Italian Fascist Funerary Architecture, Part One

The Melancholy Afterlife of Italian Fascist Architecture

Funerary Architecture, Part One

If the population of a nation is alert to warning signs–and usually we are oblivious to portents–it would be well to take notice when that nation begins to build monuments to the glorious dead of the previous war. Disguised as sites of mourning, these are true monuments, not places of mourning, a memorial. For example, in American, there are simple graveyards, known as “veterans’ cemeteries,” a testament to the lack of martial spirit in the New World and to the desire to honor the dead in a simple and dignified manner. But in Italy, after the Great War, the dead soldiers who had fallen for their homeland had to be reinstalled in the national narrative as honorable warriors, not as badly led casualties of an ultimately futile war. Italy had waited cautiously, perhaps wisely, to enter the Great War. Despite the bellicosity of the Futurist artists, Italy was reluctant to fight on the same side as its ancient enemy and fellow member of the Triple Alliance, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and decided to opt instead for a part of the action that would end to their taking a nice bite out of the Empire. Through the Treaty of London in 1915, Britain offered Italy Tyrol, Dalmatia, and Istria, then parts of Austria. Italy was granted its desired control of the borders with Austro-Hungary which stretched from Trentino through the South Tyrol to Trieste. In addition, Britain promised the Albanian port city of Vlore, not to mention Albania, to be taken from the moribund Ottoman Empire. It is very easy to promise that which you cannot deliver, but, for the British, the goal was to activate a southern front and draw the Germans and the Austrians away from the northern front in France and Belgium. The ploy worked well; the Central Powers flooded in: the Austrians were determined to beat back the avaricious Italians and the Germans were anxious to protect its flank. Now all the Italian Army had to do was to win battles with its former allies. The result of accepting the tempting offer in 1915 was a national tragedy for Italy, terrible losses in one of the most completely forgotten fronts of the War, the Italian front, in the most difficult terrain of the War.

The Border between Italy and Austria

Imagine fighting trench warfare, not on a flat plain, but on a vertical incline: that was the obscure “White War.” Aside from the absorbing recent book By Mark Thompson, The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919, one of the best articles on this calamity of Alpine combat appeared in the Smithsonian Magazine in 2016. “An estimated 600,000 Italians and 400,000 Austrians would die on the Italian Front, many of them in a dozen battles along the Isonzo River in the far northeast. But the front zigzagged 400 miles—nearly as long as the Western Front, in France and Belgium—and much of that crossed rugged mountains, where the fighting was like none the world had ever seen or has seen since,” stated author Brian Mockenhaupt. On the one-hundredth anniversary of the Great War, we are experiencing a global warming that is melting the ice and snow along the Italian-Austrian Alpine border and corpses have been uncovered and the entire landscape of tunnels and warfare in the mountains are now accessible. For the inhabitants of the twenty-first century, such sad remains speak of a futile conflict that brought nothing but catastrophe upon the Italians. The corpses, as described by Mochenhaupt, with blond hair and blue eyes still intact in the skull, are victims of misguided bravery for an impossible cause, but for the citizen of the previous century, a mere decade later, these unknown and buried fields of suffering were sites of unrecognized and unrewarded bravery.

Italian Troops in 1918 Pulling Cannon Up the Side of a Mountain

For the Italians, the War could have been an opportunity to take its place as an important force in European politics, not just a backwater where history lived. Unfortunately, the heroism that was dreamed of was bogged down in the White War, where seizing the high ground was literally the name of the game. The Italians lost the advantage to the Austrians and from then on, their fate was probably sealed. The soldiers could just as easily die from avalanches–many deliberated caused by cannon fire—as from snipers lurking in the crevices of the rock face. Thus the only positive news about the Fronte italiano was that the fighting was far less than four years. As Alex Arbuckle described the carnage:

Fighting on the elevated, mountainous terrain posed unique challenges and hazards. Troops often had to scale sheer cliff faces to reach enemy positions. Maintaining supply lines was a constant struggle. The rocky terrain made artillery shells even deadlier. Whereas the soft earth of the Western Front absorbed much of the shrapnel and concussive force of a shell, the brittle rock of the Italian Front shattered into vicious splinters, leading to 70 percent higher casualties per round. With overly confident commanders sending inexperienced soldiers into fruitless massacres, morale on the Italian side plummeted. Pope Benedict XV condemned the war as “horrible carnage that dishonors Europe,” thousands of soldiers deserted and peasants refused conscription orders..The Sixth Battle of the Isonzo in August 1916 resulted in modest Italian gains and slightly buoyed spirits, but was soon followed by more battles of brutal attrition and no winners. Even the smallest gains in territory had to be abandoned when supply lines failed to keep up..On Dec. 13, 1916, 10,000 men were buried by avalanches..In October 1917, exhausted Austro-Hungarian forces were reinforced by German troops and utterly routed the Italians at the Battle of Caporetto, pushing them back with poison gas and Germany’s newly-developed infiltration tactics. The Italians’ retreat was halted as Allied troops and materials came to their aid. When Germany sent its troops back to the Western Front, the Austro-Hungarians found themselves stalemated once again.

Italian Soldiers Fighting in Difficult Conditions

These terrible struggles over a strip of contested border land dragged on until the Hungarian-Austrian Empire collapsed and the War ended. Despite the loss of millions of men, the Italians had done their job. They distracted the enemy and contributed to the final victory. However, as has been pointed out in previous posts, the nation was not rewarded for its efforts and the attitude of the British and the French made it clear that the Italians had not fought bravely enough. The American refusal to allow a new act of colonialism to take place laid the groundwork for the next war. When he came to power, Mussolini, like Hitler after him, was determined to honor the dead and their sacrifices. The resulting memorials fulfilled a variety of functions. First, they put a period to a long and catastrophic sentence, and second the buildings reminded the allies of the worthiness of the Italians who had actually fought very determinedly and daringly, and, of course, third, the memorials reminded the population that dying for one’s country was a noble cause. The last task of these monuments was very important. When Mussolini took over, Italy was consider to be the relaxed tourist destination it had been in the Nineteenth Century. The general European attitude was that Italian culture was in the past, linked to the Roman Empire and to the Renaissance, with the people of Italy, the Italians themselves, being extras on the sets of past glories. Mussolini had installed himself as a contemporary dictator with military and martial roots and forced Italy to become a militaristic modern state. Fascism, at its core, is fueled by the wars of the past and the wars of the future and works best when the nation under its rule is existing in a state of fear and tension, overwhelmed by feelings of danger and dread. It is the role of the dictator to both incite those fears and to promise to protect the people against those very same fears. These “wars” do not have to be military campaigns; a dictator can easily incite hatred of whatever selected “Other” is convenient. But, following the Great War, both Mussolini and then Hitler, recast themselves as authoritarian figures in carefully designed and tailored military outfits promising imminent war. Mussolini, talked about imperial glory but did very little about preparing for the abstract war to come. Hitler, on the other hand, used the coming war as a public works project, employing men as soldiers, firing up military factories, while stimulating the economy. Both Italy and Germany had lost the Great War and both needed to reclaim military honor and glory.

Il Sacrario di Redipuglia

Haunted by the memory of one of Italy’s worst defeats, Caporetto, where the Italian army counted 11,000 dead, 29,000 wounded, 300,000 prisoners and 300,000 scattered men, it was necessary to reestablish Italy as a military power. Until this massive defeat, in which the Germans finally came to the help of the Austrians, the Allies had refused to aid Itay. The Germans and Austrians lost only 50,000 men either killed or wounded and the loss of Caporetto forced the Allies to deliver aid their ally. The fact that this battle was one of twelve battles along the Isonzo River–from modern-day Slovenia to Italian territory–speaks eloquently of the futility of trench warfare. The memorials produced by Italian architects during the interwar were also practical, often being located on the actual battlefields and function as gigantic crypts. During the heat of combat there is little time to collect the dead, and, after the carnage had briefly paused, bodies were buried close to where they fell. There is scant time for nicetities and often identities are lost and many individuals remain unidentified. Famlies waiting fearfully at home never knew how their loved one died or where his body lay. Il Sacrario di Redipuglia, located in Friuli, in the Venezia Giulia area of Italy, is the nation’s official memorial to the war dead. This gigantic ascending ossuary, imagined by the architect, Giovanni Greppi (1884-1960), contained the bodies of over 100,000 Italian dead, over 60,000 of which are unknown. The role of the structure is not just to hold the remains of the soldiers but to also provide the families with a difficult closure and a site to visit–perhaps my son, husband, father, brother is buried here. Greppi worked with the sculptor Giannino Castiglione (1884-1971) to blend the memorial into the rugged landscape as if the site itself had been sculpted out and transformed into a march.

The Twenty-two Terraces

According to Gaetano Dato in his article “Chained Corpses: Warfare, Politics, and Religion After the Hapsburg Empire in the Julian March, 1930s-1970s,” this border area transitioned from a hastily chosen spot for merely collecting and burying the dead to improvised shrines in the 1920s to the final stage of erecting a substantial memorial the purpose of which was to deposit the already gathered remains. The shrine to thirty thousand nameless was established in 1923, but, when he came to power, Mussolini thought the rather homemade homage insufficiently grandiose. The Redipulglia ossuary, built on the original site of the early shrine between 1935 and 1938, was completed just before the Second World War. Going to the site is a pilgrimage to be undertaken reverently, for this is sacred ground, a final resting place. A series of terraces rise up Mont Sei Busi, a high hill overlooking the Redipuglia on the Karst Plateau. The landscape–the territory of the actual battles between the Italians and the Austrians–is not particularly inviting. Flat, marked by scrub, low bushes and twisted trees, an occasional clump of grass, dotted with a brave flower, moving in the wind, the open fields are still cut open by trenches, refuges during a war of attrition. In the spring, the site is quite green and the trees sprout leaves, leavening the bleak harshness of the plain. The hills of the plateau, Sei Busi, San Michele, Calvario, and Sabotino were killing grounds and this Italian gateway into Austria is the site of the memorials of Redipuglia and Oslavia, the Ara Pacis Mundi of Medea, as well as Colle Sant’Elia. But the memorial of Redipuglia is special in its embrace of the visitor. Even though the ossuary is on a plateau, the architect gave the structure a sense of elevation through a series of twenty-two terraces. Although the site is dotted with various and sundry tombs of the generals, such as the Duke of Aosta, the commander of the Third Army, the common soldier is celebrated with the repetition of one word, “presente.” It is as if the dead soldiers hear their names once again, stand to attention, announce their presence, and remind the visitor “we are here.”

According to Hannah Malone in her article, “Fascist Italy’s Ossuaries of the First World War: Objects or Symbols?” “That word refers to the Fascist ritual of the appello or roll call; that is, when an officer called out the name of the dead and his comrades answered presente, meaning that the dead are forever present in the memory of the living and are always ready to serve.” She continued, “However, despite the reiteration of presente, individual histories and memories are notably absent at Redipuglia. The actual identities of the fallen are practically annihilated and the dead are not remembered as husbands, fathers, and sons, but only as soldiers. The annulment of the identities of all but the very highest ranks was elitist, rather than egalitarian, as it underlined the separation of the celebrated, but largely incompetent, commanders from the mass. Their elevation was in line with a Fascist attachment to the principle of hierarchy and to the cult of the leader. Moreover, the narrative that is expressed by Redipuglia obscures the fact that, unlike the hundred thousand soldiers that made up the mass, none of the commanders died in battle, but passed away peacefully in post-war Italy.”

Greppi used the Italian system of perspective in building his receding ascending staircases, presenting the pilgrim with a journey, a series of stations leading to three plain and stark crosses. The staircase or series of terraces act like the horizontal grids of a perspective drawing, drawing the visitor towards a horizon line. As one walks, the horizon line slips back further and the vanishing point leads one onward. Eventually, the climax of the journey is achieved and the vanishing point itself is reached as three crosses crest the straight ridge lines of the levels. The implication is that the fallen soldiers were also fallen martyrs, who are watched over by the Trinity. The three crosses preside over a chapel, which is invisible at the beginning of the journey, and then, at the end, they begin to appear, silhouetted against the sky. Here, behind bronze doors lie trentamila militi ignoti or the remains of thirty thousand unknown soldiers. Although it is far less well-known, Il Sacrario di Redipuglia is, in its scale and impact, comparable to the Douaumont Ossuary, marking the many battles of Verdun and the Thiepval Memorial of the Missing of the Somme. The font used for the memorial is (ancient) Roman, referencing the fact that, as Dato wrote, this Adriatic area was called Venezia Giulia or Julian Venice or the Julian March. From Mussolini’s perspective, the classical assemblage of Redipuglia was meant to rewrite history. Here, like ancient Romans, rest the modern soldiers of the Great War, who would be symbolically mobilized to demonstrate that he, Mussolini, was going to “restore the splendor of the Roman Empire,” as Dato said and continued, “Based on these complex historical events, we can argue that the Adriatic borderland is a place where the Latin, Germanic and Slavic worlds meet and clash..the culture of commemoration in the northern Adriatic region, after the Great War, reflected the change in social and political relationships in European Society: the new role of the masses, a greater acknowledgment of the individual dimension of life, the new concepts of citizenship and universal suffrage and other sociocultural features typical of the new century.”

The site, its significations of pilgrimage and stations of suffering, was far more than a mere graveyard, a repositioning of bones: Il Sacrario di Redipuglia was obviously intended to write a new chapter in the political use of the sacrifice of ill-fated young men. In other words, the ossuary does not look back to the actual battles of the Great War, but beckons forward: be worthy of the sacrifice of these brave men and be prepared to sacrifice once again in the new war coming. Mussolini intended to wipe out the history of defeat and shame and to replace the trauma of loss with the myth of coming imperial glory in the twentieth century. The meaning of the “unknown soldier”–the sad loss of identity of thousands–was replaced by Italian Fascist notions of masses of nameless people following the dictator into war. From the tragedy of having no identity to the loss of identity as being a positive attribute for Fascism. The shrouding of individuals in unwanted uniforms discussed in previous posts is activated once again here with an over-arching theme of generals and soldiers lying together ready to march once more for the glory of the Emperor. It is no accident that it was first D’Annunzio and then Mussolini who revived the ancient Roman salute of the raised and stiff salute, the arm stretching out towards the great leader while signifying, “we who are about to die, salute you.” As Dato pointed out, the meaning of the reactivated myth was blunted by the Italian alliance with Germany, the enemy during the last war. A new generation of Italian men would fight and die to honor these symbolic corpses.

But there is more to say about the interwar construction of funerary architecture under Italian fascism in Part Two.

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Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

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The Futurists Go To War, Part Three

Futurism in Transition

From War to Fascism

The Great War did not go well for the Italians. Aside from the enthusiastic Futurists and their nationalist sympathizers, such as Benito Mussolini, most Italians regarded the war with wary eyes. The nation had to be bribed into the war by the Allies who promised Italy not just territories that were “lost” to the Austro-Hungarian Empire but also were given “permission” to add to their African territories and could help carve up the Ottoman Empire. One could say that Italy had driven hard bargain if the promises were possible to fulfill–but that outcome was in the future. The two solid years of causalities and deaths on the Alpine Front cost the nation over a million lives and that figure referred only to the slaughter on the Isonzo River plain, the Carso plateau. There was another site of death for the Italian army and that was the nearly forgotten “White War.”

The Alpine Front amounted to a third front which wended its torturous path from the Julian Alps to the Ortler massif to the Adriatic Sea, a line of over 250 miles. When the collective memory considers the Great War, it is the muddied fields of Flanders that come to mind, but the Italians and the Austrians were fighting in the mountains over disputed territories that lay between the two powers. These age old enemies, which once had the relation of occupier and occupied, faced off against each other in what was a war of mutual mass destruction. In his eloquent book of 2008, The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919, Mark Thompson recounted remarkable instances when the Austrians, sickened by slaughter warned their Italian counterparts to not advance, to not run towards the very mechanisms of death so admired by the Futurists:

On one occasion, the Austrian machine gunners were so effective that the second and third waves of Italian infantry could hardly clamber over the corpses of their comrades. An Austrian captain shouted to his gunners, ‘What do you want, to kill them all? Let them be.’ The Austrians stopped firing and called out: ‘Stop, go back! We won’t shoot any more. Do you want everyone to die?’ The author continued making the point that no where on the other Fronts did such events take place. “To take their measure, bear in mind that there was no shortage of hatred on this front, that soldiers could relish the killing here as much as elsewhere, the Austrians were outnumbered and fighting for their lives, and any officer or soldier caught assisting the enemy in this way would face court martial. These deterrents could be overcome only by the spectacle of a massacre so futile that pity and revulsion forced a recognition of oneself in the enemy, thwarting the habit of discipline and the reflex of self-interest.

Much of the Italian experience in this war was not just on the relatively flat plain but within the Alps themselves, or that stretch of the Alpine range called the Dolomites in the northeast of Italy. Once can attempt to envision a vertical war, some 6500 feet above sea level, a never-ending struggle encased in many, many feet of snow, carved out the ice and blasted out of rock faces. The weapons were then same as used on the plateau but they had to be hauled up slopes so angled that they defined mules or horses. Only humans, not well versed in the now familiar sport of mountain climbing, would traverse these mountain faces and they could not carry a cannon. Heavy equipment was hoisted upward by ropes and when fired, the cannon, would cause a shattering sound as the explosions, contained in the encircling peaks, would reverberate and echo. The cannon fire was often not directed against the other side but was used as noise, a noise so loud that it caused avalanches, burying troops by the “White Death,” so deeply that they were unrecoverable. This ninety degree war in the mountains would have an unexpected outcome. When the war finally ended in 1918, the Austrians and the Italians simply abandoned their aeries and went home, leaving the war and its detritus behind, including bodies of the dead, submerged in the snow.

Writing for The Telegraph a hundred years later, in an age of Global Warming, Laura Spinney explained, “As much of the front was at altitudes of over 6,500ft, a new kind of war had to be developed. The Italians already had specialist mountain troops – the Alpini with their famous feathered caps – but the Austrians had to create the equivalent: the Kaiserschützen. They were supported by artillery and engineers who constructed an entire infrastructure of war at altitude, including trenches carved out of the ice and rudimentary cableways for transporting men and munitions to the peaks.” Then in the early 2000s, the ice began to melt. Michele Gravino, for National Geographic wrote,

Italian and Austro-Hungarian troops clashed at altitudes up to 12,000 feet (3,600 meters) with temperatures as low as -22°F (-30°C) in the Guerra Bianca, or White War, named for its wintry theater. Never before had battles been waged on such towering peaks or in such frigid conditions..Entire villages of shacks were built, though officers generally lived in old mountain refuges, some outfitted with grand pianos and gramophones. On Marmolada, the highest mountain in the Dolomites, the Austrian Corps of Engineers built an entire “ice city”—a complex of tunnels, dormitories, and storerooms dug out of the bowels of the glacier..Now, a century later, the warming world is revealing the buried past, as relics and corpses are melting free of their icy tombs.

Most of the 150,000 dead in the Dolomites were from avalanches, frostbite and causes other than traditional battle wounds. Now one hundred years later, with the dead returning, demanding to be named, and needing to be returned to surprised families to be buried. For the Italians, the First World War, even with its catastrophic defeats, was a better war compared with the Second World War, which is tainted with the history of Fascism and Mussolini. In the book Italy’s Divided Memory, J(own) Foot noted that archaeological reclamations on the Carso plateau, revealing trenches cut from “hard stone.” He wrote, “In the areas of the ‘white war,’ the rapid melting of glaciers revealed a series of structures that had been built in tunnels within the ice..Global warming threw up some surprises. In the mountains above Val Rendena in Trentino, excavations began in 2007 into a frozen cave known as the caverna di caveat. This cave had been occupied by both the Austrian and Italian armies during the war.”

For Italy, it was a long strange war. But that was the war the Futurists demanded. In the strange year of 1915, while the nationalists and interventionists were marching for war, Giacomo Balla (1871-1958) painted a series of semi-abstract works, depicting crowds acting en masse. For Mussolini and Marinetti, the “crowd” was a mystical and mythical being, feminine, in its penchant for being malleable, moulded for any cause. Balla’s depictions of crowds reflected the events in Italy when the demonstrators would wave the flag of the House of Savoy–“Savoy” would become the battle cry that would lead the soldiers into battle. In 1911, Gustave le Bon wrote Psychology of the Masses, a book that would become something of a Bible for the Fascists, because the crowd, under the correct circumstances and with the right leader, could dominate. Le Bon described the “crowd” as “under these circumstances, the gathering of people possesses new, completely different qualities form the qualities of single people who form this gathering. The conscious personality fades, the feelings and thoughts of all the individuals are oriented towards the same direction.”


Giacomo Balla. Patriotic Demonstration (1915)

Meanwhile Gino Severini (1883-1956) was in Paris, watching an actual war unfold. Because he could view the Denfert-Rochereau station from his apartment in Paris, Severini was apprised of the comings and goings of troops and the constant arrival of the wounded from the Front. The Hospital Train of 1915 would have been a common sight. As the corner of the newspaper Le Figaro would indicate, the press would report on the long journey the trains would take from the aid stations at the Front to the hospitals in Paris. When the trains arrived in the various stations, the wounded would be unloaded and volunteer nurses, pictured by Severini, would offer water and care to the wounded. We discern this process through the red cross, the train smoke, and other details which from a composite collage like “idea-image.”

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Gino Severini. Hospital Train (1915)


Gino Severini. Hospital Train Passing a Village (1915)

In light of the seriousness of the sight of the hospital train and its passengers, a similar topic, Hospital Train Passing a Village, is a reminder that Severini was always a painter of pleasant things and that he was probably ill-suited to the task put to him by Marinetti. The painting is simply silly, better suited for a child’s book on the war than for the adult audience which would be jarred by the jolly colors. In comparison to this rather illustrative and imaginary work, Virtual Synthesis of the Idea – War (1914) is darker in tone, combining elements that would appear in another painting of a similar name in 1915. Severini used Marinetti’s “words in freedom” unfailing near the bottom, referring to the “Maximum Effort” that would be needed to repeal the Germans. What is interesting about these two paintings is the extent to which they are not Futurist, not about speed or change or dynamism. Instead the paintings are static and immobile, composed of stacked elements, typical of Cubism.


As a painted collage, Plastic Synthesis of the Idea of War (1915) was successful for it at least captures some of the seriousness, from the reference to the mobilization order to the artillery and the airplane and so on, Severini combined, in a coherent fashion, his reaction to war, focusing on its technology and mechanization, eliminating the human factor.

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Gino Severini. Plastic Synthesis of the Idea of War (1915)

Given the success of Christopher Nevinson in rerouting Futurism towards paintings of the Great War, the awkwardness of the actual works by the founding Futurists is a surprise. Severini’s sketch of Lancers, mirror that of Boccioni in its lack of comprehension of the fact that the calvary charge was a historical memory, unfit for modern war. Equally questionable are the static reactions to a war that was admittedly static by both Severini and Carlo Carrà (1881-1966). The stilled nature of the works, compared to the mobilized imagery by Nevinson, seems to be connected to their use of words and letters which tend to not activate the surface but fix it in place.


Gino Severino. Gun in Action (1915)

Severino’s Gun in Action of 1915 is simply wooded compared to Christopher Nevinson’s powerful and iconic La Mitrailleuse of the same year. It is no accident that Apollinaire praised Nevinson and apparently said nothing of Severini, who was, to be fair, hampered by his illness and could have had no comprehension of what it meant to be on an artillery crew, like Braque. If Severini’s paintings done during the Great War show his individual ambivalence about Futurism and reveal his long time affinity with Cubism, then it can be suggested that it was his distance from Futurism central, Milan, limited his full incorporation of Futurist aesthetics or purpose. But it was not just Severini for whom the War caused an artistic crisis. Carlo Carrà’s Guerrapittura of 1915, a virtual copy of an idea pioneered by Marinetti in his work Zang Tumb Tumb (1912) composed for the Balkens prelude. Combining words and abstract forms, Atmospheric Envelope-Exploding Shell of 1914, Carrà did a number of collages, combining words, drawings and pasted paper, more in the style of Braque, rather than Picasso. As these collages make clear, he was struggling with the language of Futurism. In his article, “Carlo Carrà’s Conscience,” David Mather would describe the emotional and artistic crisis faced by Carrà.


Carlo Carrà. Atmospheric Envelope-Exploding Shell (1914)

Carrà, as was discussed in a previous post, worked closely with Marinetti. Along with Boccioni, these Futurists were enthusiastic supporters not just of entering the War but also of what Intervening meant–nationalism, the kind of nationalism that would become fascism. Indeed on the fifteenth the November of 1914, Carrà wrote about Mussolini, an individual in whom “resides the drama of our whole generation. We admire him if for nothing else, then certainly for the courage that he keeps demonstrating.” While the War and military service was, for Carrà, a theoretical prospect. Mather quoted from a letter the artist wrote to Ardengo Suffici at the end of 1914, in which he longed for “the real war–made of blood and heroism.” The collages he created for his book on war–his response as an artist–were also theoretical, a standpoint taken in his concluding essay, “War and Art,” which, as Mather said, “characterized war as an engine of new sensibilities closely allied with, and even emerging directly from the futurist movement.”


Carlo Carrà. Joffre’s Angle of Penetration Against Two German Cubes on the Marne (1915)

The Great War did not, of course, come from Futurism and Carrà would be confronted with the disconnect between the idea and the reality. This series of collages in Guerrapittura was not only a turn towards Cubism, also evident in the work of Severini, marked the end of Carrà’s time as a Futurist. Drafted in1917, he went to war, proved to be unfit for battle, and found himself in a hospital where he met Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978), who was working in the military hospital at Ferrara. As with the other Futurists who served in the War, Carrà found the actuality of fighting in trenches disconcerting. After all, he was a nationalist and a revolutionary, not a soldier.


It is possible, as Mather suggested, that Carrà’s conversion to Metaphysical Painting was the result of the trauma of the War, but he continued to support nationalism, even though he knew the reality of combat, and retained his devotion to Mussolini. As for Sererini, he, too, moved away from Futurism and Cubism, and, like Carrà became part of the post-War “return to order,” which, for these artists, would be a new form of classicism. The arc of the Futurism of the founders was a short one, with the energy and ideals drained away by the Great War. But Futurism was not dead. As was noted in a previous post, during the War years, new members joined Futurism and would carry Futurism on into the rest of the twentieth century. The new phase of Futurism would focus on the new technological hero that emerged during the Great War, the airplane, the machine that could fly and give the women and men who flew it wings.

The Great War ended disastrously for Italy. The military suffered 2,197,000 casualties, of which 650,000 died–or so say the official figures. For a nation that went to war on the promise of booty, the recovery of territories considered “Italian,” these losses had to count for something. Although they had been on the winning side, their War ended in a “mutilated victory.” However, at the Treaty of Versailles in the spring of 1919, the other allied nations made it clear that, in their opinion, Italy had not done its fare share and and not fulfilled its promises as a military partner. The Italian delegation was treated with contempt by the British and the French, while the Americans wanted to give Italy as little as possible. The Italian government was supported by the nationalists only and the nationalists wanted what was promised in the Treat of London plus the Adriatic port city of Fiume. However, a new player was on the field, America, and President Woodrow Wilson represented the new approach to diplomacy, ethnic and self-determination as opposed to the system of spoils. The Italians considered the Treaty of London to be binding, the Allies considered the Treaty an obstacle to be overcome. To the consternation of Italy, a new nation, on its borders, was carved out the the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Yugoslavia, including territories claimed by the Italians, especially the city of Fiume. In the end Italy was placated, possibly because British foreign secretary Arthur Balfour said, “The Italians must be mollified, and the only question is how to mollify them at the smallest cost to humanity.” In the end, Italy received a seat on the League of Nations, a share of German reparations and the Tyrol. The nation of Italy was deeply angry at the way it had been slighted and, despite the warnings of the delegation that such disparaging treatment only incited radical political forces, such as the fasci di combattimenti. Their warnings went unheeded and it was at the Treaty in Paris that the seeds for Italian Fascism was planted and the foundation for the rise of Mussolini was laid. For the Fascists, the humiliation in Paris had to be avenged.

If you have found this material useful, please give credit to

Dr. Jeanne S. M. Willette and Art History Unstuffed.

Thank you.

[email protected]