bureaucratic flavour’ of certain dedications, even the contrast
‘between the fierce and ferocious look’ assumed by some soldiers in
group photographs and ‘the trusting humility of their requests.’28
This 1934 presentation of the archive’s subject catalogue could not
Il Duce Taumaturgo 59

have resonated more explicitly with the image of the Duce Taumaturgo
Monti had conjured up four years before. In fact, it highlighted the
thaumaturgic tenor of his whole enterprise. On the one hand, the cho-
sen mode of collection had been designed to heal the children of the
war generation. On the other hand, the archive’s catalogues were in-
tended to give access to the psychological history of the war in order to
mobilize Monti’s intellectual peers by bearing witness to the patriotic
militancy of wartime intellectuals. For its proud creator, then, the sub-
ject catalogue represented a scientific achievement not simply because
it gave coherence to a chaotic mass of documents but, more im-
portantly, because it directed scholarly attention toward the war as a
gigantic psychological fact. Still, the question remains: On what episte-
mological basis could Monti claim the scientific status of this highly
selective subject catalogue? And what exactly was the ‘gigantic psycho-
logical’ fact that the archive was supposed to document?
In the first place, Monti’s insistence on documents reacquiring their
‘flavour’ thanks to ‘compulsive’ studying and cataloguing enlisted a
romantic sensitivity, derived from his museological training, in the
archival recoding of the relationship between historical narrative and
trace. As Stephen Bann has shown, early nineteenth-century romanti-
cism had elaborated on the antiquarian sensitivity to the past ‘modeled
directly on sensory experience,’ adding an ‘affective view of history’ par-
ticularly appropriate to the development of visual forms of historical
representation.29 Over the course of the century, however, historical
writing had ‘taken over the primary role of serving as an icon of the his-
torical process,’ thereby draining objects, ruins, and images of their
original catalytic roles. Marginalized by the professionalization of histo-
riography and the rise of the realist novel, Bann concludes, the roman-
tic view of history had taken refuge in the history museum, whose
hallmark lay in an ‘enveloping effect’ and the ‘evocation of the sense of
smell.’30 In this way history museums not only challenged the subordina-
tion of the inferior senses of touch, taste, and smell to the superior
organ of internalized sight – inherent in the literary narrativization of
the past – but also reversed the subordination of the antiquarian sensi-
tivity to narrative compulsion.
Seen from Bann’s perspective, the terminology used by Monti in
describing the sensory appeal of archival documents linked his war
archive precisely to the romantic epistemology of history museums. The
subject catalogue was like a menu of archival tidbits highlighting their
organic nature. Each item acquired a fully metonymic power by virtue
60 The Historic Imaginary

of its inclusion in one or more subject headings; each heading con-

tained the synecdochic promise of an organic relationship to contigu-
ous ones. Hence the scholar was freed from the anxiety of constructing
a narrative, since the archive director had already prefigured one for
him. Instead, scholars could let themselves be taken in by the singular
flavour and expressivity of each item. The secret of a thaumaturgic
chain of effects, which Monti’s own analysis of the ex-votos iconically
mimicked, therefore lay in forgetting what Bann calls ‘the Law,’ that is,
narrative compulsion. At the same time, however, Monti’s insistence on
the archive’s documentation of the Great War as a gigantic ‘psychologi-
cal fact’ also revealed a desire to merge a romantic sensitivity to the sen-
sory experience of the past with a specifically actualist approach to the
question of historical representation.
As a young historian, Monti grew up in the cultural atmosphere of
neo-idealism. An avid reader of and subscriber to La Critica, he also
exchanged a few letters with Croce and probably met him on several
occasions before the war.31 During the war, however, Monti was also one
of the many Risorgimento historians who began to see in Giovanni Gen-
tile their new guiding star and the avenger of their traditional historio-
graphical subordination to classicists and medievalists. Long before his
anonymous call for a museum of war sufferings, Monti was among the
first Italian historians to support explicitly Gentile’s thesis that the Ital-
ian victory in the Great War ‘completed the historical cycle of our Risorg-
imento.’32 And whether or not Monti ever read Gentile’s ‘Politica e
filosofia,’ the self-reflexive tenor of Monti’s presentation leaves no doubt
concerning the role that the actualist philosophy of history played in
mediating the fusion of fascist ideology and Latin Catholic rhetorics into
his thaumaturgic conception of the war archive. The selective stress
Monti laid on the activities of wartime intellectuals makes clear that the
‘gigantic psychological fact’ the archive was supposed to document, and
sustain, was the very orientation of fascist historical consciousness toward
‘history belonging to the present’ theorized by Gentile. In fact, Monti’s
revision of the Milanese Museum of Risorgimento confirms that his
image-making activities revolved around the desire to give visual form to
the Gentilian catastrophe of the histori(ographi)cal act.

The Actualist Museum

If the integration of romantic aesthetics and actualist philosophy of his-

tory marked the foundation of the Milanese Archivio della guerra, their
Il Duce Taumaturgo 61

compounding was equally determinant in Monti’s designs for the inte-

gration of the Great War and Risorgimento into a single archive and
museum complex. In a memorandum written in 1925, shortly after his
appointment as director, Monti announced his plan to transform the
Milanese Museum of Risorgimento from a ‘patriotic museum’ into a
‘historical documentary of political and civic occurrences in Italy from
the end of the eighteenth century to our days.’33 But what else could a
museum of the Risorgimento be, other than a patriotic museum? Monti
never developed in print his reform project, nor did he go much further
than cryptic or sarcastic remarks concerning his predecessors, but a
brief look at the prewar arrangement of these museums helps clarify his
Risorgimento museums have a precise origin – the Risorgimento
Pavilion set up at the 1884 National Fair in Turin – but an uneven devel-
opment both geographically and chronologically. The Turin Pavilion
established the interpretative model for the first museums and local pol-
itics determined their variations; but what made them all (in Monti’s
words) ‘patriotic’ rather than ‘historical’ museums was the absolute
privilege that their organizers accorded to emotional over archival or
documentary value. In the total absence of technical training and dispo-
sition, the first curators displayed the selected items with no regard for
chronology but with an evident obsession to induce a process of physical
identification with the protagonists of the Risorgimento. As Bann would
say, they pushed to the limit the synecdochic principles of the romantic
paradigm, organizing all museum rooms according to ‘theme and ambi-
ence’ so that ‘the object from the past became the basis for an integra-
tive construction of historical totalities.’35
None of the newly founded museums could match Milan’s in bring-
ing this model of synecdochic representation to late-romantic per-
fection. One of its most prestigious founders, Cesare Correnti, was the
most outspoken fin-de-siècle sponsor of a type of display aimed at
‘sparking the [viewers’] imagination, by exhibiting “objects that excite
the senses.”’36 Yet the romantic poetics exalted by Correnti and embod-
ied in the first arrangement of the Milanese museum do not at all
explain Monti’s opposition to a ‘patriotic’ conception of historical rep-
resentation. The negative connotation given by Monti to the highest
fascist virtue, patriotism, cannot be taken literally or simply metaphori-
cally. It does not indicate a political aversion to patriotic sentiment; it is
not simply a synonym for ‘romantic.’ As Monti’s frequent references to
a 1906 public discussion of Risorgimento museums suggest, the term
62 The Historic Imaginary

patriotic referred to a fetishistic conception of the exhibition best exem-

plified in the work and words of the second curator of the Milanese
museum, Ludovico Corio (1900–1911).
Responding to the harsh criticism of two colleagues, Corio disclosed
the root of the patriotic paradigm at the First Congress of Risorgimento
Historians in 1906: ‘How can we say “I can accept this item, I cannot
accept that other one?” How can we tell a poor old woman, “look this
item we must exhibit in this display case, this other item in another
case?” It’s a question of empathy: it seems to me that this is not yet the
time for saying, “No, we can’t accept the relics of those glorious times.”
Otherwise they will end up in the hands of speculators who will sell
them back to us at a higher price when we will look for them at a future
time (applause).’37 The applause that met Corio’s explicit reference to
the hypothetical exchange value of Risorgimental relics was not only a
sign of widespread support for his empathetic conception of the
museum, but also a clue to the anomalous status of Risorgimento muse-
ums in the late-romantic panorama described by Bann. For Corio and a
majority of his peers, the directors of Risorgimento museums were not
only called upon to accept all relics; they were also obliged not to select
or separate them but to display them together as a whole. This is a situa-
tion whose peculiarity may be best appreciated in the light of the
late-romantic theory of historical value elaborated by Alois Riegl in his
classic essay ‘The Modern Cult of Monuments: Its Character and Its
Although written specifically to evaluate the differences among histor-
icist, antiquarian, and ‘modern’ approaches to the preservation of histor-
ical monuments, Riegl’s essay addressed a number of general issues
concerning the relationship between nineteenth-century historical epis-
temology and the field of aesthetic perception. In particular, Riegl pro-
posed a distinction between the ‘age value’ and the ‘historical value as
memory’ of all objects from the past, based upon the viewer’s perception.
Age value revealed itself to any viewer in the object’s ‘weathered appear-
ance’ (incompleteness, lack of wholeness, a tendency to dissolve form
and colour), while historical value was recognized and assigned only by
learned viewers ‘in accordance with the modern notion that what has
been can never be again, and that everything that has been constitutes an
irreplaceable and irremovable link in a chain of development.’39
Clearly the Italian museum directors neither attributed historical
value to their objects nor exhibited them simply because of the emo-
tional appeal of their age value. Risorgimento relics were exhibited as
Il Duce Taumaturgo 63

signs of ‘memory-value’ per se. As the generation of historical actors dis-

appeared, museum directors sought to displace an anxiety concerning
the rise of conflicting interpretations of the events onto a fetishization
of relics. Indeed, the symbolic economy of value inscribed at the heart
of the Risorgimento museum adhered to Jean Baudrillard’s classic defi-
nition of fetishism. These museums reified a supposedly original form
of value into a metaphysics of value that ‘register[ed] itself as a kind of
moral law at the heart of the object – and it [was] inscribed there as the
finality of the ‘need’ of the subject.’40 They presented themselves as
both the embodiment of a collective injunction to remember and the
affirmation of an equally collective need for memory.
It was to this fetishistic economy of the historical sign that Monti
referred in his first public attack on the patriotic conception of Risorgi-
mento museums at the Twelfth Congress of Risorgimento Historians
(Turin, 1924). Beginning with a discussion of ‘the limits to be imposed on
the exhibition of objects,’ he affirmed uncompromisingly that ‘hair,
nails, bloodstained rags, bone fragments, butt ends of cigars, and similar
stuff should be forever banned from any museum.’41 While seeking to
purge Risorgimento museums of the late-romantic fetishization of mem-
ory that had characterized the activities of his predecessors, Monti’s
opposition to relics was also in perfect keeping with the exclusion of
objects from his war archive. In fact, Monti conceptualized his overall
strategy as transforming Risorgimento museums from a series of personal
‘shrines’ into institutions ‘aimed at providing the specialized means nec-
essary to the study of the thought, the intellectual currents, and the spir-
itual movements centred around the Risorgimento.’42 To this effect, he
called the attention of his colleagues to ‘four significant issues’ pertain-
ing to what he termed ‘technical preservation and display’:

1. The limits of the period intended by the term ‘Risorgimento’

2. Whether to exhibit photographs of materials belonging to other
museums alongside the home museum’s collection
3. Whether, and to what extent, the museums should also exhibit
items not specifically patriotic
4. Whether, and according to which criteria, the Risorgimento
museums should make space for the documentation of the Great

Surely the four issues raised by Monti were anything but ‘technical.’ On
the contrary, Monti’s historiographical concern for the inclusion of the
64 The Historic Imaginary

Great War in the Risorgimental epoch clearly framed their sequence.

Although not alone in this concern, Monti was certainly the first
museum director to raise the issue of extending the museums’ time
frame to 1918. And yet, in his presentation, he did not focus his atten-
tion on the initial question of periodization but rather on the subse-
quent aesthetic and epistemological issues it raised. Monti’s elaboration
of these three ‘technical’ issues presented the outlines of a fascist theory
of historic representation.
Regarding the exhibition of photographs, Monti declared that he
‘would rather see only authentic objects exhibited, because they have an
emotional and meditative impact on the viewer that photographs can-
not replicate.’44 This opposition to photographs might appear at first to
be a nostalgic defence of the aura of authentic objects against their
modern reproducibility, a stand that would confirm Walter Benjamin’s
famous definition of the fascist ‘aesthetization of politics’ as an ‘uncon-
trolled application of outmoded concepts.’45 And yet, in actually apply-
ing Benjamin’s discussion of the aura and its relations to fascism, we
may best appreciate that the principles underpinning Monti’s proposals
were much more modernist than outmoded.
As he specified at length in the same lecture, Monti objected not to
photographs per se but to the display by any museum of photographed
documents and relics owned by another museum to fill the narrative
gaps. Therefore, the authenticity he defended was not that of unique
objects but of the viewer’s experience of fragmentary evidence, an
experience that (in the historical museum) he considered to be both
emotional and meditative and the necessary basis for the fusion of
sensory visual stimuli and mental visual projections. The insertion of
photographs into the display would not have necessarily signalled an
abandonment of authenticity. On the contrary, the availability of the
originals in other museums would have given epistemological validity to
the photographs as authenticity effects.
The fascist curator’s defense of the historical aura did not refer,
therefore, to outmoded notions ‘such as creativity and genius, eternal
value and mystery,’ as Benjamin implied, but to a conception of the rela-
tionship between aesthetics and historical knowledge that resonated
with his Catholic sensitivity to the rhetorical encoding of presence just as
much as with a quintessentially modernist critique of narrative represen-
tation.46 We could thus say – as Benjamin says of film and dadaism – that
Monti’s museum aimed at meeting the viewer’s distracted mode of
reception halfway. Yet, rather than allowing the visitor to assume the
Il Duce Taumaturgo 65

position of the absent-minded examiner through the regulated adminis-

tration of shocks, Monti sought to induce a contemplation of presence
by relying solely on the synaesthetic tactility of authentic objects. In fact,
it is only in the light of this modernist recoding of the historical aura
that we may fully understand the coherence and interrelatedness of
Monti’s last two proposals: his pleas for the exhibition of nonpatriotic
items and the inclusion of the Great War in the Risorgimental display.
As Monti emphasized at length, the first proposal called into question
the means by which Risorgimento museums had traditionally sought ‘to
keep the patriotic sentiment always awake, and to strengthen national
consciousness by means of examples from the past.’ In fact, he insisted,
his predecessors’ fetishization of memory value had been chiefly respon-
sible for the Risorgimental struggles’ reduction from ‘national wars’ to
mere ‘conspiracies, and efforts to expel the foreigner.’47 In response to
this state of affairs, he proceeded to explicate his final and most signifi-
cative proposal: the criterion according to which Risorgimento muse-
ums should have included the Great War in their display.
Reversing the diachronic direction of historical consciousness, Monti
argued that the inclusion of the Great War was necessary in order to
present the Risorgimental wars ‘in the same fashion as the recent con-
flict of 1915–1918,’ that is, as national wars ‘inform[ing], inspir[ing],
and dominat[ing] all other manifestations of life.’48 The proposal, then,
had nothing to do with the mere affirmation of that historical continuity
that had inspired – during the conflict – the labelling of the Great War
as the ‘fourth war of independence.’ Rather, it referred to the Gentilian
notion of the Great War as having reoriented historical consciousness
toward ‘history belonging to the present.’ Belonging to the ‘present’ of
consciousness, the Great War event had recoded the Risorgimental wars
as catalysts of national character. Accordingly, postwar Risorgimento
museums should have documented and periodized the evolution of all
manifestations of national virtue. Given the availability of great numbers
of documents, the related problems of narrative integration (by photo-
graphs) and patriotic inspiration through fetishized examples had be-
come not only theoretically but also practically obsolete. Eliminating
these, the curatorial selection of documents and objects for display
would invite the viewers to focus their narrative projection on the
epochal totality of the Great War and the Risorgimento.
It was therefore in the revision of Risorgimento museums – even more
than in the institutionalization of its ‘thaumaturgic’ archive – that the
Great War was meant to explicate its true nature as a historic event that
66 The Historic Imaginary

had reoriented historical consciousness toward ‘history belonging to the

present.’ In Risorgimento museums, the Great Event was meant to pro-
vide at one and the same time the new end point of the Risorgimental
epoch, the impetus for the transformation of a fetishistic historical cul-
ture into a modernist one, and, finally, the very model to which all past
and future representations of national struggle would be made to con-
form. In this respect, Monti’s museum also affirmed the inseparable con-
nection between the visual representation of the past and the upkeep of
a fascist historic imaginary. How far Monti went with this historic revision
of historical representation we can now ascertain by exploring the imple-
mentation and diffusion of his curatorial principles.49

Toward a Historic Mode of Representation

The first important element we may positively ascertain is that the

epochal fusion of Great War and Risorgimento proposed by Monti did
not take place in the 1920s.50 Until the mid-1930s, all Risorgimento
museums in Italy, including Monti’s MRM, covered the Risorgimento
from the end of the eighteenth century to 1870.51 Yet the very failure of
this historiographical fusion at the level of periodization highlights the
deeper connection between the Great War as ‘giant psychological fact’
and the institutionalization that the actualist philosophy of history
encountered in these institutions. In fact, of all of Monti’s 1924 propos-
als, this one alone was not implemented by the author and his peers.
The translation of ‘history belonging to the present’ into specific cura-
torial solutions became, instead, the hallmark of Monti’s undisputed
museotechnical leadership, and was followed with the utmost attention
by all of his peers just as much as by fascist authorities
As Monti wrote in a 1925 memorandum addressed to the Milanese
municipal government, his first curatorial operation entailed reorder-
ing the museum’s display ‘according to a chronological criterion such
that each display case corresponded, as it were, to a page of history.’52
Today, we are all too accustomed to the identification of any historical
representation with diachronic narrative to appreciate fully Monti’s
analogy between the museum’s display cases and ‘historical pages.’ We
should recall, however, that until the end of World War I, all Risorgi-
mento museum displays were characterized by chronological confusion
and overlap.53 In this respect, the only surviving photograph of the
museum’s central room (Figure 1) can help us recapture some of the
specificity and literalness of Monti’s first comment.
Il Duce Taumaturgo 67

Figure 1. The Central Hall in the Milanese Museo del Risorgimento in 1926.

This 1926 photograph purposely emphasizes the general modularity

of the display. It shows diagonally the perfect alignment of flags on the
left side, the display of the regular intervals among five busts, and a full
view of the first display case. This case is divided into five panels docu-
menting – with a series of regularly framed images and carefully
arranged coins – the ‘Italian Campaigns from 1796 to 1800.’ The combi-
nation of diagonal depth, regular intervals, and standardized display
gives a sense of orderly succession analogous to the regularity of narra-
tive time and promises the neat pagination of events into chapters com-
plete with distinct introductory headings. This image was more than a
panoramic view of the museum’s main room: it presented readers and
visitors with a hypericon that pointed simultaneously to the aesthetic
distance between the new museum and its predecessors – all patriotism
and fetishistic disorder – and the challenge that visual history making in
the museum could now pose to written historiography. The narrative
regularity of the first five rooms was in fact interrupted by the insertion
of five thematic rooms in the corridor between the western and eastern
wings of the museum, celebrating the regional plebiscites of 1860 and
various individual contributions (Figure 2).
In addition to its unorthodox stress on economists, women, and for-
eigners, this topical section implemented the revision of the Risorgi-
68 The Historic Imaginary

Figure 2. Floor map of the Milanese Museo del Risorgimento, 1926.

mento after the model of the Great War that Monti had announced in
1924. The new layout characterized the Risorgimento as a ‘national war’
that had mobilized social and intellectual forces within and beyond the
geographical boundaries of the nation. Framed as it was between the
first narrative section, covering 1796 to 1860, and the long ‘Garibaldi
Hall’ that picked up the story from 1860 to 1870, the asymmetry of the
topical rooms spatially interrupted the regular time of narrative. The
revolutionary press, the prophet-conspirator Mazzini, and all the other
exiled writers, economists, women, and foreigners were selected, sepa-
rated, and extracted from the narrative series so as to counteract the
tale of the military events preceding them, while at the same time her-
alding the epic unity of the Garibaldian times following them. These
rooms thematized an epochal ideology of historical meaning: they fore-
grounded in no uncertain terms the intellectual activity that had
allowed military history to become, as it were, national epic.
Il Duce Taumaturgo 69

Monti’s equal attention to the more sensory-visual aspects of the dis-

play matched his sensitivity to the relationship between the epochal
encoding of space and the codification of historical meaning in the his-
torical museum. From the introduction of yellow glass to protect the
most fragile documents and relics from the sun, to the restoration of
uniforms and their exhibition on mannequins specifically designed by
Monti, to the replacement of originals with facsimiles, to the design of
new cases constructed specially for the preservation of fragile posters
and that of passe-partouts patented by Monti himself for their exhibi-
tion, all of the museotechnical innovations diffused by Monti in the late
1920s conformed to the actualist-modernist trajectory of his curatorial
Let me colour, by way of exemplification, the only surviving picture of
the MRM’s central room. The transfer of yellowness from the docu-
ments to the glass panel between document and viewer translated
Monti’s reconceptualization of historical representation as related to a
system-dependent notion of value and his rejection of any notion of
inherent value, whether aesthetic or cognitive. The yellow glass of
Monti’s display cases preserved the unique but instrumental value of
each item in a spatial system that surrounded the viewer with its modu-
larity before the gaze could engage any single item. At the same time,
however, the glass called the viewer’s attention to the perishable nature
of certain elements in the system and in so doing recoded the emotional
appeal of age value while protecting against physical decay. The same
can be said of the restored uniforms. Their bullet holes had been sewn
up, thereby preventing the romantic revival of historical heroes, but
their display on stylized mannequins stimulated the viewer’s anthropo-
morphic visualization of the surrounding objects and documents as part
of lived history. Finally, and more effectively than any other element
in the display, the cleaned posters and prints, uniformly framed with
Monti’s passe-partouts, pointed the viewer’s attention away from their
memory value and toward their narrative value as structural elements in
a visual history of the Risorgimento.
Let us now imagine the combined effect of documents seen through
yellow glass, restored uniforms mounted on mannequins, and spotless
posters and uniformly framed prints that seem brand new until one
makes out their date and subject matter – all within a uniformly divided
space occupied by modular show cases whose historical referent is
clearly announced by overhanging labels. Clearly, the implementation
of sensory distance between viewer and relic may be seen as one pole of
70 The Historic Imaginary

Monti’s interventions, the opposite pole being the gradual reduction

of this distance by the viewer’s visual experience of regulated narrative
progression. Their combined effect was to make the interaction be-
tween the sensory-visual aspects of the display and the mental-visual pro-
jections of the viewer dependent on a tactical modulation of presence
and narrative. All of this, Monti understatedly insisted, was simply
intended ‘to let hygiene penetrate also into the rooms and onto the
shelves of historical archives and museums.’55
Symptomatic or intentional, Monti’s insistence on the hygienic scope
of his activities inscribed the founding futurist image of the Great War
as ‘sola igiene del mondo’ (the world’s only hygiene) in the ideological
framework of his thaumaturgic principles.56 In fact, this rhetorical ges-
ture gives us a clue to the evolution of Monti’s curatorial practices in the
diretion of a compenetration of Catholic rhetorics and avant-garde aes-
thetics. While citing explicitly the Catholic principle of invisibilia per
visibilia as the prime criterion underpinning his modernization of his-
torical representation, Monti’s museotechnical innovations were clearly
marked by an acute sensitivity to the synaesthetic principles that had been
posed at the foundation of futurist art – from Carlo Carrà’s La pittura dei
suoni, rumori, odori (Painting of Sounds, Noises and Smells), (1913) to F.T.
Marinetti’s Tattilismo (Tactilism) (1921). It was in fact in participating in
the development of the most avant-garde, public, and quintessentially
futurist art form, exhibition art, that Monti would find the most appro-
priate context for inserting his history-making activities into the mod-
ernist stream of fascist image politics.
Specifically, Monti was called to Rome in 1932 to set up a historical
exhibition of Garibaldi and Garibaldianism (Mostra garibaldina) and to
join thirty-four of Italy’s most renowned artists in the collective installa-
tion of a historical exhibition of fascism (Mostra della rivoluzione fas-
cista). As we shall see in Chapter 5, setting up these two exhibitions
allowed Monti finally to endorse avant-garde aesthetics in the elabora-
tion and institutionalization of a historic mode of representation. Yet
participating in these official initiatives also brought Monti into direct
contact with another key moment in fascist ritual culture. The two ex-
hibitions constituted, in fact, the crowning jewels of a double commem-
orative occasion: the fiftieth anniversary of Garibaldi’s death (cinquante-
nario garibaldino) in June 1932, and the tenth anniversary of the fascist
revolution (decennale fascista) in October of the same year. Falling as
they did at the chronological apex in the construction of both the cult
of the Duce and the cult of fascism, these two anniversary celebrations
Il Duce Taumaturgo 71

inscribed the evolution of a historic mode of representation at the cru-

cial nexus of negotiations between Mussolini’s aesthetic politics and the
sacralization of fascism. Accordingly, I interrupt momentarily the story
of Monti’s modernist gestae and, in the next three chapters, turn our
attention to the organization, rhetorical encoding, and reception of the
Garibaldian Celebrations, in which discussions we meet the prime pro-
tagonist in the institutionalization of the fascist historic imaginary, the
Duce Taumaturgo, in person.
Chapter Three


Had it not been for the celebration of the decennale fascista, the tenth
anniversary of the March on Rome, 1932 would have been remembered
by most Italians as l’anno garibaldino (the Garibaldian year) in view of the
commemoration of the cinquantenario garibaldino, the fiftieth anniversary
of the death of Italy’s most popular Risorgimental hero, Giuseppe
Garibaldi. The ‘Hero of the Two Worlds,’ as Garibaldi was nicknamed
after his Latin American exploits, was one of the four Risorgimental
fathers of the Italian nation – along with the ‘Warrior’ King Victor
Emmanuel, his ‘shrewd’ minister Camillo Benso Count of Cavour, and
the ‘Republican apostle’ Giuseppe Mazzini. Garibaldi’s popularity, how-
ever, was unrivalled both at home and abroad. His was the quintessential
figure of the romantic revolutionary hero, and hence a fundamental
Risorgimental precursor to be included in the fascist historical pantheon.
Born in Nice on 4 July 1807, Garibaldi trained his patriotism abroad
fighting for the independence of Latin American nations from the early
1830s to the mid-1840s. After returning to the Italian peninsula he put his
military valour and fame in the service of Mazzini’s republican ideals, par-
ticipating in setting up and defending the unfortunate Roman Republic
of 1847 to 1849. Chased out of Rome by French forces, Garibaldi was very
nearly captured and had to go into hiding. Like most Republican patri-
ots, he spent the next few years preparing a popular and military insur-
rection while waiting for the Piedmontese Monarchy to resume war
against Austria. The opportunity finally came in 1860 when, with Pied-
mont waging war on Austria in the north, Garibaldi led a military expe-
dition of a thousand ‘redshirts’ (from the colour of their characteristic
uniforms) to a successful invasion of the southern island of Sicily. From
there, Garibaldi’s forces proceeded to liberate the whole southern tip of
Historic Spectacle 73

the peninsula from Spanish rule and threatened to set up a Southern Ital-
ian Republic. The astounding military feat of Garibaldi’s ‘thousand’ cap-
tured the imagination of all European revolutionaries but also prompted
the Piedmontese monarchy to resume its military march southwards to
convince Garibaldi to annex the liberated lands to the recently declared
Kingdom of Italy. With Garibaldi’s famous telegram to Victor Emmanuel,
‘I obey,’ both the Italian Risorgimento and the hopes of the Republican
democratic forces led by Mazzini were stiffled. Yet this betrayal of demo-
cratic principles never stained Garibaldi’s popular image and, under
fascism, became instead the stepping stone for a celebration of the proto-
fascist gestae of the ‘Hero of the two worlds’ and of the ‘Garibaldian tra-
dition’ created by his descendants.
Beginning with two of Garibaldi’s sons, Menotti and Ricciotti Sr, the so-
called Garibaldian tradition of military volunteerism saw two generations
of Garibaldis and redshirts join the Balkan wars against the Ottoman
Empire in 1912, intervene on the side of the Entente before the official
entry of Italy in the Great War, and organize a regular ‘Garibaldi’ battal-
ion of volunteers during the conflict itself. Over the span of four decades
the Garibaldian tradition thus institutionalized itself into a veterans asso-
ciation and a small but symbolically powerful political movement
referred to – somewhat disparagingly – as garibaldinismo (Garibaldian-
ism). Throughout the liberal regime Garibaldianism stood squarely on
the left side of the political spectrum, merging Mazzinian Republicanism,
utopian socialism, and, above all, virulent anticlericalism. But with the
end of the Great War and the Bolshevik threat of 1919, the Garibaldis
increasingly drifted toward openly nationalist positions. Thus, in June
1922, on the highly symbolic occasion of the yearly national pilgrimage to
Garibaldi’s tomb in Caprera, the last surviving son of the general, Ric-
ciotti Sr, invited all camice rosse (redshirts) to follow the new Duce of the
camice nere (blackshirts), Benito Mussolini.
No wonder then that the Garibaldian celebrations of the year 1932
assumed proportions that were truly unprecedented. As part of the offi-
cial program of the cinquantenario, the government financed Monti’s
Mostra garibaldina (Garibaldian Exhibition), the traditional pilgrimage
to Garibaldi’s tomb in Caprera, the publication of the first national edi-
tion of Garibaldi’s writings, a special issue of commemorative stamps,
and a Garibaldian lottery.1 It also decreed a parliamentary commemo-
ration before a plenary session of the two chambers, a day of celebra-
tion in all schools and universities, and another day to be set aside for
public orations by prominent members of the Partito Nazionale Fas-
74 The Historic Imaginary

cista (PNF) in the major squares of all Italian cities.2 Undoubtedly, how-
ever, the symbolic apex of the cinquantenario was an unusually long
commemorative spectacle: a three-day national commemoration exe-
cuted in three public ceremonies, all of which were exhaustively docu-
mented by the news media and consciously orchestrated for that
purpose.3 First was the transfer on 1 June of the remains of Garibaldi’s
first wife, Brazilian-born Anita Riviero, from Genoa to Rome; then, on 2
June, came the entombment of Anita’s remains in the base of a monu-
ment to be built in her memory on top of the Janiculum hill; and,
finally, on the fourth, came the official inauguration of this monument
by Mussolini.
Given the ritual and representational wealth of these public events,
the cinquantenario garibaldino constituted the regime’s most elaborate
attempt to secure a properly fascist vision of the Risorgimental past, and
it also found itself placed at the chronological zenith of the most vital
phase of the fascist sacralization of politics, which Emilio Gentile has
identified with the fateful absorption of the Risorgimental cult of the
fatherland into a proper cult of fascism.4 In fact, the organization, per-
formance, and rhetorical encoding of the Garibaldian cinquantenario
could not have been more subordinated to that of the fascist decennale.
Yet, on a closer reading, the very semiotic quality of this subordination
reveals that the Garibaldian celebrations did not conform at all to the
procedures identified by Gentile with the institutionalization of fascist
religion. On the contrary, the cinquantenario-decennale ritual complex on
the one hand translated into ritual language the historic mode of repre-
sentation elaborated by Risorgimento museum curators such as Monti
in the 1920s. On the other hand, it contributed primarily to the institu-
tionalization of the cult of the Duce by transfiguring the thaumaturgic
Duce into Mussolini the history maker.

Garibaldianism between Mussolini’s Aesthetic Politics and the

Cult of the Duce

I believe that Garibaldi can keep gazing in that direction [the Vatican]
because, today, his spirit is appeased! Not only will he not be moved, but
the fascist regime will also raise a monument to Anita Garibaldi in the same

Thus, in his official presentation of the Lateran Pacts to the fascist

Chamber of Deputies (14 May 1929) Mussolini added insult to injury in
Historic Spectacle 75

responding to the Vatican’s request that Garibaldi’s monument be

moved from the top of the Janiculum hill in Rome. In fact, Mussolini’s
announcement that the government intended to build a monument in
honour of Garibaldi’s first wife, next to the one built in 1895 in memory
of the legendary hero, was a political provocation on a number of
fronts. First, as Mussolini announced in his speech, the monument was
to act as an explicit deterrent to an ultra-Catholic interpretation of the
pacts as a licence to put the Risorgimento on trial. Second, it was meant
to monumentalize the popular image of the fascist fulfilment of the
Risorgimento. Last but not least, the building of a monument to Anita
was also meant to reaffirm the commitment of the fascist government to
rectifying the symbolic crimes of the liberal era. The very same initiative
had been launched in 1905 by an inter-parliamentary committee for the
1907 celebration of the centennial of Garibaldi’s birth, but in spite of an
unusual bipartisan consensus, two national competitions among fifty-
seven renowned artists for the design of the monument, and a success-
ful popular collection of funds for its construction, the enterprise had
failed miserably. The monument was never built and the subscription
money never returned, giving the socialist Republican press a fine
opportunity to cite the episode as one more ‘scandalous symbol of par-
liamentary incompetence,’ of ‘delinquent speculation on the most sin-
cere popular feelings,’ and of the ‘liberal state’s inability to honour its
own martyrs.’6
From its beginning the building of a monument to Anita was thus
charged with polemical overtones that emphasized both the adversarial
relationship between fascist religion and Catholicism and the antithesis
between the fascist cult of Risorgimento and liberal amnesia. However,
the history of this monument was not to be determined by these polem-
ical factors. Mussolini’s decision to delay the construction of the monu-
ment in order to place its inauguration at the center of the Garibaldian
celebrations to be performed in June 1932 effectively defused the
charge. Endowed with the ritual solemnity of a national commemora-
tion, the construction of the monument lost its confrontational bite in
exchange for a more effective exploitation of its symbolic capital. In the
first place, by commemorating the Risorgimento hero via the monu-
mentalization of his exotic and heroic wife, the regime could capitalize
on the romantic relationship between Garibaldi and Anita while at the
same time avoiding direct confrontation with the ambiguous and con-
troversial aspects of Garibaldi’s political figure. Second, the monumen-
tal fulcrum enabled the fascist government to concentrate all the
76 The Historic Imaginary

activities associated with the national commemoration in Rome and to

prohibit any other provincial or spontaneous celebrations, thereby
endowing the very planning of all commemorative events with a clear
symbolic direction.7 Garibaldi was to be remembered and celebrated
solely for his most nationalistic trait: his romantic love of Rome, which
had inspired his heroic defence of the Roman Republic in 1849 and the
‘sacrifice’ of his beloved Anita.8 In this respect, the Garibaldian celebra-
tions intended to provide a definitive closure to the nationalization not
only of the Risorgimento hero per se but also of its popular cult.9 At the
same time, their organization and performance was not sustained either
by the syncretic or the totalitarian logic that, according to E. Gentile,
marked the fascist party’s construction of the cult of fascism.10 Rather,
the choice of celebrating the national hero via his wife Anita revealed a
direct connection between the Garibaldian celebrations and the consol-
idation of ducismo, the myth-cult of Mussolini, the Duce.
No other fascist precursor threatened the uniqueness and structural
ambivalence of Mussolini’s image and its refraction in the Mussolinian
imaginary of Italians as much as Garibaldi. As Mario Isnenghi has rightly
noted, Garibaldi’s popular image was endowed with the very same ‘con-
genital duplicity’ that Passerini has identified in Mussolini’s, their com-
mon ‘reversibility irreducible: from rebel to man of order, from man of
order to rebel, in a spiraling movement of promised or menacing poten-
tialities.’11 In addition, by constituting ‘the prototype of the modern
“protagonist”: be he movie star, television anchor, secret agent, comic
book superhero, sports superstar, or politician,’12 the cultural construc-
tion of Garibaldi’s image had anticipated by several decades that culture
of personality that was to sustain the collective construction of the imag-
inary Mussolini.13 Any direct celebration of Garibaldi would have been
not only inherently unstable and open to opposing interpretations, but
also a direct challenge to the historic aura that had come to surround
Mussolini’s image. In fact, Mussolini made sure that the cinquantenario
would contribute directly and solely to the institutionalization of his his-
toric image. In contrast with most similar ritual events, the principal
agent in the organization of the Garibaldian celebrations was neither
the fascist party nor the regime in the abstract, but the Duce in person.
As honorary chairman of the celebration’s organizing committee,
Mussolini was not only responsible for the strategic marginalization of
all non-nationalistic traits of Garibaldi’s figure – a feat achieved through
the monumentalization of his wife and the centralization of the cele-
brations in the Eternal City – but he also personally made all choices
Historic Spectacle 77

regarding the aesthetic and ritual form of all commemorative events.

From the timing of Mussolini’s first announcement – just ten days
before his historic speech against Croce – to the decision to insert
Anita’s monument at the symbolic centre of the National Commemora-
tion, to the role he came to play at the inauguration ceremony, the
Garibaldian celebrations were permeated by the signs of Mussolini’s
intentional translation of fascist history making into a ritual mode of his-
toric representation. Rather than reconsecrate the resurrected nation,
fascistize patriotic religion, or incorporate the cult of Garibaldi into the
cult of fascism, the cinquantenario provided a crucial nexus of negotia-
tions between Mussolini’s aesthetic politics and the exponential growth
of the popular cult of the Duce.

Monumental History

The first act in the planning of the national commemoration, the selec-
tion of the design for the monument, began as early as 1928. However, we
can already discern in this preliminary phase two fundamental elements
that would come to characterize the organization and performance of
the whole spectacle: first, Mussolini’s decision to make the celebrations a
personal project in which he exercised an unprecedented control over all
ritual-aesthetic details; and second, a puzzling struggle between Musso-
lini and the appointed organizer of the celebrations, Ezio Garibaldi, over
the ultimate codification of meaning in the spectacles.
A faithful fascist since 1922, Ezio was also the youngest of seven living
grandsons of Giuseppe Garibaldi and a war hero in his own right. Fol-
lowing his father, Ricciotti Sr, and his older brothers, Bruno and Cos-
tante, Ezio had been wounded during the celebrated Garibaldian
expedition of the Argonne in December 1914, which Mussolini himself
had defined as the most heroic episode of all in the campaign for Italy’s
intervention in the Great War. In June 1922, Ezio was the sole Garibaldi
grandson to openly follow his father, Ricciotti Sr, in endorsing fascism.
Thus, once in power – and with Ricciotti Sr close to his deathbed (he
would die in 1923) – Mussolini cemented Ezio’s support by intervening
personally to secure for him a speedy military political career. In 1923,
he sent Ezio to Mexico as official plenipotentiary for all economic mat-
ters, and in 1924 made him general of the fascist militia. Given this close
relationship, Mussolini’s choice to entrust Ezio with the responsibility of
planning the celebrations was equally instrumental in excluding the
party from any decision-making role in their organization and in keep-
78 The Historic Imaginary

Figure 3. Sciortino’s Anita (1928).

ing Ezio under his direct oversight.14 Yet the choice also meant that,
through Ezio, Mussolini was to come into personal contact and conflict
with the rhetorical codes that had underscored the absorption of
Garibaldianism into fascism’s sacred history.
Sometime between February and May of 1928, Mussolini instructed
Ezio to commission an artist to make a plaster cast of the monument-to-
be and to submit it to him for final approval. Ezio’s choice fell upon a
relatively unknown sculptor, Antonio Sciortino.15 As the photographs
and correspondence preserved in the archives of the National Federa-
tion of Garibaldian Veterans show, Ezio had asked Sciortino to repre-
sent a specific historical scene: Anita leaving the military camp of Saint-
Simon (in Uruguay) to search for her missing husband, her twelve-day-
old son Menotti clutched to her bosom (Figure 3).
This episode had taken place in 1840 when Garibaldi led a corps of
international volunteers to fight on the side of the Republican forces
against Argentinian and Brazilian Conservatives, and it had been
Historic Spectacle 79

described in detail by Garibaldi himself in a memoir published in 1872.

Sciortino based his design on this firsthand account; in fact, all of his
representational decisions matched Garibaldi’s narration to the letter.16
This monument, however, was never built. Mussolini not only
rejected Ezio’s choice but suddenly decided to choose an artist himself.
He commissioned a handful of artists to produce alternative designs,
finally selecting that of the oldest, most established, and most tradi-
tional of all Italian commemorative sculptors, Mario Rutelli,17 an artist
who had been acclaimed (and criticized) during the first decade of the
century for the sensuality and idealized realism of his public monu-
ments.18 In contrast to Sciortino’s historical representation, Rutelli’s
first design relied on popular iconography to produce a depiction of
Anita as a symbol of heroic/exotic womanhood, with no concern for his-
torical accuracy. Yet, unlike Sciortino, Rutelli had made his Anita imme-
diately recognizable even to the least historically informed viewer by
combining a realistic rendering of her physiognomy (oval face, long
hair) with clear signs of fearlessness and tumultuous passion. Anita was
thus presented as a sensuous Amazon raising a gun in her right hand,
astride a rearing horse, about to launch herself into battle (Figure 4).
Since this heroic/exotic image of Anita corresponded to the expecta-
tions of most Italians, Mussolini’s selection of Rutelli’s monument over
Sciortino’s could be seen as following an established practice according
to which the regime’s choices were always dictated by the opportunistic
desire to favour the work least problematic from a figurative point of
view, and most likely to have an impact on the public.19 However, Mus-
solini was not entirely satisfied with the plaster cast he had approved,
and during a personal visit to Rutelli’s studio he ordered a crucial and
final modification to the monument’s design: the addition of the infant
Menotti on Anita’s left arm (Figure 5).20
At first sight, the quality and unprecedented amount of Mussolini’s
aesthetic policing of this monument suggests that, in reconceiving
Anita, the Duce may have unwittingly given artistic expression to the
autotelic essence of his aesthetic politics. In other words, Mussolini’s
addition of baby Menotti disclosed that ‘narcissistic myth of the manly
creator’ that Simonetta Falasca Zamponi has indicated as characterizing
the virilist horizon of Mussolini’s aesthetic conception of politics.21 By
giving birth to Anita’s son, Mussolini forged a seductive and static icon
of fascist femininity, which conjoined the campaign against Italy’s
declining birthrate and the ongoing project of fostering the formation
of a warrior culture with a powerful image of fascist womanhood, the
80 The Historic Imaginary

Figure 4. Rutelli’s plaster cast of Anita (1928).

Historic Spectacle 81

Figure 5. Rutelli’s Anita (1932). Note the infant Menotti

resting on Anita’s left arm.
82 The Historic Imaginary

warrior mother.22 While ultimately functioning as a patriarchal lesson to

women never to abdicate their fascist femininity – that is, their child-
bearing role – the oxymoronic appeal of Anita as a motherly Amazon
was also intended to capture the imagination – not only the historical
one – of its male audience. Yet, despite its direct reference to contempo-
rary fascist values, the modified statue also managed to refer very explic-
itly to the historical continuity between the military heroism of
Garibaldi and his spouse, and that of his descendants and followers – in
a word, to Garibaldianism. And, in this crucial respect, Mussolini’s inter-
vention raises an issue of historical representation that lay at the centre
of his aesthetic policing.
Without impinging at all on the balance of Rutelli’s composition, the
addition of baby Menotti detached Rutelli’s representation from its
original and purely symbolic status by adding to it the referential
authority of the same historical scene that Sciortino had chosen to
depict in his monument. Mussolini’s appreciation of this historical
scene can be related to its commemorative value: next to the signified of
heroic motherhood, the modified image also established a metonymic
association between Anita and Garibaldianism. But what then prompted
Mussolini in the first place to reject Ezio’s initial choice of Sciortino’s
Anita, which depicted the very same historical referent he later imposed
on Rutelli’s design?
If we compare Rutelli’s final monument to Sciortino’s plaster cast the
only plausible answer to the question is that, in this case, Mussolini’s aes-
thetic politics were also based on a discriminating concern for the sym-
bolic values produced by different modes of historical representation.
The general public had no difficulty recognizing the mother-warrior
Anita Garibaldi, thanks to Rutelli’s exploitation of some of her most
popularized iconographic traits: the long hair flying behind her, the
Colt gun in her right hand, and the feminine side-saddle riding posture.
Furthermore, the relationship between the equestrian group and the
two historical scenes depicted by Rutelli in the lateral bas-reliefs on the
monument’s base, both of which referred to episodes immediately pre-
ceding and following Anita’s flight from the military camp of Saint-
Simon, enhanced the narrative value of the image.23 With the addition
of the babe in arms, then, Mussolini had effectively pushed Rutelli’s
symbolic representation toward the Riegelian notion of historical value
and the narrative aesthetics of nineteenth-century historical realism. In
contrast to Rutelli’s design, Sciortino’s monument was not immediately
Historic Spectacle 83

forthcoming in disclosing its historical subject: Anita’s facial features

were only suggested, and none of the traditional iconographic signs
associated with her figure was inscribed in the model. Therefore,
despite its faithfulness to Garibaldi’s historical account, Sciortino’s mon-
ument pushed its historical message – Anita’s courageous motherhood
– into the background, thereby entrusting the monument’s meaning
entirely to the appeal generated by its modernist aesthetics. Indeed,
compared to Rutelli’s ‘historical’ Anita, Sciortino’s rejected altogether
the Riegelian notion of historical value and proposed instead a sculp-
tural model of historic representation.
Without renouncing the main tenets of sculptural realism, Sciortino
attempted a modernist amalgamation of age and newness that gave his
Anita a powerful appeal to unmediated sensory perception.24 On the
one hand, the weathered appearance of the human figures and the
lines of erosion, which were visible in the simulated ground at the
horse’s feet, evoked the appeal of Riegelian age value. On the other
hand, the compositional structure of Sciortino’s work, specifically its
novel approach to the classic equestrian statue, claimed newness value.
Possibly inspired by the equestrian groups of leading modernist sculptor
Duilio Cambellotti, whose works he continued to emulate throughout
the 1930s,25 Sciortino replaced the static equine posture found in tradi-
tional commemorative monuments with the extremely dynamic pose of
Anita’s horse. The representation of movement and speed, one of the
most distinguishing traits of futurist aesthetics, was accomplished
through the artist’s decision to represent the horse’s run in the last sus-
pended moment of galloping, a composition that also evoked that
quintessentially modern mode of representation, the cinematic still.
This monument, with its mixing of indications of age and cinematic
dynamism, attempted to arouse in the viewer a modernist perception of
time – a mixture of Bergsonian duration and élan vital – that gave imma-
nent status to its historical referent.26 Sciortino’s Anita was meant to
stand for the dynamic immanence of a unique revolutionary tradition:
garibaldinismo.27 It suspended this tradition between an absolute past
and an absolute future, thereby encoding Garibaldianism with the his-
toric appeal of everlasting presence. In other words, Sciortino’s Anita
translated Gentile’s catastrophe of the histori(ographi)cal act in a plas-
tic representation of Garibaldianism belonging to the present.
It was therefore this historic representation and interpretation of
Garibaldianism that Mussolini first rejected and then sought to repress
84 The Historic Imaginary

by historicizing Rutelli’s monument. The addition of historical value to

Rutelli’s idealized realism fixed Garibaldianism in a static and feminine
icon that purposely prevented the monumentalization of a competitive
and appealing signified: the dynamism and historical immanence of
garibaldinismo. Thus, the struggle between Mussolini and Ezio over the
historical codification of Anita’s monument reveals the contours of a
proper contest over the codification of the fascist historic imaginary. In
fact, Mussolini’s aesthetic policing of Anita actively counteracted the
epochal assimilation of fascism and Garibaldianism, which had come to
constitute not only Ezio’s most cherished ideological project as self-
appointed leader of the Garibaldian tradition, but also one of the most
solid and popular components of fascist historical discourse.
On the death of his father, Ricciotti Sr, Ezio found himself isolated
when his elder brothers, Ciotti and Peppino, chose to defy the fascistiza-
tion of the Garibaldian tradition and proceeded to organize a militantly
antifascist association of Garibaldian veterans in France. For several
years, Ciotti’s organization proved to be a nuisance for the young fascist
government, for it openly sought to preserve the association of Gari-
baldi’s name with notions of direct action, republicanism, voluntarism,
Freemasonry, socialism, and political leftism in general. However, its
existence also made Ezio’s political fortune. In order to silence Ciotti,
Mussolini not only invited Ezio to join the PNF and personally sustained
his military parliamentary career, but he also financed Ezio’s political
journal, Camicia Rossa,28 as well as Ezio’s unification of three genera-
tions of Italian garibaldini in a single organization: the National Federa-
tion of Garibaldian Veterans.29
From this solid institutional basis Ezio worked unsparingly and success-
fully to propose Garibaldianism as the living sign of historical continuity
in a context including the Risorgimento, interventionism, the Great War,
and fascism. His organization sought to affirm in every symbolic way the
historical connections among the volunteers who had followed his
grandfather in his Risorgimental campaigns, those who had followed his
father and uncles toward the glory of Domokos (1912), those who had
joined him and his brothers in the heroic defence of France before the
official Italian entry into World War I, those who had formed the
Garibaldi Battalion during the conflict, all Italian soldiers who had
fought and died in the war, and all the war veterans who had supported
the fascist rise to power after the war. Yet, in the process, Ezio had also
come to propagandize a daring conception of Garibaldianism as the
political vanguard of fascism.30 Most plausibly, then, with the threat of
Historic Spectacle 85

antifascist Garibaldianism rendered negligible,31 it was Ezio’s attempt to

give monumental form to the ‘assumption of a parallel dynasty called
upon to embody and lead – generation after generation – the “imma-
nent” function of Garibaldianism’ that stimulated Mussolini’s personal
and sustained engagement with the Garibaldian celebrations.32 In fact,
the replacement of Sciortino’s historic Anita with Rutelli’s historical
scene was to be only the first act of the continuing struggle between Mus-
solini and Ezio that we are about to observe over the semiotic codifica-
tion of the National Commemoration itself. This ritual phase of the
cinquantenario contained three separate scenes: the transfer of Anita’s
body from Genoa to Rome, its entombment in the base of the veiled
monument, and the monument’s unveiling ceremony. Yet, in this final
act, Mussolini did not limit himself to containing Ezio’s historic agenda
but also put forward one of his own. Indeed, the following analysis of the
National Commemoration proves that Mussolini’s symbolic repression
of Garibaldianism in the choice of the monument’s design was not
merely the product of a personal competition with Ezio Garibaldi.
Rather, it constituted the preliminary segment of a complex rhetorical
strategy aimed at producing a unique and coordinated historic spectacle.

History on Parade: The Genoese Homage

Let us start with Mussolini’s direction of the first scene: the parade that
was to convey Anita’s remains from the Genoese cemetery of Staglieno
to the local train station on 1 June 1932. In a letter dated 19 May 1932,
Ezio had made a series of requests designed to regain some of the sym-
bolic capital lost earlier in the struggle over the selection of the monu-
ment. As before, Mussolini would not cooperate. In response to Ezio’s
requests he refused to allow the on-air radio broadcast of the Genoese
ceremony. He also denied a request that Anita’s coffin be conveyed on a
gun carriage; he prohibited the Garibaldian veterans who would mount
an honour guard over the coffin from bearing arms or sharing with the
regular military the honour of being on duty to control public order.
Finally, he did not permit the train that was to carry Anita’s body from
Genoa to Rome to make any stops before its intended destination.33
The symbolic referent of Mussolini’s denials can be readily ascer-
tained. Ezio’s requests harked back to the most successful national ritual
ever performed in the pre-fascist era: the 1921 burial of the Unknown
Soldier in the Altare della Patria (Altar to the Fatherland), the monu-
ment to Victor Emmanuel II in Rome. Following a proposal made by the
86 The Historic Imaginary

Garibaldian Colonel Luigi Douhet, the last non-fascist government had

entrusted the Roman association of Garibaldian veterans with the orga-
nization of this ritual. On that occasion, the train transporting the
Unknown Soldier from the northern town of Aquileia to Rome had
stopped at every station along its route and, once in Rome, the coffin
had been escorted on a gun carriage by armed Garibaldian veterans to
its monumental site.34 Therefore, by refusing to allow Anita’s coffin to
be similarly transported, Mussolini sought to deny that metonymic rela-
tionship between Anita and immanent Garibaldianism that Ezio had
earlier attempted to monumentalize through Sciortino’s design. This
time, however, a more strategic intention also animated Mussolini’s
decisions: they were intended to assign the whole Genoese spectacle an
appropriate symbolic position in relation to the Roman celebrations
that were to follow.
The spectacle was meant to offer a period of respectful silence and
mourning, but one limited in time and space rather than extended to
the whole nation – or even to the communities along the path of the
train carrying Anita toward Roman resurrection. In fact, the whole
Genoese spectacle was specifically meant to stimulate the narrative
memory of its audience by means of its aesthetics so as to ensure the
symbolic historicization of garibaldinismo as a nineteenth-century phe-
nomenon. Responding to Mussolini’s express directions, the core of the
parade that accompanied the precious coffin was organized to look like
the central room of a Risorgimento museum. Framed between the
municipal valets (dressed in their historical uniforms) and the funeral
carriage, the Garibaldians, all dressed up in their glorious red shirts,
riding on open, horse-drawn carriages – and separated from both the
blackshirts and the World War I veterans who followed the carriage –
were put on display as living relics of Garibaldi’s time. The parade’s
implicit codification of this memory-time was then reinforced by
another coup de théâtre devised by Mussolini himself: Anita’s coffin was
carried in a solemnly decorated funeral carriage pulled by four black
horses (Figure 6).35 The syncretic combination of living relics and
horse-drawn carriage could not have referred more explicitly to the
popular memory of nineteenth-century funerals. Indeed, as the local
newspapers’ accounts indicate, the parade’s aesthetics determined the
reception of this mass spectacle as a Risorgimento museum in motion.36
Il Lavoro described the parade’s path to the station as a visual narrative
of the Risorgimento itself, moving from an ‘animated and polychromatic
Historic Spectacle 87

Figure 6. The Genoese funeral parade.

painting recalling the atmosphere of 1848,’ to a ‘monochromatic and

conciliatory passage before the imposing statues of the Prophet
[Giuseppe Mazzini] the Gentleman King [Victor Emmanuel II] and the
Liberator [Giuseppe Garibaldi],’ to a final ‘macchiaiolo scene’37 inscrib-
ing in the event the post-unification phase of mourning, disillusion, and
memory. The account of another newspaper, Il Secolo XIX, stressed the
role of aesthetics in determining the emotional response of the parade’s
spectators. It recorded repeatedly the abrupt alternation between silence
at the passing of the solemn carriage and loud cheers at the passage of
the Garibaldians, thereby matching Il Lavoro’s laconic description of the
parading redshirts: ‘In five carriages, each pulled by two horses, here
come the glorious old Garibaldians. Old, truly old, and tremulous, with
their eyes fogged by the passing of time, survivors who have gone beyond
their red shirts, their wounds, their medals, their far dreams of youth and
glory: and yet, in all of them, the living memory of those distant days.’ No
other words could have better highlighted the Garibaldians’ representa-
tional status as living relics of the nineteenth century. Their horse-drawn
carriages – themselves relics of a time gone by – put them on display,
thereby detaching them from the historical painting they had initially
88 The Historic Imaginary

animated. The hyperbolic reiteration of their senility enhanced their age

value. Finally, their historical value as relics was doubled because they
themselves served as witnesses to their own relic-hood.
The press accounts of the Genoese parade testify to the success of Mus-
solini’s stripping of Garibaldianism’s military symbolism and metonymic
association with Anita. They also show how Mussolini was able to frus-
trate Ezio’s attempt to cancel the symbolic distance between the red-
shirts and the privileged martyrs of the new fatherland, the World War I
veterans, and the blackshirts. This rhetorical operation resulted from the
combined effect of Mussolini’s instructions, the parade’s construction of
a visual narrative, and the only proper rite performed during the
parade’s progress to the station: the minute of silence and the attenti!
(on your guard!) ordered by the leader of a fascist youth squad as the
carriage passed before the local monument to Giuseppe Garibaldi. Con-
trary to the prime fascist ritual known as the appello (roll call) – which
sought to symbolize a mystical communion among the ritual actor, the
onlooking masses, and the honoured martyr – the ritual of the attenti
codified the very distance between a present that paid homage and a past
that received that homage. The public performance of this ritual thus
fixed the link between the Genoese parade and the national commemo-
ration of Garibaldi’s death while at the same time encoding an incom-
mensurable distance between fascist present and Garibaldian past.
Indeed, the association of Garibaldianism with a past to be honoured
as historical, and only as such, was definitively enacted in the parade’s
passage through the Arco in onore dei caduti, Genoa’s triumphal arch
recently built in memory of her dead in the Great War (Figure 7). Only
the ‘historical’ section of the parade – that is, the municipal valets, the
funeral carriage, the members of the Garibaldi family, and the redshirts
– passed through the arch. The others, including blackshirts and World
War I veterans, were ordered to proceed to the station by another route.
As the municipal monthly Genova aptly put it, this careful choreography
allowed onlookers to direct their thoughts toward ‘an ideal point, the
heroism of two distinct generations that have both devoted their entire
existence to the unification of the Fatherland’:38 the redshirts – passing
through the arch – and the World War I veterans – taking a separate
path to the station. These were two generations whose historical value
was symbolically connected to a common historical task – the unity of
the fatherland. This was a task, however, that the parade’s aesthetics and
the ritual homage to Garibaldi had already encoded as a nineteenth-
Historic Spectacle 89

Figure 7. The Genoese parade passing through the Arco in onore dei caduti.

century accomplishment, thereby marginalizing the idea of a living con-

tinuity between fascism and Garibaldianism.
The resonant accord between Mussolini’s policing of Anita’s monu-
ment and his staging of the Genoese parade suggests the common refer-
ence of both events to Mussolini’s awareness of the semiotics associated
with different modes of historical representation. In both cases, Musso-
lini’s control of the aesthetics of historical representation was aimed at
enhancing the historical value of specific signifieds while seeking to
detach them from their reference to traditional conceptions of histori-
cal progress or development, in order to prevent the perception of his-
torical continuity between fascist present and Garibaldian past. In this
respect, the rhetorical complexity and consistency of Mussolini’s separa-
tion of Garibaldianism, the Great War, and the fascist present raises
some crucial questions concerning the interpretation of fascist ritual
culture from the perspective of the sacralization of politics.
According to this perspective, most forcefully sustained by Emilio
90 The Historic Imaginary

Gentile, the Garibaldian celebrations should have crowned the phase of

maximum ritual effort (1926–1932) in the absorption of the cult of the
Risorgimento into the cult of fascism, and confirmed the totalitarian
logic that regulated the circularity of myth, ritual, and symbol in fascist
culture.39 In 1932, however, there was not one public oration or newspa-
per article that did not refer explicitly to the already institutionalized
myth of the ideal/spiritual/mystical connections among the redshirts of
Garibaldi, the veterans of the Great War, and the blackshirts of Musso-
lini. Above all, there had been no official acts, either by Mussolini’s gov-
ernment or the Fascist Party and its organizations, which had been
aimed at censuring or discrediting the public codification of historical
continuity between Garibaldianism and fascism. Nor had there ever
been any serious objection to the institutionalization of such a myth as a
living historical tradition with its legitimate representative leader, Ezio,
its own constituency, the veterans, and also its contemporary signified,
volunteerism. Therefore, Mussolini’s control over symbol and ritual
counteracted a myth of continuity between Garibaldianism and fascism
that had been actively encouraged, culturally codified, and deliberately
institutionalized at all levels of fascist discourse and historiography.
The microhistory of the cinquantenario, then, does not simply modify
the scenario of fascist religion by casting Garibaldianism as the never-
incorporated tradition in the fascist absorption of the cult of the father-
land.40 On a historiographical plane, Mussolini’s history-making involve-
ment in the organization of all commemorative events suggests that the
cinquantenario represented a crucial point of ideological intersection
between the evolution of Mussolini’s aesthetic politics and the historic
imaginary he evoked in his 1929 speech. On a related theoretical plane,
the close reading of Mussolini’s representational strategy also reveals
that there existed no totalitarian circularity between the discursive codi-
fication of myth and the visual encoding of symbol and ritual in fascist
spectacles. The microhistorical analysis of the cinquantenario suggests
instead that in fascist culture word and image were often at odds with
each other and that the ‘politics of enthusiasm’ generated by and
related to the growing cult of the Duce often undermined the ‘politics
of consensus’ pursued by the fascist party. In other words, Mussolini’s
aesthetic politics constituted not only a constant and undermining
adversary to the party’s attempts to institutionalize the cult of fascism,
but, in the case of the Garibaldian celebrations, they also sought to con-
tribute specifically to a fusing of fascism with the image of the historic
Historic Spectacle 91

Duce – a feat that we may begin to observe in the Roman parade that
accompanied Anita to the monumental site of her fascist resurrection.

The Roman Apotheosis

The second scene of the National Commemoration, which opened in

Rome on 2 June with the arrival of Anita’s coffin at Termini station, was
characterized by a complete restructuring of the rhetorical strategy that
underpinned the Genoese parade. Every aspect of the Roman event,
from the aesthetics and structure of the parade, to the ritual performed,
to the absorption of the viewers into the spectacle, was carefully planned
to function as an antithesis to the Genoese codification of memory as
mourning and homage. In addition, Mussolini not only continued to
play an exclusive role in the planning of Anita’s burial and monumental
rebirth, but he also took centre stage in the performance of both events.
Responding to his precise directions as well as to his actual presence on
the spot, the Roman parade provided a most striking contrast to that
nineteenth-century picturesque and polychromatic painting evoked by
the Genoese parade-in-the-making. While the general public was not
allowed to attend the arrival of the coffin at Termini Station, over ten
thousand members of thirty-five fascist associations, including a mixed
contingent of Garibaldian and World War I veterans, were ordered to
assemble in discrete groups at specific places between the station and
Piazza Esedra, so as to proceed in synchronic and spiralling movement
to the formation of the parade. (Figure 8)
Indeed, as the maps and accounts published by most Roman newspa-
pers attest, Mussolini’s plan for the parade’s formation, and his own
physical presence during this initial segment of the commemorative
event, were key to the semiotic encoding of its aesthetics.41 Performed
exclusively for its own actors, this spectacle was intended to foster in all
a sense of partaking in the symbolic representation of the coming-
into-being of the fascist movement. Its constitution was portrayed as
depending on a magnetic fulcrum (Mussolini) just as much as on the
synchronic and orderly manner of its formation. Once the formation of
the fascist movement had been depicted, Mussolini departed, leaving
behind an enthusiastically charged crowd, a collective fascist subject, as
it were, ready to function as a magnet for the larger, unorganized
crowds it encountered on its path toward its final destination, Rutelli’s
veiled monument on the Gianicolo.
92 The Historic Imaginary

Figure 8. Map with the instructions for the formation of the Roman parade.

Once again, the press accounts of the event provide us with an invalu-
able indication of how much the parade’s aesthetic was built on the
assumption of a rhetorical literacy of codes shared by all performing
agents: Mussolini, the fascist organizations, the crowds, and the mass
media. Emphasizing the interaction between the parade and its specta-
tors, La Tribuna (3 June 1932) described the narrative transformation of
its collective subject. From ‘a river flowing between banks which can
hardly contain it,’ the parade was presented as turning into a sort of
inverted ‘river flooded by its own banks,’ until it became ‘a slow moving
mass ... A long, most continuous wave. One that appears to have no
end.’ Beyond the journalistic rhetoric, the Roman newspapers depicted
Historic Spectacle 93

Figure 9. The Roman parade passing through Via Nazionale.

the allegorical thrust of the Roman parade as a historical representation

of the fascist movement becoming a mass movement. In so doing, these
accounts illustrated the rhetorical gap between the Genoese homage
and the Roman apotheosis. Rather than stressing the symbolic distance
between present and past earlier codified in the Genoese parade, the
Roman parade was solely concerned with representing the abolition of
this distance in the development of fascism from ‘movement’ to
‘regime,’ and in the development of its collective subject from ‘fascist
subject’ to ‘fascist mass subject’ (Figure 9).
Nowhere was the symbolic gap between the two parades more evident
than in the ritual performed before the entombment of Anita’s coffin:
that is, the appello that had not been performed in front of the Genoese
crowd. In the first years of the regime, the roll call had been performed
only at funerals of fascists killed in action. On such occasions the leader
of the squad would call out the dead man’s name, and the assembled
crowd would bellow ‘presente!’ (‘here!’). In time, however, the appello
had evolved into the supreme fascist rite, being performed for all those
‘who had distinguished themselves in the revolution or in national
life.’42 In contrast to the Genoese ‘On your guard!’ which had rein-
94 The Historic Imaginary

forced the parade’s ties to nineteenth-century narrative memory and

mourning, the Roman roll call translated historic semantics into ritual
form by inscribing a proper ‘scene of enàrgeia’ at the heart of this cele-
bratory act. In fact, the performance of this ritual was rhetorically con-
nected to the parade’s narrative encoding. While the parade had
proposed the formation of the fascist mass subject as its sole representa-
tional signified, the ritual of the appello attributed to this subject the
active function of signifying the real presence of Anita (history) in the
present. Obviously, this was a presence that Ezio Garibaldi’s call made
all the more intuitively physical, real, and present, but it was also a pres-
ence so rhetorically encoded as to leave no doubt about its structural
rhetoricity. It was, in fact, the parade’s narrative subject that answered
‘presente!’ to Ezio’s shout ‘Anita Garibaldi!’ In so doing, it was the fascist
mass subject that obliterated the residual distance between itself and the
past it revived, simultaneously signifying its own presence as historic
With the Roman parade of 2 June 1932, the Garibaldian celebrations
began to reveal the historic encoding that had underwritten their whole
organization. While the initial repression of Garibaldianism in the mon-
ument’s design and in the Genoese homage had been rhetorically
subordinated to the necessary representation of fascism as the historic
agent that made the Garibaldian past present, the Roman parade
revolved around the narrative construction of this agent. In other
words, the Roman parade was unconcerned with either the construction
or repression of a specific signified and was solely intended to represent
the constitution of fascism as a historic agent. Only after having been
manifested by such a historic agent could the Garibaldian past be given
meaning in its relationship to the present. This, indeed, was the task
assigned to the third and final segment of the celebrations, the unveil-
ing of Anita’s monument on 4 June 1932.
It comes as no surprise to learn that Mussolini orchestrated this final
scene of the cinquantenario so as to present himself as the literal embodi-
ment of fascist historic agency, and bring to a proper close the historic
representation of Garibaldianism. As we shall see in the next chapter,
the historic speech which the Duce delivered at the monument’s inau-
guration disclosed the ultimate aim of the celebrations’ rhetorical strat-
egy: to highlight the enàrgeia of Mussolini’s historic speech and contrast
it to the inert aesthetics of Rutelli’s historical monument. Yet this feat
was no longer the product of Mussolini’s rhetorical policing. In the
Historic Spectacle 95

inauguration ceremony a new protagonist took centre stage next to

Mussolini – the mass media. The final act of the cinquantenario revealed
that, behind the rhetorical complexity of Mussolini’s strategy, and
between its realization and reception, there stood no thaumaturgic
Duce or master semiotician but that diffused literacy of Latin Catholic
rhetorical codes that had sustained the formation of the fascist historic
imaginary in the first place.
Chapter Four



6 June 1932
Your Excellency,
I have not been able to resist the compulsion that has possessed me and
driven me to tell you how deeply stunned and dumbfounded I am after
reading your speech in honour of Anita Garibaldi, in which, speaking of
things very well known and often profaned, you have been able to be inge-
niously original, to say things, and express judgments, and draw conclu-
sions, whose existence not even the most authoritative Risorgimento
scholars had ever suspected. For the Duce and the fatherland.
Raffaele Cotugno1

This is the text of a letter written by a citizen of Trani, Raffaele Cotugno,

and addressed to Mussolini the day after the inauguration of the monu-
ment to Anita. At first glance, this brief eulogy of Mussolini’s inaugural
speech is not very different from the many letters spontaneously
addressed to the Duce on similar occasions by anonymous fascist subjects.
Cotugno’s references to the ‘ingenious originality,’ ‘expressiveness,’ and
‘ultra-authoritative’ style of Mussolini’s speech confirm the oratory effec-
tiveness of the fascist leader celebrated by most contemporaries. The
hyperbolic ‘stunning’ to which the letter’s author confesses adds little to
what we already know about the mass appeal of Mussolini’s ‘oxymoronic
formulations’ and the ideological force of his ‘antirhetorical rhetoric.’2
Yet the singular placement of this letter in the archival binder at the Ital-
ian Central State Archive labelled celebrazioni garibaldine suggests that its
value as historical evidence may approach that of a relic. This letter was
in fact the sole document stored in the last unmarked folder of the archi-
val binder, coming right after another folder labelled ‘Various,’ which
The Historic Imaginary and the Mass Media 97

contained three other letters that all echoed Cotugno’s in describing

their authors’ emotional reaction to the inauguration ceremony and
speech. Why, then, was Cotugno’s letter – so similar to the others in con-
tent – stored in a separate unmarked folder? Why, in other words, was it
put so much in evidentia in so bureaucratic an environment as the folder
of a state archive?3
What demanded the singular placement of Cotugno’s letter could not
have been the prestige of its author (a school teacher) or the rhetorical
flair of its praise, but was likely the principal element that distinguished
this letter from the other three: Cotugno’s absence from the event. In
fact, the compulsion that motivated Cotugno to write came from his
reading the speech in a newspaper on 5 June, and therefore resonated
loudly with a central element in Mussolini’s staging of the inauguration
ceremony: the invitation of seventy-five journalists to the event.4 Such an
invitation shows unequivocally that the Duce intended to give this event
the greatest amplification that could be afforded by means of the writ-
ten press.5 Unlike the Genoese and Roman parades, the final scene of
the Garibaldian celebrations was not organized primarily for its actual
audience, but rather for mass media reproduction.
Read against the background of Mussolini’s stage directions, we may
infer that the evidentia accorded to Cotugno’s letter in the archival
record of the celebrations was related specifically to its singular status as
‘witness’ to Mussolini’s successful encoding of the final act of the cele-
brations. As historical evidence, however, the very resonance between
Mussolini’s stage directions and the singular placement of this docu-
ment yields more than a solitary clue to the effectiveness of Mussolini’s
aesthetic policies. Suggesting that at the historic fulcrum of the celebra-
tions a new protagonist, the mass media, had taken central stage,
Cotugno’s letter issues an unavoidable methodological invitation. It
prompts us to shift discursive pace and analytic approach in searching
for that ever-elusive answer to the question of mass reception. Suspend-
ing momentarily our shuttling between archival sources and media
accounts, we take a seat among the thousands of Cotugnos who wit-
nessed Mussolini’s speech-event through the scene of enàrgeia encoded
in the front pages of Italian newspapers.

Historic Speech on Paper

The panorama offered by all national, local, and provincial newspapers

between 4 June and 6 June 1932 was one of striking homogeneity: with-
98 The Historic Imaginary

out a single exception, accounts of the monument’s inauguration and

the full text of Mussolini’s speech entirely occupied their front pages,
with particular emphasis given to the speech text. All newspapers
referred to the speech in the headlines, highlighted it typographically in
their layout, and separated it from the narrative account of the inaugu-
ration ceremony.6 On the basis of a sample analysis of forty-five front
pages, the graphic range of variation in this contrast can be schematized
as ranging from a maximum of emphasis in Il Popolo d’Italia – where the
text of the speech occupied two large (double size) columns at the cen-
tre of the page and appeared reproduced in bold, capitalized, and large
characters – to a more moderate highlighting by means of a title in bold
and italicized text in the vast majority of newspapers.7
That the publication and highlighting of Mussolini’s speeches was
standard practice not only for Il Popolo d’Italia but for all national dailies
does not diminish in the least the rhetorical significance of this media
tidal wave. On the contrary, the very invitation of seventy-five journalists
to the ceremony suggests that Mussolini was not simply interested in the
mass diffusion of his speech – which he could have easily achieved by
relying on the Stefani Agency’s routine transmission of his word to all
newspapers – but in its reception and mass media recoding in relation-
ship to the monument and the inauguration ceremony as a whole.8 In
fact, beneath their apparent homogeneity, the front pages of all Italian
newspapers present a variety of imagetexts, close reading and comparison
of which allows us to go a step beyond decoding Mussolini’s aesthetic
politics through individual press accounts such as those of the Genoese
and Roman parades.9
Whereas a significant homogeneity can be identified in the typo-
graphic highlighting of Mussolini’s speech, the foremost difference
amongst the front pages of the various newspapers was found in their
accounts of the inauguration ceremony. The number of original
accounts and the variety among them was not as large as the number of
invited journalists might have suggested. In fact, despite Mussolini’s
invitation, the majority of Italian newspapers reprinted the account that
the Stefani Agency distributed immediately after the end of the cere-
mony, and some others printed a shorter text sent out later by the same
agency. Of the forty-five newspapers of my sample (Appendix) only six-
teen published original accounts, twenty-five used the first Stefani
account (text 1), and four used the second text (text 2).10
The first element emerging from the analysis is the great disproportion
in the reprinting of the two accounts disseminated by the Stefani Agency.
The Historic Imaginary and the Mass Media 99

This quantitative difference can be safely attributed to procedural delays.

However, what makes it relevant is the very fact that the choice between,
and availability of, both Stefani accounts neither prevented nor antici-
pated the typographical and narrative encoding of front pages. With a
closer reading the insertion and modification of these two accounts in
different page layouts reveals the signs of a complex rhetorical strategy.
Among the newspapers that reprinted either of the two accounts, no sig-
nificant differences can be identified in either the titles or the graphic
highlighting of the speech. Both Stefani texts, therefore, were equally
suited to give emphasis to Mussolini’s speech. In addition, by comparing
the narrative content of the two Stefani accounts to the sixteen original
ones, there emerges a further element of homogeneity. All accounts –
beyond any other differences in length, narrative style, descriptive
details, and rhetorical flair – reported very explicitly and with almost the
same phrasing three episodes in the ceremony: (a) Mussolini’s call for
the last surviving drummer of the Piedmontese Army to step forward
from the midst of the redshirts, so that all might hear his drumming; (b)
the royal couple’s invitation to the entire Garibaldi family to join them in
the royal stand; and (c) the queen’s ringing of a silver bell, or pushing of
an electric button, right before the unveiling of the monument.
The ubiquitous appearance of these episodes in all accounts of the
inauguration ceremony – including the original, non-Stefani ones –
underlines not only the factual accuracy of the Stefani accounts but also,
and in particular, the unanimous reception by the press of the symbolic
significance of the three episodes. Their staging constitutes the clearest
evidence of Mussolini’s intention to dramatize a new signified, not
encoded in either the Genoese or the Roman parade: the historic(al)
conciliation between monarchy and revolution. At the same time, the
very fact that the three episodes were reported in all accounts of the cer-
emony suggests that the success of the operation was entirely dependent
on the common rhetorical literacy that still connected the ex-journalist
Benito Mussolini to his intellectual cohort, a suggestion that is further
reinforced by the fact that – without any specific indication from the
Stefani Agency – more than half of the twenty-nine papers that pub-
lished either text 1 or 2 inserted under their headlines one or the other
of only two sentences extracted from the speech.
The first sentence, quoted by four newspapers, was a crucial passage
in the speech in which Mussolini explicitly sanctioned the continuity
between blackshirts and redshirts: ‘The blackshirts – who knew how to
fight and sacrifice their lives during the time of [our] political humilia-
100 The Historic Imaginary

tion – share with the redshirts and their leader a political ideal.’ The
other passage, printed in eleven headlines, was the final image in Mus-
solini’s speech: ‘As long as the Hero’s statue dominates the top of this
hill, the fate of our Fatherland will be strong and secure.’ At first sight,
the referents of these two passages may appear to be rather predictable.
However, seen in the context of Mussolini’s aesthetic policing of all pre-
vious events, their highlighting via the mass media reveals a common
rhetorical denominator: the repression of Anita’s monument as a histor-
ical signifier through an emphasis on Mussolini’s words as endowed
with proper enàrgeia.
The first quotation highlighted Mussolini’s affirmation of that very
continuity between redshirts and blackshirts that he had repressed in
the choice of Anita Garibaldi’s monument and in the Genoese cere-
mony. The phrase, however, was extrapolated from a long paragraph in
which Mussolini’s speech – directly addressing the sovereigns – insisted
on the historical continuity between the Garibaldians and the soldiers of
World War I. Detaching the quotation from both Mussolini’s rhetorical
address to the sovereigns and the narrative context that preceded it, the
headlines highlighted only the aesthetic appeal of the image (the iden-
tity of blackshirts and redshirts) in direct reference to the emotional
appeal of manly sacrificial death and in implicit contrast to the competi-
tive signified of heroic motherhood explicitly encoded in the monu-
ment. The choice and highlighting of this passage also referred,
therefore, to the speech’s representational overshadowing of Anita’s
monument. This point was reinforced further by the numerous newspa-
pers that included in their headlines the final sentence of Mussolini’s
speech. The second quoted passage referred to Giuseppe Garibaldi’s
monument on the Janiculum Hill and not to Rutelli’s Anita just inaugu-
rated before everyone’s eyes!11
The analysis of the most relevant quantitative sample of front pages
(the twenty-nine that printed and modified the Stefani texts 1 and 2)
suggests very strongly that, in modulating by typographical and narra-
tive ‘framing’ the relationship between Mussolini’s speech, the cere-
mony, and the monument, the press responded to and sought to recode
the relationship between ‘the visual’ and ‘the discursive’ in the inaugu-
ration spectacle. In other words, the press used all means at its disposal
– narrative selection, page layouts, and headlines – to represent not the
event itself but rather Mussolini’s rhetorical strategy. In the first place,
by explicit or implicit contrast, the newspapers put Mussolini’s speech
in evidentia as the sole representational event of the inauguration cere-
The Historic Imaginary and the Mass Media 101

mony. Second, the ceremony’s signifieds were represented as entirely

independent from those encoded in Anita Garibaldi’s monument, while
Mussolini the orator was presented as the sole historic signifier – in the
active sense of giver of meaning – of national history.12 Without excep-
tion, therefore, the newspapers highlighted the ways in which the whole
ceremony had been orchestrated to stage a contest between the ‘histori-
cal’ encoding of the monument and the ‘historic’ one of the speech
and, through this staging, allow the latter to attach a whole new signi-
fied to Garibaldianism: namely, the anticipation of the conciliation
between revolution and monarchy accomplished by fascism. To check
the strength of these conclusions we need only turn to the most qualita-
tively relevant sample: the two newspapers that published both original
accounts and original photographs of the inauguration on 5 June.13
Not surprisingly, these newspapers were the Secolo XIX and Il Popolo di
Roma – the very dailies that had published the most detailed accounts of
the Genoese and Roman parades, respectively. Their accounts of the
unveiling ceremony offer both the most ‘factual’ record of the event at
our disposal and a uniquely authoritative resource for the analysis of its
rhetorical recoding for mass consumption. In fact, their earlier
response to the different rhetorical encoding of the parades makes a
comparison of their decoding of the inauguration ceremony relevant to
the analysis not only of this final act but also of its relationship to the
entire commemorative spectacle.
Unequivocally, the headlines of both newspapers emphasized Musso-
lini’s speech. The Secolo XIX inserted the much-reprinted quotation
from the speech’s last sentence – ‘As long as the Hero’s statue domi-
nates the top of this hill, the fate of our Fatherland will be strong and
secure’ – right under its headline, ‘The figures of Giuseppe and Anita
Garibaldi evoked by the supreme word of the Duce.’ Il Popolo di Roma
inserted the other most-quoted passage – ‘The blackshirts, who knew
how to fight and sacrifice their lives during the time of [our] political
humiliation, share with the redshirts and their leader a political ideal’ –
below the headline, ‘The Duce inaugurates the monument to Anita
Garibaldi on the Gianicolo.’ Then, right below the printed quote, both
newspapers inserted a large, centre-page photograph. In both cases, the
picture showed the entirety of the unveiled monument. Yet, in both
cases, the monument was not only shown in the photograph’s back-
ground, but was also pushed to a rhetorical background by the captions.
In the photograph published by Il Popolo di Roma the monument’s
image was technically poor. It appeared in the background, slightly out
102 The Historic Imaginary

of focus and pulled toward the extreme left side of the frame. The four
walking figures appearing in the lower right corner instead occupied the
photograph’s technical focus. None of them looked directly at the mon-
ument: the king (left) and Ezio Garibaldi (right) looked at one another,
Mussolini’s head (centre foreground) was turned toward the king, and
the queen (centre background) looked straight at the camera. Finally,
the L-shaped cropping of the photograph and its captions further
pushed this technical focus to the foreground of the reader’s at-tention.
With a laconic ‘from left to right: the King, the Queen, the Duce, and
Ezio Garibaldi,’ the picture’s caption excluded the monument from the
reader’s horizon of reception. Consequently, and without a hint of rhe-
torical flair, the caption added to the photograph’s technical repression
of the monument a further suppression of its enàrgeia. The only presence
boldly affirmed was that of the four protagonists. The monument’s
image, pushed already into a ghostly background, disappeared com-
pletely from the semiotic plane of the spectacle.
The relationship between the picture and caption published by the
Secolo XIX was comparatively more complex and more deeply rhetorical.
This Genoese daily published a photograph in which the image of the
monument, rendered in all its vividness by the interplay between light
and shade, occupied more than three-quarters of the entire photo-
graph. In its lower right corner, in the middle ground, was the dais,
where Ezio Garibaldi stood next to Mussolini, who was reading his
speech. Yet neither the monument nor Mussolini provided the picture’s
foreground. In the lower centre-left portion of the photograph we find
the technical as well as rhetorical focus of the picture: four attentive lis-
teners standing, effectively contrasted against the clear background of
the monument’s pedestal.14 The caption reads: ‘The monument in
honour of the heroine is freed from its veil: the Duce speaks.’ In this
imagetext created by photograph and caption we recognize another
classic ‘scene of enàrgeia.’ Without any direct reference to the picture’s
technical focus, the caption nonetheless pushed the four listeners to
fullest rhetorical foreground: while the passive form of the historic
present connoted the ‘liberation of the monument from its veil’ as
being simultaneous with Mussolini’s speech, the peremptory colon
before the emphatic ‘the Duce speaks’ unequivocally encoded the
reader’s reception of the scene. The readers of the Secolo XIX were
invited to assume the same position as the four absorbed listeners, their
backs to the monument, their eyes and ears toward Mussolini.
Confirming the conclusions that emerged from the typographical
The Historic Imaginary and the Mass Media 103

analysis, this close reading of the front pages of the Secolo XIX and Il
Popolo di Roma indicates conclusively that the fascist press responded to
Mussolini’s ‘invitation’ by recoding the ‘scene of enàrgeia’ staged in this
final act of the Garibaldian celebrations. In so doing, these imagetexts
also revealed that a core rhetorical strategy connected Mussolini’s stag-
ing of this final act to his aesthetic policing of both monument and
parades analysed in the previous chapter. Evolving from the suppression
of modernist aesthetics in Anita Garibaldi’s monument, to the repres-
sion of Garibaldianism in the Genoese parade, to the rhetorical con-
struction of fascist historic agency in the Roman parade, to Mussolini’s
self-presentation as historic signifier in the inauguration ceremony, the
cinquantenario garibaldino put onto the stage of fascist ritual politics a
dramatic representation of the fateful surrender of ‘history belonging to
the past’ to ‘history belonging to the present,’ and of historical con-
sciousness to the fascist historic imaginary. Said in another way, in the
Garibaldian celebrations Mussolini himself translated into ritual form
the Gentilian catastrophe of the histor(iograph)ical act, and he did so
to fix definitively his self-identification with the history-making imagi-
nary he had evoked in his 1929 speech.
The ultimate aim of the cinquantenario’s representational strategy, we
may conclude, was nothing short of the radical reversal of the tradi-
tional conception of historical consciousness. It was not fascism that
gained political legitimacy from an affirmation of continuity with the
past. It was that past that gained presence and meaning only through the
signifying word of the historic signifier – the Duce. This is why Mussolini
so carefully repressed the aesthetic and semantic encoding of the signi-
fied ‘Garibaldianism’ in all other representational events. Before it
could be signified, the rhetorical construction of its sole legitimate signi-
fier had to be accomplished. Only this complex strategy could stabilize
the identity between Mussolini and fascism as historic agent, and the dis-
junction between the fascist historic imaginary and historical semantics.
With reference to the Roman parade, Mussolini re-presented the imago
of the fascist mass subject. With reference to the curbing of historical
continuity in both the monument and the Genoese parade, Mussolini’s
speech acquired the enàrgeia needed to subvert the reception of its signi-
fieds as ‘historical.’ Most significantly, it is plausible that the speech did
so not only for its actual audience on the day, but also for its virtual mass
audience – that is, all the ‘Cotugnos’ who could not attend the event but
who could be reached through the broad dissemination and resonance
afforded by the press.
104 The Historic Imaginary

Returning to our point of departure, we may now fully appreciate

both the archival and textual evidentia of Cotugno’s letter. The distinc-
tion given to this document inscribed in the archival record of the cele-
brations the very ‘scene of enàrgeia’ elicited by the press recodings of
Mussolini’s speech-event. Its isolation signalled the special status of this
document as a relic, a historic relic, attesting to the success of Mussolini’s
rhetorical strategy: his re-presentation of himself as historic signifier to
the average reader of newspapers. Yet seen in the light of the preceding
analysis, the text of this relic also sheds new light on my earlier conclu-
sions. In response to the press’s rhetorical recoding of Mussolini’s
speech, Cotugno not only affirmed Mussolini’s uniqueness in having
codified a new signified, but he did so in explicit reference to the short-
comings of historians. If we turn to Mussolini’s speech we may immedi-
ately verify that there was absolutely nothing new, or unique, let alone
ingenious, in what he said about Garibaldi. All of the statements made
by Mussolini – from the connotation of Garibaldi as ‘[b]urning with a
single passion: the independence and unity of the Fatherland’; to the
indication of Garibaldi’s disdain for ‘men, sects, parties, ideologies and
parliamentary proclamations’; to the assertion of his being a ‘sponsor of
the most unlimited dictatorships’ – had all been quite firmly codified in
both fascist popular culture and historical discourse.
Cotugno’s comments could not have referred to any signified other
than the continuity between fascism and Garibaldianism, which had
been repressed by Mussolini until the unveiling ceremony and rhetori-
cally highlighted by the press. By the same token, however, no Italian
newspaper reader in the year 1932 could have missed the ubiquitous ref-
erences to the continuity between Garibaldianism and fascism in both
fascist historiography and the popular press. Clearly, then, the hyper-
bole of Cotugno’s eulogy could not have had anything to do with either
the novelty of this signified or the author’s ignorance of its widespread
currency in fascist discourse. It could only indicate an exact decoding of
the ‘scene of enàrgeia’ presented by the press accounts of Mussolini’s
speech-event. In Cotugno’s description of Mussolini’s speech as signify-
ing things ‘whose existence not even Risorgimento historians had ever
suspected,’ we thus recognize a clue to the existence of a widespread lit-
eracy in Latin Catholic rhetorical codes shared by encoders (Mussolini),
recoders (newspapers), and decoders (audiences and readers). In the
insertion of this document into an archival ‘scene of enàrgeia’ we find
further confirmation that this rhetorical literacy extended all the way to
the archival record of the celebrations. Buried in the evidentia of this his-
The Historic Imaginary and the Mass Media 105

toric relic, we thus find an imago of the historic imaginary that under-
wrote Mussolini’s strategy just as much as its mass media recoding and
mass reception. In fact, as flimsy as Cotugno’s lonely testimony might
appear, its evidentia is corroborated by the most significant body of evi-
dence left to us by the Garibaldian celebrations: the three newsreels and
the two documentaries produced by the fascist film agency, L’Unione
Cinematografica Educativa (LUCE).

On the Tracks of the Fascist Historic Imaginary

Let us begin with some numbers. LUCE produced a total of 900 metres
of edited material on the Garibaldian celebrations, which, by all stan-
dards, represented the most elaborate production effort made by LUCE
to that date. The final product was subdivided and entitled as follows:
(a) one silent newsreel segment: The removal of Anita Garibaldi’s body from
Genoa; (b) two sound newsreel segments: Anita’s ashes from Genoa to
Rome; and The unveiling of the monument to Anita Garibaldi; and (c) two
documentaries: The transferral of Anita’s body from Genoa to Rome and The
inauguration of Anita’s monument on the Gianicolo.15 Judging from all avail-
able data, the ‘excessive’ editing of such a large amount of footage per-
mits two preliminary observations concerning the extraordinary quality
of this documentary corpus, and the overproduction effort made by
LUCE in connection with the Garibaldian celebrations.16 First, their
filming took place at the apex of a first phase of great growth in LUCE’s
productive and distributive power.17 Second, it also happened at a cru-
cial turning point in the cultural encoding of realism, that is, during the
first six months of the technical conversion of the Italian film industry
to sound production and distribution.18 Both of these factors help us sit-
uate these precious representational sources in relation to both Musso-
lini’s agency and the press accounts analysed above.
In the first place, the sheer amount of edited material produced by
LUCE on the Garibaldian celebrations calls our attention to a signifi-
cant element of relative autonomy of this medium from Mussolini’s con-
trol. In contrast with Mussolini’s discriminating policing of radio and
press, the LUCE camera was present at all commemorative events, and,
quite plausibly, its editing staff was concerned with making all of them
as appealing as possible for their mass audience. The appearance of
LUCE operators at every commemorative event thus announced the
presence of a powerful rival that no newspaper could ignore, especially
because of the novelty of sound film.19 From the opposite direction of
106 The Historic Imaginary

Mussolini’s aesthetic policing of the events, the potential of the camera

to achieve the highest degree of both realist appeal and rhetorical
encoding of reality through sound editing must have affected all press
accounts and imagetexts of the events. In retrospect, it may have been
in response to this double pressure that the press accounts of both the
Genoese and the Roman parades spared no narrative device to bring to
light the rhetorical encoding of the events. By the same token, the rhe-
torical framing that most newspapers added to the Stefani texts in the
representation of the inauguration ceremony provides a plausible index
of a structural pressure on the print press to adopt all means necessary
to compete with a far more formidable mode of mass representation.
Surely, however, this pressure was not reciprocal. Newsreels and docu-
mentaries were certainly affected by external pressures, but these did
not come from the press. Their production was subject to direct govern-
ment control, Mussolini’s weekly supervision, and a growing dissatisfac-
tion of militant intellectuals with the newsreels’ aesthetics and insuffi-
cient mass appeal.20 Yet, as James Hay reminds us, unlike newspapers,
newsreels and documentaries also contributed and responded to the
evolution of new ‘codes of realism’ whose effectiveness depended on a
shared literacy between encoders (newsreel producers) and decoders
(mass audiences).21
‘In the context of Italy’s emerging popular film culture,’ Hay writes,
‘one is obliged to consider the realism [of newsreels] amidst a field of
competing cultural models,’ and he rightly adds that ‘documentaries
and newsreels offered ways of distilling and magnifying events so that
audiences could re-read a national landscape that appeared both natural
and ideological.’22 ‘Therefore,’ Hay concludes, ‘documentaries and
newsreels must be analysed with a high regard for the historicity of the
modes of discourse and exposition, for the “codes of realism” that were
themselves being re-negotiated, and finally for the textual complexity
and density of their messages (which are all too often viewed by social
and political scientists as uncomplicated).’23 Following Hay’s admoni-
tion, we may appreciate the unique status of the newsreels and docu-
mentaries that brought the June 1932 celebrations to the attention of
the Italian masses, specifically for their affording us an oblique but reli-
able mirror of mass reception. Unlike the press, which was caught mid-
field between Mussolini’s rhetorical encoding of the events and the
LUCE camera, the latter possessed a relative autonomy that made it
uniquely sensitive, on the one hand, to the shared literacy of rhetorical
codes between the supreme encoder of the events (Mussolini) and their
intended decoders (the mass audience), and, on the other hand, to the
The Historic Imaginary and the Mass Media 107

specific negotiations between the competing codes of historical realism

that characterized this historic spectacle. Far from representing the
events or responding to a Mussolinian dictate, the excessive editing of
the Garibaldian delebrations captured on camera their ever elusive pro-
tagonist: the fascist historic imaginary itself.
At a quantitative level of analysis the distribution of sound and silent
footage in the newsreels and documentaries produced on the Garibal-
dian celebrations reveals immediately the relevance of sound versus
silent film to the events recorded.24 The selective editing of silent and
sound footage codified in reproduction what we might call the relative
representational capital attached by Mussolini to each of the three acts
of commemoration: from a ‘minimum’ composed of shorter and exclu-
sively silent footage of the Genoese parade, to a ‘medium’ composed of
a sound newsreel segment and the inclusion of the Roman entombment
ceremony in the silent documentary, to a ‘maximum’ composed of a
sound newsreel segment and a sound documentary reproduction of the
inauguration ceremony. This distribution of representational capital
was also connected to qualitative choices made according to the specific
potentials of the medium, that is, aesthetic choices made in connection
with the newness appeal of sound film and the familiarity of silent
newsreels, and narrative choices based on the possibility of editing
footage referring to different events. In view of both of these qualitative
factors, we may legitimately focus our attention on comparing the
two most complete and elaborate representations of the commemora-
tive events: the silent documentary on the transferral of Anita’s body
from Genoa to Rome and the sound documentary on the inauguration
Unfortunately the silent documentary has been lost, but its sequences
may be reconstructed by comparing its description in the LUCE cata-
logue with the sequences edited into the newsreels.25 It contained the
following: (a) all of the sequences of the silent newsreel segment on the
Genoese parade and two more sequences entitled ‘The change of the
carriages in front of Mazzini’s monument’ and ‘The people’s emotional
salute at the Brignole Station’; (b) all of the silent footage of the Roman
entombment (which was never edited in complete form in a single
newsreel segment) and one more sequence entitled ‘The halt in front
of Garibaldi’s monument’; and (c) the silent footage of the unveiling of
Rutelli’s Anita.
The documentary’s narrative most likely began with the images of the
cemetery of Staglieno, proceeded with the formation of the Genoese
parade, followed it through its procession to the train station, picked up
108 The Historic Imaginary

the coffin on its arrival in Rome, showed the Roman parade’s proces-
sion toward the Gianicolo, captured the moment of the coffin’s entomb-
ment inside the veiled monument, cut to the arrival of the sovereigns
and Mussolini at the monument’s location, and closed with the image of
the unveiling of the statue. Of all the commemorative events recorded
on camera, the silent documentary excluded only Mussolini’s speech.
Naturally, there was no need to include the speech in a silent documen-
tary, especially when it already constituted the bulk of a sound newsreel
segment and of another sound documentary. Yet, given the customary
practice – maintained at least until 1933 – of editing Mussolini’s
speeches also in silent form to emphasize his renowned gestures, this
exclusion was certainly an editing choice whose significance may be
appreciated in reference to the rhetorical encoding of the whole docu-
Judging from the surviving description in the LUCE catalogue, the
documentary did not just end with an image of the unveiled monument,
but with a close-up on the figure of Anita Garibaldi in the monument
that provided a framing match to the opening images shot in the Sta-
glieno Cemetery. This framing explicitly recoded the relationship
between the monument and the two parades as a historical narrative of
remembrance: the story of Anita Garibaldi’s rescuing from the darkness
of her oblivion to the light of monumental memory. In the silent docu-
mentary, the codification of mourning, wilfully attached by Mussolini to
only the Genoese parade, was thus extended to embrace the Roman
parade and the monument itself, framing all these events in a narrative
code that was not simply silent, but mute. Better than any Mussolinian
stage direction or press imagetexts, the documentary’s narrative fram-
ing of all commemorative events except Mussolini’s speech highlighted
the rhetorical muteness of historical semantics. To represent instead
their incommensurability with the historic semantics of Mussolini’s
speech was the task taken up by the sound documentary of the inaugu-
ration ceremony.
This documentary was divided into two sequences of unequal lengths,
comprised of a total of thirty-one shots. The sequences were neatly sepa-
rated by the insertion of two captions: the first nine shots were preceded
by the caption ‘His Excellency the Head of the Government Inaugurates
the Monument to Anita,’ and the following twenty-two by the caption
‘The Duce Evokes the Glorious Garibaldian Deeds.’ The two events, the
monument’s unveiling and Mussolini’s speech, were thus not only nar-
ratively separated, but also significantly given meaning by their captions.
The Historic Imaginary and the Mass Media 109

In the first, Mussolini was simply present at the inauguration as ‘His

Excellency the head of the government’; in the second, he was the
‘Duce’ who actualized the Garibaldian past.27 This rhetorical separation
of the unveiling-event and the speech-event was signified and amplified
in the actual editing of the sequential segments.28
In the first sequence all of the shots were taken in medium-field and
from an eye-level point of view, except for three sequential shots in
which the combination of alternating points of view, sound effects, and
out of sequence editing created special effects of signification. In the
first of these – shot five in the unveiling sequence – Mussolini makes his
first appearance next to the sovereigns, speaking cordially with them.
For the first time the viewer is brought into the space of the event by a
close-up. Yet the soundtrack switches abruptly from music to the low
noise of distant voices, and the camera’s view from above further magni-
fies the viewer’s distance from the shot’s referent. Although it follows
naturally from the ones preceding it, this shot acquires rhetorical value
with reference to the next shot, which in fact was a most unusual one for
a documentary. Its referent was clearly staged: reversing the point of
view of the previous shot, the camera looks upward to a Piedmontese
drummer and a Garibaldian veteran seated back to back and thereby
dividing the screen into two perfect halves. The former occupies the
screen’s left side: his drum rests at his feet, and he stares, in profile, at
the left horizon. The latter constitutes the drummer’s symbolic mirror:
an Italian flag rests on his shoulder, while he stares, in profile, toward
the horizon at right. Finally, the soundtrack purposely announces and
underlines the staged nature of the scene: although a drum is visible
resting at the feet of the Piedmontese drummer, it is the sound of a
drum roll that loudly interrupts the low, distant noise of voices.
The structural link between these two sequential shots could not have
been more explicit: both their points of view and their soundtracks con-
stitute a reversed image of one another. In this respect these two shots
emphasized, as had all the newspapers, the non-narrative relationship
between the ‘historic’ and the ‘historical’ value of their common signi-
fied: coexistence between monarchy and revolution. At the same time,
the two consecutive shots also sought to fix the relative distance of the
mass viewer from this signified as no newspaper could have ever done.
In fact, when the next shot hits the viewer with the notes of Garibaldi’s
anthem and the image of the monument, it is the rhetorical encoding
of the whole sequence – rather than Anita – that is unveiled. Announced
by the staged drum roll, unrelated to the distant gazes of the Piedmon-
110 The Historic Imaginary

tese drummer and the Garibaldian veteran, the monument stands in

the centre of the screen, as the sign of that incommensurable distance
between the fascist mass viewer and the traditional signification of his-
torical value. At this point the second caption announces Mussolini’s
speech, and the mass viewer is introduced into an entirely new represen-
tational sequence that separates aesthetically the ‘Head of the State’
from the ‘Duce,’ or the signified from the signifier.
In our age of electronic reproduction and virtual reality, the editing
of the second sequence of the documentary might appear quite primi-
tive. Indeed, it applied only the most elementary rules of filmmaking,
which, today, our increased literacy of editing conventions allows us to
recognize immediately as a most basic syntax. Yet the appeal of this sec-
ond sequence rested not only on the rhetorical exploitation of the
medium’s means of encoding, but also on that of its mass viewer’s
expectations. On the one hand, we have a most unexpected image of
Mussolini, which depicts none of his famous gestures: no rolling eyes,
no gazing directly into the camera, no contact with the mass viewer. In-
stead, Mussolini maintains a statuelike position throughout the speech,
his eyes in contact with only his written words. On the other hand, we
have the editing eye of the camera stressing the rhetorical encoding of
this image. In direct contrast to the first sequence’s positioning of the
mass viewer in reference to a specific signified – conciliation between
revolution and monarchy – this second sequence seems to be utterly
unconcerned with the addressee. In fact, by stressing the rhetorical rup-
ture with the preceding sequence, this second one sought to actively
forge a natural and total identification of the spectator with the eye of
the camera.
While the staging of the three shots analysed above highlighted the
significance of point of view and differential distance in the first
sequence, the alternation of fixed shots to panning shots in the second
sequence obliterated the semiotics of point of view in order to create
the illusion of a neutral record. First, the sequence highlighted the
enàrgeia of Mussolini’s words in a series of six brief shots in which the
soundtrack of the speech’s description of the monument was matched
by images of the different segments of the monument corresponding
precisely to the description. Then, suddenly, the applause underlining
Mussolini’s words comes to an abrupt end, and we are presented with
the longest shot of the entire sequence: a close-up of Mussolini’s face
while reading the famous paragraph of the speech concerning the con-
tinuity between blackshirts and redshirts. No other shot is allowed to
The Historic Imaginary and the Mass Media 111

prevent the reception of Mussolini as signifier. The statuelike firmness of

his face and voice in the close-up foregrounds for all viewers the historic
nature of his speech in contrast to the historical one of its referent (the
monument). In the following three shots, the camera is suddenly ani-
mated, as if it were an instrument of Mussolini’s words, and goes back to
show parts of the monument. Yet unlike the first six shots of the
sequence, the words no longer match the images; the images no longer
represent the ‘evidentia’ of Mussolini’s words. The panning camera
instead replaces the codified identity between itself and the external eye
of the mass viewer with a new identification between the mass viewer
and the mental eye of the witness of Mussolini’s speech. These shots,
therefore, bore the rhetorical weight of a hypericon: they sought to
represent the mutual interaction between the historic speech and the
collective historic imaginary of its viewers and listeners. In fact, from this
point on, the sequence, and the whole documentary with it, would turn
to represent metaphorically the dynamics of the fascist historic imagi-
nary itself.
Abandoning the frantic movement of the previous shots, the camera
abruptly returns to a medium shot, for the first time bringing the monu-
ment and Mussolini together in the same shot. After a few seconds, how-
ever, it starts slowly panning toward the right and centres for another
few seconds on Mussolini, while his audience becomes visible again on
the right side of the frame. Finally, with an accelerated movement, the
camera continues its pan to the right until the monument is completely
out of sight, Mussolini stands on the left side of the screen, and the audi-
ence occupies the centre and right side of the screen. Here it rests, fix-
ing the image of the historic signifier and his subjects. The mass viewer is
now completely identified with the newly forged historic imaginary of
Mussolini’s audience. His/her internal eye is ready to replace theirs and
become the subject of the final segment of the documentary.
The first shot in this final segment, a long close-up of the statuesque
Mussolini speaking, marks the return of the signifier and the speech’s
final address to the sovereigns: ‘Your Majesty! Gracious Queen! If the
bronze knight who stands nearby, were to come to life and open his
eyes, I dare to hope that he would be happy to gaze at this luminous,
vast, and peaceful Rome, which he fervently loved and which he identi-
fied from his youth with the Italian Nation.’ Yet right at the end of this
sentence the documentary inserts another non-narrative shot: a slow,
panoramic pan from left to right of the rooftops of Rome on a sunny
day. While continuous with the sign of reception rhetorically encoded
112 The Historic Imaginary

throughout the second sequence, in this shot the camera movement no

longer refers to the internal eye of Mussolini’s audience but directly to
that of the mass viewer. Rhetorically, the shot presented a veritable
imago of the fascist historic imaginary. At the same time, by implying
that Garibaldi too sees through this eye – for Mussolini’s word/image
referred explicitly to Garibaldi – the shot also pointed toward the visual
rhetorics of presence that sustain the formation of their historic imagi-
nary. Thus encoded, this shot sent to the mass viewer a subliminal mes-
sage that was at the centre of the whole historic spectacle: without the
enargèia of the signifier, the past remains an imago without identity, a
monument without aura. Quite literally, in fact, the aura was provided
by the documentary’s last shot: a glowing silhouette of Garibaldi’s mon-
ument against the Roman sunset.29 It was Garibaldi’s presence realized
through the thaumaturgic touch of Mussolini’s words.
The mass reproduction of the Garibaldian celebrations in film dem-
onstrates conclusively that the rhetorical homology between the mass
media reproduction of Mussolini’s ‘historic speech’ and the ‘scene of
enàrgeia’ in which the speech was staged cannot be attributed to Musso-
lini’s agency alone. More plausibly, underwriting the organization, per-
formance, and reception of both ritual events and their reproduction by
the mass media was an already formed historic imaginary shared by their
principal encoder (Mussolini) just as much as by their recoders (jour-
nalists and LUCE editors) and decoders (crowds and mass media audi-
ence). The evidence analysed in this chapter thus confirms that the
evolution of the myth-cult of Mussolini-Duce was inextricably inter-
twined with the formation and institutionalization of a collective historic
imaginary in 1920s Italy. More precisely, it shows that the Garibaldian
celebrations stood at the historical intersection between the largely
spontaneous construction of the ‘atemporal’ image of Mussolini in the
1920s and the image politics that accompanied the subordination of the
cult of fascism to the popular cult of the Duce in the 1930s.30 In fact, we
may confidently conclude that the primary ideological goal of the
cinquantenario was the transfiguration – reminiscent of another protago-
nist in this story – of a historic imaginary, still oscillating between Risorg-
imental advent and Great War resurrection, into a properly fascist
historic imaginary. Yet I must also add in closing that, contrary to Mr
Cotugno’s eulogy, the realization of this goal did not at all exclude ‘his-
torians,’ nor was it demanded solely from the rhetorical savvy of the
thaumaturgic Duce.
The Historic Imaginary and the Mass Media 113

As rich as the contest between historical and historic semantics was in

the cinquantenario, this contest was not resolved either by Mussolini’s
historic-ly coded speech-event or by its mass media reproduction. The
same contest, in fact, was played out on a larger scale between the
Garibaldian cinquantenario and the fascist decennale. In fact, seen as a sin-
gle historic spectacle, the cinquantenario-decennale commemorative com-
plex provided a representational bridge for the translation of the
‘historic’ Duce into the ‘epoch-making’ imaginary that pervaded fascist
culture in the 1930s. At the same time, the completion of this bridge was
not entrusted to fascist ritual politics alone. The study of this composite
historic spectacle returns us to the contribution that fascist intellectuals
and artists made to the translation of the historic image of Mussolini into
a cipher of fascist historicness. The contest between historical and his-
toric semantics was transferred on the terrain of image politics in the
Mostra garibaldina and the Mostra della rivoluzione fascista, the two his-
toric(al) exhibitions that crowned respectively the cinquantenario and the
decennale. As the remaining chapters demonstrate, the institutionaliza-
tion of fascist historic culture was as dependent on the historic imaginary
that underwrote its ritual codification in the Garibaldian celebrations as
on the concurrent alliance between avant-garde aesthetics and historic
semantics in the evolution of fascist exhibition art.
Chapter Five



However pervasive and overpowering, Mussolini’s control over the

Garibaldian celebrations was not absolute. Ezio Garibaldi was left to his
own devices in organizing a Mostra garibaldina (MG) (Garibaldian
Exhibition) to be set up in the Roman Palazzo delle esposizioni (Palace
of Exhibitions) between 1 May and 12 June 1932. Although included in
the official program of the cinquantenario, this exhibition was a properly
autonomous event that offered Ezio the sole opportunity to create a
historical representation of Garibaldianism entirely to his liking. How-
ever, entrusted to the curatorial expertise of Antonio Monti, the MG
came to provide a representational bridge between the cinquantenario
garibaldino and the decennale fascista, as well as to occupy a climactic
place in the development of fascist historic culture. In fact, what sepa-
rated this event from the rest of the Garibaldian celebrations was not so
much Ezio’s control over the initiative but the relationship between the
Mostra garibaldina and the historical exhibitions that immediately pre-
ceded and followed it: the Mostra di Roma nell’ottocento (MRO)
(Exhibition of Nineteenth-Century Rome) and the Mostra della rivo-
luzione fascista (MRF) (Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution).1 These
two exhibitions bracketed the Mostra garibaldina and shaped its role
as the central segment of a three-act representation of Italian history
from the early nineteenth century through the heroic Risorgimento,
and all the way to the Great War and the fascist rise to power. Their
sequence offered an ideal representational field for their organizers
and a large number of artists and intellectuals to translate into image-
politics the attending struggle between historical and historic modes of
The Contest of the Exhibitions 115

The Historical Ottocento on Display

In 1930 the Institute of Roman Studies (ISR) organized a successful

exhibition on Rome in the seventeenth century that had helped estab-
lish Carlo Galassi Paluzzi, founder and director of the Institute since
1922, as a leading figure in the field of historical exhibitions.2 However,
in early 1931, when Galassi Paluzzi announced his project to install an
‘Exhibition of Nineteenth-Century Rome,’ he received nothing but
warnings ‘and a good number of sinister and catastrophic prophecies
for [him], the Exhibition and the Institute.’3 What motivated the timid
scepticism of friends and collaborators and the covert or open opposi-
tion of foes was the period chosen by Galassi Paluzzi for the new exhibi-
tion: the discredited nineteenth century. As Galassi Paluzzi himself
admitted a few years later, ‘at the time, the nineteenth century – in part
deservedly – had the most inimical press; and to fail to declare one’s dis-
gust for that century resulted in accusations of lack of revolutionary zeal,
and charges of nothing less than antifascist sympathies.’4
Galassi Paluzzi’s words illustrate the extraordinary diffusion of a
generic and collective sentiment against nineteenth-century culture that
pervaded the fascist public sphere. Even for a prestigious representative
of historical culture like the president of the ISR – addressing the mem-
bers of the most prestigious Italian institution of nineteenth-century his-
torical studies – it was quite normal to admit that the ottocento partly
deserved collective blame.5 Nonetheless, Galassi Paluzzi rejected the
‘intolerable anti-historicism’ with which the castigation of a part had
been transformed into the ‘condemnation of a whole century.’6 For
him, those responsible for this cultural disaster were the young Italian
artists who belonged to established or emerging avant-garde movements
such as Futurismo, Razionalismo, Stracittà, and Novecento. These ‘modern-
ists’ (Galassi Paluzzi’s word) had taken advantage of fascism’s political
defeat of ‘nineteenth-century’ liberalism and democracy in order to
advance their wholesale rejection of ottocento aesthetics and culture, and
thus legitimize their bid for cultural dominance within the regime.
From its inception the MRO was thus intentionally organized to res-
cue nineteenth-century aesthetics from bad modernist press, but, for
Galassi Paluzzi, this goal had to be achieved by reconciling ‘the most
scrupulous exactitude of memory and documentation with the demands
of the present historical moment in which religious and political author-
ity live under a regime of concordant conciliation.’7 In other words, the
116 The Historic Imaginary

exhibition also aimed at amending in kind the symbolic injuries suf-

fered by the Vatican following Mussolini’s decision to build a monu-
ment to Anita Garibaldi and consecrate it during the Garibaldian
celebrations. For its organizers, therefore, the highest stakes of the
MRO lay in its ability to translate the Concordat into a guiding revision-
ist principle for closing a still open debate over the relationship between
historical scholarship and ‘faith’ (both Catholic and fascist).8 No won-
der then that the Exhibition of Nineteenth-Century Rome would come
to constitute the quintessential antithesis to both Mussolini’s identifica-
tion of fascism with ‘making history’ and the historic mode of represen-
tation it sustained.
The MRO was set up in the Roman Palazzo dei musei and opened to
the public from 7 January to 24 April 1932. The first two rooms con-
tained a collection of maps, drawings, and watercolours of nineteenth-
century Rome. A chronological section of fourteen rooms followed, rep-
resenting Rome from the beginning to the end of the century. Then
came a series of ten rooms, each displaying works by non-Italian artists
who either lived in or portrayed Rome in their paintings and drawings.
According to the catalogue, these twenty-six rooms constituted the
proper historical section of the exhibition and were separated from the
topical one that followed. This was composed of sixteen rooms dedi-
cated to high culture (architecture, fine arts, theatre, and music in
Rome), everyday life (fashion, popular spectacles, carnivals, festivals),
social progress (i.e., public services and transportation), and papal
court life. However, completing and unifying the two sections were
seven rooms containing what the catalogue called ricostruzioni storiche
(historical reconstructions), four of which were inserted in the histori-
cal section and the other three in the topical section of the exhibition.
At first sight, the appearance of these reconstructions in a historical
exhibition such as the MRO signalled a puzzling lack of concern for
‘authenticity’ very similar to the lack that Stephen Bann has found in
the earliest forms of history museums – such as the ‘century rooms’
arranged by Alexander Lenoir in early nineteenth-century Paris.9
Yet the organic relationship between these reconstructions and the his-
torical items exhibited in the MRO counterbalanced this deficit of
authenticity. To begin with, the four reconstructions inserted in the ex-
hibition’s historical section iconized the romantic suggestion of lived
history already codified in the representational items exhibited. The
first two consisted of a full-scale display of two original rooms from the
demolished Palazzo Torlonia, whose early nineteenth-century pave-
The Contest of the Exhibitions 117

ments, door frames, and furnishings had been preserved. Their synec-
dochic status was thus signalled by their ability, ‘at one and the same
time,’ as Bann says, ‘to retain their individual authenticity, and to partic-
ipate in an overall, recreative vision of the past.’10 Yet the revived histor-
ical user, the princely Torlonia family, was not only named but also fully
represented in the exhibition. The Torlonia descendants were among
the major private exhibitors, and, more to the point, their nineteenth-
century ancestors and their palace were referred to throughout the
entire historical section.11 Like the documents within each historical
room, these two reconstructions referred directly to the organic narra-
tive of the representational items and, in so doing, did not disrupt at all
the historical encoding of this first section; rather, they reinforced it by
reducing the gap between present exhibitor and exhibited past.
Compared to the Torlonia rooms, the remaining five reconstructions
were far more puzzling. The catalogue refers to them as scenoplastici,
that is, waxwork scenes. The first one, appearing in room ten, contained
a reconstruction of the studio of the popular nineteenth-century
painter Bartolomeo Pinelli. In the left corner there stood a life-size wax-
work of the painter’s figure. He was seated in front of a false window in
the act of completing one of the several drawings that crowded the walls
of the room. In room twelve, visitors found an entire Roman tavern
reconstructed. In it were four life-size wax statues of drinkers seated on
rustic benches around a rustic table. The remaining objects and room
furnishings, including its walls, were treated so as to cast a hint of histo-
ricity on the scene as a whole. In the back of the tavern a small window
allowed the visitor’s eye to linger over a panoramic painting of early
nineteenth-century Rome, seen from the Aventine hill. At the touch of
an electrical switch, a play of light could transform it from a daylight
scene to a nocturnal scene, and vice versa.
Surely neither of these two waxwork scenes could claim the kind of
authenticity the first two reconstructions gained from their being origi-
nal relics. Yet the blatant lack of authenticity of these two scenoplastici –
along with the other three coming later in the exhibition – was counter-
acted, and consequently neutralized, by their iconic reference to the
organic totality of the representational items on display. Pinelli’s wax
image and the studio itself were reconstructed out of a self-portrait and
a drawing by the same artist, both on display on the walls of the recon-
structed studio. The osteria romana (Roman tavern) and two of the other
scenoplastici, the salterello (popular street dance) and the giocatori di morra
(hands-only game), were again copied from works by Pinelli on display,
118 The Historic Imaginary

while the scenoplastico of the scrivano pubblico (public letter-writer) was

reconstructed out of a watercolour by Jan Kracker exhibited in room
eleven. Finally, even the painted panorama in the tavern was copied
from an exhibited watercolour of Giacomo Maes.12
Quite clearly, then, the MRO’s scenoplastici were no mere coup de
théâtre aimed at attracting the curiosity of visitors, but the hermeneutic
key to the entire exhibition. They functioned as self-reflexive hyperi-
cons, which thematized the real protagonist of the MRO: historical real-
ism. Through them, the MRO made plain that the marriage between
history, realism, and the nineteenth century was no mere organic refer-
ent but rather the thematic fulcrum of the exhibition. In both mode
and content of representation, the MRO documented the cultural tri-
umph of nineteenth-century historical realism. In this respect, its rep-
resentational strategy could not have differed more radically from
the ‘paranoia of centennial systems’ that marked its early nineteenth-
century forefathers.13 The MRO sought to show that, while figures such
as Lenoir were intent on representing past centuries metonymically, the
nineteenth century had developed a vast range of realist modes of rep-
resenting its own historicity, and these were the subject matter of the
Roman exhibition: lithographic, photographic, drawn, or painted por-
traits of famous figures of the period; maps of the city and drawings of
city plans, monuments, and picturesque views; and pictorial representa-
tions of popular scenes, battle scenes, official ceremonies, encounters
between famous figures, and so forth. Yet no specific knowledge of
deconstruction theory is needed to realize that the supplementary status
of the scenoplastici exceeded the intentions of the exhibition’s organizers
and went far beyond the intended celebration of nineteenth-century
As David Freedberg has argued, waxworks may be thought of as the
quintessential signs of the Latin Catholic ‘striving for resemblance
[that] has always marked our attempt to make the absent present and
the dead alive.’14 Known since Roman times, waxworks constituted the
first representational codification of the Latin imago. They were immedi-
ately associated with funeral rites, and continued to be so for centuries.
During the Counter-Reformation, the Catholic Church had also started
using them for a more complex representational practice: the recon-
struction of sacred scenes from the life of Christ. This theatrical devel-
opment led to the establishment, especially in northern Italy, of Monti
Sacri (Sacred Mountains) which, as Freedburg explains, presented large-
scale waxworks aimed at facilitating the unmediated ‘fusion between
The Contest of the Exhibitions 119

image and prototype’ in the response of the viewer.15 In these early

scenoplastici Freedburg locates not only one of the most powerful tools
used by the Catholic Church in its implementation of the Counter-
Reformation’s motto invisibilia per visibilia, but also the ultimate sign of
that deep-seated drive toward ever more perfect forms of verisimilitude
that marks the ontology of the Western imaginary. As he concludes, the
nineteenth-century waxworks of Madame Tussaud made modern man
confront his ‘fear and attraction for the lifelike’ in a way that not even
photography could ever completely match.16
Naturally, appearing in the midst of a historical exhibition in the early
1930s, the MRO’s scenoplastici could not count on the same response
that the enàrgeia of the Monti Sacri had elicited for centuries from their
devoted pilgrims. In fact, the scenoplastici did not produce any effect of
presence because they vividly thematized what Gentile called ‘history
belonging to the past.’ They all referred, simultaneously, to what was no
longer there (a demolished palace, forever extinguished popular tradi-
tions) but was already represented in the exhibition’s visual narrative. In
so doing, they affirmed the right of narrative realism to maintain its
monopolistic hold on the signification of the historical, both in and of
the present and in and of the past. With the scenoplastici the Roman
exhibition iconized the natural and organic fit between aesthetic real-
ism and history. Because of them, the exhibition lost some of its revi-
sionist bite, but it also put forward an explicit cultural challenge to all
forms of historic representation. Nineteenth-century realism, it polemi-
cally asserted, was the sole legitimate code of historical representation.
In fact, the novelty of the MRO’s hyper-historical mode of representa-
tion in general, and of the scenoplastici in particular, did not escape the
eyes of the opponents it targeted (if only by implication). The modern-
ist critic Costantino Sciorsci, of the flagship fascist journal Ordine fascista,
took up the representational gauntlet thrown down by the exhibition’s
modes of display.17 Sciorsci’s review focused on the relationship
between historical representation per se and the exhibition’s audience.
In so doing, this reviewer captured the centrality and rhetorical signifi-
cance of the scenoplastici in a description worth quoting at length:

The public proceeds and lingers with equal indifference and admiration
before a scenoplastico of Trasteverine folklore, or before another yet immo-
bile but scenoplastica procession ... and, close by, with the same admiration
and the same indifference one pauses to observe a human-size Garibaldian
soldier and a Swiss guard ... and one cannot help but smile at the way in
120 The Historic Imaginary

which these two stuffed mannequins still fiercely look at each other ... In
such an exhibition one cannot think of the life of a whole century without
seeing it as immobile, mummified like those academic and neoclassic por-
traits of Podesti and his disciples, or those groups of papier mâché hicks,
crackers, soldiers, servants and scrivani, which, in the exhibition, populate
a square of nineteenth-century Rome, itself of papier mâché, that nonethe-
less remains silent and cold like a tomb.18

Focusing on the scenoplastici, Sciorsci described the MRO as an imagi-

nary scene of the death of enàrgeia: a funeral procession that embraced
both viewers and historical representation. The immobility of the sceno-
plastici matches that of the lingering public. The farcical contrast
between the fierce glance and the stuffed nature of the two mannequins
enhances the mixture of admiration and indifference in the parading
viewers. Finally, the repressed signified, death, surfaces at the end of the
description to encompass the whole representational field. A sepulchral
silence springs forth from the originals (Podesti’s neoclassic portraits)
as well as from the simulacra that derive from them (the wax manne-
quins of the scenoplastici; the ‘icy lunar light, and the gray atmosphere’
of the painted panorama), but it also extends to the relics that ‘in the
midst of all this stench of things passed away, lose their lively interest
and their peculiar evocative powers.’ Finally, concluded Sciorsci, death
is enthroned in the reconstruction of the ‘alcova Torlonia’ where ‘the
bed under the alcove resembles a catafalque, and its Impero-style col-
umns, enormous mortuary candles.’19
Centring his review on the waxwork scenes, Sciorsci correctly identi-
fied their hyper-realist assertion of mimesis as the only legitimate code
of historical representation. Yet, in placing his description of the sceno-
plastici within a discourse on the viewer’s reception, Sciorsci purposely
reversed the signs of their legitimacy and effectiveness. Rather than
receiving historical legitimization from their reference to the significa-
tion of lived history embodied by the original representational items
exhibited, the scenoplastici transferred their own deathlike stillness to
their viewers, thereby depriving even the most authentic documentary
items of their specific evocative powers. For Sciorsci, then, the Roman
exhibition had put on display not just a dead century but its own viewers
as well.
Though the length and detail of Sciorsci’s review were unique, his cri-
tique may have been underwritten and endorsed by the whole fascist
modernist front, for whom the MRO would have plainly demonstrated
The Contest of the Exhibitions 121

the aesthetic bankruptcy of historical representation per se. In fact, one

of the most authoritative supporters of the modernist movement in
architecture (razionalismo), and of all artistic avanguardie in general,
Pietro Maria Bardi, openly praised and echoed Sciorsci’s argument.20
Reviewing the exhibition for the Milanese daily L’Ambrosiano, Bardi dra-
matized the antagonistic relationship between a modernist conception
of history and the ‘ottocentista nostalgic incontinence’ displayed by both
organizers and admirers of the Roman exhibition. In conclusion, he tri-
umphantly affirmed that the only purpose the MRO had served was that
‘in both form and content it [had] offered a most satisfying measure,
and indication of our progress.’21
It might not be too farfetched to suggest that the progress Bardi
referred to here was the formation of a fascist historic imaginary and the
development of a historic mode of representation pursued by curators
such as Monti. Yet Bardi’s self-assurance was not supported by the num-
bers, nor did it capture the more subtle point made by Sciorsci. Far
from being shunned by critics and the public, the MRO was very popu-
lar by all standards and most historians’ reviews remarked favourably on
the display in general and the scenoplastici in particular.22 As Sciorsci had
correctly highlighted, these historical reconstructions had not only suc-
cessfully naturalized the organic fit between historical-mindedness and
nineteenth-century modes of realist representation, but they had also
exemplified how (deathly, in his opinion) these modes were still very
active and effective. In other words, the very rhetorical flair exhibited by
Sciorsci in the critique of the MRO’s scenoplastici was an implicit
acknowledgment of the challenge they posed to any modernist concep-
tion of historical representation. If the historic imaginary advocated by
Bardi was to overcome nineteenth-century historical-mindedness it
needed to be visualized in a fully modernist exhibition form.
Such, then, was the task awaiting the organizers of the two exhibi-
tions that were to crown the celebrations of the Garibaldian cinquante-
nario and the fascist decennale : the Mostra garibaldina and the Mostra
della rivoluzione fascista. Both exhibitions represented a unique public
opportunity for avant-garde artists, modernists intellectuals, and histori-
ans to deal with the counter-modernist challenge raised by the MRO’s
display and reception. In fact, in addition to being chronologically suc-
cessive, the MG and the MRF were spatially connected, being set up in
the same prestigious locales of the Roman Palazzo delle esposizioni.
This contiguity defined their representational contest as the final
round in the confrontation between the ‘historical’ and the ‘historic’.
122 The Historic Imaginary

Thus, despite Mussolini’s absence from the organizational scene, the

celebratory-ritual contest between historical and historic semantics was
transferred with these two exhibitions onto the stage of fascist image-
politics. Not unsurprisingly, historian and museum director Antonio
Monti assumed a central role in making this subtle confrontation

Garibaldianism contra Ottocento

Unquestionably, the MG constituted for Monti the coronation of all his

museotechnical efforts (analysed in Chapter 3). Here Monti could
finally introduce to his peers and to the wider public all of his innova-
tions.23 However, the originality of this exhibition was found much
more in its curatorial principles than in its museotechnical innovations.
As the map of the exhibition shows (Figure 10), the MG’s itinerary was
divided into four discrete sections with distinct epistemological identi-
ties: (a) Garibaldi’s life and the Garibaldian tradition (rooms 1–6, and
18–24); (b) the transformation of the Garibaldian uniform over time
(central gallery); (c) Garibaldi’s manuscripts (rooms 9–12); and (d)
popular representations of Garibaldi (rooms 13–17). While the first sec-
tion constituted the properly historical-narrative part of the exhibition,
the other three segments were neither narrative nor merely topical.
They were units organized around a specific type of evidence: uniforms,
manuscripts, and visual images. Yet in the exhibition guide and cata-
logue, Monti enigmatically referred to the internal structure of the exhi-
bition as being organized according to a ‘poliaesthetic criterium.’24 What
could this awkward neologism refer to – considering that it could not
have been more inappropriate for the very uniform late-nineteenth-cen-
tury style that characterized the historical paintings and the sculptural
representations of Garibaldi disseminated in the first section of the
Set up in twelve non-consecutive rooms and three corridors, the first
part of the Garibaldian Exhibition covered the life of Giuseppe
Garibaldi, his military feats, and his descendants’ perpetuation of the
Garibaldian tradition. Although presented by Monti as the exhibition’s
chronological section, its aesthetic itinerary was far from lacking in orig-
inality.25 As demonstrated by the photographs of rooms one, twenty,
and twenty-four (Figures 11, 12, and 13), all rooms in the narrative-his-
torical section shared a number of characteristics. Each of them fea-
tured a centrepiece, sometimes flanked by comfortable armchairs. All
The Contest of the Exhibitions 123

Figure 10. Floor map of the Garibaldian Exhibition (1932).

124 The Historic Imaginary

Figure 11. Room 1 in the Garibaldian Exhibition (1932).

documents and small relics were grouped and exhibited together in dis-
play cases placed either in the centre or along the walls of each room.
All representational items (paintings, drawings, photographs) were
framed, hung at eye level from wires attached to the ceiling, and dis-
played at regular intervals along the walls of each room. Finally, larger
relics, sculptures, and uniforms were exhibited on isolated pedestals or
in corner display cases.26
Attending to these common features, we notice that all documents
and relics, whether in display cases or ad hoc glass cases, were presented
as proper footnotes to the visual narrative of Garibaldi’s life, which the vis-
itor could follow across the walls of each room. There, positioned in
strict chronological order, and alternating between Garibaldi’s portraits
and photographs and depictions of historical scenes or events in the
hero’s personal life, the representational items exhibited foregrounded
the narrative scope of nineteenth-century historical representation. In
addition, Monti exhibited roughly similar ratios of the two types of items
in each of the rooms into which he had divided Garibaldi’s life. He also
The Contest of the Exhibitions 125

Figure 12. Room 20 in the Garibaldian Exhibition (1932).

placed all these items at a regular distance from one another, observing
a clear principle of overall symmetry and spatial equilibrium. The aes-
thetic quality of this arrangement reinforced that of the artistic items
exhibited, creating a visual narrative effect that clearly reached its cli-
max in room twenty, where spatial symmetry, chronological documenta-
tion, and balanced visualization were brought to a point of almost
maniacal perfection (Figure 12).
As had been the case with the MRO, the first section of the MG effec-
tively exemplified the relationship between aesthetic realism and histor-
ical representation. Yet it did so in direct opposition to the MRO’s
attempt to reaffirm such a relationship as inherent in the nature of
historical representation per se. In the MG Monti refused to naturalize
narrative realism through contemporary scenoplastici or historical recon-
structions. Undisturbed by the deathlike spell of contemporary simu-
lacra, the visitor to the Mostra garibaldina was thus thrust into a space of
contemplative regularity, where he or she could linger over the discrete
beauty of each historical page exhibited and check the footnotes at lei-
sure. In this way the MG’s narrative-historical section refused to exalt
126 The Historic Imaginary

Figure 13. Room 24 in the Garibaldian Exhibition (1932).

the organic link between historical representation and mimesis and

emphasized, instead, its aesthetic dimension: the presentation of the life
and feats of Giuseppe Garibaldi historicized the relationship between
historical narrative and the nineteenth-century aesthetic of the beauti-
ful.27 In addition, the visual book of Garibaldi’s life and times extended
all the way to include his descendants and the Garibaldian tradition.
And in this crucial respect, the historical section of the MG was much
closer to Rutelli’s Anita than the MRO’s scenoplastici.
The extension of the narrative to include Garibaldi’s descendants did
not lead to an exaltation, or narrative climax, as might have been
expected. On the contrary, a comparison between the catalogue’s record
and the available photograph of room twenty-four suggests that Monti
did not seek to put Garibaldianism in evidentia or to disrupt the aesthetic
code of the narrative section (Figure 13). In Monti’s narrative hands,
Garibaldianism seemed to acquire the same surplus of historical value
bestowed by Mussolini on Rutelli’s Anita, as well as its rhetorical fragility.
Yet the analogy between Mussolini’s and Monti’s rhetorical strategies
ended here. In fact, the aesthetic uniformity of the historical rooms did
The Contest of the Exhibitions 127

not dominate the whole exhibition. On the contrary, what followed sug-
gested that Monti purposely arranged this entire section to undermine
rather than exalt the association of Garibaldianism with the narrative aes-
thetics of historical realism. In the last three sections Garibaldianism was
instead to be made properly present in all of its historic forms: as imma-
nence (gallery of uniforms), as presence (Garibaldi’s manuscripts), and
as mass appeal (the popular images).
Exiting room twenty-four, the visitor found him or herself back at the
starting point of the exhibition’s itinerary, this time facing a straight
pathway toward the remaining three sections. What followed was a gal-
lery of uniforms that the exhibition’s guide barely mentioned, but that
Monti described in detail in an article published in the Corriere della
sera a few days after the opening of the exhibition. According to Monti,
the gallery exhibited only ‘original’ uniforms that had belonged to
three generations of Garibaldian heroes, from those of Giuseppe Gari-
baldi’s Risorgimental companions (Narcisio Bronzetti, Ippolito Nievo,
Giuseppe Sirtori, and Luciano Manara) to that of the multi-decorated
Cornel Metzenger, who fought in the Garibaldian brigade in the Great
War. Among these, Monti singled out the uniform of Giuseppe Sirtori,
which, ‘with his red shirt hidden by his black frock coat,’ evoked its alle-
gorical double: the blood-stained black shirt of a fascist squadrista shot
and killed near Mentana while marching on Rome in October 1922. ‘A
magnificent signification,’ Monti concluded, ‘of the spiritual relation-
ship which links the two marches on Rome, the first called off by
Garibaldi at Mentana in 1866, the second finally accomplished by Mus-
solini in 1922.’28
The unusual rhetorical flair employed by Monti in presenting the gal-
lery of uniforms to his readers signalled that he considered this section
to be his curatorial masterpiece.29 In fact, in contrast to the aesthetic of
the beautiful encoded in the preceding section, the gallery constituted
an emblematic exercise in the aesthetics of the sublime. Taken from the
perspective of the visitor entering the gallery, this photograph (Figure
14) shows that the uniforms were mounted on tailoring mannequins of
the kind Monti had introduced in the mid-twenties, and they were dis-
played inside single ad hoc display cases disposed at regular intervals on
both sides of the corridor.30 The display cases, in turn, were placed on
top of a two-step platform, which elevated them above eye level and
compressed them against cantilevered walls on both sides. Clearly, in
this section, as opposed to all preceding rooms, Monti finally took
advantage of the spatial configuration and adaptability of the Palazzo
128 The Historic Imaginary

Figure 14. The Gallery of the Uniforms in the Garibaldian Exhibition (1932).

delle esposizioni.31 In so doing, however, he also dramatically modified

the relationships among the viewer, the items displayed, and the aes-
thetic-epistemic code that presided over the arrangement of the first
(narrative) section of the exhibition.
By shaping the architectural environment so as to maximize the
viewer’s apprehension of a series of metonymic items set up at a solemn
contemplative distance, Monti dramatically tipped the balance between
sensory-visual stimulation and mental-visual projection that charac-
terized the historical beautification of narrative in the first section. In
the gallery of uniforms the visitor was both sensory-stimulated and
left unencumbered by an already visualized narrative. He or she
was thus invited to transform the dialectic between spatial uniformity
and the sequence of uniforms into a symbolic conception of his-
torical time itself. For the ever-present face of the hero Garibaldi,
dominating and controlling the beautiful tale of a heroic life in the first
section, the gallery of uniforms substituted twelve shrines for the ab-
sent bodies of those who had fought in his name. To the narrative de-
velopment of periods and res gestae, it responded with a sequentiality
The Contest of the Exhibitions 129

that emphasized inherent infinity and uniformity – in a word, imma-

nence. Seemingly reversing Mussolini’s policing of Anita’s monument,
Monti’s gallery of uniforms thus successfully encoded the signified that
Ezio had attempted to monumentalize with Sciortino’s Anita: the ever-
lasting presence of Garibaldianism. With the gallery of uniforms the
historian-curator likely pleased his patron, Ezio, beyond his greatest
expectations, but he surely did so also by responding explicitly to the
counter-modernist challenge of the MRO.
Considering the sharp rhetorical separation wilfully enacted by Monti
between the first two sections of the MG in light of the evolution of his
image-making activities (examined in Chapter 3), we may immediately
capture the novelty of this arrangement as one aimed at both mobilizing
and going beyond the traditional aesthetic dichotomy between the
beautiful and the sublime.32 The relentless insistence of the exhibition’s
chronological section on the visualization of narrative effectively sacri-
ficed the sensory-visual appeal of relics in favour of mental-visual har-
mony and symmetry. In contrast, the gallery of uniforms inverted this
process, hoping to hit the visitor with the wonder inspired by sublime
emblems in direct opposition to the preceding beauty of narrative reso-
nance.33 Most plausibly, then, the implicit referent of Monti’s ‘poliaes-
thetic criterion’ was the ‘sublime dialectic’ between the mental-visual
saturation and sensory-visual stimulation obtained by the antithetical
arrangement of the first two sections of the MG.34 In fact, with this neol-
ogism Monti may have also attempted to conceal the fact that his faith-
fulness to this dialectic had caused him to break with the professional
ethic of historical authenticity whose limits he made very elastic in the
1920s, but beyond which he had never dared to step.
Although the gallery was supposed to display only ‘original historical’
items, not all of them were authentic.35 Two uniforms, that of the first
Garibaldian volunteers in South America (in the 1830s and 1840s) and
that of the Garibaldian defenders of the Roman Republic (in 1847–9),
were, in Monti’s own words, ‘representative,’ and had been recon-
structed by a local tailor ‘on the basis of contemporaneous documenta-
tion.’36 Consequently, their presence in the gallery served exclusively to
complete the series and avoid any visible gap in the ‘development of the
Garibaldian uniform in time’ – which is how the guidebook unassum-
ingly referred to this section of the exhibition.37 To my knowledge, this
small act of historical reconstruction was unprecedented in Monti’s
curatorial career, but for that reason it is all the more revealing of the
historic encoding of this section.
130 The Historic Imaginary

Clearly, the replacement of brand new uniforms – modelled after

reproductions of the originals – for the missing exemplars did not
amount to a falsification or a violation of the traditional foundations of
historical epistemology. Yet their insertion was absolutely necessary to
highlight the seriality of the display, and thus appeal to the historic imag-
inary of the visitors. Through means unavailable to any book or docu-
ment, Monti’s gallery of uniforms sought to disabuse the visitor of the
mythical association of Garibaldianism with red shirts and Garibaldi,
effectively reversing the terms of the equation. In contrast to the docu-
ments and Garibaldian relics inserted in the last two rooms of the histor-
ical section, the gallery of uniforms did not look back to Garibaldi’s
redshirts but forward to Mussolini’s blackshirts. Garibaldianism – so
argued the ensemble of authentic and reconstructed uniforms – had
emancipated itself entirely from its historical debt to a specific colour
and name. It had become a constitutive trait of the fascist present, one
that required re-presentation even when its metonymic part (an original
uniform) was not available. On the premise of representation as imago,
and in a synecdochic relationship with the original relics, the recon-
structed uniforms claimed authenticity from their contribution to the
signification of the real presence of Garibaldianism in the fascist historic
imaginary rather than from their status of historical reconstructions.
The reconstructed uniforms thus constituted an explicit obverse of
and implicit response to the MRO’s scenoplastici. Contrary to the sceno-
plastici’s thematization of verisimilitude as the sole legitimate code for
historical representation, they stressed the rhetorical rather than the
ontological relationship between mimesis and historical representation.
Yet just like the scenoplastici in the MRO, the gallery of uniforms offered
a hypericon of the whole exhibition. In fact, the gallery was not only
designed to contrast with the historical representation of Garibaldian-
ism in the narrative section of the exhibition, but also to stimulate the
visitor’s sensory-visual apparatus of reception and prepare the ground
for the perception of ‘presence’ in the manuscript and popular images
sections of the exhibition.
The separation of words from images in these last two sections capital-
ized on the sensory-visual stimulation generated by the gallery of uni-
forms. As several reviewers remarked, Garibaldi’s manuscripts were key
in generating the emotional response of the visitors to Garibaldi’s pres-
ence. The sensory-visual appeal of Garibaldi’s calligraphy and of the
paper he wrote on oriented the viewer’s response toward an unmedi-
ated fusion of sign and signified. Similarly, according to the authorita-
The Contest of the Exhibitions 131

tive art historian Renato Pacini, the last popular images section of the
exhibition allowed the visitor ‘to see what Garibaldi and Garibaldianism
was in the mind of the common people of that time.’38 These represen-
tations were, for Pacini, the products of ‘unconscious actors, absorbed
by the examination of this or that historical actor, ready to interpret any
move, each according to his own mentality and point of view.’39 In
contrast to the historical paintings of the narrative section, these popu-
lar-visual representations of Garibaldi renounced historical realism in
favour of perspectivism and making the past present. They thus offered
the visitor a classic ‘scene of enàrgeia’ in which Garibaldi’s res gestae were
made present to the 1932 viewer through the emotional reactions of
contemporary witnesses.
With its 200,000 visitors, the MG proved to be ‘the most popular exhi-
bition ever organized and hosted in the Palazzo delle Esposizioni’ (to
that date) and received almost unanimous acclaim from its reviewers.40
At the same time, reviewers were also remarkably split over what they
found praiseworthy in the exhibition. A small group focused exclusively
on the narrative section of the exhibition, declaring the success of the
MG in providing a ‘total view of an epoch,’ a ‘panoramic look at the his-
tory of Italy,’ or ‘a synthesis of the inviolable continuity of the Italian
stirpe,’ or, simply, a picture ‘of [Garibaldi’s] wonderful life.’41 The major-
ity, by contrast, drew their readers’ attention to the last three sections of
the exhibition (the gallery of uniforms, the manuscript section, and the
popular representations) by underscoring their rhetorical contiguity,
aesthetic originality, and impact, as well as the MG’s overall success in
overcoming its predecessor, the despised MRO.42 Not surprisingly, no
reviewer did so more explicitly and enthusiastically than P.M. Bardi.
In his review, Bardi focused exclusively on the last three sections of
the exhibition, stressing their common success in making it possible for
the viewer ‘to touch the history of the Risorgimento in the name of the
Italian Revolution which Garibaldi began and which Mussolini contin-
ues,’ doing so by ‘pushing aside and rightly confounding a certain exhi-
bition of the Roman ottocento.’43 Clearly, Bardi’s review recognized that
the contrast between the two exhibitions was not one of content but one
of modes of representation. In fact, Bardi made this contrast graphically
explicit in the most emphatic way by referring to the MG throughout
the article as the ‘Mostra’ (Exhibition), always in quotation marks and
capitalized. Coming from the foremost Italian experts in press design,
this typographical emphasis signalled unequivocally the MG’s member-
ship in that new species of modernist exhibitions that Bardi had recently
132 The Historic Imaginary

called for on the pages of the Ambrosiano.44 According to Bardi ‘the time
[had] come to stop hanging pictures with strings stretching for metres
and metres from iron bars attached horizontally to the ceiling.’ Above
all, he insisted, ‘the manner in which art exhibitions are organized now-
adays is mistaken in its guiding principles: it is misguided not to take
account of the most fundamental art form, that is, architecture,’ and he
concluded that ‘[a]rchitecture, painting, and sculpture must be made
to adjust to one another, and we must find new exhibitory “forms” that
are “art” in themselves.’45
Clearly then, Bardi’s enthusiasm for Monti’s ‘Mostra’ could not have
stemmed from the historical section, in which so many paintings had
been hung in the very manner he had criticized just a few months
before. His militant commitment to an architectural conceptualization
of exhibitions and to the need to develop them into a proper art form
suggests that his use of the term ‘Mostra’ referred to Monti’s arrange-
ment of the last three sections. As we have seen, the gallery of uniforms
achieved the desired staging of immanent Garibaldianism thanks to a
crucial architectural intervention. Similarly, it was the spatial separation
of the three classes of items exhibited in these last sections that
enhanced their singular potential to convey an effect of presence.
Short of providing proof for the mental oscillation of the fascist sub-
ject between ‘history belonging to the past’ and ‘history belonging to
the present,’ the critical reception of the MG strongly suggests that this
exhibition was perceived as staging a contest between ‘historical’ and
‘historic’ modes of representation – with the latter being especially cele-
brated by modernist critics such as Bardi. No wonder, then, that Bardi
himself would be among the first to emphasize the connection between
the Garibaldian Exhibition and the Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution
that was to follow it within a few weeks. For Bardi, the main task of the
Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution was to ‘integrate the Garibaldian
[Exhibition] so as to clarify the ideal correlation between the two ven-
tures.’46 What Bardi did not anticipate, however, was that the MRF
would accomplish this task by emphasizing explicitly the incommensu-
rability between the historic representation of Garibaldianism and the
demonstration of the fascist historic imaginary itself.

The Fascist Historic Imaginary on Exhibit

What opened in Rome is not simply ‘the exhibition’ (la mostra), but some-
thing greater; it is ‘the demonstration’ (la dimostrazione) of the Fascist Revo-
The Contest of the Exhibitions 133

lution. And here I employ the verb ‘to demonstrate’ in its literary and
figurative, as well as its mathematical and physical meanings. The show
makes the Revolution plain, palpable, and intelligible, while at the same
time providing proof, a definitive proof of the experiment’s success, by cal-
culation and figure. It took Fascism to revolutionize Italy in depth, before
such an artistically revolutionary – and at the same time so very Italian and
Fascist – idea could even be conceived.47

Just like the event to which it referred, this definition of the Mostra della
rivoluzione fascista (MRF) written by fascism’s foremost art critic, Mar-
gherita Sarfatti, has justly commanded the attention of the many schol-
ars who have studied the aesthetic, ritual, and political-religious aspects
of this exhibition. Echoing Sarfatti’s emphasis on its artistic value, most
scholars have focused their attention on the ‘futurist,’ ‘rationalist,’ or
simply ‘modernist’ imprint of the MRF.48 Not enough attention, how-
ever, has been paid to the rhetorical and conjunctural context of
Sarfatti’s review. In the first place, Sarfatti’s celebrated definition fol-
lowed an explicit comparison between the MRF and the MG, in which
the critic contrasted Monti’s arrangement of ‘miles and miles of docu-
ments, aligned one after the other in a colourless series of pigeonholes’
to the ‘work of art’ created by the modernist artist-organizers of the
MRF. For Sarfatti, the MRF was thus a ‘demonstration’ in so far as it had
achieved a properly modernist form of historical exhibition. Second,
Sarfatti’s association of the term ‘demonstration’ with ‘palpability’ and
‘definitive proof’ connected the avant-garde aesthetics of the exhibition
to the rhetorical ‘effect of presence’ (enargèia) inscribed in the Latin
notion of demostratio (to point at an invisible object).49 In other words,
Sarfatti’s review highlighted the way in which the MRF had successfully
pushed aside and confounded its immediate predecessor (the MG) by
fusing avant-garde aesthetics and Latin Catholic rhetorical codes.
In hindsight, Sarfatti’s sarcastic dismissal of the MG could not have
been more ungenerous toward Monti’s curatorial masterpiece and in
more strident contrast with the praises of her modernist colleague and
friend Bardi. Yet the contrast between the two modernist critics is all the
more significant because it highlights their common awareness of the
‘contest of exhibitions’ that characterized the year of the cinquantenario-
decennale. In fact, Sarfatti’s comparison between the MRF and the MG not
only mimicked and reversed Bardi’s comparison between the MG and
the MRO, but also highlighted the incommensurability between the MG
and the MRF rather than the integration wished for by Bardi. As we shall
134 The Historic Imaginary

see below, Sarfatti correctly captured the success of the latter in staging a
historic representation of the fascist historic imaginary itself. However,
what Sarfatti could not know is that this symbolic feat was neither solely
nor primarily the accomplishment of the thirty-four artists involved in the
installation of the MRF – as she assumed in her review. Since the begin-
ning, the historic encoding of the MRF was designed and pursued prima-
rily by the very historian and curator that Sarfatti had implicitly criticized,
Antonio Monti.
The idea for an exhibition of fascism was not Mussolini’s nor was it
initially connected to the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the
March on Rome. Sometime in early 1928, the president of the Milanese
Institute of Fascist Culture (IFCM) and future minister of popular cul-
ture, Dino Alfieri, invited Monti to join him in planning a Mostra storica
del fascismo (MSF) (Historical Exhibition of Fascism), which was sup-
posed to open in Milan on 23 March 1929 in conjunction with the tenth
anniversary of the foundation of the Milanese fasci di combattimento
(fighting fasces). The MSF, however, was never set up in Milan. In the
winter of 1928 – suddenly and unexpectedly – it was hijacked by Musso-
lini, moved from Milan to Rome, and postponed from 1929 to 1932. The
result, of course, was the Mostra della rivoluzione fascista. Yet, as Jeffrey
Schnapp has pointed out, the 1928 MSF plan anticipated and prefig-
ured the ‘narrative scheme and certain key design concepts’ of the
MRF.50 The plan, in fact, was built around a montage-based approach
that was an absolute novelty in Italy, most likely inspired by El Lissitzky’s
kinetic pavilion at the 1928 Cologne International Press Exhibition.51
However – judging from some handwritten remarks – the modernist
ideology of design displayed by this plan respond not only to the exter-
nal challenge offered by the Soviet Revolution and constructivism, but
also to the evolving institutionalization of a historic mode of represena-
tion pursued by Monti since the mid-twenties.
Answering Alfieri’s wish that the exhibition ‘display the immediate
evidence of what [the documents] seek to represent,’ Monti insisted on
the need for ‘graphics, free-standing pillars, models, and a mise en
scène which could attract the spectator’s attention.’ But he also warned
that ‘being iconographically [sic] more interesting,’ the part of the exhibi-
tion centred on the Great War would have been overpowering and
would have ‘damaged the impression’ given by the part that repre-
sented the political birth of fascism in 1919.52 Both suggestions made
plain that planning this historical exhibition constituted for Monti a
crucial moment of aesthetic and ideological clarification. On the one
The Contest of the Exhibitions 135

hand, Monti’s proposals to Alfieri signalled a definitive abandonment of

his long-standing stress on the Great War as historic event and symbolic
model for the representation of all national struggles. On the other
hand, they pointed toward the fusion of avant-garde aesthetics and the
historic representation of fascism.
Most plausibly, it was in recognition of his decisive contribution to the
1928 planning of the MSF that Alfieri called on Monti to join him and
the ex-futurist journalist Luigi Freddi in the organization of the MRF.53
Like Freddi, Monti joined Alfieri from the beginning and was entrusted
with extracting the overall chronology of the exhibition from Il Popolo
d’Italia and coordinating the collection of all material to be exhibited.54
From this organizing triumvirate of Alfieri, Freddi, and Monti origi-
nated the overall design of the exhibition and the historic criteria that
were to guide the thirty-four artists – representative of all Italian avant-
garde and traditionalist artistic tendencies55 – and the ten storiografi (his-
toriographers or historical witnesses) invited to create the exhibition.56
Monti’s presence in particular may have been consequential in devising
ways to highlight continuities and discontinuities between the MRF and
the exhibition of Garibaldianism he had just curated in the same locale.
The modernist masque designed by rationalist architects Libera and
De Renzi for the Palazzo delle esposizioni made blatantly clear that the
first objective of the MRF was to declare explicitly its representational
incommensurability with any of the exhibitions that had preceded it,
and with the MG in particular (Figure 15). A red cubic structure cov-
ered the entire architectural body of the late-nineteenth-century build-
ing, fronted by four metallic pilaster-fasces sustaining the gigantic
heading of the exhibition (MOSTRA DELLA RIVOLUZIONE FAS-
CISTA). As Jeffrey Schnapp has perceptively noted, this facade aimed to
disassociate the fascist revolution (and its demonstration) both from the
Garibaldian revolution and the nineteenth-century beaux-arts aesthetics
of the Palazzo delle esposizioni, which was ‘redolent of melancholic
echoes of past grandeur.’57 The MRF, then, did not intend either to
continue – as Bardi had imprudently anticipated – or merely to chal-
lenge its immediate predecessor. Rather, it meant to overcome it as
history and as representation. The metallic energy of four twenty-
four-metre-high, free-standing fasces loudly announced this intention,
but it was painstakingly implemented in both the planning and installa-
tion of the exhibition.
Looking at this floor map of the MRF (Figure 16) we immediately
notice that the exhibition was purposely divided in two sections. As
136 The Historic Imaginary

Figure 15. The facade of the MRF (1932).

Schnapp has already noted, ‘strictly speaking, the full sweep of the Mos-
tra’s historical narrative [was] contained within the [first] fifteen rooms’
(A–Q), while ‘the chronological sequence [was] extended and
enhanced by the inclusion of four additional large rooms (T–U) whose
contents are “historical” yet whose order is not chronological.’58 The
route proposed by the exhibition thus exploited and expanded on
Monti’s division of the MG into a perimetric ‘historical’ section and a
central ‘historic’ section. In the MG, however, this separation remained
implicit and was disclosed only by its reviews. By contrast, in the MRF,
this division was explicitly stated in the catalogue, implemented by its
organizers with the utmost attention to detail, and rigidly codified in the
architectural moulding of the palace interior. Rather than staging a
confrontation between historical and historic modes of representation –
as had been the case with the MG – the separation of the MRF’s itiner-
ary in two sections was aimed at dramatically enhancing the historic
encoding of both.
Developing and overcoming Monti’s scheme, the MRF’s itinerary pro-
posed a peripheral tour of fifteen ‘historic narrative’ rooms leading
toward four ‘historic imaginary’ halls that occupied the central rooms of
The Contest of the Exhibitions 137

Figure 16. Ground floor map of the Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution (1932).
138 The Historic Imaginary

the palace. As we shall see in more detail below, the perimetric rooms
were designed to enact a modernist representation of fascist historic
agency, and the central four, to give a definitive gestalt to the fascist his-
toric imaginary. This determination was clearly reflected in Alfieri’s
decisions concerning the division of labour between historiographers
and the artists involved in the enterprise, the historic narrative rooms
(A–Q) being assigned to mixed teams composed of one historiographer
and one or more artists, the latter four (R–U) employing solely artists
under Monti’s supervision.59 However, the translation of the organizers’
goals into specific representational criteria and directions was entrusted
to the Traccia storico-politica della mostra del fascismo (Political-Historical
Outline for the Exhibition of Fascism) that Freddi wrote in collabora-
tion with Monti.60
This blueprint of the exhibition periodized, selected, and discussed
all the events to be represented, but above all it imparted general crite-
ria and aesthetic suggestions to all artists and historiographers before
they set to work on their assigned rooms.61 In the first place, the outline
called on each team ‘to depersonalize the exhibition so that the events
themselves, more than people, may speak, and the personality of the
Duce may be made present and emphasized.’62 What this meant in prac-
tice was that the exhibition was to be centred around a unique protago-
nist: not Mussolini in person, nor fascism in general, but Mussolini’s
newspaper, Il Popolo d’Italia – with all the allegorical references its title
(‘The People of Italy’) implied. In fact, Il Popolo d’Italia provided the
chronicle of events to be represented, as well as the symbolic fulcrum
and the representational code around which to unify the aesthetic
eclecticism of the exhibition. In Il Popolo d’Italia the MRF’s organizers
correctly identified the most appropriate representational means to give
symbolic-visual form to the fascist historic imaginary. In fact, the empha-
sis laid by the outline on the role of Il Popolo d’Italia constituted not only
the most original aspect of the new plan but also the most significant
departure from, and improvement over, the original 1928 plan.
To begin with, the newspaper provided an immediate solution to the
concerns expressed by Monti in 1928 about the representational dispro-
portion between the war section and the postwar section in the first
plan: Il Popolo d’Italia would be the common denominator. Second, the
chronology of events lifted by Monti from its pages and narrativized by
Freddi in the outline made questions of interpretation simply redun-
dant. Last, but not least, in Il Popolo d’Italia the artists found the perfect
representational means to depersonalize the historic Duce himself and
The Contest of the Exhibitions 139

transfigure him into the impersonal idea of fascist historic agency. Exe-
cuting almost to the letter the directions of the outline, the artists
avoided as much as possible all figurative representations of Mussolini
(of which only two appeared in the first ten rooms), sparing no efforts
instead in identifying Mussolini with the typeface of his newspaper. In
fact, thanks to Freddi’s provision of an in-house photographic labora-
tory, all available photographic and montage techniques were utilized
to reproduce Mussolini’s editorials so that they could figure promi-
nently in every room.63
Freddi himself was the first one to take advantage of his own provi-
sions by installing a gigantic reproduction of the front page of the first
issue of Il Popolo d’Italia in the first room of the exhibition (room A).
The catalogue’s entry is worth quoting at length:

Suddenly, the gigantic enlargement of the first number of Il Popolo d’Italia

looms large upon the entire room. It is the most colossal enlargement ever
accomplished. It dominates [the space], a massive form protruding from
the wall as if it were the foundation stone for all the events that will follow.
It is the solemn and warlike motif that will be developed throughout the
Exhibition, in order to demonstrate how a newspaper directed by a Man of
genius, of iron will and burning passions, can truly make history.64

The invisible protagonist (Mussolini) announces and forges a new era

and a new people from the pages of his allegorical weapon (Il Popolo
d’Italia). Next to the front page, above the entrance to the next room,
the title-head of the newspaper is repeated a hundred times to cover the
entire territory of a stylized Italian peninsula (Figure 17). In the back-
ground we can see a wall covered with negative reproductions of many
articles announcing the formation of the first revolutionary fasces. The
historic essence of Mussolini’s word was thus immediately fore-
grounded; henceforth its actualitas would be put on display.
Beginning with Freddi’s rooms A and B, and all through the periph-
eral itinerary, phrases, mottoes, and entire passages selected from Mus-
solini’s editorials in Il Popolo d’Italia were plastered on the walls and
ceilings of every room to create a narrative thread unifying the hetero-
geneous aesthetics of the different rooms and events. At the same time,
the original articles were displayed in the window cases next to docu-
ments and relics of the events to which they referred so as to underline
the documentary character of the narrative. In this way, all distinctions
between document and commentary were first eliminated and then
140 The Historic Imaginary

Figure 17. Room A in the MRF. The gigantic enlargement of the first front page
of Il Popolo d’Italia is visible on the right of the bas-relief map of Italy.
The Contest of the Exhibitions 141

inverted: in the Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution, the historical docu-

ment functioned as commentary to Mussolini’s words embodied in Il
Popolo d’Italia. This way, Il Popolo d’Italia provided all artists and histori-
ographers not only with a unifying aesthetic code, but also with a unique
representational means to express the actualist catastrophe of the his-
tori(ographi)cal act in avant-garde aesthetic syntax. And, predictably,
this operation was nowhere more effective than in the two rooms
arranged by Monti himself: rooms C and D on the Italian intervention
and victory in the Great War.
The arrangement of these two rooms responded to both Monti’s orig-
inal concern, expressed in 1928, with containing the war’s iconographic
aspect, and his firsthand involvement in designing the new exhibition.
In fact, Monti revealed the guiding criterion of the MRF in an article
published a few weeks before the opening of the exhibition: ‘The com-
ments and the reconstructions of the historical climate around the doc-
uments of the war will find a leitmotif, which will link this section to the
other ones in the exhibition, in the captions – taken for the most part
from Il Popolo d’Italia of the years 1914–1918 – that will animate the wide
walls above the space reserved for documents and relics. In fact these
sculptural mottoes and phrases constitute the stuff of history.’65 As this
photograph (Figure 18) shows, the figurative elements of each room
were all architecturally isolated from the window-cased documents and
the photomontages placed above them.66 This arrangement was clearly
aimed at giving maximum result to the dominant element in both
rooms: Mussolinian phrases extracted from Il Popolo d’Italia, which,
alternating between small and large capital letters, marked the architec-
tural space of both rooms. In Monti’s hands Mussolini’s words had
become Il Popolo d’Italia phrases, hovering above art and history, figura-
tive representation and document, and allegory and reality. Visually
reinforced by Achille Funi’s architectonic classicism, their perimetric
sweep appeared to infuse order into the seeming chaos of the war effort.
The walls and the pilasters accommodated their longitudinal spread,
and, while the documents and relics of the years of suffering were con-
tained within their frames, all the figurative elements, such as the futur-
ist ‘war trophy’ visible above the entrance to room D, seemed tuned to
the shaping enàrgeia of the Mussolinian sentence.
Quite clearly, in these rooms, Monti had finally merged avant-garde
aesthetic codes with the historic mode of representation he had been
elaborating throughout the 1920s and had first implemented in the MG.
At the same time, he had done so in keeping with the second criterion
142 The Historic Imaginary

Figure 18. Room C in the MRF (1932).

The Contest of the Exhibitions 143

prescribed by the outline: the visitor was to conceive and perceive the
exhibition as ‘a gigantic symphony,’ building a ‘dramatic and spectacu-
lar “crescendo” leading to the final apotheosis.’67 From the point of view
of fascist discursive rhetoric, the musical metaphor of a symphonic cre-
scendo used by the outline was neither particularly striking nor original.
Yet this was also the same metaphor Alfieri used repeatedly in describ-
ing the exhibition’s ‘symphonic’ narrative as divided in three tempi
(periods or acts).68 The first tempo comprised the period from interven-
tionism to the Italian victory in the Great War (rooms A–D), the second,
from the victory to the founding of the fasces (rooms E), and the third,
from the foundation of the fasces to the March on Rome (rooms F–Q).
In addition, Alfieri repeatedly specified that the first two tempi were
supposed to be represented very synthetically, while the third one was to
receive ‘as full a treatment as possible.’69 This provision would ensure
the crescendo of the symphonic tempi, while their unity would be
entrusted to the transfiguration of Il Popolo d’Italia from chronological
tool to thematic protagonist of the exhibition. Neither the outline’s nor
Alfieri’s musical metaphors, then, were casual or generic allusions to
gesamtkunstwerk aesthetic principles. Rather, this type of language
referred precisely to the organizers intention to achieve a synaesthetic
encoding of the visual narrative – that is, the transformation of visual
stimuli into tactile-auditory perception.
It was in fact through the synaesthetic encoding of the narrative itin-
erary (rooms A–Q) that the MRF found the proper means to give sen-
sory-visual form to the notion of fascist historic agency evoked by
Mussolini in 1929. Viewed as the exhibition’s first tempo, the war rooms
were clearly united by the increasing classicism of the architectonic
space and the incremental distinction between the different representa-
tional elements. The signified of their aesthetic crescendo was quite
clear: the moulding power of Mussolini’s historic word over the world of
history. In this respect, the narrative thrust of these four rooms seemed
to promise an imminent climax. Instead, entering room E, the visitor
was thrust into a brand new representational space, albeit not entirely
discontinuous with the preceding one. Room E announced the ener-
getic brevity of the revolution’s second tempo, the brief period/act
between the victory in the war and the official birth of fascism on 23
March 1919. This room had been arranged by the journalist Alberto
Capodivacca and the novecento painter Arnaldo Carpanetti, and it
depicted the conflict between the historic word of Mussolini and the
chaotic reality of the immediate postwar period (Figure 19). Figurative
144 The Historic Imaginary

Figure 19. Room E in the MRF (1932).

The Contest of the Exhibitions 145

collages and architectural compositions that assaulted the visitor with a

host of visual stimuli occupied all four walls. Facing each other were the
initial and concluding figurative groups, the ‘great victory’ wall, and a
mural representing the ‘founding of the Fasci di Combattimento.’ Between
them, one found the confrontation between ‘Bolshevik drunkenness,’
and ‘Mussolini’s exhortations.’ Yet the most striking element of the
whole room was the almost continuous line of window cases set right
below the figurative groups.
Within these framed areas, a restlessness seemed at first to possess the
relics and documents of the postwar era, as if they were commenting on
the confusing historical scene depicted by the figurazioni veristiche (natu-
ralistic figurations) of Carpanetti. The images thus appeared to be
impinging upon the orderly progression of history. To defend history
from their assault, and to create the necessary buffer zone to realign its
course, stood Mussolini’s statuary phrases, all of them signed MUSSO-
LINI and all duly quoted from Il Popolo d’Italia. In the end, they won a
victory over the chaos of history and its images – as shown by the window
case in the picture (Figure 19) where the documents were arranged as if
coming out of a printing press. Thus, under the final representation of
the birth of fascism the documents’ restlessness was placated, and a new
historic depiction closed this second revolutionary act. A second gigan-
tic enlargement of the newspaper’s front page of 24 March 1919, was set
next to a mural depicting a dramatic progression of fasces (Figure 20).
It is not simply that the five aligned fasces rendered obvious the sym-
bolic hint of an unstoppable fascist march. Carpanetti’s mural was also a
direct quotation from an imagetext that the spectator would soon
encounter in the central historic section of the exhibition. His painted
fasces mimicked and anticipated Sironi’s architectural arrangement of
the Gallery of Fasces (compare Figures 20 and 28). In so doing, they
inscribed this second tempo of fascism as a new signpost of the fascist
historic, one that the spectator was to recall retrospectively while stroll-
ing through the historic halls of the central section of the MRF. Before
getting there, however, the visitor was still required to go through the
full sweep of the third tempo: the proper ‘revolutionary’ act.
This final and longest tempo comprised the most diverse and artistically
compelling rooms of the MRF perimetric itinerary. The sheer number
and variety of artists who worked on rooms F to Q – ranging from the
advertising wizard Marcello Nizzoli, to the strapaesano Mino Maccari, to
the futurist Enrico Prampolini – forbade any serious attempt to reduce
their arrangements to a single aesthetic unit. Yet the sequence of these
146 The Historic Imaginary

Figure 20. Room E in the MRF (1932).

The Contest of the Exhibitions 147

rooms did not disrupt the historic subtext firmly encoded in the first five.
On the contrary, quite aside from the diverse aesthetic solutions adopted
by each team for its room, they all conformed to the organizer’s rhetori-
cal strategy in two fundamental ways. First, by continuing the plastering
of walls with Mussolinian phrases and mottoes, the MRF’s third tempo
continued to elide the distinction between document and commentary,
and to depersonalize the exhibition. Second, by intensifying the unity of
figurative, verbal, and architectural languages, these ten rooms sought to
make history literally present to the viewer through the synaesthetic
thrust of historic picturing. To both of these ends, the architect-painters
continued to modulate the relationship between Mussolinian phrases,
figurative elements, and documents in order to transform words and
images into a synaesthetic crescendo that finally climaxed in rooms O, P,
and Q, dedicated to the preparation and performance of the historic
event itself, the March on Rome of 27 October 1922.
The young rationalist architect Giuseppe Terragni arranged Room O
to represent the fascist gatherings preceding the march in late October
1922. According to the catalogue, Terragni’s futuro-rationalist room was
designed to be in contrast to the ‘tragic’ rooms that preceded it, by com-
municating ‘an immediately different, synthetic, and dynamic sensa-
tion.’70 From the visual suppression of all normal reference points to the
widespread use of reflecting metals such as copper, and from the rich
lighting effects to the mirror images created by the shiny black linoleum
floor, this room approximated an allegorical teatro di masse (Figure
21).71 As Libero Andreotti has rightly suggested, Terragni achieved this
theatrical operation by means of ‘a spatial structure consistent with the
historical narrative’ and the explicit ‘intention to undermine the dis-
tinction between real, apparent, and reflected image.’72 In fact, in this
room, Terragni brought synaesthetic crescendo and historic semiotics
to a joint climax. Rather than distancing the spectator, the hypervisual-
ization proposed by Terragni sought to confound the viewer’s sense of
self-identity before he or she confronted the final constitution of the
‘Fascist Mass.’
This huge allegorical photomontage of the gatherings that preceded
the March on Rome resolved the historic narrative while abolishing all
reflective distance between the spectator and the representation (Figure
22). A Piedmontese drummer allegorically underlined the historic
meaning of Mussolini’s handwritten words (to the mother of a fascist
martyr), while three wheels or turbines that transformed the amor-
phous crowd into the compact fascist mass of the last revolutionary act
148 The Historic Imaginary

Figure 21. Terragni’s Room O in the MRF (1932).

The Contest of the Exhibitions 149

Figure 22. Terragni’s Room O. Photomontage of the ‘Adunate.’

150 The Historic Imaginary

gave visualization to this historic meaning.73 The stylized hands flying

toward the gigantic X on the ceiling pointed the spectator’s attention
toward the present (understood as the Roman numeral ten, the ‘X’ also
referred to the decennale), thereby prefiguring the historic transforma-
tion of Terragni’s ‘transparency and dispersion into Sironi’s unity and
concentration’ in the rooms dedicated to the historic event itself, the
March on Rome (P and Q).74
Mario Sironi was indisputably the most important artist and exhibi-
tion designer involved in the MRF.75 It is not surprising that he alone
received the commission for four rooms, but it is indicative of his status
that these were the last two rooms of the historic agency section (P and
Q) and the first two of the historic imaginary section (R and S). As sev-
eral scholars have emphasized, the organizers’ choice to entrust Sironi
with these four rooms reflected their utmost concern with ensuring aes-
thetic continuity between the two sections of the exhibition.76 However,
the four rooms Sironi designed for the MRF also present crucial differ-
ences and discontinuities both among themselves and compared to
what preceded and followed each pair. These differences reveal a spe-
cific concern with the rhetorical encoding of each section, in addition
to their aesthetic unity.
While the chromatism of Sironi’s first two rooms maintained a crucial
aesthetic continuity with the crescendo of the preceding thirteen, the
sheer materiality of their volumes and surfaces revealed their simulta-
neous historic encoding. The passage from Terragni’s to Sironi’s aes-
thetics was a sharp and unequivocal passage from optical to tactile
appropriation.77 In other words, the doorway between rooms O and P
was the gate of ultimate synaesthesia, albeit an overcoded one. Rooms
P and Q returned the spectator to the modern (novecentista) space and
the separation among iconography, documentary display cases, photo-
montages, and Mussolinian phrases that he or she had witnessed in the
first four rooms of the exhibition (compare Figures 23 and 18). All of
these elements, however, were magnified in scale and clarified in their
relations. In this way, Sironi achieved the most important rhetorical task
assigned to him. The beginning of the narrative (the war) was retroac-
tively recoded as simultaneous with its ending. While the March on
Rome was represented as immanent in the historical facts that preceded
it, the meaning of these facts was at last made present to the spectator in
reference to the historic event to which they led.
We may therefore agree with Jeffrey Schnapp that, in the MRF, ‘the
move from periphery to center [was] accompanied by the aesthetic
The Contest of the Exhibitions 151

Figure 23. Sironi’s Room P in the MRF (1932).

shift, prepared [by Sironi] in rooms P and Q,’ from ‘hot Modernist
chaos’ to a ‘cool and orderly streamlined Moderne.’78 Surely Sironi’s
rooms R and S carried through and developed the monumental lan-
guage of forms anticipated in rooms P and Q. And while Longanesi’s
room T temporarily reduced this scale, it also continued Sironi’s
‘streamlining’ of forms, thereby offering ‘a kind of antichamber to
room U, the exhibition’s climax and sancta sanctorum.’79 Focusing on
the aesthetic continuity among these four rooms, most recent commen-
tators have thus emphasized the ‘ritual order’ separating the central sec-
tion of the MRF from the diachronic sequence of rooms A through Q
and have highlighted the primary role that Mario Sironi played in
accomplishing this ‘epic demonstration’ of fascism. Yet in looking a bit
more closely at the aesthetic-ritual texture of the MRF’s central section,
we find something more than a ‘Sironian exhibition.’80
Into the fabric of these four rooms (R to U) was woven a rhetorical
thread that – to a greater extent than, and in spite of, the undeniable aes-
152 The Historic Imaginary

thetic continuity characterizing Sironi’s four rooms (P to S) – unified the

central rooms and separated them from the perimetric ones that pre-
ceded them. This thread consisted of the realization of one specific pro-
vision called for by the outline: the reconstruction of Mussolini’s first and
last offices at Il Popolo d’Italia.81 The peremptory nature of this disposition
– compared to the suggestive tone of all other aesthetic recommenda-
tions – confirms that the MRF’s organizers took their historic task seri-
ously and quite literally from the beginning. The two reconstructed
offices were designed to function as proper historic sites of the Revolu-
tion. Figuratively, they were meant to render palpable the allegorical level
of the historic narrative by monumentalizing the connection between the
historic protagonist and the historic people-in-the-making: Mussolini was,
quite literally, the ‘Popolo d’Italia’ (Italian people) in their march toward
the fascist state. Thus, just like the MRO’s scenoplastici and the MG’s gal-
lery of uniforms, these two reconstructions functioned as hypericons of
the exhibition’s encoding. Unlike either, however, their final placement
rendered palpable the self-referential movement of the whole exhibition.
Initially, Freddi’s outline had called for the two offices to be posi-
tioned in rooms F and Q, that is, in the historic narrative section, at the
beginning and end of the Revolution’s third tempo. Yet sometime during
the installation phase, Alfieri reassigned the first office reconstruction
to Sironi’s room R (‘Hall of Honour’) and the last office reconstruction
to Longanesi’s room T (the ‘Hall of Mussolini’). The significance of this
change can never be overstressed, not only because this was the sole
major departure from the letter of the outline but also because, in trans-
ferring the historic sites from the historic narrative to the central his-
toric imaginary section of the exhibition, this change, rather than
modifying its spirit, dramatically clarified and intensified the historic
encoding of the whole exhibition. Isolated from the documentary sec-
tion, the two offices revealed retroactively the historic protagonist of the
exhibition (Il Popolo d’Italia), while at the same time framing the MRF’s
historic imaginary section. This way they connoted the central space of
the exhibition as a visualization of the fascist historic imaginary itself. Far
from being either a symbolic recapitulation or an extension of the first
fifteen rooms of the exhibition, the historic halls of the MRF repre-
sented a purely mental space – specifically the space of the fascist his-
toric imaginary after the Revolution. In this mental space was to be
found no more history, only historic semantics. Here, the regime itself
was revealed as a mental state of historic presence. Here, the visitor was
invited into the self-reflexive space of the fascist historic imaginary.
The Contest of the Exhibitions 153

Figure 24. Sironi’s Room R. The tabernacle containing Mussolini’s first office at
Il Popolo d’Italia is visible under the large sign DUX.

Sironi encased Mussolini’s first office, the so-called Covo (den), in a

tabernacle-like structure positioned at the north end of room R (Figure
24). At the four corners of this structure stood eight columns made of
authentic rollers from the original Il Popolo d’Italia printing press. On
the walls flanking the Covo the revolutionary dates 1919 and 1922 were
carved in relief and topped by Mussolinian mottoes: ‘BELIEVE, OBEY,
154 The Historic Imaginary

FIGHT,’ and ‘ORDER, AUTHORITY, JUSTICE.’ In front of the taber-

nacle, above the room’s colossal exit to room S, a gigantic red X jutted
out, the ubiquitous sign of the tenth anniversary. Finally, on two flank-
ing columns Sironi framed two gigantic enlargements of the front pages
of Il Popolo d’Italia of 4 November 1918, and 31 October 1922, which
announced, says the catalogue, ‘victory in war, and the revolutionary
Read in the light of the preceding fifteen rooms, all the signs
inscribed in this Hall of Honour spoke a loud and physical language to
the spectator. This was the language of the epic hero that he or she had
encountered throughout the exhibition: Il Popolo d’Italia. In spite of the
explicit and repeated reference to the revolutionary dates 1919 and
1922 – inscribed also on all six faces of the tripartite exit – the recon-
structed Covo (1914) and the enlargement of the front page that
announced victory in the war (1918) demonstrated that the origin of
the revolution transcended not only its historical dates but also its
historical hero, Mussolini. The suspended and constricted representa-
tion of the Duce (DUX) as ‘fascista perfetto’ (perfect fascist, in Italian,
rhymes with book and rifle, ‘libro e moschetto’) was a literal allegory that
effectively depersonalized Mussolini’s supposed identification with the
historic event. Il Popolo d’Italia quite simply, and with none of the alle-
gorical overtones of the historic narrative section, was proposed here as
the absolute guarantor of fascist historic agency, be it in its monumental
form of regime or its simultaneous form of permanent revolution. The
epic protagonist’s task, then as ever, was that of sustaining the imma-
nent syntax of fascist historic imaginary; that is, the reciprocal imma-
nence of the historic present of the regime (order, authority, and
justice) and the historic infinitives of the revolution (to believe, to obey,
to fight).
The second historic site was located after Sironi’s room S (to which
we will return in a moment), on the right-hand side of Longanesi’s Hall
of Mussolini, right before the Shrine of the Martyrs (room U). Once
again, its positioning was key to its encoding. Longanesi had divided the
room into three spaces. As shown by this photograph, the left-hand and
central rooms presented a series of rectangular window cases containing
manuscripts, pictures, relics, and documents of Mussolini’s life, all
selected by Mussolini himself and chronologically arranged by Longa-
nesi (Figure 25). The sober classicism of these spaces, the white-lined
framing of the window cases, and even the design of the diary quotes in
the so-called Longanesi typeface and trim contrasted sharply with the
The Contest of the Exhibitions 155

Figure 25. Longanesi’s Room T seen from the entrance to the reconstructed last
office of Mussolini at Il Popolo d’Italia.
156 The Historic Imaginary

Figure 26. Mussolini’s last office at Il Popolo d’Italia.

materiality of Sironi’s sculpturing of volumes and masses, making room

T purposely ‘historical.’
Indeed, as Bardi polemically remarked, room T was ‘deathly histori-
cal.’83 With their numerous documentary mementoes of the six failed
attempts on Mussolini’s life framed by window cases resembling mortu-
ary announcements, in a space dominated by sombre lighting and
shaped like a coffin (see the map of the exhibition, Figure 16), the doc-
umentary spaces of Longanesi’s Hall of Mussolini could not have been
more anticlimactic. Their aesthetic encoding referred explicitly to the
mortality of the Duce, in sharp contrast with the final section of the
room containing the reconstruction of Mussolini’s last office at Il Popolo
d’Italia (Figure 26). As concluding signpost and vivid sign of the historic
protagonist, this second historic site encoded the rest of the room as a
historical representation under the sign of the historic. The contrast
between the ‘historical’ picturing of the left-centre sections of the room
and the enàrgeia of the reconstructed office made the semiotic relation-
ship between the historic site and the historical representation palpable:
The Contest of the Exhibitions 157

the historical Mussolini could die at any time, but fascism/Mussolini as

historic agency, that is, as both regime and permanent revolution, would
survive – embodied in Il Popolo d’Italia that had always sustained it.
Most plausibly, it was this last brief thought of Mussolini’s mortality
that the Shrine of the Martyrs was supposed to transfigure in a synaes-
thetic representation of the fascist ritual par excellence, the appello (roll
call). Entering room U, the visitor was surrounded by a thousand ‘pre-
sente!’ (‘here!’) (Figure 27). At the centre of this hemispherical room
stood a seven-metre-high cross made of bolted copper plates like those
of the façade’s fasces, inscribed with the invocation ‘for the immortal
fatherland.’ Certainly this was a most reassuring transfiguration of fas-
cism into the restorer of the cult of the fatherland. The fatherland was
immortal; the fascist martyrs had died for it; the Shrine’s spectator was
made into a potential martyr by his/her mental reading of both invoca-
tion and answer. Indeed, as several scholars have already highlighted,
this grand finale stressed the mystical bond between the fascist leader
and the fascist collective.84 Yet this was not the end of the MRF’s historic
demostratio. Although last in the sequence of the nineteen rooms on the
first floor, the Shrine (room U) was not the final room of the MRF’s his-
toric itinerary. As the map shows (Figure 16), after visiting the Shrine,
the visitor was forced to retrace his or her steps, pass through Musso-
lini’s room, and go through the Gallery of Fasces (room S) for a second
time in order to exit the historic section and proceed to the upper floor,
to the ‘accomplishment’ section of the exhibit. Indeed, Sironi’s Gallery
of Fasces (room S) was the last room of the exhibition and its true his-
toric climax.
On either side of the gallery stood a row of five massive and canti-
levered pilasters (Figure 28). According to the catalogue, their shape
recalled that of the fascio, but Andreotti has rightly commented that
‘their reference was also to the gesture of the Roman salute.’85 On alter-
nating fasces-pilasters were either the letters A or X: sequentially, this
double sign stood for anno decimo (year ten), thereby unifying the ten
pilasters. On the protruding face of the cantilevered part of each pilas-
ter, the date of a revolutionary year was put in relief. From the left side
as one entered the room they were 1914, 1915, 1916, 1917, and 1918;
returning, on the spectator’s right side, from the exit toward the
entrance, were the years 1919, 1920, 1921, 1922, and ANNO I (first year).
Finally, on the gallery-side faces of the mammoth pilasters dividing the
pathway through the Hall of Honour, Sironi had again inscribed in
relief the revolutionary dates par excellence, 1919 and 1922. The
158 The Historic Imaginary

Figure 27. Room U. The ‘Shrine.’

The Contest of the Exhibitions 159

Figure 28. Room S. The Gallery of Fasces.

160 The Historic Imaginary

appearance of this last set of dates before the spectator’s final exit from
the exhibition suggests that the room was also designed to be read back-
wards – that is, coming back from the Shrine and through the Hall of
Mussolini. Indeed, from the photograph published in the catalogue we
may further infer that this second passage through the room was inte-
gral to Sironi’s conception of the gallery (Figure 29).
This backward passage was the crucial one since it allowed a dramatic
glance at the Covo and the fascista perfetto, both framed by the two dates
(1919 and 1922). The traffic of visitors to and from this seventeenth and
final room of the exhibition’s first floor must have been very heavy. It
probably made the framed view of the Covo shown by the photograph
quite hard to obtain. Nonetheless, the design of this room suggests that
‘framing’ was at the centre not only of Sironi’s concerns with the visitor’s
experience, but also of the artist’s own conceptualization of the gallery
in specific reference to the rhetorical encoding of the exhibition. It was
in fact this passageway that the two historic sites in rooms R and T
framed as the ‘spiritual hub and hermeneutic key’ of the MRF.86 In this
crucial respect, the entire design of this gallery reveals not only an inti-
mate connection with Alfieri’s directions but also a specific source of
inspiration: Monti’s Gallery of Uniforms at the Mostra garibaldina.
We do not know when Sironi decided to carry out the final design of
room S, nor can we establish any direct influence on the artist’s choice
from Monti. However, much circumstantial evidence suggests that, dur-
ing the installation phase of the exhibition, the collaboration between
Monti and Sironi became very close.87 In addition, we do know that
Sironi dedicated a great amount of time to this room, and that its prepa-
ratory sketches show a complete change of mind between an early asym-
metrical scheme and the final solution adopted.88 In any case, Sironi’s
pilasters captured and expanded upon the historic spirit of Monti’s
series of uniformed mannequins. In fact, judging from the results,
Sironi had not only learned Monti’s lesson, but successfully surpassed
his predecessor. Unlike Monti’s ‘Gallery of Uniforms’ in the MG,
Sironi’s ‘Gallery of Fasces’ was not isolated but framed between the two
historic sites of the exhibitions. It thus provided the semiotic key not
only to the rooms that followed it, but also to those that preceded it – in
a word, to the whole exhibition. Most plausibly, in fact, it was with
Sironi’s room S in mind that Margherita Sarfatti defined the MRF as a
‘demonstration’ incommensurable to the ‘Mostra’ that had preceded it.
Let us assume for the moment that, on first passage, the visitor, struck
by the mystical atmosphere of the room, failed to notice the synthesis of
The Contest of the Exhibitions 161

Figure 29. Return view of the Hall of Mussolini through the Gallery of Fasces.
162 The Historic Imaginary

dates and proceeded speedily toward the Sala del Duce. Having reached
the Shrine, he or she would have been forced to retrace his or her steps
through the brief stretch of the Hall of Mussolini and down the long
corridor of the Gallery of Fasces. Short of realizing a fascist prototype of
sublime architecture, this final inverted itinerary (U–T–S) must have
drawn a response from the visitor. In particular, if, as Schnapp com-
ments, the visitor encountered in the first passage through the Gallery
of Fasces ‘the inner chamber of some sort of latter-day Assyrian temple,’
returning through the gallery the visitor was re-exposed to Sironi’s
placement of dates, whose historic encoding could only be read during
this final passage.89 While on his or her right-hand side the initiated visi-
tor could backtrack through the five years of the war act (1918–1917–
1916–1915–1914), on the left-hand side, he or she would proceed
through the four years of the revolutionary act (1919–1920–1921–1922),
all the way to the ANNO I of the fascist era. This second passage
through the room acquired all the characteristics of a final rite of pas-
sage, a definitive initiation into the historic temporality of the fascist
epoch. While the very physical effect of seeing unknown faces going for-
ward and backward in time may have made the historic encoding of the
exhibition a phenomenological reality for most visitors, the most atten-
tive ones would have noticed the temporal incongruity between the gal-
lery and the exhibition as a whole. In the gallery, the revolutionary
period symbolically represented was of ten years (1914–ANNO I), while
in the exhibition it was of nine (1914–1922). In what sense, then, did the
gallery constitute an ‘elementary synthesis of the period reconstructed
by the Exhibition,’ as the catalogue claims?90
It certainly did not do so in a literal sense, since nowhere on the
ground floor did the exhibition reveal the intention to reconstruct or
represent in any way the first year (ANNO I) of the fascist era. Nor could
it have formed such a synthesis in even any symbolic sense, since the
repetitive sameness of the pilasters contradicted both the individuality
of each year and the synaesthetic crescendo enacted throughout the
exhibition. The only answer is: in a self-referential sense. Completing
the series of ten pilasters, the ANNO I referred to the ‘X’ sign of the
decennale ubiquitous in the perimetral section of the exhibition. Like
faithful fascist soldiers of the revolution, the revolutionary years had
taken their place within a new and solely fascist (modernist/Latin Cath-
olic) unit of historic time: the decade. Far from synthesizing the exhibi-
tion, then, the Gallery of Fasces offered a self-referential imago of a
fascist historic imaginary that had superseded the ‘revolutionary’ one by
The Contest of the Exhibitions 163

imposing the temporal form of the decennale on time itself. And with the
gallery the MRF itself concluded its historic itinerary by replacing its his-
toric protagonist in representation (Il Popolo d’Italia) with an historic
imago in consciousness (the decade) that allowed the definitive percep-
tual detachment of the fascist historic imaginary from Mussolini’s per-
ishable body. In so doing, however, the gallery also pushed the process
of depersonalization wished for by the organizers far beyond the origi-
nal intention of foregrounding only Mussolini’s personality. In effect,
the Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution depersonalized the historic
Duce himself, first into his allegorical double – Il Popolo d’Italia – and
then into the historic tempo (time/act/period) of the decade. This,
then, is what the historic demonstration truly celebrated, the transfigu-
ration of the historic Duce into a stylized unit of historic time.
While providing a sensational closing act to the cinquantenario-decen-
nale historic spectacle, the Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution also took
the institutionalization of the fascist historic imaginary to a final level of
abstraction. From the point of view of the fascist sacralization of politics,
the historic exhibition provided a crucial point of intersection between
the spontaneous cult of the Duce and the organized cult of fascism. As
the regime’s measure of a modernist annulment of time, the mental
image of the decade offered an imaginary solution to fascism’s most
agonizing problem: the tension between the mortality of Mussolini’s
body and the seeming immortality of the cult of the Duce. Yet supersed-
ing the transfiguration of the Duce Taumaturgo into fascist historic agent,
the decade also identified the fascist historic imaginary with a stylization
of time. And, in so doing, the MRF brought to fruition and revealed
what none of the previously analysed expressions of the fascist historic
imaginary could: the ‘normative’ conception of style that had sustained
the fascist aesthetization of politics in general, and the formation of the
fascist historic imaginary in particular.
As Mussolini’s aesthetic conception of politics made abundantly clear
from the beginning, the aesthetic horizon of fascism was not that of
creating a specific style in art, in the descriptive sense of creating a fas-
cist style, meaning a distinctive union of form and content identifiable
as fascist. Fascism sought to affirm itself as style tout court, in the ‘norma-
tive’ sense defined by Ernst Gombrich as entailing, on the side of the
artist-politician, the search for a ‘synaesthetic’ impact activating in the
viewer processes of analogic association and, on the side of the audi-
ence, the perception of a ‘consistency and conspicuousness that makes
a performance or an artifact – or, we may add, a political movement –
164 The Historic Imaginary

stand out from a mass of “undistinguished” events and objects.’91 As sev-

eral studies have already documented, the evolution of fascist aesthetic
politics, from the founding Mussolinian myth of ‘homo autotelos’ to the
endorsement of the futurist ‘rhetorics of virility’ was founded on this
normative conception of style and aimed at ‘giving distinction’ to Ital-
ians.92 Situated at its centre of propulsion, the fascist historic imaginary
fulfilled this normative utopia of ‘distinction’ by producing ever-chang-
ing images of fascist history making. And although this normative
notion of style emerged historically with futurism,93 and found its politi-
cal incarnation in Mussolini’s definition of the fascist project as one
aimed at giving style to the Italian masses, it was in the synaesthetic cre-
scendo of the MRF that fascist normative style found its most mature
and complete expression.94 No wonder, then, that the normative
impulse sustaining the institutionalization of the fascist historic imagi-
nary would find definitive expression in the stylization of time operated
by the decennale-decade. And with this stylization of time, the MRF itself
came to play a dramatic role in the evolution of the fascist historic imag-
inary in the 1930s. Offering a perfect hybrid of futurist and Latin Catho-
lic temporal imaginaries, the stylized image of the decade brought to an
abrupt end the orientation of the fascist historic imaginary toward ‘his-
tory belonging to the present.’ Like a tight-rope walker balancing
between ritual and myth, in the second decade of the regime the fascist
historic imaginary would balance between ‘history belonging to the
future’ and ‘the present belonging to the past.’
Chapter Six


That all historical museums, and in particular all museums of Risorgi-

mento are in urgent need to be brought up to date and modernized, and
that, above all, we all need to work in order to infuse life into so many
memories of the past is no longer news. The possibility and the necessity of
doing so, is exactly what the Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution has dem-
Antonio Monti, 19331

In ten years Europe will be fascist or fascistized.

Benito Mussolini, 19322

These statements, by two men very unequal in status but equal as princi-
pal protagonists of fascist history making, provide a fitting point of de-
parture to reflect on the reception of the MRF by contemporaries and
its impact on the evolution of the fascist historic imaginary in the sec-
ond decade of the regime.3 The first quote is taken from a talk given by
Monti at the Third Congress of Fascist Intellectuals held in Milan in
March 1933. The second is the first sentence that Mussolini reportedly
uttered when exiting the MRF after his inaugural visit to the exhibition
on 29 October 1932. The first shows Monti’s acknowledgment of the
MRF as the demonstration that a fascist mode of historic representation
had been finally achieved and should now inform the revisioning of all
history museums. Mussolini’s statement marks the immediate transfigu-
ration of the fascist unit of historic time, the decade, into prediction,
and epochal plan.4 Taken in tandem, these two authoritative comments
confirm that, for its protagonists, the MRF constituted not only the rep-
166 The Historic Imaginary

resentational apex of the cinquantenario-decennale historic spectacle, but

also, and above all, a historic event in its own right that had superseded
the revolutionary one it ostensibly celebrated (the March on Rome).
Yet, for Monti, the MRF offered a ‘model’ of representation that could
now be successfully applied to all past time. For Mussolini, the historic
mostra had instead produced a temporal imago (the decade) to orient
the fascist historic imaginary toward the future – as if from then on fas-
cism would stake its historic agency on making the future, rather than
the past, present. Thus, in the space between Monti’s expectations and
Mussolini’s prophecy we also catch a glimpse of the MRF’s excessive his-
toric figuration – that is, of a constitutive tension between the reception
of the MRF as a model of historic representation to be applied to the
past and as imago of a new historic imaginary oriented toward the future.
Contradicting the celebrated aesthetic-ideological unity of the event, it
was this tension that granted the MRF a decisive impact on the evolution
of the fascist historic imaginary itself in 1930s Italy.

Historic Model or Imago?

Fortunately, as we know, Mussolini’s prediction was not realized. Never-

theless, the historic image of the decade pervaded fascist discourse in
the 1930s, thus demonstrating a very material impact of the MRF on the
evolution of the fascist imaginary. Unencumbered by either a racial or a
social utopia, fascism continued to wager its stylistic claim to ‘absolute
distinction’ on the visionary plane of being the sole historic agent that
made history. The historic decade thus came to constitute the fascist-
modernist answer to the utopian time of fascism’s totalitarian rivals: the
messianic ‘one thousand years’ Reich of Nazism and the revolutionary
‘five year plans’ of the Bolsheviks. Naturally, this was a response typical
of a regime and an intellectual class made up of expert journalists who
could not dispense with the overproduction of signs. Yet the institution-
alization of this answer at the level of ritual- and image-politics was inti-
mately dependent on the reception of the MRF and on the fate that
awaited Monti’s proposal.
Judging from all available indicators of mass reception – from the
unforeseen extension of its installation from three months to two years,
to its more than 3,850,000 visitors, the number of reviews and books,
and the public comments made by highly visible politicians, in-tellectu-
als, and artists (both in Italy and abroad) – the MRF greatly exceeded
all predictions of success.5 Most recent studies of the exhibition have
Fascist Historic Culture 167

connected this excessive success primarily to its artistic value, highlight-

ing the MRF’s paradigmatic visualization of fascist modernism achieved
in the perimetric itinerary. Whether reduced to a Sironian,6 futurist,7
or rationalist8 imprinting, or enlarged to a ‘Fascist Gesamtkunstwerk of
pathos, myth, and power,’9 the eclectic synthesis of avant-garde aesthet-
ics in the MRF has been seen as the quintessential expression of the
fascist aestheticization of politics. However, little attention has been
given from this perspective to the fact that the immediate impact of the
MRF for many contemporaries was also related to its documentary
As Monti had anticipated, the exhibition of the decennale overcame in
both representation and mass appeal all of its mass media rivals, includ-
ing the LUCE documentaries, ‘which illustrated the accomplishments
of the regime each year.’10 In fact, signs that part of the exhibition’s
appeal resided in its unique mode of documentary representation are
scattered everywhere in the dozens of articles and reviews that appeared
within a few weeks of the opening of the exhibition. Most significantly,
as we have already seen in the special case of Sarfatti’s, it is primarily in
the reviews of art and architectural critics that we may find clear signs of
a decoding of the rhetorical strategy pursued by the MRF organizers.
Writing in the pages of the prestigious architectural journal Casabella,
Camillo Pifferi identified the historic protagonist of the exhibition in
the clearest terms:

Of all the sculptural reliefs in the various rooms, the inscriptions [scritte]
constitute the dominant and principal element: they are the very ‘sub-
stance’ of the exhibition. The documents are necessarily analytical, and
their examination is laborious. Through them history unfolds slowly and in
small steps. The colossal inscriptions, on the other hand, synthesize the
facts, establish the main points, energize the essential elements, never for-
getting the purely sculptural problems of form, space, and surface, and
resolving them in a unified mode of expression.

Supporting Alfieri’s indication that Mussolini’s personality be made

present to the visitor’s eyes through the physical sign of Il Popolo d’Italia,
Pifferi further recognized that

on the walls of each and every room Mussolini’s thought is pounded forth,
powerfully and continuously; sometimes with force, sometimes rhythmi-
cally, sometimes minutely, machine-gun-like. Nothing else could have given
168 The Historic Imaginary

with more vividness and immediacy the sensation that in any moment of Fas-
cism everything had been thought out and willed by the Duce.11

Finally, the article proceeded with a room-by-room review of the differ-

ent ways in which the scritte (mural writings) had worked to signify the
events to which they referred.
Piffieri’s review was unique in its detailed description of the modernist
scene of enàrgeia enacted in the perimetric section of the exhibition, but,
with respect to its rhetorical savvy, it was not unique. On the contrary, his
evaluation of the MRF’s historic demonstration was echoed not only in
most other art and architectural reviews, but also in those of historians.
‘The documents,’ Ugo D’Andrea wrote in the Giornale d’Italia,

began appearing inside their display cases, and the posters on the walls,
producing a quality that at first seems absurd. It takes an effort to get ori-
ented, to push one’s memory back to the events. All of the sensations, at
first, are artistic: they are caused by the completely changed architectural
environment. But, then, all of a sudden, from one of the walls comes a
shout: WAR! WAR! in bold capitals. At this precise moment all of the artis-
tic sensations leave you, and you are returned to fact; to the bare facts of
our recent history.12

Another historian, Francesco Sapori, asked himself: ‘Where does the

document end? Where does the decoration begin? Aren’t they, deco-
ration and document, here united?’ His answer was as perceptive as

the plates of zinc, the helmets of the fallen, the manganelli (fascist clubs), the
bloody knives, are all aimed at revealing the secret connection between
the typography and the hall of weapons, the photographic laboratory and
the museum of flags. The Il Popolo d’Italia masthead visible everywhere
vibrates and summons to mind the immutable colours of the flag, and the
rhythmic sound of the machine-gun that wipes out the enemy around you.13

Surely these explicit approvals of his successful catastrophe of the his-

tori(ographi)cal act by both art critics and historians must have pleased
Monti, but it was probably in the words of a militant journalist, Paolo
Orano, that one can find the most synthetic recognition of the rhetori-
cal codes that guaranteed the exhibition’s mass appeal. From the ‘bold
characters of Mussolini’s articles in Il Popolo d’Italia,’ Orano wrote, ‘all
Fascist Historic Culture 169

Italians had learned that soon the Word was to become Flesh.’14 Specifi-
cally, Orano’s ‘bold characters’ were those appearing along the walls of
Monti’s ‘Victory room.’ Here the Catholic principle of invisibilia per visi-
bilia had begun to be transfigured in its modernist obverse, visibilia per
invisibilia, recoding the immanent spell of the written word in its mysti-
cal/material sense of scripture. In fact, hundreds of other reviews written
by fascism’s most faithful echoed the Catholic mystical tone of Orano’s.
Connected to the ritual symbolism inscribed in the central section of
the exhibition and the spontaneous and orchestrated rituals that devel-
oped around the MRF in the two years it remained open (October
1932–October 1934), testimonies such as Orano’s have led some schol-
ars to highlight the ‘ritual-religious’ over the ‘aesthetic’ encoding of the
exhibition.15 In particular, Emilio Gentile has forcefully argued that the
MRF constituted the first ‘temple’ of the fascist faith.16 Rather than
enthroning fascist modernism, for Gentile the MRF directed the evolu-
tion of fascist art toward ‘monumentality,’ and subordinated it to the
construction of ‘monuments and temples’ aimed at eternalizing the
‘age of Mussolini.’17 According to this perspective, a determinant im-
pulse was given with the MRF to all fascist artists, ‘whatever their artistic
orientation – whether it was to repeat the classical models of traditional
Romanity or to seek out a Fascist “modernity” – to create works designed
to propagandize Fascist religion.’18
In contrast to the proponents of the MRF as a quintessential model of
the fascist aestheticization of politics, Gentile’s interpretation of the
MRF as imago of the fascist sacralization of politics focuses primarily on
the central section of the exhibition. Both perspectives, however, seem
to have avoided confronting the excessive figuration that characterized
both the event and its reception.19 Looking more closely at Orano’s
review of the MRF, for example, the explicit reference to the ‘bold char-
acters of Il Popolo d’Italia’ suggests a specific recognition of the way in
which the perimetric itinerary of the MRF had intertwined historic semi-
otics with a modernist visualization of their Catholic rhetorical core.
Orano’s testimony on the ‘scriptural’ spell of ‘newspaper characters’
thus points to the inextricable mixture of aesthetic modernism and
Catholic rhetorical codes in the formation of the fascist historic imagi-
nary. In fact, if we cannot go further than suggesting that the concor-
dant decoding of the MRF by art and architectural critics, militant
historians, and fascist journalists captured the essence of its mass ap-
peal, we can surely establish that this decoding was shared by Mussolini
himself and the fascist establishment.
170 The Historic Imaginary

Between 11 November 1932 and 10 January 1933 the Lavoro fascista

had begun publishing weekly descriptions of every room of the exhibi-
tion. The initiative, however, was not followed by other dailies but
halted from above because of its inherent contradiction with the para-
digmatic quality of the MRF’s mode of representation. The head of Mus-
solini’s press office, Gaetano Polverelli, issued a directive in which,
explicitly citing the bad example of the Lavoro fascista’s descriptive style,
invited all newspapers to abandon the traditional look and content of
their articles and to liven things up with bold graphics and fotocomposiz-
ioni (photographic collages).20 The exhibition’s celebration of revolu-
tionary journalism was not to become dull by an inadequate response
on the part of the very press it celebrated. By early February, most news-
papers had begun to adopt the recommended practices. Moreover, the
authoritative intervention of the historic protagonist itself rectified the
‘bad example’ of the Lavoro fascista. Before the exhibition catalogue was
actually published, Il Popolo d’Italia had begun publishing Freddi’s
description of the exhibition. Within six months, most of the catalogue
entries and photographs had been disseminated, and a faint glimpse of
the exhibition’s catastrophe of the histor(iographi)cal act became avail-
able even to those who had not, as yet, attended the event.
It was therefore in this most favourable context of reception that, in
March 1933, Antonio Monti made public his proposal to revise all histor-
ical museums according to the MRF’s historic mode of representation
before an audience that could not have been more receptive and au-
thoritative. This was the public in attendance of the Third National
Congress of Fascist Intellectuals, among whom figured prominently
some of the principal agents we have encountered in this study, Gio-
vanni Gentile (President-founder of the National Institute of Fascist Cul-
ture, and Chair of the Congress), Gioacchino Volpe, and Dino Alfieri.
Before this audience, Monti explained that the MRF’s mode of repre-
sentation could easily be employed to revitalize all historical museums
since it consisted of a single revolutionary criterion born of the fusion of
three elements:

[First] the exhibition of the proper documentary items with specific tech-
nical devices that put them in emphasis. [Second] the framing of these
items in the photographic, iconographic, and theatrical reproduction of
the places and events to which they refer, including, always, the changes in
public opinion. [Third] the spiritual valourization and coordination of the
first two elements with the reproduction of thoughts, mottoes, principles
Fascist Historic Culture 171

which are linked to the documentation by relations of cause and effect,

thought and action.21

That Monti’s description of the MRF’s criterion synthesized precisely

the narrative scene of enàrgeia we have encountered in the perimetric
section of the MRF is confirmed by the examples he gave, all drawn
from Freddi’s arrangement of rooms A and B. That this criterion repre-
sented also the climax (theoretical, aesthetical, and rhetorical) of his
history-making activities in the 1920s we may further infer from the
examples he drew from his own museum to demonstrate its immediate
applicability. Why Monti’s proposals instead failed to draw the support
of his long-standing ally and powerful patron, Dino Alfieri, is a puzzle
whose close reading opens a window onto the productive tension in-
scribed at the heart of the MRF’s double itinerary.
Invited by Gentile himself to express his opinion, Alfieri reminded
Monti of the two ‘secrets’ that had ensured the success of the MRF but
had also made its mode of representation unexportable. ‘The first
secret’ Alfieri explained, ‘is the chronological-historical itinerary of the
events that pass in front of the eyes and the spirit of the visitor; the sec-
ond secret – which is for me the crucial one – is that I have used Musso-
lini’s thought as the Ariadne’s thread connecting all the events, from
the eruption of war to the March on Rome. His thought appears in prin-
ciple everywhere, and even when it is not materially visible, it is present
to the eyes of the visitor. This is the plot (trama) upon which historians
and artists have built in their work.’ As if his explanation were not clear
enough, Alfieri insisted that the representation enacted in the MRF was
entirely dependent on the fact that each of Mussolini’s sentences had
proven to be literally ‘historic,’ since ‘although referring to different
topics, all of them were repeated in different periods’ demonstrating ‘a
continuity of thought and a prophetic power which are truly miracu-
lous.’ This was, he added, not extendable to Risorgimento museums. In
fact, Alfieri concluded, reminding Monti of his own curatorial role in
the exhibition, ‘I have wanted – we have wanted – to maximize the dep-
ersonalization of the exhibition, guarding against all underground and
sleek maneuvers intended to counter this principle, so that from the
ensemble and the progression of this historical-political musicality (as I
have sometimes called it), the personality of Benito Mussolini would be
uniquely foregrounded.’22
Although unnamed, in Alfieri’s secrets we may recognize immediately
a crucial referent that made them unreconciliable with Monti’s criterion.
172 The Historic Imaginary

Alfieri affirmed that the rhetorical encoding and synaesthetic crescendo

of the exhibition could not be divorced from its historic protagonist: Il
Popolo d’Italia. Thanks to the sensory-visual encoding of its characters in
the perimetric itinerary of the exhibition, Il Popolo d’Italia had assumed
the crucial role of imago of fascist historic agency and guaranteed the
phenomenological experience of a fascist historic imaginary in the mak-
ing. The inherently, infinitely reproducible, combinable, cuttable, en-
largeable, retranscribable printing blocks of the newspaper press had
thus allowed the production of a modernist scene of enàrgeia, but, for
Alfieri, there was no turning back from this scene to the pre-fascist past.
United from the 1928 planning of the exhibition through to its orga-
nization and installation in 1933, Monti and Alfieri found themselves
separated in the evaluation of their masterpiece. Their contradictory
decoding highlighted the tension, inscribed in the double itinerary of
the exhibition, between the reception of the MRF as model of historic
representation (perimetric section) and imago of a new form of fascist
historic imaginary (central section). For Monti, the MRF’s mode of his-
toric representation had produced a properly fascist model of historic
semiotics, which, at last, made ‘possible and necessary’ the re-visioning
of all historical museums. For Alfieri, the MRF was instead an imago that
sanctioned the reciprocal immanence of fascist style and historic imagi-
nary, thereby preventing its application to the pre-fascist past. That the
unforeseen contrast between Monti and Alfieri puzzled their audience
we may plausibly infer from the embarrassment and lack of debate that
followed Alfieri’s rebuttal.23 However, that these antithetical positions
derived from the excessive historic figuration of the MRF we may posi-
tively evince from the very real impact that the exhibition had on the
institutionalization of the new historic imaginary it celebrated. It was, in
fact, in the sudden and rapid regimentation of fascist historical culture
between 1932 and 1934 that the tension between the MRF as imago and
model found its first expression and lasting articulation in the second
decade of the regime.

The Historic Exhibition and the Fascist Reclaiming of History

Approving Monti’s ‘lucid concepts and precise proposals,’ the 1933

Congress of Fascist Intellectuals nonetheless recommended that the
reorganization of the museums of the Risorgimento be entrusted to ‘art-
ists of our fascist time and spirit.’24 This solution was hardly a victory for
either Monti or Alfieri. Neither of the two wished for an all-out aestheti-
Fascist Historic Culture 173

cization of history of the kind proposed by the Congress of Fascist Intel-

lectuals. Yet, the very awkwardness of the compromise approved by the
congress draws our attention to the deeper cleavage produced by the
MRF in the structure of the fascist historic imaginary. In fact, nothing of
the sort wished for by the congress took place in 1930s Italy, either
through the hands of artists or those of historian-curators like Monti.
On the contrary, compared to the continuity we have encountered be-
tween the actualist philosophy of history, the ritual politics of the
regime, and the image-making activities of militant intellectuals and art-
ists in the 1920s, the panorama offered by the evolution of fascist
historic culture during the second decade of the regime appears pro-
foundly and suddenly discontinuous with this picture. Anticipating simi-
lar processes that gradually developed in other cultural areas, historical
studies were the first field to undergo radical reinstitutionalization, cen-
tralization, and ideological supervision.
The principal agent in the wholesale regimentation of fascist histori-
cal culture was not one of the protagonists we have already encoun-
tered, but one of the four organizers of the March on Rome itself:
Cesare Maria De Vecchi. A militant monarchist and ultra-conservative
Catholic, De Vecchi had been kept outside the inner circles of both
party and state between 1923 and 1928, when he had been governor of
Italian Somalia.25 Thanks to his close relations with the Vatican, he was
recalled to Italy in 1928 and given the post of ambassador to the Holy
See after the Lateran Pacts (1929). From this delicate position De Vec-
chi rebuilt alliances and a close relationship to Mussolini, serving as
mediator between the Vatican and the fascist state in the numerous con-
flicts that characterized the application of the Pacts. His eye, however,
soon fell on the cultural dimension that underpinned the political
struggle between the fascist state and Catholic organizations. Indeed, it
was De Vecchi who, between 1929 and 1932, most consistently tried to
convince Mussolini to retreat from his intention to build a monument
to Anita Gari-baldi on the Janiculum Hill and give unprecedented
national exposure to the Garibaldian celebrations.26
As shown in chapter three, De Vecchi’s attempts to scale down the
Garibaldian celebrations were unsuccessful; nevertheless, he began
directing his attention in this period to the wider field of Risorgimento
studies and institutions, which he considered in dire need of ideological
realignment with ‘the spirit of the Concordat.’27 In this field, De Vecchi
achieved full success. In March 1933, Mussolini designated him presi-
dent of the Italian National Society for the Study of the Risorgimento
174 The Historic Imaginary

(INSRI), which had been founded in 1906 and left virtually untouched
in its organizational and operational structure during the first decade of
the fascist regime. Confident of his Mussolinian mandate, De Vecchi
proceeded immediately to restructure all aspects of the INSRI and trans-
form it into the Royal Institute for Risorgimento Studies (RIRS). Ap-
proving the operation, Mussolini made De Vecchi minister of culture in
1935, a position that he held for a year and used primarily to introduce
legislative mechanisms aimed at ensuring central direction and control
over all Italian historical institutions. By the end of De Vecchi’s ‘bonifica
fascista della storia’ (fascist reclaiming of history), all areas of Italian his-
tory, from ancient Rome to the Great War, found themselves regi-
mented and parcelled out to one or the other of the Royal Institutes
(for Antiquity, the Middle Ages, Modern and Contemporary History,
and the Risorgimento) created by De Vecchi, and all pre-existing and
nongovernmental institutions were put under the authority of a Central
Committee for Historical Studies.28
The sudden ascent of De Vecchi to the highest spheres of the regime’s
organization of culture was certainly connected to the general decline of
Gentile’s intellectual-political stardom and organizational role after the
Concordat and, in particular, to the decreasing ideological influence of
his ‘Risorgimental paradigm.’29 In fact, the deciding struggle between
Gentile and De Vecchi took place over the latter’s ‘reclaiming’ of the
Risorgimento. From mid-1932 this struggle configured itself as an
attempt by both contenders to control the INSRI and unify it with its
independent sister institution, the National Committee for Risorgi-
mento Studies (NCRS). Gentile, however, launched the first bid at the
twentieth congress of the INSRI, held in Rome between 29 and 31 May.
Here, together with Volpe, Gentile forcefully denounced the disconnec-
tion between Risorgimento studies and the spirit of fascism, recommend-
ing a scientific modernization of the INSRI aimed at inviting all
historians to widen their vision. In essence, for Gentile, the new task
of the institute was to direct historians to trace the origins of the Ris-
orgimento to the eighteenth century in order to ‘unburden [the Risorg-
imento] from its ideal servitude to the French Revolution.’30
Initially Volpe and Gentile won over a majority of the congress to
their theses, but notwithstanding this support, by March 1933 De Vecchi
had manoeuvred successfully and obtained from Mussolini himself the
mandate to harmonize the National Society for Risorgimento Studies
with the Regime’s directives.31 De Vecchi’s harmonization entailed a
much more radical and rapid restructuring of the INSRI than the one
Fascist Historic Culture 175

outlined by Volpe and Gentile in mid-1932. He proceeded to purge

Risorgimento scholarship of all un-fascist elements and then put all
Risorgimento institutions under the authority of the RIRS in 1935, of
which he retained the presidency and tight control until 1943. This con-
trol, in turn, ensured for De Vecchi a lasting reclamation of both Ris-
orgimento studies and fascism from Gentile’s Risorgimental paradigm.
Centralizing the institution and personally controlling its main scholarly
review, De Vecchi successfully enforced the simultaneous realignment
of Risorgimento scholarship with the Concordat and the alliance since
1922 between fascism and the Sabaudian Monarchy. Naturally, his Cath-
olic-monarchist-militarist regimentation of the Risorgimento did not
remain unchallenged. Gentile’s control over several journals and
publishing houses continued to ensure a space of influence for his
philosophical catastrophe of Risorgimento and fascism. Furthermore,
Volpe never refrained from his historiographical attempts to dissolve
the Risorgimento into the modern and contemporary history of Italy,
whose Royal Institute he continued to direct in the 1930s. Yet the rapid-
ity, effectiveness, and ideological impact of De Vecchi’s reclaiming of
Risorgimento studies had no parallels in other cultural areas.
Focusing on the personal antagonism between De Vecchi and Gentile
and the ideological polarization that characterized all aspects of their
visions of fascist culture, several scholars have seen in their struggle for
the control of Risorgimento studies a dress rehearsal for the culture
wars that tore the actualist fabric of fascist intellectual culture in the
mid-1930s.32 In hindsight, De Vecchi’s victory over Gentile has thus
appeared as the first stage of a conjoined ‘statalization’ of Italian culture
and ‘fascistization’ of its contents.33 These processes have generally
been seen as reflecting the interventionist role assumed by the PNF in
shaping fascist culture in the 1930s34 and as mirroring the increasingly
reactionary path followed by the regime from the Concordat (1929), to
the imperial conquest of Ethiopia (1935), to the Pact of Steel with Nazi
Germany (1936).35 Yet, this narrative picture with the advantage of hind-
sight may have paid too little attention to the timing and agents involved
in the first stage of the fascist reclaiming of culture.
In the first place, De Vecchi’s reclaiming of Risorgimento studies was
supported by a majority of Risorgimento historians precisely because it
was perceived as preventing them ‘from falling into the hands of fascis-
toni [ultra-fascists]’ like Volpe and Gentile.36 Second, the PNF had noth-
ing to do with the resolution of the contest between Gentile and De
Vecchi. It was Mussolini himself who, in March 1933, decided the issue
176 The Historic Imaginary

in favour of De Vecchi. Third, and most importantly, despite the un-

deniable contrasts between De Vecchi’s and Gentile’s interpretative
schemes, all the cardinal aspects of De Vecchi’s reclaiming of Ris-
orgimento studies appeared in a contemporaneous project drafted by
Gentile in March 1933 for the constitution of a ‘Fascist Institute for
Risorgimento Studies.’37 Whether or not De Vecchi hijacked his rival’s
plans, the two were certainly in accord in proposing a single centralized
institution that would ‘prevent the birth of any autonomous initiative
aimed at studying or celebrating the Risorgimento,’ ‘supervise all public
archives and museums of the Risorgimento,’ and, last but not least,
‘extend the Risorgimental period to include the Great War.’38
Clearly, the whole process of reclaiming Risorgimento studies pre-
sents characteristics that do not fit the stereotyped image of a sharp
dichotomy between the actualist hegemony in the 1920s and the fascisti-
zation of culture in the 1930s. In contrast, viewed from a microhistorical
perspective, the timing of Mussolini’s intervention and the points of
agreement between Gentile and De Vecchi acquire great significance in
connection with the conjunctural context in which the fascist reclaim-
ing of Risorgimento studies took place. This context, of course, is that of
the cinquantenario-decennale historic spectacle and, more precisely, the
period between the closing of the Garibaldian Exhibition on 31 May
1932, and the March 1933 Congress of Fascist Intellectuals that focused
on the impact of the MRF on fascist culture.
In June 1932, Volpe and Gentile seemed united in pushing back the
historicization of the Risorgimento within a long-term European per-
spective intended to displace the French Revolution from its Kantian
status of historical sign. In fact, the resolutions approved by the congress
on 1 June in this crucial area of periodization concerned only the term a
quo of the Risorgimento and not the ad quem term of the Great War.
Within ten months, however, the situation would be reversed on all
counts: despite their personal animosity, Gentile and De Vecchi centred
their plans on the historiographical extension of the Risorgimento to
include the Great War, and on excluding Volpe, de facto, from the reor-
ganization of Risorgimento institutions and studies.39
As noted in the first chapter, the merging of Risorgimento, Great
War, and fascism in a single epochal icon had always marked the philo-
sophical distance between Volpe’s historicist conception of the continu-
ity between fascism and the recent national past and Gentile’s Ris-
orgimental paradigm. Yet what needs to be stressed in this context is
that the emergence of this distance in Gentile’s 1933 plan also consti-
Fascist Historic Culture 177

tuted the central element of continuity between the actualist philosophy

of history, De Vecchi’s fascist reclaimings, and the goal toward which
Monti and his colleagues had addressed in vain their image-making
activities from the mid-1920s onwards. At last, in March 1933, the Great
War was not only assigned by law to the care of Risorgimento historians
and museum directors, but also set for historic encoding.
Whether or not the visit paid by all members of the twentieth con-
gress of Risorgimento historians to Monti’s Garibaldian exhibition had
any influence on changing the tide, De Vecchi’s Catholic-monarchist-
militarist reclaiming of the Risorgimento seemed to be lifted out of
Monti’s gallery of uniforms. De Vecchi’s plan, as it were, extended the
series of uniforms back to that of the first Piedmontese drummer
(1730). Yet, if this resonance between Monti’s image-making activities
and the historic imaginary harboured by Risorgimento historians may
help explain the consensus that crystallized around De Vecchi’s reform,
how do we explain Mussolini’s approval of De Vecchi’s plans, given the
care he had put into preventing the compenetration of the Risorgi-
mento, the Great War, and fascism in the Garibaldian celebrations? And
how did this decision relate to the contemporaneous resolution (March
1933) taken by the Third Congress of Fascist Intellectuals (presided over
by Gentile) that the Risorgimento was ready to be aestheticized by fascist
The simultaneity of these two apparently contradictory resolutions
reveals a strong conjunctural connection between the reception of the
MRF as imago, the evolution of the fascist historic imaginary, and De
Vecchi’s reclaiming of Risorgimento studies. As argued in the previous
chapter, the MRF had superseded not only Mussolini’s ritual politics in
the Garibaldian celebrations but also the ‘revolutionary’ historic imagi-
nary it had put on stage in its perimetric section. In other words, at the
level of the imaginary, the MRF itself had come to replace the March on
Rome as a historic event in its own right. The imago of a regime-historic
orientated toward ‘history belonging to the future’ made the bond
between the revolutionary historic imaginary and the Great War apt to
be historicized and ‘regimented’ in a single Risorgimental icon. In fact,
a confirmation of the combined impact that the MRF had on the evolu-
tion of the fascist historic imaginary and the fascist reclaiming of history
may be found in the different destiny that awaited the two resolutions
(of Mussolini and of the Congress of Fascist Intellectuals) in practice.
Going well beyond the letter of both Mussolini’s decision and De Vec-
chi’s plans, the periodization of Risorgimento museums in the 1930s
178 The Historic Imaginary

came to include not only the Great War but gradually extended all the
way to the March on Rome itself.40 At the same time, the application of
De Vecchi’s Catholic-monarchist paradigm extended the term a quo of
the Risorgimento in the direction approved by the June congress (the
eighteenth century), but it reinforced the epoch-making foundation of
the Savoy Monarchy in 1730 rather than the insertion of the Risorgi-
mento into a long-term European perspective desired by Volpe. In the
1930 Risorgimento museum the historic event of the ‘fascist revolution’
was thus diluted within a regimented Risorgimental epoch. By contrast,
we can find no sign of either the application of the MRF’s model pro-
posed by Monti or an ‘aestheticization’ of the kind proposed by the 1933
Congress of Fascist Intellectuals. The Risorgimental icon that permitted
the regimented periodization of Italian history from the early eigh-
teenth century to the March on Rome was also the sign that, with the
MRF, the connection between fascist modernism and the revisioning of
the history museum had been definitively severed. As the rapid institu-
tionalization of all other areas of historical studies confirms, the ‘aes-
thetic’ impact of the MRF on the fascist reclaiming of history derived
from the transfiguration of its imago into a model for the epochal regi-
mentation of all periods of Italian history and their orientation toward
the fascist future. Like the revolutionary years in Sironi’s pilasters, the
fascist reclaiming of history gave past-time disciplined form and future
orientation in the mental gallery of the fascist historic imaginary. As we
shall see below, rather than severing all ties between the actualist philos-
ophy of history, fascism, and historic semantics, the MRF’s excessive fig-
uration spurred the institutionalization and regimentation of the fascist
historic imaginary at all levels of ritual and image politics. Behind the
ritual articulation of fascist religion and the culture wars that character-
ized the second decade of fascist dictatorship, we find the visionary hori-
zon of a regime that intended to live in a perennial historic infinitive.

Fascist Historic Culture

The transfiguration of the MRF’s imago into a model of epochal regi-

mentation of past-time anticipated and accompanied the coalescence of
a regime aesthetics in architecture and the arts called stile littorio (lic-
toral style) in view of the inspiration it derived from Roman-classic aes-
thetics. As several scholars have remarked, the rise of stile littorio abruptly
interrupted the triumphant procession of fascist modernism. Respond-
ing to the search for a new fascist aesthetics that would weave together
Fascist Historic Culture 179

the long-standing themes of romanità (Romanness) and italianità (Ital-

ianness) with the new discourses of empire and race, stile littorio gained
ideological sanction and official endorsement with the fascist conquest
of Ethiopia and the 1936 Pact of Steel with Nazi Germany.41 As Marla
Stone has recently argued, during the second half of the 1930s most
opponents of avant-garde aesthetics rallied around the banner of stile lit-
torio, conducting a battle without quarters against ‘aesthetic pluralism
and experimental fascist patronage.’42 The ensuing cultural wars
between antimodernists and modernists were fought at all levels of fas-
cist culture, from art and architectural production to critical discourse
and state patronage of the arts. This battle for art, however, may have
drawn too much attention to the equating of stile littorio with the ideo-
logical nazification of Italian fascism, leaving unexplored the funda-
mental connection of this battle to the institutionalization of a fascist
historic culture.
In the first place, we have recently learned that, despite the antimod-
ernist climate dominating the second half of the 1930s, most Italian
avant-garde movements were successful in presenting themselves as tra-
ditions of innovation and in resisting the accusations of international-
ism and degeneracy coming from the stile littorio front.43 To begin with,
futurism steadily gained the greatest number of affiliates in the 1930s,
successfully organized itself into a semi-formal corporation, and loudly
mobilized against all attempts to nazify fascist art and discourse. Devel-
oping, on the one hand, its own brand of Arte Sacra (sacred art), and fix-
ing, on the other, its association with fascism and modernity through
the spectacular expansion of ‘aero genres’ (Aero-pittura, Aero-scultura,
Aero-poesia), Marinetti’s movement made all accusations of anti-religios-
ity and anarchism seem outdated and specious even after the inclusion
of futurism in the infamous exhibition of ‘degenerate art’ organized by
the Nazis in 1937.44 Parallel to futurism, Sironi’s novecento movement
also acquired its simultaneously fascist modernist and traditionalist sanc-
tion in the 1930s with the rediscovery of the Italian traditions of fresco
painting and mosaic. Sironi’s permanent abandonment of the bour-
geois easel for the social and political art of murals was a move that did
not prevent accusations of grotesque expressionism levied against it
from all sides of the antimodernist camp. Nevertheless, the list of state
and private commissions, which Sironi and his followers continued to
obtain throughout the decade, made novecento an even more effective
and direct competitor of stile littorio than futurism.45 Finally, it was only
in the mid-1930s that the rationalist movement in architecture found
180 The Historic Imaginary

the private and public commissions needed to defend itself from the
accusation of ‘internationalism,’ by adding to its claim to modernity the
fascist-imperial qualifier of being ‘Mediterranean.’46
Paralleling the complexity of fascist modernism in the 1930s, stile lit-
torio was neither merely historical nor kitsch, nor, as Stone insists, an
‘update of the Roman imperial style’ alone.47 In the first place, none of
the fascist official buildings constructed in stile littorio ever came close to
the imperial neoclassicism of Albert Speer’s monumental undertakings.
Second, even in painting stile littorio expressed a hybridization between
past-time and fascist modernity that was irreducible to the frisson be-
tween petit bourgeois morality and death that was characteristic of Nazi
kitsch.48 Finally, its manifestations were by no means limited to a com-
promise between architectural razionalismo and Romanness pursued by
the prime regime architect Marcello Piacentini, but rather extended
across a vast field of ritual and aesthetic forms.49 Stile littorio found
expression in Mario Sironi’s modernist updating of pre-quattrocento
fresco and the Byzantine mosaic,50 just as much as in the medieval reso-
nance of Mussolini’s new towns and the urban modernization of old
medieval towns.51 Furthermore, under its banner were found a host of
PNF disposizioni (orders) aimed at unmaking all bourgeois components
of Italians’ behaviour, dress, gestures, and language.52 Stile littorio was
thus not limited to the celebration of Romanness per se, nor to the fas-
cist art world. The static and monumental forms in which it found
expression were not only signs of a definitive abandonment by the
regime of the bourgeois patronage style it had adopted in the fascist-
modernist 1920s, but also alternative and equally genuine expressions of
the fascist conception of normative style put on stage by the MRF.53
Whatever its form, the hybridization of past and modernity, typical of all
stile littorio expressions, was still meant to ensure a synaesthetic impact on
the viewer and to claim collective distinction rather than forge identity.
The pre-bourgeois epochs grafted onto fascist art, architecture, and sym-
bols gave epochal presence to past-time, thereby eternalizing the historic
infinitive of the regime. Paralleling De Vecchi’s reclaiming of history,
stile littorio contributed to the cutting of all ties between the regime and
historical semantics, as well as the revolutionary historic imaginary super-
seded by the MRF. This process, in fact, was nowhere better instanced
than in the fateful museification of the fascist revolution itself.
On 20 November 1932, the president of the Roman Committee of the
INSRI, Marquis Piero Misciatelli, requested of Mussolini that the docu-
ments displayed in the MRF be transferred, after its closing, to the
Fascist Historic Culture 181

National Museum of the Risorgimento, housed in the Roman Altar to

the Fatherland (Vittoriano). There, in the symbolic hub of the cult of
the fatherland, these documents would have testified that ‘between the
Risorgimento, the Great War, and fascism, there exists an ideal continu-
ity which can be clearly delineated.’ Quite predictably, Mussolini’s
answer was negative, but already at this early stage, it alluded to the likely
transformation of the MRF into a ‘Permanent Exhibition of the Fascist
Revolution’ to be housed in the future headquarters of the party.54 At
the exhibition’s closing in October 1934 the relics and a small part of its
figurative elements were stored in the Roman Gallery of Modern Art, to
await the construction of their highly symbolic destination: the Palazzo
Littorio that was to house both the fascist revolution and the fascist party,
and was to be built on Via dell’Impero, the newly opened artery that con-
nected the Piazza Venezia, the Roman Forum, and the Colosseum.
The highly publicized national competition for the design of the
Palazzo Littorio constituted possibly one of the earliest and most impor-
tant episodes in the culture wars between stile littorio and fascist modern-
ism.55 Yet by 1936, after two selection rounds, in which the best artists
and architects in each group confronted one another and an equal
number of winning designs were selected and publicly exhibited, only
an uncomfortable standstill was achieved, followed by a wholesale
depleting of the project’s symbolic capital. In early 1937, the commis-
sion selected out of the winning designs the purest and most literal
example of stile littorio, by architect Enrico Del Debbio. This victory,
however, resulted in a doubly symbolic loss for the antimodernist fac-
tion. In the first place, the palace, stile littorio, and the PNF with them,
were all relegated to the outskirts of Rome, in the Foro Mussolini, at the
very same time as an ultra-rationalist exhibition space was being built in
the heart of fascist Rome, on the ancient sport-field of the Circo
Massimo.56 Secondly, the triumph of stile littorio in the competition was
dwarfed by the fact that the Palazzo Littorio would not host the Perma-
nent Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution, which was destined to experi-
ence an interrelated but altogether different fate.
On 23 September 1937, a revised edition of the MRF opened in the
late-nineteenth-century locale of the Gallery of Modern Art, at the same
time as opened the Mostra augustea della romanità (MAR) (Exhibition
of Augustan Rome), which was organized to begin the celebrations of
the bimillennial anniversary of Emperor Augustus’ birth and was the
centrepiece of a larger archaeological celebration of Roman civiliza-
tion.57 Surely the simultaneous openings of the two exhibitions high-
182 The Historic Imaginary

lighted their common reference to fascism’s modern claims to

Mediterranean Imperium, but these ‘two Imperial exhibitions’ – as they
were referred to in the fascist press – did not amount to either a reflec-
tion of fascism’s ‘backward-looking self-image,’ or a definitive sign of
stile littorio’s victory over fascist modernism, as Stone puts it.58 On the
contrary, read in connection with the contemporaneous construction of
the Palazzo Littorio and the Circo Massimo exhibition-complex, the
simultaneous openings of the second MRF edition and the MAR high-
lighted their complementary tensions and common relationship to the
evolution of fascist historic culture.59
Divorced from its symbolic reference to the historic date of the revo-
lution (27 October) and the modernist itinerary of the original version,
the new edition of the MRF was no longer a demonstration, and not
even a mostra, but a proper museum of the fascist revolutionary epoch.
Inverting altogether Monti’s wishes, the new MRF was modelled after a
traditional history museum in both aesthetic and temporal form. Gone
were not only the entire central historic section of the 1932 edition, but
also the modernist-fascist Gesamtkunstwerk. Neither the historic protago-
nist of the original MRF, nor the depersonalization process that had
characterized its visualization of fascist historic agency, nor the aes-
thetic-rhetorical crescendo of its itinerary, had survived in its second
edition. In their place was a didactic display dominated by flat figura-
tions separated from the relics and documents, a neat periodization,
and the highlighting of single figures: Mussolini, of course, above all,
but also Gabriele D’Annunzio and Guglielmo Marconi.60 Yet, all this was
inserted into a temporal-spatial expansion of the revolutionary event,
which embraced past and present in epochal form without discontinu-
ity.61 Although the historic section of the original MRF had disappeared
from the latter edition, its imago had effectively functioned as the latter’s
historic director. In the 1937 edition of the MRF ‘history belonging to
the present’ was reversed into ‘the present belonging to history.’
The aesthetic form of past-time (the museum) was literally grafted
onto the celebration of the fascist revolutionary epoch, building a line
of continuity between the new MRF and the party headquarters under
construction in stile littorio’s ‘theme park,’ the Foro Mussolini.62 By con-
trast, the museification of the MRF threw in sharper relief the hybridiza-
tion between fascist-modernist form and stile littorio achieved in its
imperial companion, the Exhibition of Augustan Rome. Inserted in the
celebratory context of the Augustan bimillennium, the MAR’s thematic
focus on the identification of Imperial Rome and fascist modernity, and
Fascist Historic Culture 183

of Emperor Augustus and Mussolini, could not have been more clearly
enunciated and monumentalized.63 Nevertheless, the MAR displayed as
many traits of fascist modernism as of stile littorio, and many more signs
of continuity with the original MRF than with its museumlike second
Set up in the same prestigious locale of the original MRF, the Palazzo
delle esposizioni, the MAR institutionalized the connection between fas-
cism and Romanness by expanding on the use of photographic tech-
niques, scriptural elements, and seriality successfully experimented on
in its revolutionary predecessor. First, all items exhibited in the MAR
were either sophisticated photographic reproductions and photomon-
tages, or plaster casts of monuments (including a huge one of Imperial
Rome in the age of Constantine) reproduced in scale.64 Second, just as
in the MRF, the main threads that connected the four sections into
which the MAR was divided were the Mussolinian scritte plastered on the
walls of most rooms or collected in room twenty-five, which was dedi-
cated to ‘the immortality of the idea of Rome and its rebirth in the fas-
cist Empire.’ This time, however, the sentences reproduced were not
extracted from Il Popolo d’Italia but selected and sent by Mussolini him-
self to the exhibition’s organizer, Giulio Quirino Giglioli.65 In the MAR,
the Duce personally and exclusively performed the catastrophe of the
histori(ographi)cal act. To the architects and artists involved remained
the task of transfiguring the serial notion of epochal time inscribed in
Sironi’s Gallery of Fasces into architectural triptyches juxtaposing
Roman and fascist insignia, triumphal arches, and trophies.66
Far from matching in aesthetic avant-gardism the original MRF, the
MAR was nonetheless much more in line with its historic encoding and
with the modernist Circo Massimo exhibition-complex than with either
the fascist revolution museum or Del Debbio’s Palazzo Littorio. Grafting
the exhibition form onto the imperial future of fascism, the MAR
showed that stile littorio could fight the same war as fascist modernism
against historical semantics and could participate in the modernist
scenes of enàrgeia in which the MRF’s epochalization of future-time had
found expression. It was, in fact, in the spectacular evolution of fascist
exhibition culture in the later 1930s that we may clearly recognize the
most lasting impact of the MRF and the most effective articulation of its
excessive historic figuration. In the exhibition form of the MRF, fascist
modernism found a mass medium of expression and a proper art form
to sustain the orientation of the fascist historic imaginary toward ‘history
belonging to the future.’
184 The Historic Imaginary

Exhibition Art and Fascist Historic Culture

If an art form were to be considered particularly representative of a fas-

cist aesthetic in the 1930s, it would be none other than the art of or-
ganizing, assembling, and producing non-art exhibitions for a mass
audience. As Marla Stone has thoroughly documented, the successful
formula of the mass exhibition generated by the MRF was immediately
endorsed, harnessed, and developed by the fascist leadership, which
adapted it to an uninterrupted series of political theme exhibitions, ‘giv-
ing it its most diffused exposure to date.’67 Starting with the MRF’s ‘little
sister,’ the Milanese Mostra aereonautica (MA) (1934), passing through
the MAR (1937), the four exhibitions of the Circo Massimo (1937–
1939), and the Neapolitan Mostra d’oltremare (1940), and ending with
the never-realized Universal Exhibition of Rome (1942), state-sponsored
mass exhibitions effectively challenged the ‘most powerful weapon’
(cinema) suggested by Mussolini for the formation of the fascist man.
With these mass-exhibitions, the fascist state contributed not only to
bringing together avant-garde artists and architects, but also to steering
them away from the bourgeois context of art exhibitions and toward
mass exhibition itself as the modernist art form par excellence. Yet,
according to Stone, the marriage between the fascist ‘Patron State’ and
modernism was not to last beyond 1936.68
Unquestionably, the ‘apotheosis’ of fascist modernism and avant-
garde aesthetics achieved in the Milanese Aereonautics Exhibition of
1934 was abruptly left behind in the evolution of the mass exhibition
form.69 Nevertheless, Stone’s tragic narrative of the rise and fall of the
fascist-modernist Gesamtkunstwerk may rely on too narrow a definition of
the MRF’s formula and its impact. Reducing the MRF model to a mix
of ‘avant-garde aesthetics, commercial tourism, and nationalism,’ and
focusing only on state patronage of the arts, Stone’s discussion of the
MRF’s impact on the evolution of fascist art culture misses the wider
context of interaction between Italian exhibition culture as a whole and
the ritual futurization of the fascist historic imaginary. As Mabel Berezin
has documented, the plethora of spontaneous and orchestrated rituals
that developed around the MRF in the two years it remained open
marked a fundamental moment of transformation in the ‘ritual genre’
of commemoration. This genre had in fact been modelled after the
yearly commemorations of the March on Rome and had pervaded fas-
cist ritual culture in the 1920s. With the decennale’s ‘demonstration-
celebration’ there opened, instead, a phase of ritual ‘mobilizations’ that
Fascist Historic Culture 185

lasted until the end of the regime and was characterized by ritual events
focused on the future rather than the past.70 Surely the frequency and
ubiquity of fascist adunate (gatherings) in the middle and late 1930s
affected the life of most Italians far more than the construction of local
party headquarters or art competitions. ‘Ritual form,’ Berezin observes,
‘colonized time’ in 1930s fascist Italy.71 Yet this ritual colonization of
time did not foster mere habituation to the regime. Rather, it interacted
with its image politics counterpart, mass exhibitions, to forge a new his-
toric habitus and a proper historic culture in the 1930s. United by a
homologous articulation of the MRF’s excessive historic figuration, fas-
cist ritual mobilizations and mass exhibitions sustained each other in
orienting the fascist historic imaginary toward ‘history belonging to the
Reading the evolution of state-sponsored mass-exhibitions in this
larger context, we may capture a strong line of continuity between the
expansion of the MRF’s formula in the Aereonautics Exhibition (1934)
and the hybridization of stile littorio and fascist modernism in the Circo
Massimo exhibition cycle. The MA offered an unrivalled symbolic unifi-
cation of the MRF’s imago and model into the prime futurist icon, the
airplane, which certainly suggested an ‘open reading of the future’ but
also fixed a lasting identification of the exhibition form with future-
time.72 It is this futurist imprint, in fact, that we may still observe in the
‘simulations of non-present environments’ in which Stone identifies the
originality of the Circo Massimo exhibition cycle (1937–39).73 And, most
significantly, it is in the words of the very art director of the Aereonau-
tics Exhibition, Mario Pagano, that we find a theoretical elucidation of
this futurist continuity, as well as a most precious indication of the
impact of the exhibition form on the fascist historic imaginary.
Writing an editorial for his journal Casabella from the Greek front in
1941, Pagano maintained that the very temporariness of the exhibition
form had embodied the futurist vision of the modern artist.74 Making
clear that this vision was not identified with futurist art or exhibitions,
Pagano specified that the impact of the exhibition form in fascist cul-
ture resided in its having marginalized art exhibitions through the
development of exhibition art. For Pagano, 1930s exhibition art had
accomplished ‘a futurist synthesis of novecentismo [sic] and razionalismo’
that had transfigured the operation of the fascist corporate state, by
staking the commercial success of an exhibition on a competent admin-
istrative structure, and on ‘the artistic direction of an artist, whose voli-
tion and temperament are strong enough to gain the tactical command
186 The Historic Imaginary

of the battle and project the extensive and total authority of a film direc-
tor or referee.’ ‘The poetic sense and imagination of architect-painters,’
he concluded, ‘has contributed to the exaltation of “pure” values that
ignore practical considerations in order to attempt an affirmation of
style in the most lyrical sense of the word.’75
Possibly the most militant enemy and influential critic of stile littorio,
Pagano rightly emphasized in this war-time editorial the foundational
role of razionalismo in the evolution of fascist exhibition culture. His
principal thesis found both textual and visual confirmation in the arti-
cles and photographic documentation which followed his editorial in
this special number dedicated by Casabella to the historical evolution of
exhibition art in Italy and abroad, from the nineteenth century to the
present (1941). The very attention devoted by Casabella to exhibition art
in wartime conclusively shows that, if the nazification of fascist ideology
and politics had brought to completion the alliance between the fascist
‘Patron State’ and the stile littorio cultural front, the connections
between the fascist historic imaginary, the exhibition form, and mod-
ernist culture had never been severed. Aesthetic avant-gardism might
have lost its war against stile littorio on the very battlefield of the mass
exhibition but this did not diminish the modernist tenor of fascist mass
culture in the mid- to late 1930s. On the contrary, Pagano’s editorial
and Casabella’s photographic documentation showed that the institu-
tionalization of the fascist historic imaginary in exhibition art had been
achieved in the second half of the 1930s thanks to the intervention of a
new actor: Italian industry.
‘More than in political exhibitions,’ Pagano pointed out, it is in
‘advertisement architecture that fascist artists have produced the most
lyric results.’76 And, for Pagano, the cumulative effect of Italian avant-
garde artists’ involvement in advertisement and exhibition-art was the
gradual erosion of the lines of distinction they had drawn among them-
selves and those that, in the public eye, had polarized avant-garde art
and popular culture in the 1920s. As the essays and photographs pub-
lished by Casabella documented, the development of fascist exhibition
art was principally dependent on the alliance between state-sponsored
image politics and commercial advertisement.77 In the first place, the
collaboration between modernist artists and the regime inaugurated
with the MRF was cemented on a smaller but regular scale in a number
of state-sponsored exhibitions, ranging from the famous Milanese Tri-
ennali (1933, 1936, 1940), to the two national exhibitions of Plastica
murale (1934 and 1936), to the 1936 National Exhibition of Commercial
Fascist Historic Culture 187

Posters and Graphic Arts, to the 1937 International Exhibition in

Paris.78 Secondly, after 1935, the ideological climate of autarchy fa-
voured the multiplication of local and national fairs showcasing not only
Italian products and productivity but also the successful ideological mar-
riage of fascist claims to absolute distinction, modernist art, and Italian
business. In this field, Sironi’s lasting association with FIAT advertising
and fair pavilions (1934–1940), Nizzoli’s connection with Campari, and
Marinetti’s poems celebrating all-Italian textiles (ryon) constituted the
tip of a fascist-modernist iceberg that has only recently began to receive
some attention.79
Seen in this larger context, the connections Pagano posited between
the temporariness of the exhibition form and the tactical command,
futurist vision, and exaltation of pure values required of any exhibition’s
art director fit the characteristics of his fascist-modernist masterpiece
(the Aeronautics Exhibition) just as much as those of the autonomous
cities of the Circo Massimo exhibitions.80 In this crucial respect, Pa-
gano’s reflections on fascist exhibition art correctly acknowledged the
exhibition form as a future-oriented affirmation of style, that was paral-
lel, rather than antithetical, to stile littorio. Clearly ‘style,’ in the ‘most lyr-
ical sense of the word,’ still referred in 1941 in Pagano’s view to no
aesthetic style in particular but to that normative conception of style
that had always sustained the fascist historic imaginary and had been
epitomized in the MRF. By the same token, Pagano’s insistence on the
‘futurist synthesis of novecento and razionalismo’ incorporated by fas-
cist exhibition art highlighted its origins in the imago-model of the MRF,
rather than its derivation from futurist art. In fact, Pagano’s definition
of the futurist vision of the fascist mass exhibition resonated most
uncannily with the last, most literal, and purely stile littorio incarnation of
the MRF’s imago: the 1942 Universal Exhibition of Rome (EUR 42) that
was to celebrate the second decade of the fascist era.81
Conceived by Mussolini himself during the Ethiopian campaign
(June 1935), the idea of a temporary Universal Exhibition, which would
be hosted in Rome in the year XX of the fascist era (1941–42) and then
transformed into a permanent city, constituted immediately the central
and definitive battlefield for the culture wars between stile littorio and fas-
cist modernism.82 In the well-documented history of the gradual exclu-
sion of rationalist architects from the planning, organizing committee,
major commissions, and partial realizations of EUR 42 we may read the
chronicle of the fateful debacle of aesthetic avant-gardism in post-1935
fascist Italy.83 In its permanent architectural remnants spread through-
188 The Historic Imaginary

out today’s ‘quartiere EUR’ in Rome, we may capture the gap between
the idea of an exhibition city and its modern ghost town realization.84
This gap, however, should not lead us to obliterate from our view the
visionary ‘city of exhibitions’ that, from 1935 through to the last day
of its incomplete realization, was projected to be the mature expression
of fascist normative style tout court.85 This visionary investment made of
EUR 42 the ideological point of condensation for a new fascist Gesamt-
kunstwerk aimed at celebrating simultaneously the regimentation of past-
time and the reorientation of the fascist historic imaginary toward his-
tory belonging to the future.
No fascist exhibition ever epitomized all the characteristics attributed
by Pagano to fascist exhibition art better than EUR 42. None, that is,
staked its success on the collaboration of industrial advertising, a com-
petent administrative structure, and the total authority of an artistic
director (Marcello Piacentini) more than EUR 42. And, none could
even come close to ‘the exaltation of “pure” values that ignore practical
considerations in order to attempt an affirmation of style in the most lyr-
ical sense of the word’ pursued by EUR 42. Since its inception and all
through its partial realization, which lasted well into the war years (until
March 1943), EUR 42 was conceived as an ‘Olympics of Civilizations’ in
which the Italian fascist claim to distinction was to be realized ‘with sprez-
zatura,’ that is, by ‘winning without saying it and without appearing to
do so.’86 In the realization of EUR 42 thus converged all the frustrations
for the loss of distinction suffered by the fascist historic imaginary as a
result of the relentless subordination of both Mussolini and fascism to
the Nazi ally, as well as all the hopes to regain it.87 At the same time, to
win ‘with and in style’ meant for the organizers of the Roman Olympics
of Civilizations not only matching on the terrain of culture the German
Olympic games of 1937, but also overcoming all recent universal exhibi-
tions by unifying past (Chicago 1933: ‘a century of progress’), present
(Paris 1937: ‘modern arts and technology’), and future (New York: ‘to
build the world of tomorrow’) in the simultaneous realization of a ‘city
of fascist style’ and a ‘fascist-style city.’ Temporariness (modernity) and
permanence (Romanness) were to be joined in an affirmation of the
‘preponderance of the values of representation and image over those of
economy and materiality.’88 Every exhibition in each exhibition city was
to represent yesterday, today, and tomorrow; a future city was to be born
from the merging of a ‘mute architecture’ of repetitive arches and col-
umns (past-time) and an ‘exhibition art’ of light, colours, and modern-
ist forms (present-time). EUR 42 was to be the apotheosis of the fascist
Fascist Historic Culture 189

historic imaginary. Had it been brought to completion as planned, the

fascist historic imaginary might have remained under everyone’s eye –
as might also its ties to the formation of post-historic(al) forms of imagi-
nary that characterize our own age.

I have been meaning to propose to you to write together a Universal History.

George Bataille, 14 April 19341

The right has taken advantage of the Communist experience to appropri-

ate some of the methods of their adversaries. We are convinced that the
reverse is necessary today. We must turn the fascist means of propaganda
and their tactics to the profit of the workers.
Georges Bataille, 5 March 19362

I return to Georges Bataille in this epilogue in order to recombine my

microhistorical exploration of fascist historic culture with the intellec-
tual and theoretical stakes of this study alluded to in the introduction
and first chapter. The first quote is from the back of the letter – cited in
the introduction – in which Bataille reported to his comrade-friend Ray-
mond Queneau the strong impression he had received from his visit to
the Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution in April 1934. The second quote
is from a note written by Bataille to Pierre Kaan two years later, a
few weeks before the folding of their antifascist review Contre-Attaque.
Bataille would never even begin the project of a universal history – with
or without Queneau – but we may safely infer that this project was
Bataille’s first, instinctive reaction to the astonishing historia rerum
gestarum he had witnessed in the fascist exhibition. Instead, the longer-
term impact of the MRF on Bataille might have had a lot to do with his
more strategic desire to appropriate a fascist means of propaganda for
an antifascist project. In particular, this desire may have found expres-
sion in the surrealist image that Bataille chose for the secret antifascist
Epilogue 191

Figure 30. André Masson, Acéphale, 1936.

society and journal, Acéphale, which he founded in late 1936 after the
demise of Contre-Attaque.3
The image of the Acéphale was that of a decapitated man, a dagger
in his left hand, a heart of fire in his right, a labyrinthine stomach in
relief, and a skull covering the sexual organs (Figure 30). As such,
the Acéphale was a sort of reversed Leviathan: it symbolized a society
192 The Historic Imaginary

founded on regicide – a society, that is, in which the sacred bond among
its people was born of the destruction of the head of state, be it king or
Duce. For Bataille, in fact, the main intellectual goal of the sect was to
rescue ‘the sacred’ from fascist appropriation; its political scope was to
turn antifascism toward an antireligious project.4 But in what sense did
the image of the Acéphale appropriate fascist means of propaganda and
tactics for an antifascist project? Surely, not in any aesthetic sense:
André Masson’s drawings for the journal did not even attempt to match
the avant-garde aesthetics of fascist exhibitions such as the MRF, and,
contrary to the latter’s mass appeal, Acéphale, the journal, had a small
circulation. Yet its icon appropriated and reversed the very imagery –
skulls and daggers – that had so much impressed Bataille in his 1934 visit
to the MRF. In fact, one would be hard pressed to find a more poignant
icon of a counter-fascist historic imaginary than Masson’s Acéphale. On
the one hand, this image celebrated the decapitation of Louis XVI as
the historic event that founded the political figure of the sovereign peo-
ple, thereby pointing toward a still submerged historic imaginary in
which the modern ‘people’ (the workers) would finally assume the role
of historic agent. On the other hand, by gesturing toward the original
historic event – the French Revolution – Acéphale suggested that the
visionary core of historicness could still be rescued from both a liberal
(Kantian-transcendental) and a fascist (actualist-immanent) politics of
In noting the lingering effect that the MRF’s excessive historic figura-
tion had on Bataille, my intent is to highlight the crucial role that the
institutionalization of the fascist historic imaginary may have played in
generating not only political responses to, but also intellectual insights
into, the contribution of the Italian fascist phenomenon to the general
evolution of mass culture in the twentieth century. As anticipated in the
introduction, both the research agenda and the methodology of this
study have been informed by such insights, and by the critical choices of
intellectuals such as Bataille to observe fascist strategies at close range
and even appropriate them for an antifascist intellectual front. In keep-
ing with this approach, I wish to appropriate Bataille’s antifascist image
itself to use it as a hypericon of my argument as well as a means to probe
deeper into its theoretical stakes. Acéphale points decisively to the ideo-
logical centrality that the historic vision of agency, representation, and
imagination assumed for Italian fascism. At the same time, its figurative
decapitation of Mussolini from the imaginary body of fascism highlights
the progressive process of abstraction that characterized the evolution
Epilogue 193

of fascist historic culture. But what about Bataille’s act of counter-his-

toric transfiguration itself? Doesn’t this image-act also suggest that the
formation of a historic imaginary might not have been a phenomenon
limited to Italian fascism? Acéphale throws in sharp relief the most
important findings of this research, while at the same time issuing an
invitation to go beyond its temporal and geographical boundaries.

The Fascist Historic Imaginary as a Visionary Politics of History

My principal contention throughout this book has been that fascism was
characterized by a politics of history that cannot be identified with the
fascistization of the historical past that ideologues and professional his-
torians pursued with greater or lesser zeal during the regime. Surely the
unending production of fascist precursors and the mythic identification
of fascism with the Roman imperial past constituted a genuinely fascist
‘historical’ culture, which contributed in no small measure to the legiti-
mization of the regime and the politics of consensus identifiable with
the cult of fascism. Yet this historical culture had very little to do with
the Mussolinian core of the fascist imaginary or the politics of enthusi-
asm associated with the myth and cult of the Duce. Fascist ducismo in-
stead institutionalized itself in a visionary politics of history that transfig-
ured the popular culture notion of historic eventfulness into the idea of
historic agency. Protecting itself from within its imaginary core, fascism
presented itself as an agent whose acts possessed the quality of transtem-
poral immediacy and the faculty of unmediated signification we com-
monly attribute to historic events, speeches, and sites. Just like a historic
event, every fascist act was meant to eliminate the medium of represen-
tation between historical agency and consciousness. Modelled after the
Mussolinian historic speech, fascist historic representations sought to
make the past suddenly present and signified in the mind of the
observer. In the fashion of a historic site, the fascist historic imaginary
always tended toward a spatial annulment of time.
Ideologically, the fascist transfiguration of historic eventfulness into
agency was best captured in the Mussolinian motto ‘fascism makes his-
tory; it does not write it.’ Philosophically, however, the polarization be-
tween liberal history writing and fascist history making was anticipated
and sustained by Giovanni Gentile’s actualist philosophy of history. Spe-
cifically, the idea of fascist history making referred to Gentile’s concept
of ‘history belonging to the present,’ with which Gentile had given a
full-blown philosophical translation to the notion of historic eventful-
194 The Historic Imaginary

ness. Merging the philosophical dogma of absolute immanence with the

Latin Catholic notion of representation as effect of presence (imago),
actualism advocated the reciprocal immanence of the historical and the
historiographical act. In Gentile’s own words, ‘history is all present and
immanent in the act of its construction.’5 That is, just as every historical
act in the present is also historiographical, because it gives sudden pres-
ence to a certain past in the mind of its actor, so every historiographical
act is historical in so far as it makes the past suddenly present in the
mind of its viewer. In the final analysis, history did not exist for Gentile
beyond the act that constituted it simultaneously as a reality of the mind
and a representation of this reality.
Endorsing the immanent principles of the actualist philosophy of his-
tory, fascism not only rejected the transcendental conception of history
en-dorsed by liberal and Marxist philosophies of history but issued a
direct intellectual challenge to the notion of historical consciousness
they both assumed legitimized their notions of historical agency and rep-
resentation. For Marxist materialism, just as for liberal historicism, posi-
tivism, and idealism, the modern subject of history was a historical agent
in so far as he or she was endowed with a historical consciousness that
translated the narrative objects of historical representation into transcen-
dental metanarratives of emancipation (freedom, progress, communism,
etc.). Fascism instead conceived the subject as endowed with a historic
imaginary that collapsed agency and representation along the lines of
what I have called the actualist catastrophe of the histori(ographi)cal.
This way, fascism replaced both the diachronic direction of historical
consciousness (past to present) and its image in historical representation
(narrative) with the idea that only by making the past ‘present’ one could
properly make history. It was, in fact, this corollary injunction to give the
past visual presence (enargèia) that characterized the fascist visionary pol-
itics of history and that distinguished it sharply from the transcendental
utopias projected by Nazism and Bolshevism.
In the beginning the fascist historic imaginary coalesced around the
celebration of the March on Rome as the historical sign that confirmed
the momentous reorientation of the historical imagination toward ‘his-
tory belonging to the present,’ as posited by Gentile in 1918. The March
on Rome was ritualized as the historic event that ushered in not only a
new epoch, but also an epoch-making subject, a historic agent. This
agent, of course, immediately assumed the imaginary semblance of Mus-
solini the history-maker, and the image of fascist historic agency found
in Mussolini’s historic speeches its first rhetorical incarnation. The his-
Epilogue 195

toric encoding of Mussolini’s word was just as much an affair orches-

trated from above as it was dependent on the willing participation of
fascism’s mass audience. In fact, the reciprocity of this process was no
better instanced than in the never-ending transformation of Mussolini’s
historic speeches into mottoes. At the same time, it was in the visual rep-
resentation of recent national history that the connection between the
popular and spontaneous construction of an imaginary Mussolini and
the formation of a properly fascist historic imaginary found the most
appropriate means of expression in the mid- to late 1920s. Whether in
archives, museums, and exhibitions, or in historical monuments and
commemorations, the fascist politics of history did not settle for mere
lieux de mémoire. They sought to create historic production sites for the
transformation of the idea of a fascist historic agency into a historic
mode of representation, and for its institutionalization at all levels of fas-
cist mass culture. As we have seen, this cultural project involved a large
number of agents: Mussolini, of course, but also museum curators, mod-
ernist critics, journalists, and avant-garde artists who fought against all
forms of historical culture seeking to make the identification of fascism
and historicness a phenomenological reality for the Italian masses. In
turn, the visualization of the fascist historic agency kept reinforcing the
consolidation of the collective historic imaginary it presupposed.
Throughout the 1920s the consolidation of a fascist mode of historic
representation functioned as a key nexus between fascist modernism
and the popular cult of the Duce. In fact, at a more general level of
interpretation, it is precisely in this first phase in the institutionalization
of the fascist historic imaginary that we may locate the crucial point of
ideological condensation between the fascist sacralization and aestheti-
cization of politics. The unique amalgamation of Latin Catholic rhetori-
cal codes, modernist thought, and avant-garde aesthetic principles was
as necessary a condition for the elaboration of a historic mode of repre-
sentation, as for the formation of a properly fascist historic imaginary.
Without the longevity and widespread literacy of Latin Catholic rhetori-
cal codes, Mussolini’s invocation of fascist history making would have
remained within the realm of the fascist rhetorics of virility and never
transformed into the popular motto that sustained the mental image of
a fascist historic agency. Without the translation of modernist intellectu-
als and avant-garde artists, Gentile’s actualist philosophy of history
would have remained unrecognized, rather than providing the intellec-
tual tightrope that sustained the formation of the fascist historic imagi-
nary in 1920s Italy. To summarize with reference to the primary fascist
196 The Historic Imaginary

icon – the fasces bundled around an axe – in the consolidation of the

historic imaginary we recognize the string that kept the Mussolinian axe
tied to the bundling activity of the fascist party. This process, however,
was neither linear nor devoid of irony.
Both aesthetically and ideologically the formation phase of the fascist
historic imaginary climaxed in the 1932 Exhibition of the Fascist Revolu-
tion. First – in its conceptualization – this mostra-dimostrazione gave syn-
aesthetic expression to the normative conception of style that had
sustained the elaboration of a fascist mode of historic representation
since the beginning. Second – in its peripheral itinerary – it put on stage
a historic representation of the fascist historic imaginary itself. Finally –
in its central historic halls – the MRF projected itself as a historic event
in its own right aimed at superseding the very historic event and imagi-
nary it celebrated. Thus, in contrast with its celebrated aesthetic unity,
the excessive historic figuration of the MRF epitomized the very princi-
ple of transfiguration that had characterized the consolidation of fascist
historic culture throughout the 1920s. Historically born from the ashes
of the Great War, ideologically tied to the popular cult of Mussolini, and
intellectually sustained by the actualist philosophy of history, the fascist
historic imaginary had not remained faithful to any of its original traits.
First, the Great War was replaced by the March on Rome, and the war-
related historic icon of the Duce Taumaturgo by that of the historic Duce
(1922–32). Then, the historic Duce himself was transfigured into his
allegorical mouthpiece, Il Popolo d’Italia (1932). Finally, with the trans-
figuration of the Duce-People of Italy into the stylized unit of historic
time projected toward the future – the decade – the fascist historic imag-
inary lost even its connection to history belonging to the present.
As Bataille’s uncanny image suggests, the institutionalization of fascist
historic culture in the second decade of the regime corresponded to a
veritable decapitation of Mussolini’s head from the collective body of
the fascist historic imaginary. Conversely, this decapitation definitively
severed fascist historic culture from the immanent conception of history
that had characterized its consolidation in the 1920s. While winning its
war against the historical, the fascist historic imaginary itself split right
down the middle in the 1930s: on one side, the stylized time of the his-
toric decade and the future orientation of the exhibition form; on the
other, the museification of all past and present time – including the fas-
cist revolution itself. In the aesthetic sphere this polarization was
reflected in the culture wars that opposed stile littorio to fascist modern-
ism. Intellectually, however, it corresponded also to the waning of Gen-
Epilogue 197

tile’s philosophical and political star. With the fraying of the actualist
tightrope that had sustained its formation, the fascist historic imaginary
itself began alternating between the regimentation of the present in the
form of the past and the projection of history into the future. Contrary
to Gentile’s prediction, therefore, the fascist mind had reoriented itself
from history belonging to the past to history belonging to the present
only to find itself oscillating between present belonging to the past and
history belonging to the future. Yet it is precisely in this return of the
repressed – this oscillation – in a new form that we may find the most
compelling reason to deepen our reflections on the historical status of
Gentile’s philosophical intuitions and explore the history of historic
semantics before and beyond Italian fascism.

Historic(al) Culture

Turning back to our hypericon one cannot but be startled by the un-
canny resonance of the Acèphale with the final images that consigned
Mussolini to history. In 1945 Mussolini’s dead body was exposed to the
gaze of the Milanese people in Piazzale Loreto, first with a mock sceptre
in his right arm and then hanging from an electric pole head down. My
intention here is not to celebrate the suggestive power of antifascist
imagery, but to recognize that the many levels of intellectual confronta-
tion and iconic collusion between fascist and antifascist imaginaries may
suggest more than a family resemblance. Going back to the original his-
toric event – the French Revolution – Bataille’s image desecrated its
Kantian standing as the historical sign of transcendental history, propos-
ing instead the vengeful mob that decapitated Louis XVI as the found-
ing figure of a history-making agent. In this sense, Acèphale is more
than a counter-historic image. It yields the challenging proposition that
the actualist philosophy of history may have indeed recognized some-
thing that had escaped all of its speculative predecessors (Marx, Hegel,
Kant): that since the dawn of modern historical culture the formation of
a historical imaginary based on the notion of transcendental history
(belonging to the past) was always counteracted by a popular cultural
imaginary rooted in the immanent notion of historic eventfulness
(belonging to the present).
As Reinhard Koselleck has repeatedly pointed out, the latter quarter
of the eighteenth century marked the momentous invention of
‘modern historical semantics,’ a process he rightly identified with the
‘transcendentalization,’ ‘temporization,’ and ‘singularization’ of history
198 The Historic Imaginary

pursued by both nineteenth-century historiography and philosophies of

history.6 From the 1770s onward the terminological displacement of his-
torie by Geschichte(n) in the German language marked, according to
Koselleck, the general and definitive replacement of a long-standing
Latin Christian conception of historia magistra vitae (history as life’s
teacher) by the singular notion of history as a ‘universal relation of
events,’ a new ‘articulation of past and future,’ and a transcendental
whole ‘always more than any account made of it.’ The capitalization of
‘History’ in German philosophical circles ‘reinterpreted the criterion of
epic representation and transformed it into a category of the Historical,’
setting in motion a semantic revolution that led to the emergence of all
transcendental singulars such as Freedom, Progress, Justice, and Revolu-
tion in modern Western culture. And, on the representational front, the
temporization of Geschichte expressed itself in the syntactical limitation
of historical narration to the past tense.7
Koselleck’s reconstruction of the mainstream development of mod-
ern historical culture has found no dissenting voices, but the assertion
that this late eighteenth-century revolution definitively replaced the
Latin Christian conception of history does not do justice to Koselleck’s
own account of its centuries-long persistence and elasticity.8 Assuming
that the rhetorical topos of historia magistra vitae ‘dissolved itself within a
modernized historical process,’ Koselleck does not explore or recognize
its permutations in the evolution of modern historical culture.9 As
argued in Chapter 1, the discursive appearance of the notions of his-
toric event, speech, and site at the dawn of the modern age constituted
precisely the key permutation of historia magistra vitae. United by a com-
mon reference to the mental perception of unmediated ‘presence’ in
representation, these three notions offered a historic semantics, which
captured the rhetorical core of the ancient-epic conception of history
that for centuries had dominated Latin Catholic culture. Whether trans-
lated into a specific terminology or not, historic semantics opposed the
syntactical identification of Geschichte with the narrative past (tense) by
offering a discursive translation of the grammatical notion of historic
present and thereby countering all three fields of semantic moderniza-
tion indicated by Koselleck. They pointed toward the immanent experi-
ence of presence rather than narrative transcendence, epochal rather
than temporal signification, and significance rather than singularity.
Seen from this perspective, the semantic differentiation between the
adjectives ‘historic’ – important in the eyes of history itself – and ‘histor-
ical’ – belonging to the past – introduced by late eighteenth-century his-
Epilogue 199

torians appears much less as an original invention than as the warding off
of Latin Catholic rhetorical codes permeating popular culture by the
modern guardians of bourgeois high culture. In fact, we need look no
further than the first conceptualization of historicness in Kant’s Contest of
the Faculties to verify the militant transfiguration of the former by the lat-
ter. Far from dissolving the ancient conception of history into the mod-
ern one, Kant’s concept of historical sign extracted the epic from historia
and transposed it onto the transcendental Geschichte. With this philosoph-
ical operation Kant set the discursive evolution of both modern histori-
ography and speculative philosophy of history on a transcendental
narrative path throughout the nineteenth century. Yet – although only
further research on the sites of historic institutionalization in nineteenth-
century historical culture can give us a sense of its scope – there is at least
one compelling reason to suspect that the development of modern his-
torical semantics did not prevent the parallel evolution of a popular his-
toric imaginary. This reason, of course, is actualism, but not merely for its
philosophical translation of historic semantics analysed in Chapter 1,10
but also for its historical resonance with the peculiar culture of history
that informed it. It was in fact in post-Risorgimento Italy – that is, long
before Gentile and fascism gave it philosophical and political expression
– that we find the clear signs of a historic(al) culture fractured along the
lines of a historic imaginary resisting all metanarrative inoculations.
Historians have long documented that, during Italy’s liberal era
(1870–1914) the memorialization and historicization of the founding
event of the Italian nation, the Risorgimento, came to constitute one of
the most unsuccessful chapters in the nationalization of the Italian
masses.11 The politics of history that developed in united Italy around
the Risorgimento between the 1870s and 1914 were highly contentious
and fragmented. Several important factors have been identified as pre-
venting an effective nationalization of the Risorgimento: reasons of
political in- convenience (the enduring conflict between the Italian
state and the papacy after 1870); fragmented local popular initiatives in
conflict with national-cultural commemorative inertia; and, naturally,
the polarized political appeal of founding figures such as Mazzini and
Garibaldi for republican sympathizers, and of King Victor Emmanuel II
and Count Cavour for supporters of the monarchy.12 To these political
shortcomings, some scholars have recently added the cultural gap be-
tween the positivist distaste of most Italian historians for recent na-
tional history and the hagiographic paradigms by which means the
public historicization of the Risorgimento was slowly activated between
200 The Historic Imaginary

the mid-1880s and the first decade of the new century.13 Most scholars,
however, have limited their attention to evaluating the relative impact
and responsibilities of cultural and political elites but paid little atten-
tion to the inherent ambivalence of this project.14
I am referring, of course, to the widely expressed truism that the label
‘Risorgimento’ (resurgence) – born ex post facto in popular literature,
but rejected for a long time by liberal historians in its capitalized form –
encoded this founding event not just as a metaphor, value, or rhetorical
figure, but also as a proper imago of resurrection that not only resisted
and overshadowed any conventional historical narrativization but also
affected any such attempt.15 Even when an official conciliatory image of
the Risorgimental process as the result of ‘different intentions collabo-
rating toward the same goal’ found its way into synthetic histories, com-
memorations, textbooks, and museums, it was popularly expressed in a
Latin rhetorical formula (concordia discords) that lacked any metanarra-
tive appeal. The deficit of nationalization registered by most studies at
the level of popular historical consciousness cannot be ascribed exclu-
sively to the delay with which the liberal elites faced the question of pro-
ducing and popularizing a national vision of the Risorgimento, or the
hindrance offered by local and political allegiances. A more subtle and
active resistance was offered at the levels of both agency and reception
by the endurance of Latin Catholic rhetorical codes in structuring the
Italian collective imaginary. This resistance, in fact, was at no time more
visible than during the Great War, when both political and cultural
elites worked hardest to unify an all-too-divided memory of the Risorgi-
The coalescence of a popular and unifying historical myth of the
Risorgimento took place in the months preceding the Italian entrance
into the Great War. It was nourished throughout the conflict by the
speeches of politicians and the writings of intellectuals, and it found its
way into the letters and diaries of officers as well as those of simple sol-
diers.16 Naturally, some scholars have justly emphasized the extent to
which the hagiographic and politicized nature of pre-war Risorgimental
historiography affected the formation of a plurality of Risorgimental
myths during the war, with the epic hero Garibaldi and the apostle
Mazzini towering over all other inspirational figures. Others have duly
deflated the mass diffusion and effectiveness of Risorgimento propa-
ganda in wartime. In general, however, the Great War has been recog-
nized as the birthplace of a nationalizing myth of the Risorgimento that,
in the context of mass conscription and nationalist fervour, contributed
Epilogue 201

in no small measure to its historicization via the double image of the

Great War as a fourth war of independence and as a fulfilment of
the Risorgimento.17 Once again, though, no attention has been paid to
the rhetorical tension between the narrative encoding of the first image
(the fourth war of independence) and the historic imago of the Great
War as fulfilment of the Risorgimento. While often used interchange-
ably and at all levels of propaganda, the diffusion of these two sister
images reveals the contemporaneous coalescence of, and mental oscilla-
tion between, historical and historic imaginaries in the Italian experi-
ence of the Great War. The former reinforced the narrativization of the
Great War event in an open military sequence; the latter refigured the
Risorgimento as an advent to a new resurrection, the Great War.
We cannot but recognize at this point that, as formulated at war’s end
in ‘Politica e filosofia,’ Gentile’s philosophy of history may have been
not only psychologically realistic – as shown in Chapter 1 – but also
historically resonant. Gentile’s first proposition, that the modern sub-
ject had always oscillated between the transcendental pole of ‘history
belonging to the past’ and the immanent one of ‘history belonging to
the present,’ rendered historical justice to the longevity and elasticity of
Latin Catholic rhetorics in the evolution of Italian historic(al) culture
during the liberal era. In other words, Gentile’s claim was sustained by
the historical fact that, in Italy, a popular historic imaginary had indeed
formed over time, and ever more rapidly during the war, around the
image of the Risorgimento. One may thus conclude that, historically,
the actualist philosophy of history itself was the expression of a diffused
historic imaginary that sought to exorcise the war-trauma with an imago
of Risorgimento-Advent. At the same time, however, Gentile also
affirmed that the Great War had put an end to the oscillation he theo-
rized and had reoriented the modern subject away from ‘history belong-
ing to the past’ toward ‘history belonging to the present.’ And, on this
score, Gentile saw in Italian fascism the sole intellectual-political subject
that had oriented itself toward ‘history belonging to the present.’ Fas-
cism presented itself as embodying this reorientation and gave it full-
blown cultural expression in its self-presentation as historic agent, in the
ritual stimulation of a collective historic imaginary, in its translation into
a historic mode of representation, and in the institutionalization of the
latter into a proper historic culture. Yet the very history of fascist historic
culture returns us to our point of departure to wonder about Gentile’s
first proposition concerning the mental oscillation of the modern sub-
ject between historical and historic imaginaries.
202 The Historic Imaginary

Contrary to Gentile’s prediction, the fascist orientation toward history

belonging to the present in the 1920s was the prelude to another form
of oscillation in the second decade of the regime. While replacing the
contest between historical and historic modes of representation that
had characterized the previous decade, the fascist historic imaginary
itself split in the 1930s, around a new divide: on the one hand the regi-
mentation, serialization, and museification of both past and present; on
the other, the visionary goal to give presence to the future rather than
the past. Just as the MRF had sought to resolve the 1920s contest
between history belonging to the past and history belonging to the
present, so we find a monumental effort to eliminate the new oscillation
at the end of the second decade of the fascist era. The visionary project
for an Olympics of Civilization to be celebrated into 1942 (EUR ’42) was
a desperate attempt to synthesize the seriality of the historical and the
futurization of the historic. Left uncompleted in its stile littorio shell, the
remnants of the EUR 42 have been integrated into the urban space of a
post-fascist Rome, making it very hard to recapture the oscillation it was
designed to conquer. However, below this mummified surface lies per-
haps the most visionary core of the fascist politics of history as a whole.
Compared to its celebrated predecessor, the MRF, the EUR 42 sought
to situate fascist historic culture in a much larger context. Exorcizing
the imminent death of the fascist fatherland with a desperate affirma-
tion of normative style, the EUR 42 issued the first all-encompassing
image of the ‘end of history.’ At the same time, long deprived of its actu-
alist tightrope, fascism also serialized with the EUR 42 its own unit of his-
toric time, the decade. Thus, the history of fascist historic culture leaves
us in 1942 with an exorcism that, quite unlike the one proposed by its
philosophical prophet in 1918, did not announce any dramatic reorien-
tation. The EUR 42 celebrated a historic imaginary that, to put it in its
original syntactical terms, eliminated both the transcendental and
immanent poles of modern historic(al) culture by shifting its predica-
tive form from historic present to historic infinitive. Fortunately, fascism
had no opportunity to express this shift in a new wave of a visionary pol-
itics of history. Yet, considering this final act of historic transfiguration
in the light of the imaginary forms of temporality that have developed in
our so-called postmodern era, one cannot avoid pushing one’s reflec-
tions beyond the geographical and temporal boundaries of Italian his-
toric(al) culture and the history of the fascist historic imaginary. Just
like the image of Mussolini’s hanging body, the skeleton of the never-
Epilogue 203

realized EUR 42 leaves us wondering about the afterlife that fascist his-
toric culture may have found in the formation of a posthistoric(al) form of
imaginary and culture.

Posthistoric(al) Culture

Notwithstanding repeated declarations of death for all traditional forms

of historical culture, and related calls by prominent philosophers and
intellectuals to endorse a ‘postmodern’ attitude toward time and life,
faith in the ideals of the Enlightenment and historical progress has sur-
vived the catastrophe of World War II and is still shared by millions of
people – not only in the West. Yet it is also undeniable that, over the
past six decades, this faith has had to compete with an adversary much
more corrosive and insidious than any philosophical proposition. What
began in the mid-nineteenth century as a means through which the Rus-
sian intelligentsia referred to successive generations of intellectuals, the
decade has become in the postwar era the principal unit by which most
people in the West count, segment, and account for the passing of time.
‘The ’50s,’ ‘the ’60s,’ etc., are no longer labels referring to generations
of writers, but to successive and self-contained eras whose distinguishing
referent is always a style (of clothing, haircut, car, or behaviour), but
whose common signified is never progress, or historical evolution, but
always mere seriality. Fashions simply follow rather than evolve from each
other, and they also always return. Could it not be the case that the styl-
ization of time in the ‘historic decade’ operated by fascism in the 1930s
may have constituted the key step in the transfiguration of the Russian
‘generation-decade’ into the ‘fashion-decade’ that characterizes what
we may properly term the posthistorical imaginary of our age?
This question is blatantly rhetorical and provocative. Its verification
and transformation into a specific research agenda lies well beyond the
scope of this book. However, its explicit suggestion that, in the evolution
of fascist historic culture, we may also recognize a cultural laboratory for
the formation of a posthistorical form of imaginary merits some final
remarks in view of the direct support it finds in recent studies that have
explored significant areas of continuities, mutual appropriations, and
imaginary transfigurations between fascist visual culture and postindus-
trial mass culture. Film studies, of course, have been on the forefront of
this research, revealing, for example, the enduring contest between fas-
cist and bourgeois rhetorics of virility in the re-coding of the image of
204 The Historic Imaginary

the femme fatale, from silent film, thorough fascist movies, to postwar
feminizations of fascism.18 Similarly, the analysis of fascist advertising
and industries has highlighted specific continuities between corporate-
fascist and corporate-capitalist image politics in the postwar era.19 In
general, all studies of fascist visual culture have highlighted the con-
tinuities, connections, mutual influences, and responses between the
Italian-fascist imaginary and the evolution of capitalist-consumer mass
culture at large – before, during, and after the fall of fascism. Seen in
this context, and considering that the practice of segmenting time into
decades has become a mass phenomenon only in the postwar era, the
imaginary transfiguration of the fascist unit of historic time into serial-
ized retro-time may appear not only possible but even probable.
In fact, to confirm the plausibility of a very direct connection between
the evolution of the fascist historic imaginary and the diffusion of a post-
modernist sensitivity dominated by the temporality of fashion we do not
need to resort to far-fetched alliterations or Susan Sontag’s warnings
about ‘fascinating Fascism.’20 This connection and collusion is inscribed
in the unique place that Italy – that is, ‘made in Italy’ – has assumed in
the postindustrial imaginary on a global scale. Whether embodied in
design or material products, the idea of Italian style has come to func-
tion as antidote and parasitical other to the idea of fashion itself. The
bearer of Italian fashion is not simply in style ; he or she projects the
image of having style, in the normative sense of being recognized as abso-
lutely ‘distinct’ in the mass of seemingly undistinguishable consumers.
Lest we want to give in to the dangerously essentialist notion that Ital-
ians have style in their blood, we cannot but recognize that this cultural
construct is the last offspring of a normative-style imaginary that might
be the most enduring legacy of fascist modernism. Unencumbered by
either totalitarian or modernist utopias, the normative conception of
style that sustained a fascist politics of distinction in 1920s and 1930s
Italy has found fulfilment in the postwar construction of Italian style as
the sign of style tout court. Isn’t it quite plausible, then, to identify in this
iconization of Italy as style the symptom of a posthistorical imaginary
that has responded to the fascist stylization of time with the transfigura-
tion of the decade into serialized mode retro-time?
Far from offering empirical confirmation of this hypothesis there is
corroborating evidence to its plausibility in the symptoms that charac-
terize the formation of a posthistoric form of imaginary as well. It is
hardly disputable that one of the principal traits that distinguishes the
different postwar generations and separates them from previous ones is
Epilogue 205

their explicit acknowledgment of the role played by historic events in

the formation of their imaginaries. The Holocaust, the revolts of 1968,
and the fall of the Berlin Wall, to cite just the key events that have
marked three successive generations of postwar Europeans, have all
been explicitly perceived, described and treated as ‘historic’ – on differ-
ent imaginary levels of course. At the same time, none of them has been
transfigured into the birth of a historic agent as was the March on Rome
by Italian fascists. On the contrary, the formation of generational imagi-
naries after World War II has been haunted by the recurrent and obses-
sive image of ‘the end’ of history – with all of its cinematic promise of
infinite new beginnings. First articulated by Alexander Kojève in lec-
tures given in Paris in the late 1930s, but published only after the end of
the war, in 1947, this quintessential Hegelian trope has realized itself as
a series of icons that have percolated through all levels of mass culture.21
From Adorno’s famous equation of Auschwitz with ‘the end of poetry,’
to more recent ones associating the Holocaust with ‘the end of the
Enlightenment’ and ‘the end of modernity,’ to the popular association
of 1968 with ‘the end of ideologies,’ to the identification of the fall of
the Berlin Wall with ‘the end of communism,’ the postmodern (West-
ern) imaginary has been consumed by historic semantics. To survive,
then, beyond the end of the Enlightenment, modernity, ideologies, and
history, seems to be the categorical imperative of successive but repeti-
tive forms of posthistoric imaginaries.
Still the relationship between the formation of a historic culture dur-
ing fascism and that of posthistoric imaginaries may appear at first sight
as one of mere analogy and philosophical affinity. Just like the former in
Gentile’s philosophy of history, the latter has found philosophical artic-
ulation in a new revision of Hegelian philosophy of history conducted
by Alexander Kojève. Yet, whether or not Kojève ever read Gentile’s
work, his idea of a ‘new animality’ connected to the transformation of
history into ‘environment’ continued the detranscendentalization and
detemporization of historical semantics initiated by his predecessor.22 In
the repetitive return of posthistoric semantics to the mental image of
the end of history, we thus recognize a more historical connection
between the rise of posthistoric imaginaries and the evolution of fascist
historic culture as a whole. The idea of the end of history does not refer
so much to the fateful decline of historical semantics. Instead it captures
the historical demise of the fascist idea of historic agency in fascist his-
toric culture itself. Posthistoric imaginaries institutionalize the historic
infinitive projected by Italian fascism in the 1930s. In the final analysis,
206 The Historic Imaginary

the postmodern condition, famously defined by Jean-François Lyotard

as a widespread ‘incredulity toward metanarratives’ might be more accu-
rately and fruitfully thought of as a posthistoric(al) condition marked by
imaginaries that prevent the experience of both historical transcen-
dence and historic immanence.23
These, then, are the wider conclusions to which this study may lead,
if, of course, its final suggestions were to find further support and con-
firmation on both empirical and theoretical grounds. What seems
beyond dispute is the political opportunity and scholarly necessity of
keeping alive the recent research focus on the mental and cultural con-
tinuities between fascist and postfascist forms of imaginaries. Surely, the
so-called normalization of fascism ritually condemned by well-meaning
intellectuals at every turn of the revisionist clock has assumed political
dimensions that demand careful critique and political vigilance. Yet, as
this book demonstrates, the close reading of fascist culture is neither
doomed to ‘credulously report what fascism said rather than critically
exploring what it meant’ nor fated to contribute to its political rehabili-
tation – as a recent critic of the so-called culturalist approach to the
study of fascism, R.J.B. Bosworth, has improperly charged.24 To close
one’s eyes to the fact that fascist mass culture may have also constituted
a laboratory for the development of traits, trends, and paths developed
later and on a larger scale in our posthistoric(al) age is to remain con-
demned to a very conservative form of antifascism which still refuses to
acknowledge and take on the many intellectual challenges that Italian
fascism issued, and that some of its most acute observers and adversaries
– such as Bataille – recognized and left us to unravel.


1 ‘Mon cher Raymond, je t’écris de l’exposition fasciste même parce qu’il y a

des tables commodes pour écrire et voici comment l’idée m’est venue de
t’écrire. Cette exposition est ornée de tous les côtés notamment dans le sac-
rario des mortes d’une quantité de pavillons noirs à tête de mort. Un de ces
pavillons figure dans la reconstitution du misérable bureau de Mussolini à
Milan. Je suis assez étonné par ça. Je ne connaissais pas cette histoire. Je suis
même assez frappé. Ce n’est évidement pas cela qui va me faire acheter une
croix de feu en émail ni me changer si peu que ce soit mais c’est assez fort’
(my translation). This letter was first exhibited in the exhibition Raymond
Queneau plus intime, held in Paris in April 1978; cf. Carlo Ginzburg, Myths and
the Historical Method (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), 143.
It was then published in almost integral form, in its original French and in
an Italian translation, and with a commentary by the translator in Marina
Galletti, ‘Il sacro nell’ideologia del fascismo: Commento ad un inedito di
Bataille,’ Alternative 4 (1989): 112–13. Now it has been reprinted integrally in
Georges Bataille, Choix de lettres 1917–1962 (Paris: Gallimard, 1997), 80–3.
2 Georges Bataille, ‘La structure psychologique du fascisme,’ La Critique sociale
10 (November 1933): 159–65, and 11 (March 1934): 205–11. Now available in
Georges Bataille, Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927–1939, ed. Allan
Stoekl (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985): 137–60. All quota-
tions are from this 1985 version.
3 Ibid., 142–3.
4 For a brief introduction to Bataille’s life and work see Michael Richardson,
Georges Bataille (London: Routledge, 1994).
208 Notes to pages 4–5

5 See Chapter 6 in this volume.

6 On art under Nazism see Sandra Lotte Esslinger ‘Art in the Third Reich: The
Fabrication of National Cultural Identity’ (PhD diss., University of Southern
California Los Angeles, 2000); Peter Adam, Art of the Third Reich (New York:
Harry N. Abrams, 1992); and The Nazification of Art: Art, Design, Music, Archi-
tecture and Film in the Third Reich, ed. B. Taylor and W. van der Will (Winches-
ter, England: Winchester Press, 1990).
7 Among the most recent and comprehensive studies are Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Fas-
cist Modernities: Italy, 1922–1945 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of Cal-
ifornia Press, 2001); Emily Braun, Mario Sironi and Italian Modernism: Art and
Politics under Fascism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Marla
Stone, The Patron State: Culture and Politics in Fascist Italy (Princeton: Prince-
ton University Press, 1998); Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi, Fascist Spectacle: The
Aesthetics of Power in Mussolini’s Italy (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of
California Press, 1997); Jeffrey Schnapp, Staging Fascism: 18 BL and the Theater
of Masses for the Masses (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996); and Karen
Pinkus, Bodily Regimes: Italian Advertising under Fascism (Minneapolis: Univer-
sity of Minnesota Press, 1995), see also the special issue entitled ‘The Aes-
thetics of Fascism’ of the Journal of Contemporary History 31, no. 2 (April 1996),
and Fascism, Aesthetics, and Culture, ed. R.J. Golsan (Hanover, N.H.: University
of New England Press, 1992). Finally, for a visual documentation of fascist
aesthetics see images and essays in the catalogues of the exhibitions Art and
Power: Europe under the Dictators, 1930–1945 at the Hayward Gallery, London,
October 1995–January 1996 (catalogue published by the Hayward Gallery);
and Designing Modernity: The Arts of Reform and Persuasion 1885–1945, at the
Wolfsonian Museum, Miami, Fl., 1995 (catalogue published by Thames and
Hudson, New York).
8 Compare Adam, Art, 22–39, to Stone, The Patron State, 6.
9 Esslinger, ‘Art in the Third Reich,’ 1–8.
10 Stone, The Patron State, 177–221.
11 Walter Adamson, ‘The Language of Opposition in Early Twentieth-Century
Italy: Rhetorical Continuities between Prewar Florentine Avant-Gardism and
Mussolini’s Fascism,’ Journal of Modern History 64 (March 1992): 22–51.
12 Barbara Spackman, Fascist Virilities: Rhetoric, Ideology, and Social Fantasy
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996); and Walter Adamson,
‘Futurism, Mass Culture, and Women: The Reshaping of an Artistic Voca-
tion, 1909–1920,’ Modernism/modernity 4, no. 1 (1997): 89–114.
13 Zeev Sternhell, Neither Right nor Left: Fascist Ideology in France, trans. David
Maisel (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986); in particular Zeev
Sternhell, with Mario Sznajder and Maia Asheri, The Birth of Fascist Ideology:
Notes to page 5 209

From Cultural Rebellion to Political Revolution, trans. David Maisel (Princeton:

Princeton University Press, 1994).
14 Walter Adamson, Avant-Garde Florence: From Modernism to Fascism (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1993).
15 Walter Adamson, ‘Modernism and Fascism: The Politics of Culture in Italy,
1903–1922,’ American Historical Review 95, no. 2 (April 1990): 359–90); and
‘Fascism and Culture: Avant-Gardes and Secular Religion in the Italian
Case,’ Journal of Contemporary History 24, no. 3 (July 1989): 411–36.
16 On artistic modernism in the Anglo-German perspective see Andreas Huys-
sen, After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism (Blooming-
ton: Indiana University Press, 1986).
17 Thomas Crow, ‘Modernism and Mass Culture in the Visual Arts,’ Modernism
and Modernity: The Vancouver Conference Papers, ed. S. Guilbaut and D. Solkin
(Halifax: Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1983),
18 Adamson, ‘Futurism,’ 90.
19 See Theodore Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, ed. Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiede-
mann (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, [1970], 1997) Clement
Greenberg, Art and Culture: Critical Essays (Boston: Beacon Press, 1961); and
Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Press, 1984).
20 One of the earliest sociological analyses of modernism in art (though the
term was not used by the author) was published by José Ortega y Gasset in
1925. There is truly very little that has been added to the theory of modern-
ism in the visual arts elaborated by Ortega in The Dehumanization of Art, and
even less that has been corrected by future theorists of its blindness. Indeed,
Ortega’s blatant exclusion of futurism from the realm of genuine modern
art, and parallel identification of cubism and abstractism as its pinnacles, has
continued to mark all following theories of modernism and the avant-garde.
Yet Ortega remains rarely acknowledged as either a theorist of modernism
or a modernist thinker in his own right. One may suspect that this theoreti-
cal amnesia has something to do with the fact that Ortega’s major text, The
Revolt of the Masses (1930), openly expressed a complex combination of fear,
attraction, and disgust for mass culture harboured by all future theorists of
modernism. Yet, more plausibly, it was the very conceptualization of mass
culture and society from the point of view of Catholic modernismo, rather
than Marxism, that may have doomed Ortega’s theory and Latin modernism
with it to prolonged minority status. José Ortega y Gasset, The Dehumanization
of Art and Other Essays on Art, Culture, and Literature (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1925).
210 Notes to pages 6–8

21 On the historical theoretical relationship between aesthetic and Catholic

modernisms see Matei Calinescu, Five Faces of Modernity: Modernism, Avant-
Garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press,
1987), 68–86. On the importance of Latin Catholic forms of modernism
in general see Robert Wohl, The Generation of 1914 (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1979), and, by the same author, ‘The Generation of 1914
and Modernism,’ in Modernism: Challenges and Perspectives, ed. M. Chefdor,
R. Quinones and A. Wachtel (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois
Press, 1986). Also on Spanish modernism and the avant-garde see Spanish
Cultural Studies: An Introduction. The Struggle for Modernity, ed. H. Graham and
J. Lebanyi (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995).
22 Adamson, Avant-Garde Florence.
23 Adamson, ‘Futurism,’ 92.
24 Günther Berghaus, Futurism and Politics: Between Anarchist Rebellion and Fascist
Reaction, 1909–1944 (Providence, RI: Berghahn Books, 1996), especially
25 Falasca-Zamponi, Fascist Spectacle.
26 Jeffrey Schnapp, ‘Epic Demonstrations: Fascist Modernity and the 1932 Exhi-
bition of the Fascist Revolution,’ in Fascism, Aesthetics, and Culture, ed. Rich-
ard Golsan (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1992), 1–32.
27 Jeffrey Herf, Reactionary Modernism: Technology, Culture, and Politics in Weimar
and the Third Reich (Cambridge: Cambridge Unversity Press, 1984).
28 This idea has been adumbrated by Adamson in all of his writings and explic-
itly discussed in Emilio Gentile, ‘The Conquest of Modernity: From Modern-
ist Nationalism to Fascism,’ Modernism/modernity 1, no. 3 (1994): 55–87. From
a very different perspective, the idea of fascism as political modernism also
informs Andrew Hewitt, Fascist Modernism: Aesthetics, Politics and the Avant-
Garde (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1993).
29 On the Nazi view of history in general see Michael Salewski, ‘Geschichte als
Waffe: Der Nationalsozialistische Missbrauch,’ Jahrbuch für deutsche Geschichte
14 (1985): 289–310. Salewski’s study examines Hitler’s conceptions of history
in comparison to those of Rosenberg, Goebbels, and Himmler. See also
Franz-Lothar Kroll, ‘Geschichte und Politik im Weltbild Hitlers,’ Viertelsjahr-
heft für Zeitgeschichte 44, no. 3 (1996): 327–53. I wish to thank Kristine Sem-
mens for the valuable bibliographical references in notes 30 through 35.
30 George Mosse, ‘Death, Time, and History: Volkish Utopia and Its Transcen-
dence,’ Masses and Men (New York: Howard Fertig, 1980), 69–86. For the dis-
semination of this apocalyptic view of history in Nazi education see Gilmer
W. Blackburn, Education in the Third Reich: Race and History in Nazi Textbooks
(Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1985), especially 22–41.
Notes to pages 9–11 211

31 Ibid., 85.
32 On Nazi historiography see Karl Ferdinand Werner, ‘Die deutsche Historiog-
raphie unter Hitler,’ in Geschichtswissenschaft in Deutschland, ed. Bernd Fau-
lenbach (Munich: Verlag C.H. Beck, 1974); Karen Schönwälder, Historiker
und Politik: Geschichstwissenschaft im Nationalsozialismus (Frankfurt: Campus,
1992); and, by the same author, ‘The Fascination of Power: Historical Schol-
arship in Nazi Germany,’ History Workshop Journal, 43 (1997): 133–53. On aca-
demic studies of the Bismarck era, see Assunta Esposito, ‘La valutazione
dell’opera di Bismarck nella Germania nazionalsocialistica attraverso
l’esame della storiografia e della publicistica,’ Storia Contemporanea 9, no. 4
(1978): 663–81. On the teaching of history, see Horst Gies, Geschichstunterricht
unter der Diktatur Hitlers (Cologne: Böhlau, 1992); Rainer Riemenschneider,
‘L’enseignement de l’historie, en Allemagne, sous le “IIIe Reich,”’ Francia 7
(1979): 401–28; and Gilmer Blackburn, Education. Finally, on Nazi sites of
memory and history see the two volumes by Rudy Koshar, Germany’s Transient
Past: Preservation and National Memory in the Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 1998), and From Monuments to Traces: Arti-
facts of German Memory, 1870–1990 (Los Angeles and Berkeley: University of
California Press, 2000).
33 Koshar, From Monuments, 115–16.
34 Adam, Art, 26–7.
35 Emilio Gentile, The Sacralization of Politics in Fascist Italy, (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1996), 75–9.
36 Piergiorgio Zunino, L’ideologia del fascismo (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1980),
37 Ibid., 75.
38 Although the semantic distinction between the adjectives historic and histori-
cal was codified only in English, all Romantic linguistic areas have developed
ways to distinguish between the idea of a ‘fact’ belonging to the past (histori-
cal) and that of an epochal ‘event’ (historic) that belongs to the present of
39 David Freedberg, The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of
Response (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 77.
40 See Luisa Passerini’s bibliographical article ‘Immaginare l’immaginario:
Rassegna di libri e termini,’ Linea d’Ombra 7, no. 42 (1989): 19–21.
41 Although mostly intuitive, the notion of collective imaginary developed in
this study is partly inspired to the influential theory of the individual imagi-
nary elaborated by French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan. In his continuation
and revision of Freudian theory, Lacan distinguished between three orders of
human experience, ‘the imaginary,’ ‘the symbolic,’ and ‘the real,’ thereby
212 Notes to pages 11–14

dramatically revising Freud’s influential notions of the unconscious and the

ego. For Lacan, the imaginary was a permanent trait of the self, derived from
the so-called mirror-stage in the child’s development – that is, from the
whole pre-linguistic realm of child-mother relations. In Lacanian psycho-
analysis, therefore, the imaginary constitutes a mental space of dual relations
with the other/mother to the exclusion of the symbolic/father/language.
The imaginary is the space of ambivalence, of fantasy, of the desire for
fusion, and of the search for unmediated presence. It is a space, finally,
where human consciousness maintains a repetitive, hereditary, and quasi-
mechanic character, as opposed to the symbolic, which connotes the plane
where the subject constitutes itself through language, thereby distinguishing
between subject and object. While rejecting the sharp polarization posited
by Lacan between the psychic world of image (the imaginary) and that of
language (the symbolic), my notion of historic imaginary does resonate with
the Lacanian stress on the agency of desire (for fusion) in the formation of
collective mentalities. See Jacques Lacan, Écrits: A Selection (New York and
London: Norton, 1977), especially 191–7. For an introduction to Lacan’s
notion of the imaginary see Bice Benvenuto and Roger Kennedy, The Works
of Jacques Lacan: An Introduction (London: Free Association Books, 1986),
especially 80–2; and Dylan Evans, An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psycho-
analysis (London: Routledge, 1996), 82–4.
42 Luisa Passerini, Mussolini immaginario: Storia di una biografia, 1915–1939
(Bari: Laterza, 1991), 6.
43 Fernand Braudel, On History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980),
44 Passerini, ‘Immaginare,’ 20.
45 Unfortunately this important study is still waiting for an English translation.
46 Passerini’s oral history of the popular memory of Mussolini and the regime
in the Turin working class supported her analysis in Mussolini immaginario;
see Luisa Passerini, Fascism in Popular Memory: The Cultural Experience of the
Turin Working Class (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).
47 Passerini, Mussolini immaginario, 61 and 116.
48 On microhistorical methodology and goals see Carlo Ginzburg, ‘Microhis-
tory: Two or Three Things That I Know about It,’ Critical Inquiry 20, no. 1
(Autumn 1993): 10–35; and (from an opposite perspective) F.R. Ankersmit,
The Reality Effect in the Writing of History: The Dynamics of Historical Topology
(Amsterdam: Koninklijke Nederlanse Akademie Van Wetenschappen, 1989),
especially 15–33.
49 Jeffrey Schnapp and Barbara Spackman, ‘Introduction’ to the special issue
‘Fascism and Culture,’ Stanford Italian Review 8, nos. 1–2 (1992): 215–35.
Notes to pages 14–19 213

50 Ginzburg, ‘Microhistory,’ 27.

51 Carlo Ginzburg and Carlo Poni, ‘The Name of the Game: Unequal
Exchange and the Historiographical Marketplace,’ in Microhistory and the Lost
Peoples of Europe. Selections from Quaderni Storici, ed. E. Muir and C. Ruggiero
(Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), 8.
52 Emilio Gentile, The Sacralization of Politics, 33.
53 In particular, see Stone, The Patron State, 128–76; Schnapp, ‘Epic Demonstra-
tions,’ 23; Diane Ghirardo, ‘Architects, Exhibitions, and the Politics of Cul-
ture in Fascist Italy,’ Journal of Architectural Education (JAE) 45 (February
1992): 70; and Libero Andreotti, ‘Art and Politics in Italy: The Exhibition of
the Fascist Revolution’ (PhD diss., Massachussets Institute of Technology,
1989), 156.
54 Gentile, The Sacralization of Politics, 109–21.
55 Emilio Gentile’s The Sacralization of Politics has forcefully argued that fascism
understood and institutionalized itself as a proper ‘political religion’ with an
interlocked set of values, rituals, and myths, which successfully substituted
for its well-known lack of an ideological core. From the perspective of the
sacralization of politics, the key to the consensus won by fascism among large
sectors of the Italian population can be located in the continuities between
the Catholic mindset and the institutionalization of a proper cult of fascism.
Along parallel lines, see also Mabel Berezin, Making the Fascist Self: The Politi-
cal Culture of Interwar Italy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1997).
56 The unique importance of the Italian fascist context to avant-gardist theories
of the fascist phenomenon is also visible in the words of Benjamin who, as
late as 1936, in defining the fascist aesthetization of politics, could find no
Nazi example and referred to the relationship between Mussolini’s fascism
and Marinetti’s futurism. See, in particular, Walter Benjamin, ‘The Work of
Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,’ in Illuminations, ed. Hanna
Arendt (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), 241–2.
57 Bataille, Visions, 243–5.
58 E.H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Presenta-
tion (London: Phaidon, 1968); David Freedberg, The Power of Images; and
W.J.T. Mitchell, Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology (Chicago: University of Chi-
cago Press, 1986).
59 W.J.T. Mitchell, Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), and E.H. Gombrich, ‘Style,’ in
International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. 15, D. Sills ed. (New York:
Macmillan and The Free Press, 1982), 352–61.
60 H. Aram Veeser, ‘Introduction,’ in The New Historicism, ed. H.A. Veeser
(London: Routledge, 1989), xi, and Stephen Greenblatt, ‘Psychoanalysis and
214 Notes to pages 20–2

Renaissance Culture,’ in Literary Theory/Renaissance Texts, ed. P. Parker and

D. Quint (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), 217.
61 Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition. A Report on Knowledge
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 28.
62 Alexandre Kojève, Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit Assembled by Raymond
Queneau, ed. Allan Bloom (New York: Basic Books, [1947], 1969), 147–52;
and Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: Free
Press, 1992).

1. History Belongs to the Present

1 ‘Non ci meravigliamo, signori, se accanto agli imboscati della guerra tro-

viamo quelli della storia, i quali, non avendo per molte ragioni e anche per
la loro impotenza creativa, potuto produrre l’evento, cioè fare la storia
prima di scriverla, ora consumano la loro vendetta diminuendola senza
obiettività o vergogna.’ Benito Mussolini, ‘Risposta al Senato sui patti
lateranenzi,’ in Scritti e discorsi di Benito Mussolini: Edizione definitiva vol. 7
(Milan: Hoelpi, 1939), 117 (my translation).
2 Carlo De Frede, ‘Il giudizio di Mussolini su Croce,’ Storia e Politica 22, no. 1
(March 1983): 122.
3 Most traditional studies of fascist ideology have answered this question nega-
tively, emphasizing the pragmatic nature of fascism, its lack of doctrinal
coherence, and its reliance on myths rather than philosophical premises.
More recently, Zeev Sternhell has traced the origins of fascist ideology to the
‘anti-materialist revision of Marxism’ headed by George Sorel, but has found
no trace of a genuine philosophy of history in the ideological compound of
Italian fascism. Similarly, for Piergiorgio Zunino, a sense of time and history
was central to the formation of fascist ideology, but this ideology was not the
province of Mussolinian speeches but the work of intellectuals, journalists,
and historians who collaborated to give a fascist face to the Italian past. See
Emilio Gentile, Le origini dell’ideologia fascista (1918–1925) (Bologna: Il
Mulino, 1975), republished without modifications in 1996; Zeev Sternhell
with Mario Sznajder and Maria Asheri, The Birth of Fascist Ideology (Princeton,
N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994); Piergiorgio Zunino, L’ideologia del
fascismo. Miti, credenze e valori nella stabilizzazione del regime (Bologna: Il
Mulino, 1980), especially 63–129.
4 De Frede, 123.
5 Giovanni Belardelli, ‘Il Fascismo e l’organizzazione della cultura,’ in Storia
d’Italia 4: Guerre e fascismo, 1914–1943 (Bari: Laterza, 1997), 394.
6 Benito Mussolini, Scritti e discorsi vol. 5 (Milan: Hoepli, 1934–39), 279–84. On
Notes to pages 22–5 215

the relationship between fascism and art, see Marla Stone, The Patron State:
Culture and Politics in Fascist Italy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,
1998), especially 43–54.
7 Belardelli, ‘Il Fascismo,’ 395.
8 Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi, Fascist Spectacle: The Aesthetics of Power in Musso-
lini’s Italy (Los Angeles, Berkeley, and London: University of California
Press, 1997), 26.
9 On the Critica Fascista debate, see Jeffrey Schnapp and Barbara Spackman,
‘Selections from the Great Debate on Fascism and Culture,’ Stanford Italian
Review 8, no. 1/2: 235–72; on fascist patronage of art, and fascist art culture
in general, see Stone, The Patron State.
10 On Hitler and the Nazification of German art, see Peter Adam, Art of the
Third Reich (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1992); and The Nazification of Art:
Art, Design, Music, Architecture and the Film in the Third Reich, ed. B. Taylor and
W. van der Will (Winchester, England: Winchester Press, 1990).
11 See Laura Malvano, Fascismo e politica dell’immagine (Turin: Bollati Borin-
ghieri, 1988).
12 Zunino, L’ideologia, 63, 72, and 71.
13 Renzo De Felice, ‘Gli storici italiani nel periodo fascista,’ in Intellettuali
difronte al fascismo: Saggi e note documentarie (Rome: Bonacci, 1985), 191.
14 Zunino, L’ideologia, 65 and 75.
15 For a discussion of the relationship between fascist ideology and Mazzini’s
thought, see Giovanni Belardelli, ‘Il fantasma di Rousseau: Fascismo, nazion-
alsocialismo e vera democrazia,’ Storia contemporanea (June 1994): 361–89;
and Emilio Gentile, The Sacralization of Politics in Fascist Italy (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1996), 1–19.
16 The best introduction to the intellectual development of Gentile’s philoso-
phy is in Eugenio Garin’s introduction to Giovanni Gentile: Opere filosofiche,
ed. E. Garin (Milan: Garzanti, 1991), 13–80. For a recent discussion of the
relationship between actualism and fascism with many points of contact with
this study, see Fabio Vander, L’estetizzazione della politica: Il fascismo come anti-
Italia (Bari: Dedalo, 2001). Unfortunately, the bibliography on Gentile in
English is rather small. Thanks to James Gregor we finally have a synthetic
intellectual biography in English, Giovanni Gentile: Philosopher of Fascism (New
Brunsnick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2001). For a contemporary account
of Gentile’s philosophy in English see Patrick Romanell, The Philosophy of
Giovanni Gentile: An Inquiry into Gentile’s Concept of Experience (New York:
Vanni, 1938). The only extensive treatment of Gentile’s philosophy in
English is still H.S. Harris, The Social Philosophy of Giovanni Gentile (Urbana:
University of Illinois Press, 1960), which focuses, however, on Gentile’s last
216 Notes to pages 25–6

book, Genesi e struttura della società (Firenze: Sansoni 1946), edited and trans-
lated by H.S. Harris as Genesis and Structure of Society (Urbana: University of
Illinois Press, 1960) with its useful ‘Bibliography of Gentile’s Studies in
English,’ 53–63. See also by the same author, ‘Gentile’s “The Reform of
Hegelian Dialectics,”’ Idealistic Studies 11 (1981): 187–8; and Richard Bellamy,
‘Giovanni Gentile,’ in Modern Italian Social Theory: Ideology and Politics from
Pareto to the Present (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1987), 100–14. Insightful com-
ments comparing Croce’s and Gentile’s philosophical systems can be found
in M.E. Moss, Benedetto Croce Reconsidered: Truth and Error in Theories of Art, Lit-
erature and History (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1987);
and David D. Roberts, Benedetto Croce and the Uses of Historicism (Berkeley and
Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1987). The only philosophical
works of Gentile published in English are The Theory of Mind as Pure Act
(1916), translated from the third edition of Teoria generale dello spirito come atto
puro by H.W. Carr (London: Macmillan, 1922); The Reform of Education, a
translation of La riforma dell’educazione (1920) by D. Bigongiari, with an intro-
duction by B. Croce (New York: Harcourt Brace and Co., 1922); ‘The Philo-
sophical Basis of Fascism,’ Foreign Affairs 6, no. 2 (January 1928): 290–304;
‘The Transcending of Time in History,’ in Philosophy and History: Essays Pre-
sented to Ernst Cassirer (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1936); and The Philosophy of
Art (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1972).
17 The reflections written by Antonio Gramsci in his famous Quaderni dal carcere
on Croce and Gentile’s philosophical propositions – now collected in Anto-
nio Gramsci, Croce and Gentile (Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1992) – have long con-
stituted an obligatory point of reference for any historical treatment of their
relationship. See, for example, Jader Jacobelli, Croce Gentile: Dal sodalizio al
dramma, with a preface by Norberto Bobbio (Milan: Rizzoli, 1989); and Nor-
berto Bobbio, Profilo ideologico del novecento italiano (Turin: Einaudi, 1986).
The bibliography (in Italian) on the personal and philosophical relationship
between Croce and Gentile is immense; for the most recent titles see Sara
Bonechi, ‘B. Croce – G. Gentile: Bibliografia, 1980–1993,’ in Giornale Critico
della Filosofia Italiana: Croce e Gentile un secolo dopo, 6th series, vol. 14, nos. 2–3
(May–December 1994): 529–660. For a critical appraisal and useful biblio-
graphic information on Crocean and Gentilian studies in English, see David
D. Roberts, ‘La fortuna di Croce e Gentile negli Stati Uniti,’ in the same vol-
ume, 253–81.
18 The term ‘Giolittian’ refers to the symbolic shadow that the long-lasting
political rule of Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti cast on liberal politics and
culture in fin de siècle Italy and beyond. See Emilio Gentile, ‘From the Cul-
tural Revolt of the Giolittian Era to the Ideology of Fascism,’ in Studies in
Notes to pages 26–8 217

Modern Italian History: From the Risorgimento to the Republic, ed. F.J. Coppa (New
York: Peter Lang, 1986), 106.
19 On the history of the two manifestos, see Emilio Papa, Storia di due manifesti:
Il Fascismo e la cultura italiana (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1958).
20 Ibid., 29 and 43.
21 Essentially, Gentile posited actualism as a philosophical revision of Hegelian
idealism conducted from the point of view of the theological dualism of
‘immanence’ (i.e., God/meaning existing only within nature, man, and
mind) and ‘transcendence’ (i.e. God/meaning pre-existing outside nature,
man, and mind). As a philosophy of ‘absolute immanentism,’ actualism was
specifically meant to deliver both Catholic religion and idealist philosophy
from the error of transcendental thought. For Gentile, the spirit was neither
immediate nor transcendental but immanent in the act by which the subject
posits something as an object of thought and, in the active process of think-
ing, overcomes its objectivity and ultimately recognizes it as its own individ-
ual spirit. Read in reverse, Gentile argued, the individual act of thought was
also the only way in which the eternal spirit revealed itself to itself. For Gen-
tile, the elimination of the transcendental synthesis allowed the recognition
of the reciprocal immanence of spirit and matter and all the dualities they
engendered. Hence the immanent union of theory and practice, philosophy
and religion, and consciousness and will, in which Gentile saw the overcom-
ing of both Hegelian and Marxist dialectics by actualism’s ‘absolute imma-
nentism,’ and where Croce, instead, identified the mystical essence of
22 Benedetto Croce, ‘Misticismo e idealismo,’ La Voce 3, no. 11 (November
1913), now in Giuseppe Prezzolini, La Voce, 1908–1913: Cronologia, antologia
fortuna di una rivista (Milan: Rusconi, 1974), 507.
23 Augusto Del Noce, Giovanni Gentile: Per una interpretazione filosofica della storia
contemporanea (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1990), 268.
24 For a detailed treatment of Gentile’s intellectual and political life see
Gabriele Turi, Giovanni Gentile: Una biografia (Florence: Giunti, 1995).
25 Giovanni Gentile, ‘Mazzini,’ Politica 1, no. 2 (January 1919), 185–205; and
‘Ciò che è vivo in Mazzini,’ Politica 1, no. 3 (March 1919): 337–54.
26 Giovanni Gentile, ‘Il Fascismo e la Sicilia,’ in Che cos’è il fascismo (Florence:
Vallecchi, 1925), 32.
27 A more thorough discussion of Gentile’s Risorgimental paradigm can be
found in Del Noce, Giovanni Gentile.
28 On the debate concerning Volpe’s intellectual leadership in the organiza-
tion of Italian historiography during fascism, compare Gabriele Turi, ‘Il
problema Volpe,’ Studi Storici 19 (January 1978): 175–86, and De Felice, ‘Gli
218 Notes to pages 28–32

storici italiani’ 190–243. See also Armando Saitta, ‘L’organizzazione degli

studi storici,’ in Federico Chabod e la ‘nuova storiografia’ italiana dal primo al
secondo dopoguerra, ed. B. Vigezzi (Milan: Jaca Book, 1982); 511–13; Massimo
Miozzi, La scuola storica romana, 1926–1943 (Rome: Edizioni di Storia e
Letteratura, 1982); Delio Cantimori, ‘Note sugli studi storici dal 1926 al
1951,’ in Storici e storia (Turin: Einaudi, 1971), 268–80, and ‘Gli studi di
storia moderna e contemporanea,’ in Cinquant’anni di vita intellettuale
italiana, 1896–1946, ed. C. Antoni and R. Mattioli (Naples: Edizioni
Scientifiche Italiane, 1950). On the participation of other historiographical
schools in the creation of fascist historical culture see Antonio Casali, Storici
italiani fra le due guerre: La ‘nuova rivista storica,’ 1917–1943 (Naples: Guida,
29 Zunino, L’ideologia, 76.
30 De Felice, ‘Gli storici,’ 191.
31 Giovanni Belardelli, Il mito della ‘nuova italia’: Gioacchino Volpe tra guerra e
fascismo (Rome: Edizioni Lavoro, 1988), 25
32 Ibid., 108–23.
33 Volpe, L’Italia in cammino, 18.
34 Giovanni Belardelli, ‘Introduzione,’ in ibid, xx.
35 Ibid., xvii, and De Frede, ‘Il giudizio,’ 123. See also Gioacchino Volpe,
‘Motivi e aspetti della presente storiografia italiana,’ Nuova Antologia 67
(December 1931): 290–305.
36 For a discerning and balanced discussion of the differences among the two
texts, see Belardelli, ‘Introduzione,’ xxvii–xxix, and xxx–xxxi.
37 Croce’s distinction between Risorgimental epic and real history is in L’Italia
dal 1914 al 1918: Pagine sulla guerra (Bari: Laterza, 1921), 136: cited in
Belardelli, ‘Introduzione,’ xxix. Croce’s judgment on Volpe is in Storia della
storiografia nel secolo decimonono, vol. 2 (Bari: Laterza, 1930), 234–5; cited in
Belardelli, ‘Introduzione,’ xxvi.
38 Belardelli, ‘Introduzione,’ xxxi.
39 Belardelli, Il mito, 69–87.
40 As Belardelli rightly notes, Volpe’s narrative had not stressed, explored, or
affirmed the history-making function of historical myths, but rather con-
trasted the instrumental function of myths with a naturalized epoch. The
organizing metaphor of the book pointed the reader’s attention toward a
‘naturalistic rather than mystical-theological’ vision of the march of the Ital-
ian nation toward sociopolitical integration and international greatness.
Volpe had thus presented the making of fascist Italy as the result of a cen-
tury-long ‘“physiological and social” growth arising out of the irrepressible
Notes to pages 32–6 219

energy of the Italian people, and rooted in their demographic “vitality”’

(Belardelli, ‘Introduzione,’ xxi).
41 Benedetto Croce, ‘Vent’anni fa: Ricordo della pubblicazione di un libro,’ in
Quaderni della Critica 4, no. 10 (1948): 111–12 (my emphasis). Cited in De
Frede, ‘Il giudizio,’ 126.
42 For a useful discussion of the debate on art in relation to the debate on
historiography, see Giovanni Belardelli, ‘Il Fascismo e l’organizzazione
della cultura.’
43 Barbara Spackman, Fascist Virilities: Rhetoric, Ideology, and Social Fantasy in Italy
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 133.
44 Ibid.
45 Ibid., 133 and 123. On the crucial function of Mussolini’s speech events for
the formation of fascist aesthetic politics, see also Falasca-Zamponi, Fascist
46 Mussolini, Scritti e discorsi, 105–10.
47 The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press,
1989) s.v. ‘historic,’ ‘historical.’ The Italian expressions un evento storico and
un discorso storico carry the same semantic charge of a historic event and a his-
toric speech.
48 Consider the revisionist spell exercised by the defining historic event of our
times, the fall of the Berlin Wall.
49 Even in spoken English the semantic distinction between ‘historical’ and
‘historic’ is often lost.
50 Friedrich Nietzsche, ‘On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life’
(1874), in Untimely Meditations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1983), 57–123.
51 T.S. Eliot, ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ (1919), cited in James Lon-
genbach, Modernist Poetics of History: Pound, Eliot, and the Sense of the Past
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, [1919], 1987).
52 Hayden White, ‘The Modernist Event,’ in The Persistence of History: Cinema,
Television, and the Modern Event, ed. Vivian Sobchack (New York and London:
Routledge, 1996), 21–2.
53 Ibid., 20 and 51.
54 On the generational fascination with fascism see Robert Wohl, The Generation
of 1914 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979); on the virilist rhetoric
characterizing even the writings of antifascist critics and theoreticians such
as Walter Benjamin see Spackman, Fascist Virilities, 24–33.
55 Spackman, 123.
56 See in particular Giovanni Gentile, La filosofia di Marx (Pisa: Spoerri, 1899),
220 Notes to pages 36–9

‘Il concetto della storia,’ Studi Storici 8 (1899): 103–33 and 169–201; and La
riforma della dialettica hegeliana (Messina: Principato, 1913).
57 In order of publication: ‘I primi scritti di Benedetto Croce sul concetto della
storia’ (1897); Il materialismo storico (1899); La filosofia di Marx (1899); ‘Il
metodo storico nelle scienze sociali’ (1901); ‘Filosofia e storia della filosofia’
(1902); ‘La storia come scienza’ (1902); ‘Il problema della filosofia della sto-
ria’ (1903); ‘Il concetto della storia della filosofia’ (1907); ‘Il circolo della
filosofia e della storia della filosofia’ (1909); ‘Il concetto della grammatica’
(1910); ‘Il valore della storia e il formalismo assoluto’ (1910); ‘Il concetto del
progresso’ (1911); ‘Il metodo dell’immanenza’ (1912); ‘Il problema delle sci-
enze storiche’ (1915); ‘L’esperienza pura e la realtà storica’ (1915); ‘Politica
e filosofia’ (1918).
58 Giovanni Gentile, ‘Benedetto Croce: Il concetto della storia nelle sue relazi-
oni col concetto dell’arte,’ Studi Storici 6 (1897), 137–52. All of these articles,
and most other writings by Gentile on the philosophy of history have been
collected and republished in Giovanni Gentile. Opere. Frammenti di estetica e di
teoria della storia, vols. 47–8 (Florence: Le Lettere, 1992). For a detailed com-
mentary on the intense dialogue between Croce and Gentile on the problem
of history, see Michele Biscione, ‘Il tema della storia nella corrispondenza
Croce-Gentile, 1896–1899,’ Rivista di Storia della Storiografia Moderna 4, no. 3
(1983): 3–43. For a comprehensive and insightful discussion of the develop-
ment of Gentile’s theory of history from the early writings on Marx to the
essays published in the mid-1930s, see Antimo Negri, ‘Il concetto attualistico
della storia e lo storicismo,’ in Giovanni Gentile: La vita e il pensiero, vol. 10
(Florence: Sansoni, 1962), 1–220.
59 Prezzolini, La Voce, 512, 515, and 510.
60 G. Gentile, ‘L’Esperienza pura,’ quoted in Garin, ed., Giovanni Gentile: Opere
filosofiche, 410.
61 Negri, ‘Il concetto attualistico,’ 81.
62 Immanuel Kant, ‘The Contest of Faculties and Other Writings,’ (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 1979), 182, 183, and 181.
63 Negri, ‘Il concetto attualistico,’ 45.
64 Ibid., 412, 422, and 426.
65 Ibid., 422 and 425. This statement plainly reveals Gentile’s debt to another
eighteenth-century founder of the philosophy of history, Giambattista Vico.
Given the scope of this work I have left aside any discussion of Vico’s funda-
mental influence on Gentile’s theories of history and aesthetics, but one
could argue that Gentile always read ‘Kant according to Vico.’ For an
appraisal of Gentile’s relationship to Vico, see Giovanni Gentile, Opere: Studi
vichiani, vol. 16 and Antimo Negri, ‘Le Teorie estetiche di Giovanni Gentile,’
Notes to pages 39–44 221

in Giovanni Gentile: La Vita e il pensiero vol. 9 (Florence: Sansoni, 1961),

66 G. Gentile, ‘L’Esperienza pura,’ 423–25.
67 Del Noce points out that Gentile’s argument in ‘Politica e filosofia’ coin-
cided with Mussolini’s drift, after 1917, away from ‘socialist-revolutionary
interventionism’ and toward the antisocialist, liberal-nationalist compound
of the early fascist movement. For Del Noce, Mussolini’s choice of Gentile
as his first minister of education in 1922 should thus be considered as an
implicit and belated recognition that actualism and fascism had already con-
verged on the immanent synthesis of politics and philosophy articulated by
Gentile in ‘Politica e filosofia.’ Del Noce, Giovanni Gentile, 360.
68 Turi, Giovanni Gentile, 254.
69 Ibid., 150, 156, 157, 157.
70 G. Gentile, ‘Politica e filosofia,’ in Dopo la vittoria: Nuovi frammenti politici
(Rome: Edizioni La Voce, 1920), 145 (my emphasis).
71 Ibid., 148 (my emphasis).
72 Giovanna Procacci, ‘Aspetti della mentalità collettiva durante la guerra:
L’Italia dopo Caporetto,’ in La Grande Guerra: Esperienza, memoria, immagini,
ed. Dino Leoni and Camillo Zadra (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1986), 261–89.
73 Leninism, Gentile argued in a related article, was unrealistic because it
‘negated the political substance common to all individuals, groups and social
classes,’ just as Kantian liberalism had become obsolete because it had main-
tained a distinction between moral and political action. G. Gentile, ‘Lenin,’
in Giovanni Gentile: Opere. Guerra e fede, vol. 43 (Florence: Le Lettere, 1987),
74 Ibid., 156.
75 Intellectual historians of fascist ideology have consistently neglected the
importance of Gentile’s prolonged flirtation with Marxism between the
1890s and the early 1920s. See, for example, Emilio Gentile, Le origini
dell’ideologia fascista (1918–1925) (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1975), especially
397–418, and Del Noce, Giovanni Gentile, 283–96.
76 Zeev Sternhell with Mario Sznajder and Maria Asheri, The Birth of Fascist
Ideology, 12. Not even Sternhell, however, includes Gentile among the
principal figures of Marxist revisionism. Compare with Antimo Negri,
‘Attualismo e marxismo,’ in Giovanni Gentile: La vita e le opere, vol. 9, 189–
218, and Del Noce’s discussion of Sternhell’s thesis in Giovanni Gentile,
77 Del Noce, Giovanni Gentile, 268.
78 See Elvio Fachinelli, ‘Il fenomeno fascista,’ in La freccia ferma: Tre tentativi di
annullare il tempo (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1979), 135–52; and, for a specific study
222 Notes to pages 44–6

of the mental world of Italian soldiers, Antonio Gibelli, L’officina della guerra:
La grande guerra e la trasformazione del mondo mentale (Turin: Bollati Bordi-
ghieri, 1991), especially 3–16 and 76–121. On the decisive contribution of
modernist intellectuals to the creation and multifaceted development of an
Italian myth of the Great War and its impact on soldiers, see Mario Isnenghi,
Il mito della grande guerra (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1989), especially 323–94. There
is no specific study in English on the Italian experience of the Great War.
79 Fachinelli, ‘Il fenomeno fascista,’ 143. Fachinelli’s hypothesis finds historical
support in the studies cited above, which confirm that ambivalence toward
the military near catastrophe of Caporetto was a result of the conflicting war
mentalities of interventionists and noninterventionists. In particular, see
Belardelli, Il mito della nuova italia, 67–75, and Isnenghi, Il mito della grande
guerra, 261–96.
80 Ibid., 147.
81 Ibid., 166.
82 Ibid., 148–9.
83 Adamson, ‘Modernism and Fascism. The Politics of Culture in Italy, 1903–
1922,’ American Historical Review 95 (1990): 360.
84 Walter Adamson has articulated the theoretical-historical definition of Ital-
ian modernist culture in several studies: ‘Fascism and Culture: Avant-Gardes
and Secular Religion in the Italian Case,’ Journal of Contemporary History 24
(1989): 411–35; ‘Modernism and Fascism’; and Avant-Garde Florence: From
Modernism to Fascism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993), especially
1–14. See also Emilio Gentile, ‘The Conquest of Modernity: From Modernist
Nationalism to Fascism,’ Modernism/modernity 1, no. 3 (September 1994):
85 Turi, Giovanni Gentile, 194. On Gentile’s relationship with La Voce, see also
Emilio Gentile, La Voce e l’età giolittiana (Milan: Pan, 1972); Giuseppe Prezzo-
lini, Il tempo della Voce (Milan: Longanesi e Vallecchi, 1960); and Walter L.
Adamson, Avant-Garde Florence.
86 Scipio Slataper, letter to Prezzolini, 21 April 1911; published in Prezzolini, Il
tempo della Voce, 397; also quoted in Turi, Giovanni Gentile, 220.
87 Giovanni Gentile, ‘L’atto del pensare come atto puro,’ Annuario della biblio-
teca filosofica di Palermo 1 (1912): 27–42.
88 For Gentile, with the invention of a single God – both creator and incar-
nated in the man-God Christ – Christianity had initially rejected Platonic
transcendentalism, only to readmit it later through the back door with the
concepts of grace and supernatural revelation. These concepts Gentile saw
as the basis of Protestantism. Rejecting instead all supernatural and mytho-
logical aspects of Christianity, actualism literally resolved the Catholic Trinity
Notes to pages 46–8 223

into a single self-creating Spirit, replacing the ‘Holy’ attribute with the fun-
damental character of divinity: creation. Gentile’s combined reform of
Hegelian dialectics and Catholicism thus coincided in the personalization of
the creative God-Act. The Holy Trinity and the triadic movement of dialec-
tics were unified in the eternal movement of the self-creative act: the subject-
thought poses itself before an object (of thought/action), which, in the
interactive process of thinking-writing-reading, it overcomes and perceives as
belonging to itself as subject.
89 Del Noce, Giovanni Gentile, 268.
90 Antonio Gramsci, Quaderni del carcere, ed. V. Gerratana, vol. 3 (Turin:
Einaudi, 1975), 2038. For a discussion of futurism’s antirepresentational
syntax, see Andrew Hewitt, Fascist Modernism (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford
University Press, 1993).
91 Along with the fertile relationship between Gentile and La Voce, the growing
influence of Gentile on the vociani is confirmed by the reception of Croce’s
critique of actualism. Croce’s condemnation of actualism published by La
Voce in late 1913 by no means tarnished Gentile’s philosophical credentials.
On the contrary, it had serious repercussions for the vociani because the
intellectual enemy indicated by Croce in the final lines of his article was
none other than the figure of the actualist intellectual that some of them
had begun endorsing and praising in their writings. By and large the debate
that followed the exchange between Croce and Gentile in La Voce was no
longer about the philosophical truth of their positions but rather about
adopting a moderate version of actualism, or a more mystical ‘undiscriminat-
ing activism.’ Turi, Giovanni Gentile, 220.
92 On the delicate question of the relationship between Croce, Gentile, and the
modernist cultural front illustrated by Adamson, I do not agree with the
author’s recent inclusion of Croce in the first generation of what he terms
the Italian ‘modernist avant-garde.’ See Adamson, ‘Modernism and Fascism,’
368, and compare with ‘Benedetto Croce and the Death of Ideology,’ Journal
of Modern History 55, no. 2 (June 1983): 208–36, where Adamson mentions
neither the term avant-garde nor the term modernism.
93 Hayden White, ‘The Politics of Historical Interpretation: Discipline and De-
Sublimation,’ in Content of the Form (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University
Press, 1987), 74.
94 Hayden White, ‘Historical Emplotment and the Problem of Truth,’ in Prob-
ing the Limits of Representation: Nazism and the ‘Final Solution,’ ed. Saul Fried-
lander (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 49.
95 T.S. Eliot ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ (1919), cited in James Lon-
genbach, Modernist Poetics of History.
224 Notes to pages 48–9

96 For the history of modern ‘historical semantics,’ see Reinhard Koselleck,

Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1985).
97 The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., s.v. ‘historic.’
98 Henrico Estienne, Thesaurus Grecae Linguae, vol. 3 (Paris: Royal French Insti-
tute of Typography, 1831), 1064.
99 H.G. Lindell and R. Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, vol. 1 (Oxford: Claredion
Press, 1925), 564.
100 Carlo Ginzburg, ‘Ekphrasis and Quotations,’ Tijdschrift voor Filosofie 20
(March 1988): 3–19. In the ensuing discussion of the relationship between
enàrgeia and Greek-Latin historical culture, I rely also on Andrew D. Walker,
‘Enargeia and the Spectator in Greek Historiography,’ Transactions of the
American Philological Association, 123 (1993): 353–77; G. Zanker, ‘Enargeia in
the Ancient Criticism of Poetry,’ Reinisches Museum für Philologie 124 (1981):
297–311; A.J. Goodman, Rhetoric in Classical Historiography; Four Studies (Port-
land: Areopagica Press, 1988); and James Davidson, ‘The Gaze of Polybius,’
Journal of Roman Studies 81 (1991): 10–24. In addition, my argument is
informed by Sande Cohen’s critique of Ginzburg’s ‘Desire for History: His-
toriography, Scholarship, and the Vicarious (on C. Ginzburg),’ Storia della
Storiografia 30 (1996): 68–9, as well as Murray Krieger’s discussion of enàrgeia
as the sign of ‘literature’s impulse to become visual’ in Ekphrasis (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1992), especially 67–89. See also Roy Park, ‘“Ut
Pictura Poesis”: The Nineteenth-Century Aftermath,’ Journal of Aesthetics and
Art Criticism 28, no. 2 (Winter 1969): 155–64; James Heffernann, ‘Space and
Time in Literature and the Visual Arts,’ Soundings 70, nos. 1–2 (Spring/
Summer 1987): 95–119; and Joseph Frank, ‘Spatial Form in Modern Litera-
ture,’ Sewanee Review 53 (1945): 221–40. Finally, my whole approach to the
question of representation in Western culture is indebted to W.T.J. Mitch-
ell’s theoretical insights on the relationship between word and image in
Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987)
and Picture Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994).
101 Ginzburg, ‘Ekphrasis,’ 7.
102 As Walker explains, the truth-presence effect of enàrgeia in Greek historiog-
raphy was often achieved by complex descriptions of the reactions of view-
ers to the events under narration in order to invite the reader to identify
with the emotions of the onlookers. Walker, ‘Enàrgeia,’ 357.
103 Paradigmatic in this respect was Quintilien’s famous definition of evidentia.
For Quintilien, in fact, evidentia in narratione secured only ‘the appearance of
palpability’ and was therefore equally useful to those who strive to ‘obscure
the situation’ and ‘those who state the false in lieu of the true.’ Quintilien,
Institutio Oratoria 4, no. 2: 64–5; cited in Ginzburg, ‘Ekphrasis,’ 15.
Notes to pages 49–54 225

104 Carlo Ginzburg, ‘Représentation: Le mot, l’idée, la chose’ in Annales ESC, 6

(November–December 1991): 1224.
105 Ibid.
106 Ibid., 1230.
107 David Freedberg, The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of
Response (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 161–91.
108 Ibid., 77–9.

2. Il Duce Taumaturgo

1 ‘I musei del dolore,’ Riforma sociale (20 October 1920): 8–10. The article was
republished by its author, Antonio Monti, in 1953.
2 Enzo Collotti, ‘Una istituzione berlinese degli anni venti: Lo Internation-
ales Anti-Kriegs-Museum,’ in La Grande Guerra: Esperienza, memoria, imma-
gini, ed. D. Leoni and C. Zadra (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1986), 715–43.
3 Ibid., 734.
4 Jay Winter, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning: The Great War in European Cul-
tural History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 227.
5 Ibid., 95.
6 Antonio Monti, ‘Una carezza di Mussolini e l’archivio della guerra,’ Milano
(October 1930): 1.
7 Luisa Passerini, Mussolini immaginario: Storia di una biografia, 1915–1939
(Bari: Laterza, 1991). See in particular 15–22.
8 As historian, conference-goer, and journalist, Antonio Monti situated him-
self at the very centre of the formation of fascist historical discourse. Dur-
ing the ventennio, Monti published thirty-five monographs and over a
hundred articles on topics related to the Risorgimento or the Great War
in both professional and cultural journals. Much more numerous were his
almost weekly articles on the first and third pages of the Corriere della Sera.
Several of these were dedicated to ‘hot’ professional topics, such as the
relationship between the Risorgimento and ‘contemporary history,’ and
the periodization of the Risorgimental epoch. See Antonio Monti,
‘Trent’anni di studi sui documenti del museo del risorgimento e del
museo di guerra di Milano, 1914–1944,’ abstract from Rivista storica del
Risorgimento (no date): 1–15.
9 In 1920, Monti published a detailed record of his experience in the com-
mission entitled Combattenti e silurati (Ferrara: STET, 1920).
10 During the conflict, a futurist image of the ‘war-pharmacon’ had also circu-
lated widely on the interventionist front. See Mario Isnenghi, Il mito della
grande guerra (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1989), 179–260.
226 Notes to pages 55–8

11 Obviously, in Monti’s case, this connection was also biographical. Born to

unknown parents on 26 October 1882, Monti was brought up in a Milanese
Catholic orphanage and attended private Catholic schools and university in
Milan. Antonio Monti, ‘Ricordi di un direttore di museo,’ Nuova Antologia
(October 1949): 22–42.
12 Mabel Berezin, Making the Fascist Self: The Political Culture of Interwar Italy
(Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1997), 110.
13 For his socialist comrades Mussolini had been ‘l’uomo nuovo’ (the new man),
and this image had been romanticized during the war by the portrait of
invulnerability of the interventionist Mussolini published by Torquato Nanni
in 1915. Yet, from the beginning and through all of its permutations, Musso-
lini’s image was also marked by a congenital duplicity: from revolutionary to
man of order and vice versa. As a social phenomenon, the coalescence of
mussolinismo is thus traceable to the immediate aftermath of the Great War,
and specifically to the interaction between this Janus-faced Mussolini and the
ambivalent mass imaginary that emerged from the war. ‘To the collective cri-
sis of identity, following the end of the conflict,’ Passerini writes, ‘Mussolin-
ism offered a solution on the terrain of the imaginary not devoid of real
footholds in the new relations between power and masses’ (Passerini, Musso-
lini immaginario, 66–7).
14 Ibid., 6.
15 Luisa Passerini, Fascism in Popular Memory: The Cultural Experience of the Turin
Working Class (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).
16 Passerini, Mussolini immaginario, 6 and 226.
17 Ibid., 66, 39, 61.
18 Ibid., 61 and 116.
19 Monti, ‘Una carezza,’ 1.
20 I am referring here to W.J.T. Mitchell’s definition of ‘hypericons’ as ‘figures
of figuration, pictures that reflect on the nature of images.’ W.J.T. Mitchell,
Picture Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 158–60.
21 Antonio Monti, Confidenze agli amici del Museo del Risorgimento di Milano
(Milan: Capo d’anno editions, 1936), 3.
22 Antonio Monti, ‘Il museo del Risorgimento italiano nel Castello Sforzesco di
Milano,’ Bollettino dell’Ufficio Storico (1 July 1926).
23 After a historiographical and administrative battle that lasted for over a
decade, Monti succeeded in 1939 in changing the official name of his
museum to the Civic Institute of Contemporary History. Antonio Monti, ‘Il
civico istituto per la storia contemporanea di Milano,’ Rassegna Storica del
Risorgimento (May 1939), 3–4.
24 Ministero Pubblica Istruzione (MPI), Bollettino Ufficiale, no. 15, 10 April 1928,
Notes to pages 58–61 227

circolare no. 34, and Antonio Monti, ‘L’Archivio della guerra,’ La Lettura
(November 1925): 826.
25 Antonio Monti, ‘Incremento e iniziative del museo del Risorgimento di
Milano nel 1928,’ in Rassegna Storica del Risorgimento, Atti del XVI Congresso
Sociale: Tenuto in Bologna l’8, 9 e 10 novembre 1928 (Rome, 1929), 4.
26 Antonio Monti, ‘Fondamento scientifico del catalogo per soggietti
dell’Archivio della Guerra con un saggio di ricerca sul tema: espressione
popolare del sentimento religioso nei soldati meridionali,’ Rendiconti del
Reale Istituto Lombardo di Scienze e Lettere 67 (1934): 1–2.
27 Among the first we find: high culture, art in war, patriotic songs, military car-
icatures, illustrated postcards, censorship, culture, war diaries, prison note-
books, drawings, photographs, futurism, war iconography, teachers,
intellectuals, inventions, popular literature of war, posters, monuments to
the fallen, war museums, patriotic music, commemorations of the fallen,
patriotic poems, Austrian propaganda, Italian anti-war propaganda, Austro-
Hungarian anti-war propaganda, Italian military patriotic propaganda, sat-
ire, wartime science, wartime school, the press, soldier’s theatre, propaganda
theater, wartime humour, universities. In the second group we find a pecu-
liar combination of subjects such as: wartime love, filial love, war atrocities,
self-destructiveness, national consciousness, privations and destitution, anti-
war sentiment, women in the war, eroticism, children in the war, war folk-
lore, wartime generosity, justice, soldiers’ letters, books of prayers, maternal
sentiment, lies, morality, hatred, wartime compassion, psychiatry, war psy-
chology, wartime religion, resistance, retaliation, superstitions.
28 Monti, ‘Fondamento,’ 12–18.
29 Stephen Bann, The Inventions of History: Essays on the Representation of the Past
(Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1990), 109. Bann
has also developed this in The Clothing of Clio: A Study of the Representation of
History in Nineteenth-Century Britain and France (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni-
versity Press, 1984) and Romanticism and the Rise of History (New York: Maxwell
Macmillan, 1995).
30 Bann, The Inventions of History, 142–3.
31 I have acquired this information from Monti’s only surviving daughter,
Ernestina (age 72), who has preserved the entire run of La Critica collected
by her father, five letters of Croce to Monti, and the memory of a long meet-
ing between the two in the early 1950s in which they exchanged reminis-
cences of their youthful encounters.
32 Antonio Monti, ‘Le date estreme di un martirologio glorioso,’ Nuova Antolo-
gia vol. 53 (November 1918): 3–5.
33 Antonio Monti, ‘Museo patriottico e documentazione storica delle vicende
228 Notes to pages 61–4

politiche e civili d’Italia dalla fine del secolo XVIII ai giorni nostri,’ Archivio
del comune di Milano (ACM): Istruzione Pubblica (IP), ‘Museo del Risorgi-
mento,’ cartella 13, 1926–27.
34 The following paragraphs are based on my own research as well as on
Massimo Baioni, ‘I musei del Risorgimento. Santuari laici dell’Italia liberale,’
Passato e Presente 29 (May–August 1993): 57–86; and, by the same author, La
‘religione della patria’: Musei e istituti del culto risorgimentale, 1884–1918 (Treviso:
Pagus, 1994).
35 Baioni, ‘I musei,’ 73. As Baioni himself notes, this model of selection and dis-
play matches Bann’s definition of the Romantic poetics of Du Sommerard’s
Musèe de Cluny; cf. Bann, The Clothing of Clio, 85.
36 Ibid., 74.
37 Atti del Primo Congresso per la Storia del Risorgimento Italiano tenutosi in Milano
nel novembre 1906 (Milan: Tipografia Lanzani, 1907), 79.
38 Alois Riegl, Der moderne Denkmalkultus: Sein Wesen und seine Entstehung
(Vienna-Leipzig, 1903), translated by K.W. Forster and D. Ghirardo as ‘The
Modern Cult of Monuments: Its Character and Its Origin,’ Oppositions 25
(1982): 21–51.
39 Ibid., 24 and 21.
40 Jean Baudrillard, For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (St. Louis,
Mo.: Telos Press, 1981), 133 (my emphasis).
41 Società Nazionale per la Storia del Risorgimento Italiano (SNSRI), Atti del
XII Congresso: Tenutosi in Torino nei giorni 17–18–19 ottobre 1924, (Casale,
1925), 72. Here, Monti’s words echoed those of the two historians, Achille
Bertarelli and Giuseppe Gallavresi, who, in 1906, had openly attacked
Corio’s defense of memory value. Their statements had become the mani-
festo of a ‘scientific’ and ‘intellectual’ resistance against the dominant ‘senti-
mental’ approach subscribed to by Corio and a majority of museum curators.
After the war, Bertarelli and Gallavresi became Monti’s principal allies in the
restructuring of the MRM. It was Bertarelli’s donation of his historical collec-
tion of Great War newspapers and printed propaganda that allowed the
establishment of Monti’s Archive of War. As for Gallavresi, he became the
Milanese Assessore alla Cultura (municipal official in charge of culture) in
1924. From this position he became Monti’s political patron and the primary
provider of the museum’s financial support.
42 Monti, ‘Il Museo del Risorgimento italiano.’
43 SNSRI, Atti del XII Congresso, 69.
44 Ibid., 73.
45 Walter Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,’
Notes to pages 64–73 229

in Illuminations, ed. Hanna Arendt (New York: Schocken Books, 1968),

46 Ibid., 222.
47 By ‘not-properly-patriotic items,’ Monti meant ‘materials pertaining to the
reactionary or enemy camp, or concerning the political, economic, and civic
life of the country, from the intellectual debates of ideas to the battles for
health and social progress (such as those against pellagra, tuberculosis, alco-
holism, illiteracy).’ SNSRI, Atti del XII Congresso, 73.
48 Ibid., 74.
49 Unfortunately, a reconstruction of Monti’s curatorial practices can be at best
tentative and conjectural. Both Monti’s private archive and the museum’s
administrative archives were destroyed during World War II. All we have are
a few photographs of the museum’s archive, library, and central hall that were
published in 1926, and these do not permit an overall evaluation of Mon-
ti’s restructuring of the display or of his success in implementing his stated
plans. However, a number of written statements concerning the museum’s
activities in the late 1920s and early 1930s allow us to at least test the consis-
tency of Monti’s commitment to the innovations he announced in 1924.
50 Baioni, ‘I musei,’ 17. The fusion between the Risorgimento and the Great
War would take place only after 1932. See the epilogue in this study.
51 Antonio Monti, Museo del Risorgimento nazionale di Milano: Guida (Milan:
Comune di Milano 1926), 5.
52 Antonio Monti, ‘Museo patriottico,’ 5; ACM: IP, cartella 13, 1926–27.
53 Baioni, ‘I musei,’ 73.
54 Antonio Monti, ‘Il Museo del Risorgimento di Milano,’ Rassegna Storica del
Risorgimento 19, no. 4 (October–December 1932): 4–6.
55 Ibid., 6.
56 Isnenghi, Il mito della grande guerra, 167–260.

3. Historic Spectacle

1 Until 1932 the pilgrimage to the general’s tomb on the small Sardinian
island of Caprera was the only ritual commemorating Garibaldi’s death.
Beginning in 1887, it had been organized every five years by the Roman Asso-
ciation of Garibaldian Veterans (Società di Mutuo Soccorso Giuseppe
Garibaldi) (SMSGG), a mutual aid society founded by Garibaldi himself in
1871 and headed by his eldest son, Menotti Garibaldi. These commemora-
tive pilgrimages had been interrupted during World War I, but on 2 June
1922 they were resumed in public form by the general’s second son, Ricciotti
230 Notes to pages 73–6

Garibaldi Sr, on the very occasion of his public pronunciation of support for
2 All of the documents regarding the government sponsorship of the Garibal-
dian celebrations are stored in the Archivio centrale di stato, Rome (ACS):
Presidenza Consiglio dei Ministri (PCM), 1931–33, Cinquantenario Giuseppe
Garibaldi, f. 14.5.701/1–34 (henceforth cited as ACS: PCM, 14.5.701/ #).
3 All Italian newspapers dedicated entire front pages to the celebrations, and
L’Unione Cinematografica Educativa (LUCE) edited an astonishing nine
hundred metres of positive film to produce one silent and one sound docu-
mentary as well as three silent and two sound newsreels.
4 Emilio Gentile, The Sacralization of Politics in Fascist Italy (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1996), 33.
5 Benito Mussolini, ‘Relazione alla camera sugli accordi del laterano, 14 mag-
gio 1929’ in Scritti e discorsi di Benito Mussolini: Edizione definitiva 7 (Milan:
Hoepli, 1939), 54.
6 Menandro Greco, Il Monumento ad Anita Garibaldi: L’Arte (Rome: Lux, 1907).
7 All requests for local activities received by the PCM were denied with a stan-
dard response that underlined their ‘interference with the national events
planned in Rome.’ Not even the prestigious ad hoc Lombard Commemora-
tive Committee was allowed to stage the series of planned commemorative
events it had hoped to hold in Milan between 2 and 5 June. ACS: PCM,
8 Anita died of illness and exhaustion near Ravenna in November 1849, dur-
ing Garibaldi’s flight from the fallen Republic. According to sympathetic
reports, Garibaldi was ‘obliged’ to abandon dying Anita in a hurry because
French pursuers were closing in on them.
9 On the issue of Garibaldi’s problematic nationalization in the pre-fascist era,
see Omar Calabrese, Garibaldi: Tra Ivanohe e Sandokan (Milan: Electa Cala-
brese, 1982); Mario Isnenghi, ‘Usi politici di Garibaldi, dall’interventismo al
fascismo,’ in Garibaldi condottiero: storia, teoria, prassi, ed. F. Mazzonis (Milan:
Angeli, 1984), 533–44; and Bruno Tobia, Una patria per gl’italiani (Bari: Lat-
erza, 1991), 163–80. For a related evaluation of the difficulties encountered
by the founders and directors of Risorgimento museums in fostering a con-
ciliatory nationalization of all Risorgimental figures (and Garibaldi in partic-
ular), see Massimo Baioni, La ‘religione della patria’: Musei e istituti del culto
risorgimentale (1884–1918) (Treviso: Pagus, 1994).
10 E. Gentile stresses the structuring role of these two logics in the institutional-
ization of fascist religion and ritual. The Sacralization, 69 and 89.
11 Isnenghi, ‘Usi politici,’ 537.
12 Calabrese, Garibaldi 108. According to Calabrese’s semiotic analysis of the
Notes to pages 76–8 231

image-cult of Garibaldi, the worldly popularity of the general was the result
of his literary and iconographic codification as the ‘Legendary Hero.’ This
composite figure was in fact the result of a complex interaction among inten-
tional factors and cultural conditions. Firstly, there was Garibaldi’s own self-
fashioning as a heroic man, modelled on literature (especially of Sir Walter
Scott) which he had read and absorbed. Then, there was the literary produc-
tion of the heroic figure in the historical novels and memoirs he wrote. At
the same time, there was the development of the literary and iconographic
representation of the ‘hero Garibaldi’ by famous writers and painters (Victor
Hugo, George Sand, Alexandre Dumas, and Domenico Induno). Finally, all
these figures were melded in the characterization of ‘hero-types’ in popular
literature after his death (especially in Emilio Salgari’s novels).
13 Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi, Fascist Spectacle: The Aesthetics of Power in Musso-
lini’s Italy (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997)
14 The relationship between Ezio Garibaldi and Mussolini remained strong
throughout the 1930s. In 1935 Mussolini entrusted Ezio with the very deli-
cate task of secret negotiations with British and French foreign ministers Sir
Samuel Hoare and Pierre Laval to prevent their countries’ approval of eco-
nomic sanctions against Italy in response to the military invasion of Ethiopia.
In 1938, Ezio’s opposition to the Anti-Jewish Laws was punished by his expul-
sion from the PNF, but his personal friendship with Mussolini won him read-
mission to the party in late 1939. He rejoined the Italian army with the rank
of colonel, and, during World War II, he was entrusted with the militariza-
tion of the so-called Garibaldian Corps (Legioni Garibaldine) and with the
organization of an anti-French propaganda tool: the Azione Nizzarda. After
8 September 1943, however, rather than follow Mussolini to Salò, Ezio went
south. He was captured in 1944 by the Allied forces and awaited the end of
the war in the Padula prison camp near Naples.
15 On this artist, see the catalogue of the exhibition – Antonio Sciortino: Monu-
ments and Public Sculpture (Malta: National Museum of Fine Arts, 2000). Malt-
ese by birth, Sciortino was the director of the English Academy of Arts in
Rome. Notwithstanding his foreign nationality, he was ‘un’artista di puris-
simo animo italiano’ (‘an artist with the purest type of Italian soul’) accord-
ing to Ezio in an enthusiastic letter to Mussolini. This letter is preserved,
together with the photographs of Sciortino’s plaster cast, in a folder entitled
‘Monumento Anita Garibaldi,’ in the combined archives of the SMSGG and
the Federazione Nazionale Volontari Garibaldini (FNVG), Rome, Piazza
della Repubblica 12, henceforth indicated as AFNVG. I wish to thank the
president of the Istituto Internazionale Studi Giuseppe Garibaldi, Countess
232 Notes to pages 78–82

Erika Garibaldi, and the president of the SMSGG, Dr Giuseppe Garibaldi,

for giving me permission to conduct my research in the archive and for
allowing me to publish the photographs that accompany this essay.
16 Compare the photographs with Garibaldi’s narration: ‘Even my beloved
Anita, twelve days after she had given birth, was forced to leave the camp
with her infant in front of the saddle, to confront stormy weather. Riding a
fiery horse, surrounded [by the enemy] she did not surrender ... but, spur-
ring her horse, she passed with a vigorous rush right through the enemy’s
fire and, though grazed by a bullet which pierced her hat and burned a lock
of her hair, she was fortunately unharmed.’ Giuseppe Garibaldi, Memorie.
1872 (Bologna: Cappelli, 1932), 175–7.
17 Mussolini had initially selected the design presented by Giuseppe Guastalla,
a very traditional sculptor and a pupil of Ettore Ferrari, the nineteenth-cen-
tury master and ‘Gran Maestro’ of the Italian Freemasonry. Unfortunately,
no trace has survived of Guastalla’s plaster casts of Anita, and nothing in the
correspondence among Guastalla, Ezio and Mussolini can clarify conclu-
sively the reason for the latter’s change of heart. All we know is that Musso-
lini reversed his decision in late 1929 (possibly because of Guastalla’s
association with the recently outlawed freemasonry) and assigned the com-
mission to Mario Rutelli. Rutelli’s first plaster cast was seen and approved by
Mussolini in December 1929. All documents referring to the building of
Anita’s monument are in ACS: PCM, 14.5.701/7a.
18 Alberto Riccoboni, Roma nell’arte (Rome: Mediterranea, 1942), 459.
19 Nicoletta Cardano, ‘Per una storia dei monumenti celebrativi a Roma dalla
prima guerra mondiale agli anni ‘30,’ in Roma Capitale: 1870–1970, Architet-
tura e urbanistica, Uso e trasformazione della città storica, vol. 12 (Venice: Mar-
silio, 1984), 223.
20 The news of at least one visit by Mussolini to Rutelli’s studio appeared in Il
Popolo d’Italia on 4 April 1930. In a typewritten postwar memoir preserved at
the AFNVG, Ezio speaks of several visits by Mussolini to Rutelli’s studio and
mentions explicitly that it was Mussolini who ordered Rutelli to add baby
Menotti on Anita’s left arm. Ezio Garibaldi, Memorie (n. d.), 23.
21 Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi, Fascist Spectacle, 24 (my emphasis).
22 Antonietta Macciocchi, La Donna nera (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1976); Victoria De
Grazia, How Fascism Ruled Women: Italy, 1922–1945 (Berkeley and Los Ange-
les: University of California Press, 1992), 41–76; and Barbara Spackman,
Fascist Virilities: Rhetoric, Ideology, and Social Fantasy in Italy (Minneapolis: Uni-
versity of Minnesota Press, 1996).
23 On the left-side bas-relief Rutelli represented Anita leading a group of
Garibaldians to battle at Coritibanos; on the right side, he sculpted Anita’s
Notes to pages 82–3 233

desperate search for her husband on the battlefield. In both groups Anita was
also characterized by the same representational signs exploited in the main
statue: dress, flowing long hair, feminine riding posture, and the horse with-
out reins.
24 See my discussion of Alois Riegl’s definitions of historical, age, and newness
values in Chapter 2.
25 Many compositional elements in Sciortino’s Anita seem to have been directly
inspired by three of Cambellotti’s most famous equestrian sculptures, L’Avo, Il
Buttero, and Magister Equitum, all exhibited at the Second International Bian-
nual of Decorative Arts, held in Monza in 1925. Sciortino did not participate
in this exhibition but he certainly read the reviews – which reproduced and
unanimously exalted Cambellotti’s sculptures – in Le Arti Decorative 8, 11, 12
(Milan 1925); Emporium 367, 369 (Rome 1925); and Le Belle Arti 10 (Turin
1925). The volume Cambellotti scultore (Rome: Appella and Quesada, 1991) re-
produces the three works on pages 87, 94, and 96. Cambellotti’s influence on
the modernist evolution of Sciortino’s art in the thirties is most noticeable in
the latter’s best-known work, Speed (1937), shown in Figure 8 and currently
exhibited in room 7a of the Maltese National Museum of Fine Arts in La
26 Gilles Deleuze has explored the intimate relationship between the modern
experience of temporality afforded by film and the Bergsonian concept of
duration. ‘Matter and Memory,’ writes Deleuze, in reference to Bergson’s
major work, ‘was the diagnosis of a crisis in psychology. Movement, as physi-
cal reality in the external world, and the image, as psychic reality in con-
sciousness, could no longer be opposed.’ Gilles Deleuze, Cinema I: The
Movement-Image (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 57. Elab-
orating on Deleuze’s discussion of duration and cinema, Matt Matsuda
describes Bergsonian memory as translating ‘both the intensities of sponta-
neous action and the timeless grandeur of the classical past into fleeting
moments,’ a definition for which Sciortino’s Anita could serve as a fitting
icon. Matt Matsuda, ‘The Body of the Philosopher: The Ethics of Memory,
Mythology, and the Modern,’ Strategies 4/5 (1991): 134–50.
27 In the European panorama of ‘invented traditions’ described by Eric Hobs-
bawm, the Garibaldian tradition constituted an anomalous case. In the first
place its birth coincided with a private act: the political will left by the dying
General Giuseppe Garibaldi. In this will he nominated his eldest son Menotti
as military leader of his veterans and spiritual heir of his own brand of mili-
tant voluntarism. The general had been distinguished both by his support of
peoples seeking freedom and independence and by his goal of conquering
for the incomplete Italian state all the lands irredente (occupied by either
234 Notes to pages 83–5

France or Austria). These included, first and foremost, Rome, but also his
natal city of Nice, and the regions of Trentino and Venezia-Giulia. A descrip-
tion of how Menotti and his successor Ricciotti Sr interpreted this will would
constitute a digression far too long for the dimensions of my study. The cru-
cial point is that, in its original form, the Garibaldian tradition was not
embodied in any specific ritual or institution. It thus rested on the private
attribution of a genetic right to military leadership that made the content of
this tradition – what Hobsbawm calls ‘the values and norms of behavior,
which automatically implied continuity with the past’ – dependent on the
political interpretation and public statements of the eldest family heir. See
The Invention of Tradition, ed. Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (Cam-
bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).
28 This journal had been founded in 1903 by Ricciotti Sr and functioned as the
official organ of Garibaldianism until it ceased publication during the war.
In 1925, Ezio refinanced it and become its sole editor until 1939. In its hey-
day, between 1925 and 1928, Camicia Rossa attracted considerable public
attention, thanks also to the regular contributions of Curzio Malaparte
Suckert and several selvaggi, including Mino Maccari.
29 Founded on the symbolic occasion of the second anniversary of the March
on Rome (28 October 1924) the Federazione Nazionale Volontari Garibal-
dini (FNVG) opened its doors to all generations of Garibaldian veterans.
More specifically, these included the few survivors who had fought with Gen-
eral Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1860, 1867, and 1871; those volunteers who had
followed Ricciotti Sr and his sons in their military expeditions (the Balkans
in 1897, Domokos in 1912, the Argonne in 1914); and the many more who
had fought in the Brigata Cacciatori delle Alpi during the Great War. Ezio was
elected chairman of the federation by the representatives of the pre-existing
Garibaldian societies and entrusted with the right to act as its sole authorized
representative in all contacts with the government. A public invitation to all
Garibaldian veterans was issued, and by February 1925 approximately three
thousand and six hundred veterans joined the FNVG, their number – just
like Ezio’s symbolic capital – destined to decline steadily in the 1930s and to
fall below eight hundred in 1939.
30 Ezio Garibaldi, Fascismo garibaldino (Rome: Edizioni Camicia Rossa, 1928).
31 Ciotti’s early opposition to fascism had been much more than symbolic. In
1926, he was arrested by the French police in connection with the Zanim-
boni attempt on Mussolini’s life. Expelled from France, he wandered for
some time in the United States, England, and Cuba. However, on the occa-
sion of the 1932 Garibaldian celebrations, he was pardoned by the fascist
Notes to pages 85–91 235

regime and allowed to return to Italy to resume some publishing initiatives

under the watchful eye of the OVRA.
32 Mario Isnenghi, ‘Usi politici di Garabaldi,’ 540 and 541.
33 Ezio Garibaldi to Mussolini, with Mussolini’s negative responses annotated
in the margins, 19 May 1932, ACS: PCM, 14.5.701/9.
34 Vito Labita, ‘Il milite ignoto: Dalle trincee all’Altare della Patria,’ in Gli occhi
di Alessandro, ed. S. Bertelli and C. Grottanelli (Florence: Ponte alle Grazie,
1990), 120–53. The SMSGG – whose members were absorbed by Ezio’s FNVG
in 1924 – had not only been the proponent of the Unknown Soldier initia-
tive, but was also the acknowledged guardian of this laic temple. The direct
involvement of this organization in the performance of a national commem-
oration had become its major claim to distinction. Certainly Ezio could not
have thought of a more fitting prototype of a successful ritual as he drafted
his requests to Mussolini.
35 Ezio Garibaldi to Mussolini, handwritten annotation in the right margin,
19 May 1932, ACS: PCM, 14.5.701/9.
36 Here and in the following paragraph, I refer to the press accounts of the
parade published by the main Genoese dailies Il Secolo XIX and Il Lavoro on
2 June 1932. As I will explain at length in the next chapter, I consider these
press accounts to be precious decoders and recoders of fascist rhetorical
strategies, rather than mere propaganda pieces.
37 The term macchiaiolo refers to the impressionistic technique used by a group
of painters who sought to portray – in addition to other more pastoral
themes – both Italy’s Risorgimento and the more melancholic aftermath of
independence and unification in the second half of the nineteenth century.
38 Genova (June 1932): 657 (my emphasis).
39 E. Gentile, The Sacralization of Politics, 33 and 80.
40 As Carlo Ginzburg has recently argued, the conjunctural perspective of all
microhistories addresses questions to ‘the comprehensive visions delineated
by macrohistory.’ Carlo Ginzburg, ‘Microhistory: Two or Three Things That
I Know about It,’ Critical Inquiry 20, 1(1993): 27.
41 All Roman newspapers published maps similar to the one reproduced in
Figure 8, as well as detailed instructions for the formation of the parade. All
invited groups were told to start marching in unison toward the point at
which they were to join the parade; the funeral car followed by Mussolini
and the Garibaldi family marked the beginning of the parade. Hence, func-
tioning as the fulcrum of its spiralling movement, Mussolini’s presence –
he joined the parade only between the station and Piazza Esedra – fore-
grounded the symbolic resonance of the parade’s synchronicity. The same
236 Notes to pages 91–7

newspaper articles also instructed the non-parading crowds to converge

along the curbs of the Via Nazionale and along the route to the Gianicolo.
According to most newspapers, no fewer than three hundred thousand
people accompanied Anita to her burial site.
42 E. Gentile, The Sacralization of Politics, 27.
43 My phenomenological reading of the roll call performed at the end of the
Roman parade seeks to highlight the ideological resonance of this ritual
against its tout court identification as ‘the supreme rite of Fascism, the princi-
pal testimony of their religiosity,’ as stated by Emilio Gentile in The Sacraliza-
tion of Politics, 27–8. According to Gentile, this ritual represented the symbolic
essence of fascism as a political religion. In my view, however, Gentile does not
take into account the rhetorical thrust of this ritual, which cannot be solely
reduced to an emblematic form of fascist religiosity and must also be analysed
in connection with the different spectacles within which it was inserted.

4. The Historic Imaginary and the Mass Media

1 ‘Eccellenza, non ho saputo resistere all’impeto che tutto mi pervade e mi

spinge a dirle come io sia rimasto sbalordito nel leggere il suo discorso per
Anita Garibaldi, in cui, parlando di cose note ed abusate, ha saputo essere
genialmente nuovo e dire cose, e formulare giudizzi e trarre conclusioni di
cui i piú autorevoli scrittori del Risorgimento non avevano sospettato
neppure l’esistenza. Per il Duce e per la patria’ ACS: PCM, 14.5.701/7B,
unmarked folder (my translation).
2 Barbara Spackman, Fascist Virilities: Rhetoric, Ideology, and Social Fantasy in Italy
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 117.
3 Of course, I cannot exclude with absolute certainty the possibility that some
other scholar, consulting the same binder before me, might have misplaced
Cotugno’s letter and put it in a folder all to itself. However, I did not, either
during my research or in asking specific questions of several Italian histori-
ans and the senior staff of the ACS, find any evidence of this binder having
been consulted by anyone before me.
4 ACS: PCM, 14.5.701/7B. This folder contains eight subfolders that include,
among other documents, the map of the stands constructed for the inaugu-
ration and copies of all invitations to the ceremony sent by Mussolini. Unlike
all the preceding commemorative events, the dispositions for this last act of
the celebrations were rigidly imposed by Mussolini himself, without any offi-
cial consultation or planning association with either Ezio’s FNVG or the
5 On 5 June Il Popolo d’Italia and all other Italian newspapers dedicated their
Notes to pages 97–8 237

front pages to the inauguration of Anita Garibaldi’s monument. In addition,

the Stefani Agency sent the full text of Mussolini’s speech, a description of its
significance, and a brief account of the ceremony to all provincial dailies
whose journalists had not responded to invitations.
6 In the actual event, Mussolini’s speech came not only after the unveiling of
the monument, but also after brief speeches by Ezio Garibaldi and the gover-
nor of Rome. In the newspapers, the text of Mussolini’s speech was
announced by a subtitle in bold-faced type and printed – sometimes in
explicit isolation from the account of the actual ceremony – in a font differ-
ent from those used both for the account and for the other two speeches
included therein.
7 My sample of forty-five front pages constitutes over two thirds of the esti-
mated sixty-five Italian dailies in circulation in 1932. I have been able to
retrieve this evidence thanks to Ezio Garibaldi’s painstaking collection of all
original press clippings (sent to him by the private information agency L’Eco
della Stampa) concerning the celebrations, which have been preserved in
three bound albums in the AFNVG.
8 I have not been able to determine how many provincial journalists actually
attended the ceremony. As I describe later in this chapter, most newspapers
published a revised version of an account of the inauguration ceremony dis-
tributed by the Stefani Agency. This would indicate that many did not, in
fact, send representatives. However, not only were all Stefani texts partially
modified, but all newspapers also published editorials that, in many cases,
referred to the ceremony, thereby suggesting the presence of their authors
at the event. Moreover, the lack of more original accounts of the ceremony
offers no more proof of journalistic absence than it does of the success of the
Stefani accounts in conveying what was actually a general consensus about
the significant aspects of the event. In my interpretation, the available evi-
dence seems to better support the latter hypothesis.
9 According to the inventor of this concept, W.J.T. Mitchell, the imagetext is an
analytic figure that can allow us to go beyond the strict dichotomy between
linguistic and pictorial readings of images and texts. In Mitchell’s own words,
the imagetext ‘reinscribes within the worlds of visual and verbal representa-
tion, the shifting relation of names and things, the sayable and the seeable,
discourse about and experience of.’ W.J.T. Mitchell, Picture Theory (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 1994), 241.
10 Following is the list of newspapers that published original accounts of the
ceremony on 4 June: L’Ora, La Provincia di Padova, Roma, Le Ultime Notizie,
Corriere del Tirreno, and Il Corriere di Napoli; on 5 June: La Stampa, Il Secolo XIX,
Corriere della Sera, Il Resto del Carlino, Il Nuovo Giornale, Gazzetta del Popolo, Il
238 Notes to pages 98–105

Popolo di Roma, Il Messaggero, and Il Giornale d’Italia; and on 6 June: Il Regime

Fascista. These are the twenty-five newspapers that published Stefani ‘text 1.’
On 4 June: Corriere Mercantile, and Stampa Sera; on 5 June: Gazzetta di Venezia,
La Gazzetta, Il Piccolo, La Provincia di Como, L’Italia, Il Nuovo Cittadino, La
Cronaca Prealpina, L’Isola, Il Popolo, Il Popolo Toscano, Adriatico, La Selce Fascista,
La Voce del Mattino, L’Avvenire d’Italia, L’Arena, Il Lavoro, La Voce de Mantova,
La Vedetta d’Italia, and Corriere Emiliano; and on 6 June: Il Popolo del Friuli, Cor-
riere Padano, Il Popolo di Sicilia, and La Vedetta Fascista. Finally, here are the
four newspapers that published Stefani ‘text 2.’ On 5 June: Il Brennero, Il
Popolo di Brescia, La Sera; and on 6 June: L’Ambrosiano. Henceforth in the text
I refer to the first Stefani account as ‘text 1,’ and to the second as ‘text 2.’
11 This concluding image of Mussolini’s speech abruptly returned to that popu-
lar association of Garibaldi and anticlericalism that he had carefully
repressed in all commemorative events, but it also contained a powerful self-
referential appeal for all newspaper journalists and editors. As mentioned in
the previous chapter, Mussolini had also used a parallel image in his 14 May
1929 speech to justify his decision to build a monument to Garibaldi’s first
wife. Without exception, all newspapers on 15 May 1929 had highlighted in
their titles Mussolini’s defense of Garibaldi’s monument rather than the
related announcement. For journalists, listeners, and newspaper readers
alike, this closing image may have thus immediately recalled the earlier
speech in which the Duce had held the revolutionary ground against the
Vatican rather than Garibaldi’s anticlericalism.
12 Henceforth I will italicize the word signifier whenever I refer to Mussolini as
giver of meaning.
13 Two other newspapers – L’Ora and Il Corriere del Tirreno – published photo-
graphs of Rutelli’s Anita on 4 June. However, these pictures were not of the
monument itself but of the plaster cast without baby Menotti.
14 From left to right the figures are: the sculptor Mario Rutelli, the Governor of
Rome Prince Ludovisi, and PNF Secretary Achille Starace.
15 All these film sources – except for the silent documentary – are retrievable
and available for viewing at the LUCE Archive in Rome, Italy. They are listed
in the LUCE catalogue of newsreels and documentaries as follows: The
removal of Anita Garibaldi’s body from Genoa (no. 969), Anita’s ashes from Genoa
to Rome (no. 96), The unveiling of the monument to Anita Garibaldi (no. 98), The
transferral of Anita’s body from Genoa to Rome (no. 1339), and The inauguration of
Anita’s monument on the Gianicolo (no. 9030).
16 The following is the length of each newsreel and documentary: The removal of
Anita Garibaldi’s body from Genoa – 53 metres, Anita’s ashes from Genoa to Rome –
106 metres, The unveiling of the monument to Anita Garibaldi – 95 metres, The
Notes to page 105 239

transferral of Anita’s body from Genoa to Rome – 450 metres, and The inauguration
of Anita’s monument on the Gianicolo – 196 metres. I call the editing of this foot-
age ‘excessive’ in comparison to both the average length of newsreels and
documentaries produced by LUCE in the same period and to the unprece-
dented number of final products produced and distributed.
17 According to the most authoritative studies, the volume of the production
and distribution of LUCE newsreels and documentaries by 1932 had approx-
imated Mussolini’s intention to make LUCE ‘l’arma più potente’ (the most
powerful weapon) of the fascist state. Established at the end of 1924, LUCE
had, within a year, been made directly answerable to the government, and its
production had been placed under the personal supervision of Mussolini.
According to the data published by this state-controlled institution in 1930,
LUCE was already capable of producing over 200 newsreels per year, which it
issued in runs of over 3,500 copies. Although the number of foreign seg-
ments bought from MGM and Gaumont initially outweighed those actually
filmed by LUCE, the absolute numbers and relative percentage of LUCE’s
production grew exponentially between 1926 and 1929. During the same
period, the average length of each newsreel increased from under 150
metres to over 300. Finally, from 1928 onwards, LUCE started producing
documentaries and newsreels collections (Riviste LUCE) to be screened at
an ever-greater number of movie theatres as well as locations adapted spe-
cially for this use, such as the celebrated Planetarium in Rome (which had
55,000 visitors in 1929). In terms of distribution, the effort was no less
impressive. From 1926 onwards, every one of Italy’s over 2,500 movie theaters
was obliged to rent and show one LUCE newsreel per week. In 1929, the
number of venues, including theatres, schools, churches, and other places
where films were shown, had risen to 3,225. From 1927 onwards, 25 travelling
theatres’ were equipped to distribute LUCE products in the towns, villages,
and country places where no screening equipment was otherwise available.
In 1929, an estimated 130,000,000 viewers had attended a yearly total of
1,200,000 screenings. See Mino Argentieri, L’Occhio del regime: Informazione e
propaganda nel cinema del fascismo (Florence: Vallecchi, 1979), 17–70; and
Elaine Mancini, ‘LUCE: Pedagogy and Propaganda in Documentaries and
Newsreels,’ in Struggles of the Italian Film Industry during Fascism, 1930–1935
(Michigan: University of Michigan Research Press, 1981), 121–60.
18 By the end of 1931, the advent of sound film obliged LUCE to acquire new
filming equipment, while movie theatres had to be equipped with new speak-
ers and projectors. Although the theatres could not make the conversion as
quickly as LUCE, by 1932 over a thousand movie theatres had acquired
sound equipment, and by the end of the same year, LUCE had already pro-
240 Notes to pages 105–7

duced 141 sound newsreels (in addition to 136 silent ones). See Argentieri,
L’Occhio del regime, 35–7; and Elaine Mancini, ‘LUCE: Pedagogy and Propa-
ganda,’ 142–5.
19 Between 1929 and 1934, the Italian daily press underwent a radical phase of
aesthetic modernization in response to the contemporaneous transforma-
tion of traditional weeklies into formidable rivals, and to the birth of rotocal-
chi (illustrated magazines). The rate of modernization varied greatly among
individual dailies, and most local newspapers remained bound to the con-
tents of Stefani accounts. Yet sooner or later, competition with the visual
appeal of weeklies – e.g., La Domenica del Corriere, printing 600,000 copies per
week – and rotocalchi forced most newspapers to abandon their traditional
layout and typography. Around 1932, horizontal titling, the insertion of pho-
tographs, and greater variations in typeface became the signs of a modern-
ized encoding of reality in the daily press. See Paolo Murialdi, La Stampa del
regime fascista (Rome: Laterza, 1986), 79–110.
20 For example, for the future minister of popular culture, Dino Alfieri, the
LUCE newsreels were none other than an arid photographic reckoning of
events; the documentaries were never treated with the necessary directing
mastery and the sound was most often substituted by the sonorizzato (added
sound tracks). For LUCE director Luigi Freddi, the effect of the newsreels
was greatly impaired by ‘delays that deprived propaganda of its suggestive
power, and often dissatisfied their audience.’ Finally, Mussolini himself –
who considered the previewing and censoring of all newsreels as a weekly
duty of the utmost importance – found them generally ‘monotonous and
inadequate.’ Cited in Giampaolo Bernagozzi, Il mito dell’immagine (Bologna:
Clueb, 1983), 18 and 14. On controls over newsreel production, see also
Philip V. Cannistraro, La fabbrica del consenso: Fascismo e mass media (Bari:
Laterza, 1975), 312–15.
21 James Hay, Popular Film Culture in Fascist Italy (Bloomington: Indiana Univer-
sity Press, 1987), 201–32.
22 Ibid., 207–8 (my emphasis).
23 Ibid., 208.
24 The Genoese event was reproduced only in a silent version, as the third seg-
ment of newsreel no. 969. However, sound footage of this event was certainly
shot and available, because a few metres of it appear at the beginning of the
segment of the sound newsreel treating the Roman entombment of Anita
(no. 96). Both the Roman parade and the monument’s inauguration were
shot in silent and sound versions, but the editing of both versions differed
radically from that of the Genoese parade’s footage. No silent newsreels were
made of the Roman events of 2 June (the Genoese parade) and 4 June (the
Notes to pages 107–9 241

inauguration ceremony). Instead, the silent footage of the entombment and

some footage of the monument’s inauguration were added to the newsreel
footage of the Genoese parade, and they were edited together in an unusu-
ally long silent documentary. The length of this documentary is 450 metres,
versus an average of 150 for this type of documentary. By contrast, the sound
footage of both the Roman parade and the inauguration ceremony was
edited into two separate newsreel segments (newsreels nos. 96 and 98).
Finally, footage constituting a much longer version of the inauguration cere-
mony was edited into a sound documentary that was shown throughout the
month of July in the Roman Planetarium; it was also distributed to LUCE
travelling theaters.
25 Luckily the LUCE catalogue of documentaries reports not only the titles of
its entries, but also the actual film captions of all their segments. In my case –
and only for the purposes of this analysis of referential editing – it has thus
been sufficient to check all of the written captions of the newsreel segments
in order to reconstruct which of their sequences were edited in this docu-
26 Massimo Cardillo, Il duce in moviola: Politica e divismo nei cinegiornali e documen-
tari ’Luce’ (Bari: Edizioni Dedalo, 1983).
27 It might be worth pausing to note the significance of the editing ratio of
these two sequences by comparing the sound documentary and its referen-
tial double: newsreel segment no. 98. In fact, these two constitute the only
example in the whole corpus of film sources related to this event of a double
narrative encoding of the same event in the same medium, sound film. Their
length primarily differentiated the two features: 105 metres for the sound
newsreel segment; 196 metres for the sound documentary. Both include
excerpts referring to the monument’s unveiling and to Mussolini’s speech.
However, the editing ratio of the sequences referring to the two events is
exactly the same in both newsreel and documentary: 3 to 1 in favour of Mus-
solini’s speech (78 vs. 26 metres in the newsreel, and 147 vs. 49 metres in the
documentary). Naturally, the greater length accorded by both to Mussolini’s
image/words is not at all surprising. Indeed, as unanimously argued by all
scholars of LUCE newsreels, the birth of sound film especially delighted
Mussolini because it finally allowed the rhetorical fusion of gestures and ora-
tory, both of which had been widely but separately reproduced through film
and radio. Yet the equal editing ratio of newsreel segment no. 98 and docu-
mentary no. 9030 could not be less coincidental and more significant. In
fact, while the documentary reproduced the entire speech, the newsreel
showed only some of it. Clearly, had it been Mussolini’s intention to be the
sole and absolute Divo of the newsreel, he could have easily had the entire
242 Notes to pages 109–16

speech reproduced. Instead, the identical editing ratios call our attention to
the rhetorical value of the ratio itself. Quite plausibly, though probably
unconsciously, the LUCE editor of both newsreel and documentary identi-
fied this ratio as a quantitative tool for laying visual stress on Mussolini’s
speech against the background of the monument’s unveiling.
28 The following analysis of this documentary relies on a combination of so-called
point of view theory and film narratology. For a good introductory study of
point of view theories and their connection to narratology, see New Vocabularies
in Film Semiotics: Structuralism, Post-Structuralism and Beyond, ed. R. Stam, R. Bur-
goyne, and S. Flitterman-Lewis (New York: Routledge, 1992), 69–118.
29 This closing image matches Benjamin’s most famous description of the
‘aura’ as that which we can all breathe in ‘if, while resting on a summer after-
noon, [we] follow with [our] eyes a mountain range on the horizon, or a
branch which casts its shadow over [us].’ Walter Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art
in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,’ in Illuminations, ed. Hanna Arendt
(New York: Schoken Books, 1968), 222–3.
30 Luisa Passerini, Mussolini immaginario: Storia di una biografia, 1915–1939
(Bari: Laterza, 1991), 116.

5. The Contest of Exhibitions

1 The ‘Exhibition of Nineteenth-Century Rome’ was set up in the Roman

Palazzo dei musei (Palace of museums) between 7 January and 24 April 1932;
the Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution opened at the Palazzo delle espo-
sizioni on 29 October 1932.
2 Carlo Galassi Paluzzi, ‘Il contributo dell’Istituto di Studi Romani alla miglior
conoscenza di Roma nell’ottocento e di taluni aspetti del Risorgimento in
Roma,’ Roma 9 (September 1935): 406.
3 Ibid., 405.
4 Ibid. (my emphasis).
5 The article reproduces a speech delivered by Galassi Paluzzi at the XXII
Congresso del Reale Istituto per la Storia del Risorgimento Italiano, held in
Bologna, 11–14 September 1935.
6 Galassi Paluzzi, ‘Il contributo,’ 405.
7 Letter from Galassi Paluzzi to Guido Beer, (n.d.) Archivio centrale di stato
(ACS): Presidenza Consiglio dei Ministri (PCM), 1931–3, Mostra di Roma
nell’ottocento, f. 14.1.2391/1.
8 Predictably, Camicia Rossa immediately focused its polemical eye on the
intentions of the organizers, maintaining that Galassi Paluzzi had proposed
not exhibiting ‘documents referring to the events of 1849 and 1870 ... so as
Notes to pages 116–19 243

not to disrupt the present concordant atmosphere with an exaltation of

those events.’ Galassi Paluzzi answered the accusations by admitting the con-
ciliatory intentions but disclaiming any plan to exclude relevant historical
documents from the exhibition. Camicia Rossa (30 November 1930): 262, and
(15 December 1930): 285.
9 Stephen Bann, ‘Poetics of the Museum: Lenoir and Du Sommerard,’ in
The Clothing of Clio: A Study of the Representation of History in Nineteenth-Century
Britain and France (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 84–8.
10 Ibid., 90.
11 The very first pieces on exhibit in rooms three, four, and five were plasters
belonging to the demolished palace. Portraits of prestigious family members
were displayed in the following rooms. Finally, three engravings of the
palace itself (items 160, 165, and 166) were displayed in room eleven, and
a photograph (item 24) in room fifteen.
12 The matching of the reconstruction rooms with representational items on
display in the MRO has been possible because they are all currently exhib-
ited in the Roman Museo del folklore e della poesia romanesca. This fortu-
nate circumstance is the result of the fact that the Italian state bought the
private archive (which is now deposited at the Biblioteca Nazionale Vittorio
Emanuele II) and the art collection (currently on display in the above
mentioned museum) of the main curator-exhibitor of the MRO, Franco
Ceccarelli (alias Ceccarius), after his death on 1974. Ceccarelli had also been
responsible for the realization of the historical reconstructions of popular
scenes. See Ceccarius, ‘Come sarà la Mostra dell’ottocento,’ Il Piccolo (19
November 1931). I wish to thank Luigi Ceccarelli, Ceccarius’ son, for his
valuable assistance at every step of my research on the MRO.
13 Ibid., 85.
14 David Freedberg, The Power of Images: Studies in the History and Theory of
Response (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 201.
15 Ibid., 202.
16 Ibid., 192–245.
17 Although less radical in tone, the reviews of Eugenio Giovannetti, Il Giornale
d’Italia (9 March 1932); Rodolfo De Mattei, Il Tevere (26 January 1932); Gian
Andrea Andriulli, Il Resto del Carlino (16 March 1932); and Michele Biancale,
Il Popolo di Roma (1 February 1932) all criticized the exhibition for the over-
abundance of things to remember. Even a traditional critic such as Francesco
Sapori, reviewing the exhibition in Il Popolo d’Italia on 24 February 1932
explicitly cited Bardi and partially agreed with his judgment. As for the
Ordine fascista, it is not without significance that, in 1925, Mussolini himself
recognized this polemical periodical as the first truly fascist review.
244 Notes to pages 119–28

18 Ibid., 227.
19 Ibid.
20 On Bardi’s critical influence see Francesco Tentori, P.M. Bardi (Milan:
Mazzotta, 1990).
21 Pietro Maria Bardi, ‘Mostra dell’ottocento romano vista da novecentista,’
L’Ambrosiano (14 January 1932).
22 Laudatory remarks on the organizers’ work, and positive reviews of the exhi-
bition, appeared in: Corriere della Sera (1 and 7 January 1932); Emporium (Feb-
ruary 1932); Gazzetta del Popolo (3 January 1932); Illustrazione Italiana (31
January 1932); Italia (5 January and 6 February 1932); Italia Letteraria (17 Jan-
uary 1932); Italia Vivente (19 January 1932); Lavoro (10 January 1932); Lavoro
Fascista (5 and 6 January 1932); Il Messaggero (1 and 15 January 1932); Osserva-
tore Romano (2 and 29 January 1932); Il Piccolo (2 and 7 January 1932); Il
Popolo di Roma (1 January 1932); Il Resto del Carlino (3 January 1932); Secolo XX
(1 January 1932); La Stampa (3 January 1932); Il Tevere (4 January 1932); La
Tribuna (3 January 1932); Tribuna Illustrata (21 February 1932); and Vita Fem-
minile (January 1932). In particular, see Ceccarius, ‘La Mostra dell’ottocento
romano,’ Nuova Antologia (16 January 1932): 4; and Diego Angeli, ‘Mostra di
Roma nell’Ottocento,’ Il Marzocco (1 January 1932).
23 A guided tour to the Garibaldian exhibition was included in the program of
the twelth national congress of Risorgimento historians held in Rome in May
24 Mostra garibaldina: Catalogo (Rome: Grafia, 1932), 10.
25 Monti, ‘La Mostra garibaldina a Roma,’ Corriere della Sera (30 April 1932).
26 These and all other exhibition photographs reprinted here can be found in
the archive of the Garibaldian federation (AFNVG). Once again, I wish to
thank both Mrs. Erika Garibaldi and Mr. Giuseppe Garibaldi for allowing me
to reproduce these crucial photographs.
27 Hayden White, ‘The Politics of Historical Interpretation: Discipline and
De-Sublimation,’ in The Content of the Form (Baltimore and London: Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1990), 58–82.
28 Monti, ‘La Mostra.’
29 The absence of a description of the gallery in the exhibition’s guide was
likely intended to augment the gallery’s surprise effect on the visitor.
30 In his order to the Pighi furnishing company, Monti describes the manne-
quins as being of the ‘Monti model.’ AFNVG: ‘Mostra garibaldina - Cinquan-
tenario,’ III/15a.
31 Monti considered that ‘the rooms of the Palazzo lent themselves to any mod-
ification and adaptation required by the nature of any kind of exhibition.’
Monti, ‘La Mostra.’
Notes to pages 129–32 245

32 White, ‘The Politics of Historical Interpretation,’ 62–7.

33 Stephen Greenblatt, ‘Resonance and Wonder,’ in Exhibiting Cultures, ed. Ivan
Karp and Steven D. Levine (Washington and London: Smithsonian Institute
Press, 1991). For a related discussion of the relationship between the
emblem as a poetic form and the sublime, see Murray Krieger, Ekphrasis
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), especially Chapter 4.
34 Replacing the categories of space and time with those of enàrgeia and narra-
tive, we could liken Monti’s curatorial strategy in the MG to the ‘sublime dia-
lectic’ in William Blake’s poetry as defined by W.J.T. Mitchell: ‘Blake’s
strategy, I would suggest, was to transform the dualism into dialectic, to cre-
ate unity out of contrariety rather than similitude or complementary-ness.
Blake wanted to combine spatial and temporal form in his illuminated books
not to produce a fuller imitation of the total objective world, but to drama-
tize the interaction of the apparent dualities of our experience of the world
and to embody the strivings of those dualities for unification.’ W.J.T. Mitch-
ell, Blake’s Composite Art: A Study of the Illuminated Poetry (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1978), 35.
35 Only the review published by Il Secolo XX on 3 June 1932 noted and disap-
proved of the insertion of the reconstructed uniforms.
36 Monti, ‘La Mostra.’
37 Mostra garibaldina: Guida (Rome: Grafia, 1932), 1.
38 Renato Pacini, ‘La Mostra di Roma nell’ottocento,’ Emporium (February
1932): 331
39 Ibid.
40 Mattia, ‘Verso la chiusura della Mostra garibaldina,’ L’Impero (10 June 1932).
41 The first two quotations are from La Tribuna of 30 April, the following ones
from L’Impero of 15 May and 10 June.
42 Pier Maria Bardi, ‘La Mostra garibaldina ch’è stata inaugurata dal Duce,’ Gio-
ventù Fascista 13 (10 May 1932): 3–4. Positive reviews that highlighted the last
three sections of the exhibition and their mass appeal were also published by
Giuseppe Andriulli in Il Messaggero, 9 April 1932; Adolfo Colombo in Torino
(May 1932): 89–90; anonymous in Il Popolo d’Italia (30 April 1932); Silvino
Mezza in Il Popolo di Roma (1 May 1932); Rodolfo De Mattei in Il Tevere
(29 April and 10 June 1932); and Maffio Maffii in Il Marzocco (8 May 1932).
43 Bardi, ‘La Mostra garibaldina,’ 4.
44 P.M. Bardi, ‘Nuove esigenze delle esposizioni,’ Ambrosiano (20 March 1931).
45 Ibid.
46 P.M. Bardi, ‘Gli artisti e la Mostra del fascismo,’ Ambrosiano (13 July 1932). An
earlier, very similar version had been published by Gioventù Fascista on
15 May 1932.
246 Notes to pages 133–5

47 Margherita Sarfatti, ‘Architettura, arte e simbolo alla Mostra del fascismo,’

Architettura (January 1933): 2.
48 The Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution has been the main focus of an
unpublished dissertation, several articles, and quite a few recent mono-
graphs on fascist mass culture. See Libero Andreotti, ‘Art and Politics in
Italy: The Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution’ (PhD diss., Massachussets
Institute of Technology, 1989); Giorgio Ciucci, ‘L’autorappresentazione
del fascismo: La Mostra del decennale della marcia su Roma,’ Rassegna di
Architettura (4 June 1982): 48–55; Gigliola Fioravanti, ed., Archivio centrale dello
stato: Partito nazionale fascista – Modella rivoluzione fascista, Pubblicazioni degli
Archivi di Stato – Strumenti CIX (Rome: 1990); Fabio Benzi, Mario Sironi: Il
mito dell’architettura (Milan: 1990); Diane Ghirardo ‘Architects, Exhibitions,
and the Politics of Culture in Fascist Italy,’Journal of Architectural Education
(JAE) 45 (February 1992): 67–75; Libero Andreotti, ‘The Aesthetics of War:
The Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution,’ JAE 45 (February 1992): 76–86;
Jeffrey T. Schnapp, ‘Fascism’s Museum in Motion,’ JAE 45 (February 1992):
87–98; Brian McLaren, ‘Under the Sign of Reproduction,’ JAE 45 (February
1992): 98–106; Jeffrey T. Schnapp, ‘Epic Demonstrations: Fascist Modernity
and the 1932 Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution’ in Fascism, Aesthetics, and
Culture, ed. Richard J. Golsan (Hanover: University Press of New England,
1992), 1–37; Marla Stone, ‘Staging Fascism: The Exhibition of the Fascist
Revolution,’ Journal of Contemporary History 28 (April 1993): 215–43; Emilio
Gentile, The Sacralization of Politics in Fascist Italy (Cambridge: Harvard Uni-
versity Press, 1996), 102–13; M. Stone, The Patron State (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1999); Emily Braun, Mario Sironi and Italian Modernism: Art
and Politics under Fascism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000),
especially 132–57. Most of these scholars (in particular Andreotti, Gentile,
Schnapp, and Stone) have explicitly quoted and commented on Sarfatti’s
authoritative definition of the MRF.
49 Carlo Ginzburg, ‘Ekphrasis and Quotations,’ Tijdschrift voor Filosofie 20
(March 1988): 11.
50 Jeffrey T. Schnapp, ‘Epic Demonstrations,’ 8–10.
51 Ibid., 9.
52 ACS: Carte Alfieri, f. 9. The handwritten comments are on the margins of
page 1 and 2 of the exhibition’s plan contained in this folder.
53 Monti was also the only historian-curator invited to collaborate.
54 Although Monti did not have an official title in the MRF’s organization, his
effective participation in all major decisions taken by Alfieri and Freddi is
amply demonstrated by the analysis that follows. Indirect confirmation of
Monti’s special status can be also inferred from the fact that his was the only
Notes to pages 135–8 247

collaborator’s name explicitly mentioned by Freddi in the Traccia. Further-

more, Alfieri’s trust in Monti as his ‘man on the job’ is evident in a letter
addressed by Alfieri to Professor Alberto Lumbroso on 29 August 1932. In
response to some ‘historical’ suggestions made by this scholar concerning
the arrangement of the documents he had sent to the MRF, Alfieri angrily
replied: ‘Concerning the criteria related to the documentary arrangement of
the “war section,” I may tell you that we are not trying to ‘reconstruct’ the
whole period 1915–1918, with its glories, its sacrifices, and the poetry of the
entire period. We are only interested in the reconstruction of Mussolini’s
thought, hence, of fascism between the fight for intervention and the victory
in the war. Therefore, only Monti can judge the appropriate proportion of
elements necessary to trace the fascist direction amidst the immense mate-
rial related to the war. It must be remembered that we are not mounting an
exhibition of the war, but of the Fascist Revolution’ (ACS: ACSCF, tit. XVII,
no. 10, vol. 1, no. 554, ‘Barone Lumbroso’).
55 All major artistic movements were present in the MRF: the futurists were rep-
resented by Enrico Prampolini, Gerardo Dottori, and Antonio Santagata; the
rationalists by the architects Giuseppe Terragni, Adalberto Libera, Guido De
Renzi, and Antonio Valente; the Novecento group by Mario Sironi, Achille
Funi, Esodo Pratelli, and Marcello Nizzoli; and the Strapaese faction by Mino
Maccari, Amerigo Bartoli, and Leo Longanesi. The remaining artists may be
loosely associated with Novecento aesthetics.
56 The ten historiographers involved were Enrico Arrigotti, Giovanni Capodi-
vacca, Dante Dini, Luigi Freddi, Riccardo Gigante, Leo Longanesi, Gigi
Maino, Alessandro Melchiori, Antonio Monti, and Francesco Sacco.
57 Schnapp, ‘Epic Demonstrations,’ 13.
58 Ibid., 25.
59 The last four rooms were entrusted solely to the artistry of Mario Sironi (who
did R and S), Leo Longanesi (who worked on T), and the architects Adal-
berto Libera and Antonio Valente (responsible for U).
60 Luigi Freddi, Traccia storico-politica della mostra del fascismo (Rome: n.d.) I have
recovered the complete typewritten proofs of this crucial document in the
Biblioteca di Storia Moderna e Contemporanea in Rome. The document
bears only Freddi’s name, but it relies so deeply on Monti’s preparatory work
on Il Popolo d’Italia that it leaves no doubt concerning the latter’s collabora-
tion in its drafting. (Monti is also the only collaborator explicitly named by
Freddi in the text.) Unfortunately, I have not been able to trace the final
printed version in either of the national libraries (Florence and Rome), or in
private ones. However, according to the exhibition catalogue, the published
edition of this outline came to about 120 pages, which is approximately the
248 Notes to pages 138–43

number of pages (112) contained in the proofs I have found. Alfieri-Freddi,

Mostra, 59.
61 The outline indicated the following plan: (1) Rooms A and B, ‘From Sara-
jevo to the Italian intervention,’ June 1914–May 1915; (2) Rooms C and D,
‘The war,’ May 1915–November 1918; (3) Room F, ‘From the armistice to the
foundation of the fasces,’ November 1918–March 1919; (4) Room G, ‘The
year 1919’; (5) Rooms H and I, ‘The year 1920’; (6) Rooms L and M, ‘Fiume
and Dalmatia, from the Roman Pact to the Neptune Agreements’; (7) Room
N, ‘The year 1921’; (8) Room O, ‘The year 1922 up to the Naples Gathering’;
(9) Rooms P and Q, ‘The March on Rome.’
62 Luigi Freddi, Traccia storico-politica della mostra del fascismo, 3.
63 His request was not only satisfied but exceeded: one lab was furnished with
four manophot electrical machines for the reproduction of 5,140 badly dam-
aged documents; another one was occupied by LUCE technicians who
attended to the printing of 3,127 photographic reproductions, 2,170 square
metres of metre-plus sized enlargements, 1,030 photographs of a format
between 50 x 65 cm. and one square metre, and more than 8,000 photo-
graphs between 13 x 18 and 24 x 30 cm. Alfieri-Freddi, Mostra, 63.
64 Alfieri-Freddi, Mostra, 81.
65 Antonio Monti, ‘La Mostra della rivoluzione fascista: Un sacrario del tempo
di guerra,’ Corriere della Sera (28 June 1932).
66 Room C: Funi’s Trofeo di guerra futurista (Futurist war trophy), Rambelli’s Il
Re soldato (The soldier king), Marini’s L’Italia armata (Italy armed), and two
wooden silhouettes of Mussolini and Garibaldi; Room D: Rambelli’s Il fante
che canta (The singing infantryman).
67 Freddi, Traccia, 97.
68 In Italian, the word tempo may mean ‘time’ in general (il tempo), or a specific
‘time period’ (al tempo di...), or a theatrical musical ‘act’ (primo tempo).
69 Letter from Alfieri to Morello, federal secretary of Agrigento, 12 March 1932;
ACS: ACSCF, tit. XVII, no. 10, vol. 1, no. 224, ‘Agrigento.’
70 Alfieri-Freddi, Mostra, 177.
71 On the fascist teatro di masse see Jeffrey Schnapp, 18 BL (Stanford: Stanford
University Press, 1996).
72 Andreotti, ‘Art and Politics in Italy,’ 130. The following discussion of this
room is largely based on Chapter 6 of Andreotti’s dissertation, 129–45.
73 As the catalogue indicates, the underlined sentence in Mussolini’s letter is
the Carduccian verse ‘with blood the wheel is set in motion,’ allegorically
represented in the photomontage that frames it. Alfieri-Freddi, Mostra,
74 Andreotti, ‘Art and Politics in Italy,’ 152.
Notes to pages 150–60 249

75 On Sironi see Emily Braun, Mario Sironi and Italian Modernism: Art and Politics
under Fascism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).
76 Alfieri-Freddi, Mostra, 192; Pica, Mario Sironi (Milan: Edizioni del Milione,
1962), 17.
77 Andreotti, ‘Art and Politics in Italy,’ 152.
78 Schnapp, ‘Epic Demonstrations,’ 28.
79 Ibid.
80 The interpretation of the MRF as a ‘Sironian exhibition’ has been most
forcefully made by Andreotti on the basis of the testimony of Sironi’s com-
panion, Mimi Costa. Andreotti, ‘Art and Politics in Italy,’ 476. This Sironian
imprint has also been also highlighted by E. Gentile, The Sacralization of Poli-
tics, 108–10; Stone, The Patron State, 150; and Braun, Mario Sironi, 132–57.
81 Freddi, Traccia, 26 and 93.
82 Alfieri-Freddi, Mostra, 214.
83 This harsh judgment was expressed by Bardi in a typewritten review of the
exhibition which he never published, but which survives in his private
archive. Photocopies of roughly three quarters of this archive are held in the
ACS: Archivio Bardi, b. 6/119; the document is no. 2212, and it is entitled
84 In particular, Andreotti, Gentile, and Stone.
85 Andreotti, ‘Art and Politics in Italy,’ 171.
86 Schnapp, ‘Epic Demontrations,’ 28.
87 Contrary to Andreotti’s supposition of a conflict between the documentarist
Alfieri and the creative genius Sironi (a supposition revealed also in his con-
sistent marginalization of the ‘documentarist’ triumvirate), all circumstantial
evidence points to a direct and close collaboration among Alfieri, Monti,
and Sironi. Quite simply, Alfieri’s and Monti’s paradigmatic focus on utiliz-
ing Il Popolo d’Italia as the exhibition’s historic agent would never have found
a more natural and passionate supporter and ally than Sironi. Sironi had
been not only the newspaper’s most prestigious political illustrator since
1921, but also the artistic designer (in collaboration with Giovanni Muzio) of
an Il Popolo d’Italia exhibition mounted for the 1928 Milanese Fair. It was in
this very first curatorial venture that Sironi had met his older colleague,
Antonio Monti. Monti, in fact, was Sironi’s historical collaborator on the
Il Popolo d’Italia Pavilion, and also the sole curator of the Risorgimento Press
Pavilion. To top this impressive series of fortunate coincidences, we find Alfi-
eri personally involved in both exhibitions. As president of the Fascist Cul-
tural Institute of Milan, he had certainly been directly involved with the
choices of Sironi, Muzio, and Monti as curators of the Il Popolo d’Italia Pavil-
ion. As a regular contributor to the Corriere della Sera, he wrote a very positive
250 Notes to pages 160–5

review of Monti’s Risorgimental Pavilion. Significantly, a copy of this review

is in the archival folder containing Alfieri’s 1928 project for the Mostra del
fascismo. Since the article is not dated, Andreotti has mistakenly assumed
that this review was of a 1927 ‘exhibition of the Risorgimento.’ ACS: Carte
Alfieri, b. 9; cf. Andreotti, ‘Art and Politics in Italy,’ 44.
88 While the first set of studies presented a gallery that included several figura-
tive elements and was completely unlike the final product, the later ones
were ‘studies of light’ and variations on the theme of the gallery as it was
built. The radical difference between the two sets of drawings indicates that
Sironi might have resolved his representational problems with this narrow
rectangular space by looking for inspiration to Monti’s solution to the same
problem in his Gallery of Uniforms. A visual clue to this connection comes
from the uniformity and stylized anthropomorphism of the room’s pilasters,
which resemble the gesture of the Roman salute. The sketches are repro-
duced in Andreotti, ‘Art and Politics in Italy,’ 173–4.
89 Schnapp, ‘Epic Demonstrations,’ 29.
90 Alfieri-Freddi, Mostra, 112.
91 Ernst Gombrich, ‘Style,’ International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, vol. 15
(New York: Macmillan and The Free Press, 1968), 283. I owe to Carlo Ginz-
burg the valuable suggestion of looking into the connections between fas-
cism and the ‘normative’ conception of style.
92 See Barbara Spackman, Fascist Virilities: Rhetoric, Ideology, and Social Fantasy in
Italy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996) and Simonetta
Falasca-Zamponi, Fascist Spectacle : The Aesthetics of Power in Mussolini’s Italy
(Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997).
93 Futurism pivoted both its destruction of poetic syntax and its reconstruction
of the universe on the replacement of synthesis by analogy, and, more pre-
cisely, on the substitution of all adjectives and adverbs with ‘double nouns’
(i.e. ‘man-torpedo,’ ‘woman-boat’) precisely because the former ‘constituted
the multicolored festoons, the trompe l’oeil swags, pedestals, parapets, and bal-
ustrades of the old traditional styles.’ F.T. Marinetti, Technical Manifesto of
Futurist Literature (1912), now in Let’s Murder the Moonshine: Selected Writings,
F.T. Marinetti, ed. R.W. Flint (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon Classics, 1991), 92–3.
94 Benito Mussolini, Scritti e discorsi, vol. 2 (Milan: Hoelpi, 1934–1939), 335,
cited in Falasca-Zamponi, Fascist Spectacle, 26.

6. Fascist Historic Culture

1 ‘Che tutti i musei storici, ed in particolare tutti i musei del Risorgimento

abbiano urgente bisogno di essere aggiornati e modernizzati, e, soprattutto,
che si debba ancora molto lavorare per infondere vita in tante memorie del
Notes to pages 165–8 251

passato, non è più una novità per nessuno. La possibilità e la necessità di fare
tutto ciò è esattamente quello che la Mostra della rivoluzione fascista ha
dimostrato.’ Antonio Monti, ‘La Mostra della rivoluzione e i musei storici’ in
Atti del Terzo Congresso degli Istituti Fascisti Cultura (Rome: PNF, 1933), 19 (my
translation). An unabridged version of this talk had already appeared in the
April 1933 issue of Ezio Garibaldi’s Camicia Rossa, under the title ‘La Mostra
della rivoluzione fascista e il riordino dei Musei del risorgimento.’ Finally,
Monti republished this talk in modified form as ‘A proposito di “mostre”
e di “musei del risorgimento,”’ Rassegna Storica del Risorgimento 21, no. 3
(May–June 1934): 626–9.
2 ‘In dieci anni l’Europa sarà fascista o fascistizzata’ ‘Il Duce inaugura la Mos-
tra della rivoluzione,’ Il Popolo d’Italia, 30 October 1932 (my translation).
3 Three recent studies of fascist culture have dedicated ample space to the
analysis of the exhibition and its impact: Emilio Gentile, The Sacralization of
Politics in Fascist Italy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), 102–32;
Mabel Berezin, Making the Fascist Self: The Politics of Culture in Interwar Italy
(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997), 101–41; and Marla Stone, The Patron
State: Culture and Politics in Fascist Italy (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
1998), 128–76 and 222–53.
4 Italian fascism, of course, did not invent the decade as a unit of periodiza-
tion. Already in the 19th century Russian intellectuals referred to their dis-
tinct and successive generations in terms of decades (‘the men of the 1820s,’
‘…of the ’40s’ etc.), and American media would refer to the ‘roaring ’20s’
even before that decade was over. Yet the fascist decade was unique in so far
as it was neither retroactive nor generational, but represented instead a styl-
ization of time projected toward the future.
5 On both qualitative and quantitative responses to the MRF, see Jeffrey T.
Schnapp, ‘Epic Demonstrations: Fascist Modernity and the 1932 Exhibition
of the Fascist Revolution’ in Fascism, Aesthetics, and Culture, ed. Richard J.
Golsan (Hanover & London: University Press of New England, 1992),
6 Libero Andreotti, ‘Art and Politics in Italy: The Exhibition of the Fascist Rev-
olution’ (PhD diss., Massachussetts Institute of Technology, 1989), 156.
7 Schnapp, ‘Epic Demonstrations,’ 23.
8 Diane Ghirardo, ‘Architects, Exhibitions, and the Politics of Culture in Fas-
cist Italy,’ Journal of Architectural Education (JAE) 45 (February 1992): 70.
9 Stone, The Patron State, 222.
10 Antonio Monti, ‘Documenti per la storia del fascismo: La Mostra del fas-
cismo,’ Corriere della Sera (30 April 1932).
11 Emilio Pifferi, ‘Mostra della rivoluzione,’ Casabella (April 1933): 38–41 (my
252 Notes to pages 168–74

12 Ugo D’Andrea, ‘La Mostra della rivoluzione,’ Giornale d’Italia (19 October
13 Francesco Sapori, ‘Epopea,’ Il Popolo d’Italia (16 December 1932).
14 The comment referred explicitely to Monti’s war room. Paolo Orano, ‘Il
verbo che si è fatto carne,’ Corriere della Sera (2 May 1933).
15 Libero Andreotti, ‘The Aesthetics of War: The Exhibition of the Fascist
Revolution,’ JAE 45 (February 1992): 76–86; Berezin, Making the Fascist Self,
109–12; E. Gentile, The Sacralization of Politics, 102–32.
16 E. Gentile, The Sacralization of Politics, 104.
17 Ibid., 127.
18 Ibid., 107.
19 Among the scholars who have produced detailed studies of the MRF, only
Jeffrey Schnapp acknowledges the ‘excessive’ quality of both the event and
its reception. Anticipating some crucial aspects of this analysis of the MRF’s
impact on fascist mass culture and imaginary, Schnapp has rightly connected
the MRF to the ‘overproduction of signs’ typical of fascist image politics and
the ‘participatory enthusiasm’ – as opposed to mere consensus – they aimed
at fostering.
20 Cited in Andreotti, ‘Art and Politics in Italy,’ 217.
21 Atti del Terzo Congresso, 20.
22 Alfieri’s discussion of Monti’s proposal is printed on pages 112 to 116 of the
Atti del Terzo Congresso.
23 The embarrassed and perplexed response of the audience to the Monti-
Alfieri debate is recorded repeatedly (in italics and in parentheses) in the
text of the Atti del Terzo Congresso, 112, 114, and 116.
24 Atti del Terzo Congresso, 25.
25 On De Vecchi in general, and on his ‘fascist reclaiming of history’ in particu-
lar, see Massimo Baioni, ‘Fascismo e risorgimento: L’Istituto per la storia del
risorgimento italiano,’ Passato e presente 41 (May–June 1997): 45–76.
26 De Vecchi to Mussolini, 26 November 1929. Copies of this and other corre-
spondence regarding the erection of the monument to Anita and the
Garibaldian celebrations as a whole can be found in a folder denominated
‘Monumento Anita Garibaldi: 1929–1932’ in De Vecchi’s personal archive,
organized and preserved by his grandson Paolo De Vecchi in Rome, Italy. I
wish to thank Mr. De Vecchi for letting me consult the entire archive and for
all his precious assistance in the endeavor.
27 Luciano Romersa, Il quadriumviro scomodo: Il vero Mussolini nelle memorie del più
monarchico dei fascisti (Milan: Mursia, 1983), 132.
28 De Vecchi, ‘La bonifica fascista della storia,’ in La bonifica fascista della cultura
(Milan: Mondadori, 1937), 132–7.
Notes to pages 174–80 253

29 Baioni, ‘Fascismo e risorgimento,’ 46–9.

30 Ibid., 53.
31 Ibid.
32 See, in particular, the essays collected in Federico Chabod e la ‘Nuova storiografia
italiana’dal primo al secondo dopoguerra (1919–1950), ed. Brunello Vigezzi
(Milan: Jaca Book, 1983).
33 Ibid., 517–19.
34 E. Gentile, The Sacralization of Politics, 53–79.
35 Stone, The Patron State, 177–221.
36 Baioni, ‘Fascismo e risorgimento,’ 54.
37 Ibid., 58.
38 Ibid., 59 (my emphasis).
39 As a result of the Gentile-De Vecchi struggle, Volpe resigned from both the
editorship of the Rivista Storica del Risorgimento, which he had held from June
to December 1932, and from his membership in the central committee for
Risorgimento studies.
40 Predictably Monti took the leadership in this new course by transforming the
Archivio della guerra into a Museo della guerra annexed to the Museo del
risorgimento. Most other Risorgimento museums chose instead to add to
their pre-1932 arrangement one or two rooms displaying local documents,
photographs, and relics concerning the Great War and the March on Rome.
See Baioni, ‘Fascismo e risorgimento.’
41 Stone, The Patron State, 194.
42 Ibid., 195.
43 Hitler’s campaign against modern art began as early as 1934 with the closing
down of the Bauhaus, and it culminated with the infamous Degenerate Art
Exhibition of 1937.
44 Günther Berghaus, Futurism and Politics: Between Anarchist Rebellion and Fascist
Reaction, 1909–1944 (Providence: Berghahn Books, 1996), 239–61.
45 On Sironi and the fate of novecento in the 1930s, see Emily Braun, Mario Sironi
and Italian Modernism: Art and Politics under Fascism (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2000).
46 Silvia Danesi, ‘Aporie dell’architettura italiana in periodo fascista: Mediterra-
neità e purismo,’ in Il Razionalismo e l’architettura italiana durante il fascismo,
ed. S. Danesi and L. Patetta (Venice: La Biennale Edizioni, 1976): 21–8; and
Fabio Benzi, ‘La “mediterraneità” nel dibattito artistico italiano degli anni
trenta,’ in Luci del mediterraneo, ed. M. Vescovo (Milan: Electa, 1997): 29–35.
47 Stone, The Patron State, 176.
48 Saul Friedlander, Reflections of Nazism: An Essay on Kitsch and Death (Bloom-
ington: Indiana University Press, 1993), 25–6.
254 Notes to pages 180–2

49 On Piacentini and fascist architecture in general, see Richard Etlin, Modern-

ism in Italian Architecture, 1890–1940 (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991).
50 Mario Sironi 1885–1961 (Milan: Electa, 1993); and Racemi d’oro: il mosaico di
Sironi nel palazzo dell’informazione (Milan: Immobiliare Metanopoli, 1992).
51 See Loreto Di Nucci, Fascismo e spazio urbano: Le città storiche dell’Umbria
(Bologna: Il Mulino, 1992); Henry A. Millon, ‘Some New Towns in Italy in
the 1930s,’ in Art and Architecture in the Service of Politics, ed. H. Millon and L.
Nochlin (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1983): 326–41; and Diane Ghirardo, Build-
ing New Communities: New Deal America and Fascist Italy (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1989); and also, by the same author, ‘Città Fascista: Surveil-
lance and Spectacle,’ Journal of Contemporary History 31, no. 2 (April 1996):
52 Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi, Fascist Spectacle: The Aesthetics of Power in Musso-
lini’s Italy (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1997), 89–118.
53 Stone, The Patron State, 218.
54 ACS: PCM, 1931–1933, f. 5.2.77531.
55 For a brief account in English of the Palazzo Littorio competition, see Tim
Benton, ‘Rome Reclaims its Empire,’ in Art and Power: Europe Under the Dicta-
tors, 1930–45, ed. D. Britt (London: Hayward Gallery, 1996): 123–5.
56 The architects of the MRF’s first façade, Libera and De Renzi, constructed
this exhibition complex.
57 On this second edition of the MRF and its relationship to the MAR, see
Stone, The Patron State, 244–53.
58 Ibid., 247 and 223.
59 In June 1937 the commission for the Circo Massimo was given to the two
architects responsible for the first MRF’s façade, Mario De Renzi and Adal-
berto Libera. By contrast, the Palazzo Littorio commission was adjudicated
to Del Debbio, Foschini, and Morpurgo in October 1937.
60 ‘La Mostra della rivoluzione a valle giulia: Dall’intervento all’impero,’ Mes-
saggero (21 September 1937); and ‘La Mostra della rivoluzione fascista: Dalla
cronaca alla storia,’ Il Lavoro Fascista (27 January 1938).
61 The temporal-spatial span of the new edition went from the beginning of the
Great War (1914) up to the fascist intervention in the Spanish Civil War (1937)
– covering thirty rooms, as opposed to the eighteen of the first edition.
62 The continuity between stile littorio and the museification of the MRF was
explicitly exalted or lamented by reviewers of the MRF’s third and final edi-
tion, briefly installed in October 1942 to celebrate the second decade of the
Revolution. Compare ‘La nuova sistemazione della Mostra della rivoluzione
fascista in Roma,’ Architettura (January 1943) with ‘Il Problema fondamen-
tale. La Mostra della rivoluzione,’ Il Popolo di Roma (10 October 1942).
Notes to pages 183–7 255

63 See Romke Visser, ‘Fascist Doctrine and the Cult of Romanità,’ Journal of Con-
temporary History 27 no.1 (January 1992): 5–22; Tim Benton, ‘Rome Reclaims
its Empire,’ 121–22; and Spiro Kostof, ‘The Emperor and the Duce: The
Planning of Piazzale Augusto Imperatore in Rome,’ in Art and Architecture in
the Service of Politics, ed. H.A. Millon and L. Nochlin (Cambridge: MIT Press,
1978), 303.
64 Giulio Quirino Giglioli, Mostra augustea della romanità: catalogo (Rome: C.
Colombo, 1937).
65 Anna Maria Liberati Silverio, ‘La Mostra augustea della romanità,’ in Dalla
mostra al museo: Roma capitale, 1870–1911 (Venice: Marsilio, 1983): 83–4.
66 Kostof, ‘The Emperor and the Duce,’ 303.
67 Stone, The Patron State, 129–30.
68 Seeking ‘to articulate the increasingly central discourses of empire, war, and
race,’ Stone argues, the mass exhibitions of the late 1930s ‘exchanged the
dynamic, modernist, and successful exhibition formula in favor of a legible
and documentary one not diluted by the abstraction and ambiguity of mod-
ernism.’ Ibid., 223.
69 Ibid., 226. The MA’s unrivalled expansion of the MRF’s formula was the fruit
of a collaborative effort that involved four of the major protagonists of the
fascist exhibition: Sironi, Nizzoli, Pratelli, and Monti.
70 Berezin, Making the Fascist Self, 116.
71 Ibid., 168.
72 Stone, The Patron State, 224.
73 Ibid., 230 and 237.
74 Mario Pagano, ‘Parliamo di esposizioni,’ Casabella-Costruzioni (March–April
1941): 159–60.
75 Ibid., 160.
76 Ibid.
77 Karen Pinkus, Bodily Regimes: Italian Advertising under Fascism (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1995).
78 For pictures and a useful review of these exhibitions see Roberto Aloi,
Esposizioni: Architetture-allestimenti (Milan: Hoepli, 1960).
79 Jeffrey Schnapp (in collaboration with Claudio Fogu), ‘Ogni mostra realiz-
zata è una rivoluzione, ovvero le esposizioni sironiane e l’immaginario fas-
cista,’ in Mario Sironi 1885–1961 (Milan: Electa, 1993), 48–60, and, by the
same author, ‘Canto della materia: Il rayon e I tessuti autarchici,’ in Estetica:
Le arti e le scienze, ed. S. Zecchi (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1995): 211–42.
80 Stone, 224.
81 The uncanny nature of Pagano’s comments on fascist exhibition art can be
best appreciated by comparing ‘Parliamo di esposizioni’ with the frontal
256 Notes to pages 187–90

attack that Pagano launched against the artistic director of the EUR 42, Mar-
cello Piacentini, in another editorial written for Casabella a few months
before (‘Occasioni perdute,’ Casabella, 1940, 158).
82 While the idea of the Universal Exhibition can be safely attributed to Musso-
lini, the central architectural and thematic topos of EUR 42, the Mostra della
civiltà italiaca (Exhibition of Italian Civilization), derived from a contempo-
raneous proposal of a Milanese group of rationalist architects (BBPR) led by
the editor Valentino Bompiani. For an exhaustive documentation of, and
commentary on, all aspects of EUR 42, see E 42: Utopia e scenario del regime
3 vols. (Venice: Marsilio, 1987–1992).
83 Although the BBPR group was immediately excluded from the realization of
their idea, the original architectural and urban designing committee of the
EUR 42 – selected in January 1937 – comprised four rationalist architects
(Pagano, Piccinato, Rossi, and Vietti) and stile littorio’s chief representative,
Marcello Piacentini. By late 1938, however, Piacentini had successfully
manoeuvred to gain the support of EUR 42’s chief authority, Vittorio Cini,
and dismember the committee and remain sole artistic director of the exhi-
bition. See Enrico Guidoni, ‘L’E 42, città della rappresentazione: Il progetto
urbanistico e le polemiche sull’architettura,’ in E 42: Utopia e scenario del
regime. Ideologia e programma dell’olimpiade della civiltà: Vol. 1., ed. T. Gregory
and A. Tartaro (Venice: Marsilio, 1987): 17–73.
84 Stone, The Patron State, 254.
85 The exhibition’s programmatic document, written by Cini in June 1937,
divided EUR 42 into ‘six cities of exhibitions’ that would constitute the six
‘quarters’ of the future city. Vittorio Cini, ‘Documento programmatico,’
cited in Guidoni, ‘L’E 42,’ 44.
86 Ibid.
87 Ibid., 34–5.
88 Ibid., 33.


1 ‘Je songe à te proposer d’écrire ensemble une Histoire Universelle.’ Letter

from Georges Bataille to Raymond Queneau, published in Marina Galletti,
‘Il sacro nell’ideologia del fascismo,’ Alternative 4 (April 1996): 112 (my
2 ‘Les droits ont su mettre à profit l’expérience communiste et emprunter une
partie des méthodes de leurs adversaires. Nous sommes assurés que la récip-
roque est aujourd’hui nécessaire. Les moyens de propagande et la tactique
des fascistes doivent être mis a profit au bénéfice de la cause des travailleurs.’
Notes to pages 190–9 257

Handwritten note from Georges Bataille to Pierre Kaan, published in

Georges Bataille, Contre-Attaque : Gli anni della militanza antifascista 1932–1939,
ed. Marina Galletti (Rome: Edizioni Associate, 1995), 194 (my translation).
3 For the history of Contre-Attaque and Acèphale, see Marina Galletti’s introduc-
tion to the volume cited in note 2 above.
4 Georges Bataille, Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927–1939, ed. A. Stoekel
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993), 262.
5 Giovanni Gentile, ‘Politica e filosofia,’ in Dopo la vittoria: Nuovi frammenti
politica (Rome: Edizioni La Voce, 1920), 148.
6 Reinhard Koselleck, Futures Past: On the Semantics of Historical Time
(Cambridge: MIT Press, 1985).
7 Ibid., 28–32.
8 Ibid., 22.
9 Ibid., 23.
10 In connection with the discussion of the relationship between actualism and
historic semantics in Chapter 1, I would like to specify at this point that, by
tracing the genealogy of actualism from the late eighteenth-century differ-
entiation between ‘historical’ and ‘historic,’ to the late sixteenth-century
replacement of ‘evidence’ for ‘evidentia,’ and all the way back to the deep
rhetorical caesura between Greek and Latin Christian conceptions of the
relationship between narrative, truth, and visual representation, I mean in
no way to suggest a polarization between high discursive culture and popular
visual culture, visual historic imagination, and narrative historical conscious-
ness. As the case of Kant’s concurrent theorization of ‘Universal History’ and
the ‘historical sign’ exemplifies, one must always keep in mind the dialogical
structure of these relationships. Similarly, the fluid interchangeability that
the adjectives ‘historic’ and ‘historical’ have acquired over time in spoken
English unmistakably reminds us of their contingent origin in a burgeoning
historical culture very different from both Latin and late humanist cultures.
The semiotic relationship of historicness to eventfulness did not merely
translate the relationship between Latin imago or Catholic icon and the men-
tal fusion of referent and representation, nor did it isolate the formation of a
visual paradigm of historicity from the contemporaneous harnessing of nar-
rativity in the temporization of history. The historical originality, elasticity,
and longevity of the modern concept of the historic event can only be appre-
ciated in its simultaneous epochalization of presence, and its assumption of
narrative historical consciousness. Insofar as it is perceived as vivid ‘in itself,’
the historic event is positioned at an incommensurable semiotic distance
from all historical facts. Insofar as it is vivid ‘in consciousness,’ it affects the
metanarrative recoding of all historical events. Whether in its Kantian incar-
258 Notes to pages 199–204

nation as ‘historical sign’ or the historic compounds still in use today, the
rhetorical structure of historic event-ness fuses epoch-ness with historicity,
while at the same time producing an immediate recoding of narrative con-
sciousness (i.e., Kant’s ‘Universal Progress’).
11 For an introduction in English to the problematic historicization of the
Risorgimento in the liberal era, see the classic William Salomone, ‘The
Risorgimento between Ideology and History: The Political Myth of the
“Rivoluzione Mancata,”’ American Historical Review 68, no. 1 (1962): 38–56,
Sergio Romano, ‘Cavour and the Risorgimento,’ Journal of Modern History 88,
no. 3 (September 1986): 669–77; and Emilio Gentile, The Sacralization of Poli-
tics in Fascist Italy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996), 1–18.
12 See Umberto Levra, Fare gli italiani: Memoria e celebrazione del Risorgimento
(Turin: Einaudi, 1992); and Bruno Tobia, Una Patria per gl’italiani (Bari:
Laterza, 1991). For a comprehensive review of the historicization of the
Risorgimento from the liberal era through fascism, see Walter Maturi, Le
Interpretazioni del Risorgimento (Turin: Einaudi, 1962); and the essays collected
in Il mito del Risorgimento nell’Italia unita: Atti del Convegno, Milano, 9–12 novem-
bre 1993 (Milan: Comune di Milano, 1995).
13 Among these, prominent places were given to the insertion of Risorgimento
history in school programs, the creation of national societies for the histori-
cal study of the Risorgimento, and the diffusion of Risorgimento museums
over the national territory. For the teaching of the Risorgimento in state
schools, see Gianni di Pietro, ‘Potere politico e insegnamento della storia
dalla fine dell’ottocento alla caaduta del fascismo,’ Quaderni dell’Istituto per la
Storia della Resistenza in Provincia di Alessandria, nos. 2–3 (1978): 30–97. The
history of the birth and development of Risorgimento institutions and muse-
ums is reconstructed in Massimo Baioni, La religione della patria: Musei e isti-
tuti del culto risorgimentale (1884–1918) (Treviso: Pagus, 1994).
14 On the peculiar history of the term Risorgimento, see Simonetta Soldani,
‘Risorgimento,’ in Il Mondo contemporaneo: Storia d’italia 3, vol. 1 (Bari:
Laterza, 1978), 1132–58.
15 Giovanni Sabbatucci, ‘La grande guerra e i miti del Risorgimento,’ in Il mito
del Risorgimento, 215.
16 Mario Isnenghi, Il mito della grande guerra (Bologna: Il Mulino, 1989),
17 Sabbatucci, ‘La grande guerra,’ 216.
18 Kriss Ravetto, The Unmaking of Fascist Aesthetics (Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 2001).
19 Karen Pinkus, Bodily Regimes: Italian Advertising under Fascism (Minneapolis:
University of Minnesota Press, 1995).
Notes to pages 204–6 259

20 Susan Sontag, ‘Fascinating Fascism,’ in Under the Sign of Saturn (New York:
Ferrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1980).
21 Alexandre Kojève, ‘Introduction to the Reading of Hegel,’ Lectures on the
Phenomenology of Spirit Assembled by Raymond Queneau, ed. Allan Bloom
(New York: Basic Books [1947], 1969): 147–52.
22 Ibid., 147.
23 Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 28.
24 R.J.B. Bosworth, The Italian Dictatorship: Problems and Perspectives in the Inter-
pretation of Mussolini and Fascism (London and New York: Arnold, 1998),
This page intentionally left blank

Acéphale, 191–2 Archivio della Guerra (War Archive),

actualism, 13, 26, 27, 36–51, 199, 53–4, 55, 56–7, 60, 228n41, 253n40
217n21, 221n67, 222n88, 223n91; Arco dei Caduti, 88
etymology of term, 48; founding art: avant-garde, 4; degenerate, 4;
document of, 46; and futurism, 46; exhibition, see exhibition culture,
genealogy of, 257n10; and modern- fascist; futurist, 70; Nazi, 9
ism, 46 autoctisi, 46
Adamson, Walter, 45 avant-garde movement, 5
Adorno, Theodor, 5
aestheticization of politics. See poli- Bann, Stephen, 59, 60, 61, 62, 116–17
tics, aestheticization of Bardi, Pietro Maria, 121, 131–2, 133
aesthetic politics, 6 Bataille, Georges, 3–4, 6, 8, 10, 16, 17,
aesthetics: avant-garde, 4, 5–6, 167, 18–19, 190–2, 197, 206; ‘The Psy-
184, 187, 195; modernist, 13, 103 chological Structure of Fascism,’ 3
agency, historic, 10, 43, 103, 182, 193, Baudrillard, Jean, 63
194, 195; and the MRF, 138, 139 Belardelli, Giovanni, 28
agency, historical, 7, 8, 10, 34, 47 Benjamin, Walter, 18, 64, 213n56
agent, 15; historic, 10, 15, 55, 56, 94, Berezin, Mabel, 55, 184–5
103, 192; historical, 12, 14, 201 Bolsheviks, 194; five-year plans of, 17,
Alfieri, Dino, 134–5, 143, 152, 170–2, 166
240n20, 246n54, 249n87 Bosworth, K.B.J., 206
Androetti, Libero, 147, 157 Burger, Peter, 5
anniversary celebrations of the March burial of the Unknown Soldier
on Rome, 55 (1921), 85–6
antimodernism, 179, 181
appello, 88, 93–4, 157, 236n43 Cambellotti, Duilio, 83
262 Index

Camicia Rossa, 234n28, 242n8 ernist, 5, 14, 66; Nazi, 6; posthis-

Capodivacca, Alberto, 143 toric(al), 20, 203–6; ritual, 55
Caporetto, 42, 44, 54
Carpanetti, Arnaldo, 143, 145 D’Andrea, Ugo, 168
Casabella, 185–6 D’Annunzio, Gabriele, 182
catastrophe of the histori(ographi)- decade, 16, 196, 202, 203–6, 251n4
cal act, 13, 47, 60, 83, 103, 141, 168, decennale, 74, 113, 114, 121, 133, 150,
170, 183, 194 162–7, 176, 184
Cavour, Count Camillo Benso di, 27, Del Debbio, Enrico, 181, 183
72, 199 Deleuze, Gilles, 233n26
celebrations, Garibaldian, 15–16, Del Noce, Augusto, 27, 40, 43, 46,
72–95, 96–113, 115, 116, 121, 173, 221n67
176, 177, 235n41 De Vecchi, Cesare Maria, 173–8, 180
Cinquantenario (garibaldino). See cele- documentaries. See LUCE
brations, Garibaldian ducismo, 12, 56–7, 76, 77, 193, 195
Ciotti. See Garibaldi, Ciotti
Circo Massimo exhibitions, 184, 185, Emmanuel, King Victor, 72, 73, 87,
187, 254n59 199
codes, rhetorical 11; Latin Catho- enàrgeia, 48–50, 183, 194, 224n102;
lic, 10, 13–16, 20, 57, 104, 169, and the Exhibition of the Fascist
195; and Antonio Monti, 70; and Revolution, 133, 168, 171–2; and
the MRF, 133, 164; and waxworks, the Garibaldian Exhibition, 131;
118 and Mussolini’s 1932 speech, 94,
commemoration, 184–5 100–12; and waxworks, 119, 120
conjectural paradigm, 7 exhibition culture, fascist 17, 184–9
consciousness, historical 20, 34, 43, exhibitions: Aeronautics Exhibition,
47, 50, 66, 103, 193, 257n10 184, 185, 187; Exhibition of
Contre-Attaque, 190, 191 Augustan Rome, 181–3, 184; Exhi-
Corio, Ludovico, 62, 228n41 bition of the Fascist Revolution 3,
Correnti, Cesare, 61 4, 6, 8, 9, 16, 70, 114, 121, 132–73,
Cotugno, Raffaele, 96–8, 104, 105 180–6, 196, 202, 248n63, 254n62;
Critica Fascista, 22–3 —, and Georges Bataille, 3–4,
Croce, Benedetto, 21–2, 25–6, 30–3, 190–2; —, as imago, 169, 177, 178,
35–7, 47; and Antonio Monti, 60; 182, 185, 187; Exhibition of Nine-
Mussolini’s attack on, 31–5, 77; Sto- teenth-Century Rome, 16, 114–22,
ria d’Italia, 22, 30, 31, 35 125, 126, 152; EUR 42, 184, 197–9,
culture: fascist, 15–16, 190, 192–3, 202, 256n82; Garibaldian Exhibi-
196; fascist historic, 10, 17, 165–89; tion 16, 70, 114, 121–32, 135, 136;
historic(al), 197–203; Latin Catho- Historical Exhibition of Fascism,
lic visual, 10, 13, 45, 48–51, 95; mod- 134
Index 263

Fachinelli, Elvio, 44–5 Giglioli, Giulio Quirino, 183

Falasca-Zamponi, Simmetta, 23 Ginzburg, Carlo, 14, 49
Federazione Nazionale Volontari Gombrich, Ernst, 19, 163
Garibaldini, 234n29 Gramsci, Antonio, 46
femininity, fascist, 79–82 Great War: in actualist thought,
fetishism, 63, 65 41–4; and history belonging to the
Freddi, Luigi, 135, 138, 139, 152, 171, present, 65; and modernist con-
240n20, 246n55, 247n60 ception of history, 34–5; and muse-
Freedberg, David, 118–19 ums, 60–71, 134–5; and trauma, 15,
Friedrich, Ernst, 52–3 53–7
Fukuyama, Francis, 20 Greenberg, Clement, 5
futurism, 5, 6, 46, 47, 115, 164, 179, Greenblatt, Steven, 19
185, 209n20, 213n56, 250n93
futurists, 45, 247n55 Hay, James, 106
historia magistra vitae, 20, 198
Gallery of Fasces, 145–6, 154, 157–62 historic: culture, 10, 17, 165–89;
Gallery of Uniforms, 127–32, 152, 160, event, 177, 193, 198, 257n10;
177 eventfulness, 10, 33–4, 35, 38, 48,
Garibaldi, Anita Riviero, 74, 78, 230n8 50, 193; site, 17; spectacle, 15, 16,
Garibaldi, Ciotti, 84, 234n31 72–95, 107
Garibaldi, Ezio, 77–9, 82, 84–6, 88 historicalness, 10
Garibaldi, Ricciotti Sr, 73, 77, 84 historic/historical, 33–4, 121–2,
Garibaldianism, 73, 82, 83–5, 86, 88, 198–9, 200, 211n38, 257n10; modes
89, 90, 101, 103, 233n27; and the of representation, 10, 16; and the
Garibaldian Exhibition, 114, 121, MRF, 156–7
126–7, 129, 130, 132 historicness, 10, 33–4, 48, 57, 257n10;
Gentile, Giovanni, 13, 25–8, 35, Kant’s conception of, 39, 199
36–51, 65, 119, 170, 171, 175, 176, history: actualist philosophy of, 13,
193–4, 195, 199, 201–2, 205, 217n21, 66, 173, 175, 177, 178, 193, 195, 197,
221n67, 222n88; declining influ- 201; end of, 20; fascist poetics of, 7;
ence of, 174, 197; and La Voce, fascist politics of, 6, 7, 9, 10, 13,
223n91; on Leninism, 221n73; and 23–31, 192; fascist reclaiming of,
modernism, 45–51; and Antonio 174–8; fascist vision of, 7, 12–13;
Monti, 60; Manifesto of Fascist historic vision of, 9–10; immanent
Intellectuals, 28; ‘Politica e filoso- conception of, 34; liberal philoso-
fia,’ 40, 43, 47, 50, 60, 201, 221n67. phy of, 13, 192; Marxist philosophy
See also actualism of, 8, 13, 36, 41, 43, 194; modernist
Gerarchia, 28 vision of, 8, 39; Nazi politics of, 8–9
Gesamtkunstwerk, 4, 143, 182, 184, 187 history belonging to the future, 177,
Geschichte, 198–9 183, 185, 187
264 Index

history belonging to the past, 43, 103, of the Risorgimento (INSRI),

132, 197, 201; and waxworks, 119 173–5, 180
history belonging to the present,
13, 17, 21–52, 60, 61, 65, 66, 103, Kaan, Pierre, 190
132, 164, 182, 193, 194, 196, 197, Kant, Immanuel, 37–9, 42, 47, 48, 199
201–2 Kojève, Alexander, 20, 205
history-making, fascist, 21, 23, 31, 33, Koselleck, Reinhard, 197–8
34, 43, 193; and Antonio Monti, 70 Koshar, Rudy, 9
history-writing, liberal, 21, 23, 31, 33,
34, 43, 193 Lacan, Jacques, 211n41
Hitler, Adolf, 4, 253n43 La Critica, 25–6, 60
Huyssen, Andreas, 5 La Voce, 5, 45, 46, 47, 223n91
hypericon, 19, 57, 111, 118, 130, 192 Lavoro fascista, 170
littoral style, 178–83, 185, 186, 187,
ideology, fascist, 4, 17, 186 196, 202, 254n62, 256n83
Il Popolo d’Italia, 28, 98–9, 135, 167, Longanesi, 154
170, 172, 183, 196, 232n20, 249n87; Longenbach, James, 48
in the MRF, 138–45 LUCE (L’Unione Cinematografica
Il Popolo di Roma, 101–2, 103 Educative), 105, 106, 107, 167,
image, 11–12; fascist, 122 230n3, 239nn17, 18, 240n20,
imagery, Latin Catholic 55 241n25
imaginary: collective, 211n41; defini- Lyotard, Jean-François, 20, 206
tion of, 11; fascist, 33; fascist his-
toric, 11–12, 15–16, 34, 35, 51, 53, March on Rome, 15, 16; as historic
55, 57, 66, 103, 107–13, 121, 132–64, agent, 205; yearly commemorations
166, 169, 172, 177, 179, 183, 184, of, 184
185, 197–9, 193–5; historic, 10–11, Marconi, Guglielmo, 182
19, 43, 45, 50, 90, 105, 212n41; Ital- Marinetti, F.T., 179, 187
ian Catholic, 14; Mussolinian, 12, Marxism, 36, 41, 43
55–6 mass culture, 4, 5, 6, 10; evolution of,
imago, 49–50, 103, 105, 112, 118, 192, 204; fascist, 35
162–3, 166, 169, 177, 178, 182, 194, mass media, 97–113
257n10 Matteotti, Giacomo, 26
immanence, 19, 129, 154, 194, 217n21 Mazzini, Giuseppe, 25, 27, 50, 72, 73,
Institute of Roman Studies, 115 199, 200
Internationales Anti-Kriegs Museum mentality, 11; fascist, 10–11, 44
(International Anti-War Museum), microhistory, 14–15
52–3 Misciatelli, Marquis Piero, 180
Isnenghi, Mario, 76 Mitchell, W.J.T., 19, 237n9
Italian National Society for the Study modernism, 5, 34–5, 209n20; fascist,
Index 265

4–6, 17, 18, 167, 178, 180–4, 187, Mussolini, Benito, 4, 6, 7, 12, 21–3, 27,
195, 196; legacy of, 204 31–5, 53–7, 73, 165–6, 169, 173, 174,
modernismo, 6 175, 177, 180–1, 182, 192, 194,
modernist front, fascist, 120–1 221n67; attack on Croce, 31–5; Cult
modernist movement in architecture. of, 12, 56–7, 76–7, 193, 195; dead
See razionalismo body of, 197; and the Garibaldian
modernist sensitivity, 5 celebrations, 74–95; on LUCE
modernity, 17–20, 188 newsreels, 241n20; in the MRF, 139,
Monti, Antonio, 15, 52–71, 114, 121, 141, 143, 145, 147, 152, 154; myth
122–32, 133, 165–6, 168, 169, of, 15; relationship with Ezio
177, 225n8, 226nn11, 23, 228n41, Garibaldi, 231n14; and speech at
245n 54, 247n60, 249n87, 253n40; inauguration of Anita Garibaldi’s
curatorial practices of, 66–71, monument, 96–113, 237n6, 238n11;
229n49, 245n34; and Sironi, speech of 1929, 55; speeches of,
160 32–5, 45; and Universal Exhibition
monument to Anita Garibaldi, 75–85, of Rome, 187; War Diary, 54
96, 108, 173; inauguration cere- mussolinismo, 55–7, 226n13
mony of, 96–113 mussolinismo-ducismo, 12
Mosse, George, 8, 18
Mostra aeronautica. See exhibitions, National Committee for Risorgi-
Aeronautics Exhibition mento Studies, 174
Mostra augustea della romanità. See National Federation of Garibaldian
exhibitions, Exhibition of Augus- Veterans, 84
tan Rome nationalism, 5
Mostra della rivoluzione fascista National Museum of the Risorgi-
(MRF). See exhibitions, Exhibition mento, 181
of the Fascist Revolution nazification of fascist ideology, 186
Mostra di Roma nell’ottocento Nazism, 3–4, 6, 8, 17, 27, 179, 194; one
(MRO). See exhibitions, Exhibition thousand years’ Reich of, 166
of Nineteenth-Century Rome newspapers, modernization of,
Mostra d’oltremare, 184 240n19
Mostra garibaldina (MG). See exhibi- Nietzsche, Friedrich, 34
tions, Garibaldian Exhibition normative style. See style, normative
Mostra storica del facismo. See exhibi- novecento, 247n55
tions, Historical Exhibition of Fas-
cism Orano, Paolo, 168–9
Museum of the Risorgimento in Oriani, 27
Milan (MRM), 53–71; central room Ortega y Gasset, José, 209n20
of, 67–70; characterization of Risor-
gimento in, 68 Pacini, Renato, 131
266 Index

Pagano, Mario, 185–6, 187, 188, Rutelli, Mario, 79, 82–5, 91, 94,
255n81 232n20
Palazzo delle esposizioni, 114, 121,
127–8, 131, 135 sacred, the, 16, 18, 19, 44, 192
Palazzo Littorio, 181, 182, 183, 254n59 Sapori, Francesco, 168
Paluzzi, Carlo Galassi, 115–16, 242n8 Sarfatti, Margherita, 133–4, 160, 167
Passerini, Luisa, 11, 12, 55–6, 76 scenoplasti. See waxworks
Permanent Exhibition of the Fascist Schnapp, Jeffrey, 134, 135–6, 150–1,
Revolution, 181, 182 162, 252n19
Piacentini, Marcello, 180, 256n83 Sciorsci, Costantino, 119–20, 121
Pifferi, Camillo, 167–8 Sciortino, Antonio, 78–9, 82, 83, 85,
politics: aestheticization of, 16, 18, 23, 231n15, 233n25
163, 195, 167, 169, 172–3, 213n56; Secolo XIX, 101, 102–3
image-, 4, 6, 14, 17, 18, 70, 112, 114, Section P (Propaganda Section), 28,
122, 166, 178, 185, 186, 214n3; rit- 31
ual-, 14, 17, 166, 173, 177, 178; sac- Sironi, Mario, 145, 150–3, 160, 180,
ralization of, 9, 18, 74, 89, 163, 195, 187, 249n87, 250n88; novecento
213n55 movement and, 179
Polverelli, Gaetano, 170 Slatapar, Scipio, 46
Sontag, Susan, 204
Queneau, Raymond, 190 Sorel, George, 5
Spackmann, Barbara, 18, 32–3, 35
razionalismo, 121, 179, 247n55, Speer, Albert, 180
256n82, 83 Stefani Agency, 98–9, 237n5, 8
representation: historic, 34, 10; his- Sternhall, Zeev, 43, 214n3
torical, 34, 47; ritual, 13; visual, 13 stile littorio. See littoral style
revolutionary syndicalism, 5 Stone, Marla, 179, 180, 184
rhetorics of virility, 5, 18, 33–5 style, Italy as, 204; normative, 19,
Riegel, Alois, 62 163–4, 187–8, 204
Risorgimento: and Garibaldian cele-
brations, 74–5; in historical dis- Terragni, Giuseppe, 147
course, 25–30, 40; as imago, 200; thaumaturgic Duce, 15, 52–71, 74,
and museums, 60–71; and national- 112, 163, 196
ization, 199–201; as word, 200 Third National Congress of Fascist
Risorgimento museums, 61–2, 63, 66; Intellectuals, 165, 170, 172–3, 176,
Antonio Monti’s criticism of, 65 177, 178
ritual, 16 Traccia storico–politica della mostra del
Rome, fascist conception of, 23–4 facismo (Political–Historical Out-
Royal Institute for Risorgimento line for the Exhibition of Fascism),
Studies, 174, 175 138
Index 267

Turi, Giovanni, 40 Volpe, Giocchino, 22, 27–8, 31, 32,

Twelfth Congress of Risorgimento 170, 174–6, 218n40, 253n39; L’Italia
Historians, 63, 244n23 in cammino, 22, 27, 29, 31

Veeser, Aram, 19 waxworks, 117–22, 125, 130

ventennio, 6, 9, 12, 23, 44, 45, 55 White, Hayden, 34–5, 47
visual culture. See culture, Latin Cath-
olic visual Zamponi, Simonetta Falasca, 79
Voce, La, 5, 6, 46, 47, 223n91 Zunino, Piergiorgio, 9, 23, 24, 214n3
Vociani. See Voce, La