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Saturday, April 27, 2024

Italian Artists Reflect on the Resistance in World War II

Villa Altieri, the subject of the last post, has been, in addition to its antiquities museum, its archaeological siting, and its role as Palazzo della Cultura e della Memoria della Città Metropolitana di Roma Capitale (Palace of culture and memory of the metropolitan capital city of Rome), home to many small and interesting exhibitions. "Pietà l'è morta: omaggio alla resistenza" ("Pity is dead: homage to the resistance") was the one that drew us to the villa in the first place.

The artworks were created mostly after the "Nazi-Fascist" period of World War II had ended, some immediately after (apparently some during that period as well) and others 2 decades later.

The main image in promotional materials for the exhibition is this somewhat strange caricature, at right, of Antonio Gramsci by Giuseppe Guerreschi, from 1967. Gramsci was a symbol of the opposition to Fascism, a founder of Italy's Communist Party (the mark on his forehead) and died in 1936 in a Fascist prison (note the chain and handcuffs), where he wrote his profoundly influential Prison Notebooks during his arduous 11 years of incarceration (evocation of Alexei Navalny). The iconography of Gramsci continues with wall paintings in Rome and his oft-visited burial site in Rome's Non-Catholic Cemetery (He was an atheist, hence his burial outside Catholic Church grounds). At the end of this post are photos of Gramsci, of his memorialized tombstone, and of one of the Roman wall paintings.

Many of the works, by some of the best artists of the period, are disturbingly graphic in their depictions of Fascist horrors. 

Left, a print from Renato Guttuso's "Gott mit uns," a portfolio of 24 first issued in 1945, the year World War II ended in Europe. "Gott mit uns" ("God with us") was a slogan on German World War I and World War II uniforms, often on belt buckles. (Frederika Randall's review of an exhibition of Guttuso's work from 2013 is here.) Some records date the prints to earlier than 1945.

The writing at the bottom right says,"Compagni! vendicate i martiri di via Tasso," translated: "Comrades! Avenge the martyrs of via Tasso," referencing both the Nazi imprisonment of political prisoners at that notorious Rome locale (see below on the sponsorship of the exhibit in part by the museum now housed there) and the murder of more than 300 men, many taken from the via Tasso prison, at the caves of Ardeatine. For a post on that atrocity and the memorial now there, see here (also on an itinerary in our book, Rome the Second Time).

Below, another print from the same series.

Three pieces by Guttuso in the exhibit appear to reference the Algerian War of Independence (1954-1962) and are titled "Massacro" ("Massacre"); two are below. The artist has other, similar works with the same title from 1940, reflecting the Nazi horrors.

Renato Guttuso, "Massacro" 1961

Renato Guttuso, "Algerine"
 ("Algerian woman") 1961

Below is Ugo Attardi's (another noted Italian artist, 1923-2006) "Questo Matto Mondo Assassino" ("This crazy, murderous world") from 1967:

A few of the prints depicted some hope from Resistance, among them Giacomo Manzù's "Partigiano con fazzoletto rosso" ("Partisan with bandana," no date), the red bandana to this day is a symbol of the Italian partisans, who still maintain an organization, ANPI (ANPI - Associazione Nazionale Partigiani d'Italia). Manzù is most remembered as a sculptor.

Another Attardi print shows a statue of Mussolini being dragged down and away:

Ugo Attardi, "Profile del duce e rivolta" ("Profile of the Duce and revolt"), 1951.

A small sculpture based on the iconic scene from Roberto Rossellini's 1945 "Roma, Città Aperta" was also on view.
Vincenzo Gaetaniello, "Roma, città aperta," no date

Also in the exhibit were photos by Margaret Bourke-White about 5 months after the liberation of Rome but before the end of the war in Europe. Some 80,000 leftists celebrated the anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution and denounced the monarchy (which would be rejected in the June 2, 1946 plebiscite following the war). Both of the photos below are titled "Comizio sul colle Palatino 12 Novembre 1944" ("Rally on the Palatine Hill, Nov. 12, 1944").

The exhibit featured writings from Italians such as Cesare Pavese and Giuseppe Ungaretti.

Ungaretti's poem at right above is titled "To the dead of the resistance" and has been translated as follows:

They live on forever
Those eyes that have been closed to the light
So that everyone
Would have them open
For eternity
To that light

The exhibition was comprised mainly of works from "art books," portfolios of prints, all of them in private collections. Many were from the collection o the art critic Dario Micacchi. In some ways, exhibitions based on one or two private collections, which can lead to an increase in prices for the art, seem a capitulation to capitalism, rather than a curated presentation of art and philosophy. The instances of these are many these days, whether it's Ettore Sottsass at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, or in Rome Olivetti at the GNAM (Galleria Nazionale del'Arte Moderna) or the Barbie exhibit at the Vittoriano. And yet, we are fortunate that these private works get any showing.

The subtitle of the exhibition - "Omaggio alla resistenza" - "Homage to the Resistance" - is from a 1964 artists' book edited by Salvatore Quasimodo:

The main title of the exhibition - "Pietà l'è morta" - "Pity is dead" - is from a Resistance anthem by Nuto Revelli, less famous than "Bella Ciao" but well-known to Italians. The theme of the song is that it's time to forget pity for the enemy and to go after them. Two lines read:

Combatte il partigiano la sua battaglia:
Tedeschi e fascisti, fuori d'Italia!

and a translation online is:

The partisan fights his battle:
Heinies and fascists, out of Italy!

"Tedeschi" means "Germans," and in our experience is not an epithet. A modern translation might read somewhat differently.

Here, you can listen to the song, as a dirge -
A modern version (performed on Liberation Day, April 25, 2013) by Ginevra Di Marco, with substantial changes in the lyrics, is here:


Also contributing to the exhibition were the Togliatti archives and materials from the Museo storico della Liberazione (Museum of the Liberation) on via Tasso.(#3 on RST's Top 40). The museum and the Fosse Ardeatine are on the same itinerary in our book, Rome the Second Time: 15 Itineraries that Don't Go to the Coliseum.

Below, a photo of Gramsci from the early 1920s, when he was about 30, then a wall painting by OZMO under the train overpasse in Ostiense, and finally, Gramsci's much-visited (including by us) tombstone in the Non-Catholic Cemetery in Rome.

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