2014 College Art Association Annual Conference, Chicago
IAS-Sponsored Session

Futuro Anteriore: Cultural Self-Appropriation as Catalyst in the Art of Italy

Hilton Chicago, 3rd Floor, Williford A&B
Friday, February 14, 2014, 12:30–2:00pm

Organizers and Chairs: Irina D. Costache, and Alison L. Perchuk, California State University, Channel Islands

The development of Italian art has been framed by a paradoxical dichotomy: even as artists produced innovative works with far-reaching effects, they rooted these endeavors in the peninsula’s own past, appropriated and reinvented.  The political and social tensions seemingly inherent in Italy’s fractured geography have more than once made the past a point of regional or national (to use the term loosely) convergence, whether as a reclamation of an era or as isolated quotations.  The Italian Renaissance is only the best known of these fertile explorations of the past; other episodes include ancient Rome’s adaptations of the arts of Greece and Magna Graecia, the Counterreformation papacy’s use of Rome’s medieval artistic heritage, Mussolini’s obsession with Roman architecture and urbanism, and the wide-ranging historical references of modern and contemporary artists and architects.  Each of these moments of what we might call cultural self-appropriation entails more than dry citations: the transformations effected by Italy’s artists presuppose deep emotional and intellectual engagement with preceding epochs undertaken hand in hand with bold projects to reinvigorate the present and reimagine the future.


J. Nicholas Napoli, Pratt Institute
"Fanzago and Antiquity: The Universal Claims of Neapolitan Baroque Classicism"

The richly polychromed chapel interiors and unconventional decorative repertory of the Clusone-born sculptor/architect Cosimo Fanzago (1591–1678) epitomize the Neapolitan baroque. In coming to terms with the novelty of Fanzago’s work, art historians have observed that his sculpture and decoration mark the convergence of several traditions from Roman classicism to Florentine mannerism and Lombard naturalism. Building on these observations, my presentation focuses on Fanzago’s interpretation of antiquity through his career and argues that references to the antique infuse almost every aspect of his practice as an architect, sculptor, and decorator. The presentation concludes by assessing the meaning that these all’antica features held for the residents of baroque Naples. The written descriptions of this period reveal that Fanzago’s use of the antique—a moment of cultural self-appropriation or futuro anteriore—expresses tension between regional distinction and the universalizing evocation of heaven on earth.

Laura Moure Cecchini, Duke University
"Adolfo Wildt and the Reimagining of Baroque Sculpture during Fascism"

Fascism’s re-appropriation of the baroque has not been extensively studied, despite the fact that numerous Italian intellectuals considered it to be a precursor of modern consciousness. Baroque art was frequently evoked in critical responses to the sculpture of Adolfo Wildt, a highly acclaimed artist of the ventennio. Instead of the restricted detail and modernist lines that are usually associated with fascist statuary, Wildt favored illusionistic carving, extremely polished surfaces, and theatrical subject-matter. Wildt worked with two photographers, Emilio Sommariva and Antonio Paoletti, to produce canonical views of his work that underscored his unusual style. These photographs heightened the sculptures’ modeling through the dramatic contrast of masses and voids, an aesthetic then associated with seventeenth-century sculpture. I will thus analyze how coeval photographs of Wildt’s sculptures predisposed a reading of his work as neo-baroque, and also how photography mediated interwar sculptors’ appropriation of the art of the seventeenth-century.

Yvonne Elet, Vassar College
"Reinterpreting Raphael in Fascist Rome"

From its inception as an early sixteenth century Medici pleasure villa and papal hospitium for welcoming foreign dignitaries, to its current function as seat of the Foreign Ministry, Raphael’s Villa Madama has been one of Italy’s foremost theaters of diplomacy. Conceived to rival and surpass the grand villas of Roman antiquity, Raphael’s late masterwork, though unfinished, itself became a touchstone for later centuries. This talk considers its gardens, important representational spaces since the villa’s inception, drawing on newly discovered documents and photographs chronicling the recreation of the gardens in the late 1920s. I analyze the redesigned gardens in the context of contemporary cultural and political ideas about the Italian Renaissance garden as an emblem of Italianità, and contemporary urban planning initiatives. This study provides an important account of public and private efforts to restore and reframe a significant Renaissance site for the construction of Italian cultural identity in Fascist Rome.

Meta Marija Valiusaityte, Freie Universität Berlin/Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz
"Gino Severini's Return to Italianità"

For some artists, abstraction and the Readymade were the primary concerns of the early-twentieth-century avant-garde. Paris-based Italian artist Gino Severini, however, “inherited from the old Italians an aspiration toward a new classicism through the construction of the ‘picture’,” as the artist himself attested in 1917. Severini’s return to traditional Italian values and modes of representation was primarily a return to the practice of drawing: he viewed drawing as construction and construction as harmony—i.e., the achievement of balance. This paper focuses on a number of portraits painted between 1916 and 1926. By examining Severini’s appropriation of the Italian past, in terms of the artist’s pictorial revivalisms as well his reflections on art theory (Du cubisme au classicisme, 1921), this paper seeks to present a fresh interpretation of the relationship between avant-gardism and engagement with the past as one of intercalation rather than conflict.

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