As in other parts of Western Europe, the twentieth century in Italy is characterized by industrialization, urbanization, and modernization. Up until World War I, Italy is still engaged in defining itself politically, following nineteenth-century unification, but is able to prosper after the war, having avoided many of the disruptions caused by fighting in other parts of Europe. The rise of Fascism and the conflict of World War II dominate all aspects of Italian life during the middle decades of the century. In the postwar period, the modernization of Italy continues and political life witnesses the rise of a wide variety of political parties representing an array of views.
The process of modernization and the rise of Fascism each has an impact on the visual arts of the Italian peninsula. The Futurist movement, which has literary as well as visual arts adherents, places some of the essential characteristics of modernity—speed and violence among them—at the center of its aesthetic. The relationship of artistic production to the Fascist movement is also a central problem for twentieth-century culture in Italy. Despite its politically progressive connotations in many other places, in Italy modernism is adapted by some artists and architects as the formal language with which to represent Fascism.
At mid-century, Italy emerges as one of the world centers of modern design. In the fields of furniture and industrial design, fashion, and others, Italy is known for its stylish products which are marketed worldwide in the postwar period. The country’s preeminence in design through the end of the century is secured in the 1980s by postmodern innovators. In other fields of the visual arts, for instance painting and architecture, Italians also contribute to the development of postmodernism. Much of this new work is exhibited at the Venice Biennale, which through the century serves as one of the most significant international venues for showing modern and contemporary art.
Arturo Toscanini (1867–1957) serves as director of La Scala in Milan, where he is known for supporting modern music. The conductor returns to the position in 1906–8 and 1920–29.
King Umberto I (1844–1900) is assassinated. This event leads to increased influence for Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti (1842–1928), who starts a war with the Ottoman empire in 1911 as a result of which Italy gains Libya as a colony.
The opera Tosca by composer Giacomo Puccini (1858–1924) is produced for the first time, in Rome. It is based on a play by French writer Victorien Sardou (1831–1908) which Puccini had seen earlier in Paris. Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly (also known as Madame Butterfly) debuts four years later in Milan.
Tenor Enrico Caruso (1873–1921) makes his debut at La Scala in Milan in Puccini’s operaLa Bohème. Within three years, Caruso leaves for New York, where he becomes a sensation at the Metropolitan Opera.
The fourth Venice Biennale includes works by French artists for the first time, most notably twenty sculptures by Auguste Rodin (1840–1917).
The Casa di Riposo, a retirement home for musicians founded by composer Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901), opens in Milan. The building, in the Neo-Gothic style, is designed by architect Camillo Boito (1836–1914) between 1895 and 1899.
The Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte Decorativa Moderna is held in Turin and features many works in the Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts styles. Architect Raimondo D’Aronco (1857–1932) designs the main exhibition building, or Rotunda, in a Secessionist style, as well as the pavilion devoted to art photography.
The Galleria Internazionale d’Arte Moderna opens in Venice, in the Ca’ Pesaro, a sixteenth-century palace on the Grand Canal. It is intended as an exhibition space for younger artists.
Decorative arts are included in the Biennale for the first time and, beginning in 1907, foreign pavilions are constructed.
The Italian commercial film industry is born. Among the early projects is Filoteo Alberini’s (1867–1937) La presa di Roma, 20 settembre 1870 (The Capture of Rome, September 20, 1870), made in 1905, the year in which the first Italian motion picture studio is established.
Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (1871–1949), a Spanish-born Venetian fabric and dress designer, produces an Art Nouveau dress called the “Delphos” gown. The celebrated American-born modern dancer Isadora Duncan (1878–1927) and the famous French actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844–1923) both wear versions of the Greek-inspired, pleated and beaded dress, thus making it famous internationally.
Italian automobile designer Ettore Bugatti (1881–1947) sets up a factory in France where he produces both racing and touring cars through the 1930s. His father, Carlo Bugatti (1855–1940), is a well-known furniture designer whose organic designs are inspired by the drawings of French architect Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (1814–1879). Rembrandt Bugatti (1884–1916), another of Carlo’s sons, is a well-known sculptor specializing in animals.
Writer Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876–1944) publishes “The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism” in the French newspaper Le Figaro. This founding text of the movement calls for the embrace of violence and mechanization. In 1910, “The Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painting” is signed by Umberto Boccioni (1882–1916), Carlo Carrà (1881–1966), Luigi Russolo (1885–1947), Giacomo Balla (1871–1958), and Gino Severini (1883–1966).
Architect Antonio Sant’Elia (1888–1916) exhibits drawings—perspective views of futuristic buildings—with the group Nuove Tendenze. In the exhibition catalogue, Sant’Elia publishes a version of his “Manifesto of Futurist Architecture.”
Under pressure from King Vittorio Emanuele III (1869–1947, a.k.a. “The Soldier”), Italy declares war on Austria-Hungary as part of World War I. Austria surrenders to the Allies in 1918.
The Pittura Metafisica (“Metaphysical Painting”) movement is begun by painters Giorgio de Chirico (1888–1978) and Carlo Carrà (1881–1966). It also includes Giorgio Morandi (1890–1964) and Mario Sironi (1885–1961). These painters’ interest in depicting the activity of the unconscious mind, as well as their use of disturbing imagery, inspire the later Surrealists.
Poet and dramatist Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863–1938) leads a group of Italian nationalists who seize the city of Fiume, now Rijeka, Croatia. The group ousts the city’s Allied occupiers and holds it as an independent state for fifteen months.
Mario Buccellati (1891–1965) opens his first shop in Milan. Among the jeweler’s supporters is Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863–1938). Buccellati becomes well known for his silver flatware, hollowware, and other designs and opens a shop in Rome in 1925.
The “Two Red Years” (“Il Biennio Rosso”) constitute a period of working-class agitation. Fear of revolution contributes to the popularity of the Fascist movement, led by Benito Mussolini (1883–1945, a.k.a. Il Duce). Fascist party forces, the “Black Shirts,” are used to repress working-class political activity. The power of the Fascist party increases through the 1920s.
The Ca’ Brutta apartment building is constructed in Milan, designed by architect Giovanni Muzio (1893–1982). The building includes modernist and classical elements.
Duilio Cambellotti (1876–1960) designs a World War I monument for the town of Terracina. In addition to large-scale sculpture, Cambellotti also produces smaller sculptures as well as illustrations and tapestry designs.
Giacomo Cappellin (1887–1968) and Paolo Venini (1895–1959) found the glassworks Vetri Soffiati Muranesi Cappellin, Venini & C. in Murano, the group of islands in the Venice lagoon where the industry had begun as early as the eighth century. The new firm reinvigorates the Murano glass industry by integrating modern design into the traditional process.
The Alessi company is founded near Milan and produces small appliances and tablewares, mostly of metal. Under the leadership of Alberto Alessi (born 1946), the company acquires a reputation for high-quality design by hiring such well-known figures as Ettore Sottsass (born 1917) and Aldo Rossi (1931–1997) to create functional and beautiful utensils for home use.
A posthumous retrospective of the work of Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920) is presented by the general secretary of the Venice Biennale, Vittorio Pica (1864–1930). The exhibition emphasizes what is at the time a controversial connection between Modigliani’s modernist painting and traditional African sculpture. In 1930, a second retrospective is held in connection with the Biennale.
The Novecento Italiano is founded in Milan, led by painters Anselmo Bucci (1887–1955), Mario Sironi (1885–1961), and others. The objective of the group is to establish a specifically Italian modernism, but some members produce works in sympathy with the Fascist regime of Mussolini (1883–1945).
Gruppo 7 is formed by architects who embrace both rationalist principles and certain aspects of modernist aesthetics. The group’s intellectual position is formulated by critic Edoardo Persico (1900–1936) and architect Giuseppe Pagano (1896–1945), both of whom are associated with the journal Casabella. Pagano goes on to design the rationalist Physics Building at the University of Rome (1932–35).
Salvatore Ferragamo (1898–1960) establishes a shop in Florence selling shoes of his own design. In the following decades, he will become one of the world’s most inventive and successful shoe designers, catering to celebrities and other wealthy clients.
The independent state of the Vatican City is established by the Lateran Pacts, signed by Mussolini (1883–1945).
The Olivetti Company introduces the first portable typewriter, the MPI. In 1936, Olivetti employs the Italian industrial designer Marcello Nizzoli (1887–1969) to style all of its typewriters and he remains head of design at the company until the 1960s.
The Casa del Fascio is constructed in Como, to the design of Giuseppe Terragni (1904–1943), a member of Gruppo 7. The building’s facade is composed of a partially open grid of thin unornamented elements and demonstrates the applicability of some aspects of modernism to representing a Fascist politics. The building is later renamed the Casa del Popolo.
The Italo-Ethiopian War is fought and leads to the unification of Eritrea, Abyssinia, and Somaliland as a single state under Italian domination, called Africa Orientale Italiana (Italian East Africa).
Milanese architect Gio Ponti (1891–1979) designs the headquarters of the Montecatini Corporation, Italy’s largest chemical company and producer of aluminum, in Milan. Ponti’s designs include the building itself plus all the fixtures, fittings, and furnishings, using aluminum as the chief material throughout. As founder and editor of Domus magazine, Ponti will exercise a profound influence over Italian design for nearly half a century.
Turin-based architect, inventor, occultist, photographer, and furniture designer Carlo Mollino (1905–1973) produces the “Milo Mirror,” the shape of which echoes the Venus de Milo. Mollino is a prominent practitioner of biomorphic design, inspired by Art Nouveau and by Surrealism, which is centered in Turin in the 1940s and ’50s.
Guccio Gucci (1881–1953) opens his first shop in Rome, selling high-style accessories in leather and other materials.
The Villa Malaparte, designed by rationalist architect Adalberto Libera (1903–1963), is built on the island of Capri. The client, writer Curzio Malaparte (1898–1957), has strong ties to the Fascist regime. The famous house is positioned atop a dramatic rock outcropping at the edge of the sea.
Italy endorses the German annexation of Austria and parts of Czechoslovakia, and receives Germany’s support for its annexation of Albania. Italy further allies itself with Germany during World War II when it declares war on France and Britain in 1940. When the Americans and British defeat Italian and German forces in North Africa in 1943, King Vittorio Emanuele III (1869–1947) has Mussolini arrested and replaces him with Marshal Pietro Badoglio (1871–1956) as prime minister. Italy subsequently declares an armistice with the Allies, and Germany occupies parts of the country, which are liberated in 1945.
Enzo Ferrari (1898–1988) leaves the employ of Alfa Romeo to begin the company Auto-Avio Costruzioni Ferrari in Modena. After World War II, the company produces its first automobile, the 125 Sport, and becomes known for its winning race cars.
The E42 Exposition (or EUR, Esposizione Universale di Roma) provides an opportunity for rationalist architects to demonstrate their new interest in using the vocabulary of a stripped-down classicism.
The film Roma, Città Aperta (Rome, Open City), directed by Roberto Rossellini (1906–1977), is released. It is part of the director’s Neorealist trilogy that also includes Paisà (1946) andGermania Anno Zero (Germany Year Zero, 1947). The three films deal with World War II and its aftermath.
Architect and critic Bruno Zevi (1918–2000) publishes Towards an Organic Architecture, an influential text in which he advocates a more naturalistic modern architecture, inspired by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright (1869–1959) and others. Zevi is the central figure in the Associazione per l’Architettura Organica (Association for Organic Architecture).
A referendum on the Italian government deposes the monarchy and leads to the establishment of a republic. The new Italian constitution takes effect in 1948.
Mobster Charles “Lucky” Luciano (1897–1962) is pardoned by the U.S. in return for having brokered Mafia assistance for the Americans in the invasion of Sicily during World War II. Luciano then returns to Sicily.
Director Vittorio De Sica’s (1901–1974) bleak masterpiece Ladri di biciclette (The Bicycle Thief) premieres. De Sica and screenwriter Cesare Zavattini (1902–1989) produce several other classics of Neorealist cinema, including Miracolo a Milano (Miracle in Milan, 1951) and Umberto D(1952).
Italy is a founding member of NATO. The nation pursues European cooperation by joining the European Economic Community (the EEC, later the European Community, EC, and subsequently the European Union, EU) as a signatory to the Treaty of Rome in 1957.
The INA-Casa housing project is constructed in Rome on the Via Tiburtino, designed by architects Mario Ridolfi (1904–1984) and Ludovico Quaroni (1911–1987). It is an important monument of the Neorealist movement in Italian architecture.
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection opens to the public in her Venice home, the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, on the Grand Canal. It showcases Guggenheim’s (1898–1979) collection of twentieth-century art, amassed as a result of her personal associations with many prominent avant-garde artists.
Ernesto Nathan Rogers (1909–1969) edits the architecture journal Casabella. Rogers is a leader of the postwar movement Ricostruzione (Reconstruction) by architects and engineers who attempt the redesign of everything dal cucchiaio all città (“from the spoon to the city”).
Senso, a film based on an 1883 story by writer and architect Camillo Boito (1836–1914), and directed by Luchino Visconti (1906–1976), premieres. The film depicts the failure of the Risorgimento in the face of the Austrian occupation of Italy. Nearly a decade later, in 1963, Visconti makes Il Gattopardo (The Leopard), which likewise deals with the Risorgimento, in this case focusing on the decline of the aristocracy in Sicily.
Architect Carlo Scarpa (1906–1978) begins the renovation of the Museo Civico di Castelvecchio in Verona. His approach is distinctive for the way that it preserves traces of the many centuries of the building’s history, produces dramatic spatial effects, and includes modern materials like concrete to represent the relationship between past and present.
The Palazzetto dello Sport is built for the 1960 Olympic games in Rome. Designed by Pier Luigi Nervi (1891–1979), the stadium demonstrates the structural possibilities of concrete, the material for which the architect is renowned for using in innovative ways.
Director Michelangelo Antonioni (born 1912) makes L’Avventura (The Adventure) the first film in a trilogy that also includes La Notte (The Night, 1961) and L’Eclisse (The Eclipse, 1962). One of the central themes of the trilogy, and of Antonioni’s work in general, is the alienation of modern inhabitants of industrialized Western societies.
The film La Dolce Vita, a wry look at decadence among the privileged class, is directed by Federico Fellini (1920–1993) and stars Marcello Mastroianni (1924–1996). Fellini and Mastroianni team up again for the exuberant 8 1/2, made in 1963.
Tenor Luciano Pavarotti (born 1935) makes his opera debut in the role of Rudolfo in Puccini’s opera La Bohème. Pavarotti goes on to perform worldwide with the most renowned singers, musicians, and conductors of the century.
Actress Sophia Loren (born 1934) receives an award at the Cannes Film Festival, and in 1962 an Academy Award, for her performance in the film Two Women.
Sicilian journalist, essayist, and fiction writer Leonardo Sciascia (1921–1989) publishes Il giorno della Civita (The Day of the Owl), the first of his novels in which he uses the detective genre to analyze contemporary Sicilian society.
The Salone Internazionale del Mobile (International Furniture Fair) opens in Milan and continues on an annual basis. By 1965, the prominent manufacturers who show their wares at the fair include Boffi, Cassina, and Kartell.
Writer Umberto Eco (born 1932) uses the term arte programmata (“programmed art”) to refer to works exhibited at the Olivetti Company showroom in Milan by artists including Bruno Munari (1907–1998), Enzo Mari (born 1932), and other members of two groups founded several years earlier: Gruppo N and Gruppo T. The works are inspired by kinetic art and are often produced in multiples.
Sculptor, lithographer, etcher, and painter Giacomo Manzù (1908–1991) completes portals (Porta della Morte) with relief sculpture for Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in Rome. The sculptural program includes ten episodes explaining the Christian concept of death.
Poet, novelist, and filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922–1975) directs the film Il Vangelo secondo Matteo (The Gospel According to Saint Matthew).
Fashion designer Emilio Pucci (1914–1992) is hired to produce flight attendant uniforms for Braniff International Airways. Earlier, in the late 1940s, Pucci had been “discovered” at Zermatt, Switzerland, by fashion editor Diana Vreeland (1906–1989) when she noticed the ski outfits he designed and wore there. Pucci is synonymous with chic Italian style in the 1960s, and especially renowned for his brightly colored silk scarves and ties.
The groups of designers known as Archizoom and Superstudio are founded in Florence. The members of the two groups express their critical views of modernist architecture and design in the Superarchitecture exhibition in Pistoia in 1966 and in a second exhibition in Modena in 1967.
The term arte povera (“poor art”) is coined by critic Germano Celant (born 1940) to describe the work of thirteen Italian artists who together exhibit their sculptures and installations in the late 1960s. Among the group are Emilio Prini (born 1943) and Gilberto Zorio (born 1944). Their work is experimental, incorporating a variety of materials and media, and embodying a critique of postwar consumer culture.
Architect Aldo Rossi (1931–1997) receives the commission for the San Cataldo cemetery in Modena. It becomes a major statement of postmodernism in architecture, and gives visual form to some of the arguments made in Rossi’s influential publication The Architecture of the City(1966).
The Museum of Modern Art in New York presents the exhibition Italy: The New Domestic Landscape—Achievements and Problems of Italian Design. Architect Gae Aulenti (born 1927) participates in the exhibition design. In 1987, she will transform the Gare d’Orsay in Paris into the Musée d’Orsay.
Giorgio Armani (born 1934), designer of a successful line of men’s clothing in 1974, establishes a popular line for women characterized by tailoring and fabrics based on men’s suits and other garments. In 2000, Armani is the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
A confrontation between Corsican nationalists and French police in a winery near Aléria ends in the deaths of two policemen and a wine-grower. This event is followed in 1976 by the establishment of the Front de Libération Nationale de la Corse, a separatist group.
Semiotician and novelist Umberto Eco (born 1932) publishes A Theory of Semiotics, an influential work that is his own translation and reworking of his 1968 book La struttura assente. In 1980, Eco publishes his internationally popular novel Il nome della rosa (The Name of the Rose), which is set in a fourteenth-century monastery. The setting allows Eco to demonstrate his knowledge of medieval aesthetics.
The Treaty of Osimo is signed by Italy and Yugoslavia and resolves the border between the two countries. The treaty also requires Italy to divest itself of African and other landholdings.
The Red Brigades (Brigate Rosse), an ultraleft terrorist group, kidnaps and eventually executes Italian prime minister Aldo Moro (1916–1978).
Novelist and short-story writer Italo Calvino (1923–1985) publishes Se una notte d’inverno un viaggiatore (If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler), which consists of a series of novels that begin but never end. The work reflects literary postmodernism but also Calvino’s interest in techniques of storytelling that run through his writings.
The Studio Alchimia is founded in Milan by Alessandro Mendini (born 1931) to transform consumer goods with bright colors, bold patterns, and vivid textures. It is part of the “Radical” or “Anti-Design” movement that opposes the austerity of modernist design.
Critic Achille Bonito Oliva (born 1939) coins the term transavanguardia (“transavantgarde”) to refer to the contemporary figurative painting of Sandro Chia (born 1946), Francesco Clemente (born 1952), Enzo Cucchi (born 1949), Mimmo Paladino (born 1948), and others. The Transavantgarde is associated with the Neo-Expressionist movement that arises throughout Europe and North America in the 1980s.
The first exhibition of the Memphis design group is held at the Milan International Furniture Fair. Led by Ettore Sottsass (born 1917), the group opposes the austerity of modernist “good design” with postmodern furnishings that incorporate the materials and florid colors associated with kitsch. The group, whose name comes from the Bob Dylan song “Stuck Inside of Mobile (with the Memphis Blues Again),” is dissolved in 1988.
The Lateran Pacts with the Vatican end the status of Catholicism as the state religion of Italy.
Domenico Dolce (born 1958) and Stefano Gabbana (born 1962) launch their first Dolce & Gabbana collection. Their provocative fashions are favored by celebrities, catapulting the designers to prominence.
The “Mani Pulite” (“Clean Hands”) investigation of political and criminal corruption (Tangentopoli) begins. It leads to the demise of the Christian Democratic party and the declaration of the Second Republic.
Fashion designers Miuccia Prada (born 1949) and Patrizio Bertelli (born 1946) establish the Fondazione Prada, a space for contemporary sculpture in Milan. The Fondazione Trussardi, a Milanese contemporary art center, follows in 1996 and is supported by designer Nicola Trussardi (1943–1999). These and other institutions contribute to the growing importance of Milan as a center for contemporary art in Italy.
Media mogul Silvio Berlusconi (born 1936) founds the Forza Italia political party and is elected prime minister. He serves only briefly before the coalition of political parties that support him begins to unravel.
The Minimalia exhibition is held in Venice and travels to New York, to the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center, in 1999. Curated by Achille Bonito Oliva (born 1939), the show demonstrates the central place of Italian artists in twentieth-century Minimalist art.
Fashion designer Gianni Versace (1946–1997) is murdered in Florida. Versace is known for his stage costumes designed for the British performer Elton John (born 1947) and other celebrities, as well as for his flamboyant collections featuring metallic fabrics and outrageous details.
The French prefect, or governmental representative, Claude Erignac (1937–1998) is assassinated in Corsica. The murder is part of the ongoing struggle for Corsican political autonomy. In 2000, France agrees to give Corsica greater autonomy if violence is curtailed.
“Italian Peninsula, 1900 A.D.–present.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=11®ion=eust (October 2004)