The 2019 exhibition at the Musei San Domenico in Forlì presents the great art of nineteenth century Italy, in the period between the closing phase of Romanticism and the artistic experiments of the new century, between the Unification of Italy and the Great War.
The well-known phrase attributed to one of the protagonists of Italy’s Risorgimento, Massimo d'Azeglio, “Now that we have made Italy, we must make Italians”, encapsulates a key reflection on Italian history and on how, in the years following the Unification of Italy, a national identity was created and developed and how the autobiography of a nation was depicted. It leads to a consideration of how Italians, who had previously been divided among different local political, social and cultural realities, experienced the aspiration and the reality of becoming one people, sharing a common history.
By retracing the events of Italian art in the half-century that preceded the revolution of Futurism, through an extraordinary comparison of architecture, painting, sculpture, illustration and decorative arts, we can understand critically how art functioned as a formidable tool of celebration and communication to create consensus, while also being the most popular and “democratic” means of informing Italians on the exciting and contradictory course of their ancient and recent history, characterized by shared passions as well as strong tensions and divisions. Art was a formidable laboratory that enabled a discovery, or rediscovery, of the natural wonders of the “bel paese” and the artistic riches of the cities that were being irreparably transformed to meet the needs of modernity, as witnessed by the changes in Florence and Rome when each rose to become the nation’s capital. Art also served as the medium for presenting the variety and charm of the habits and customs of the differing local identities and transmitted the excellence of artistic techniques from sculpture to jewellery, to outstanding craftsmanship, that were still in demand world-over, just as they had been during the Renaissance, in the days of Giambologna and Benvenuto Cellini.