By Center for Italian Modern Art
Metaphysical Years Lecture Series
Year 3: Selena Daly on 1918
CIMA presents a landmark five-part lecture series held in conjunction with the 2018–19 exhibition Metaphysical Masterpieces 1916-1920: Morandi, Sironi, and Carrà. Join leading scholars as they illuminate, year-by-year, the cultural and socio-political contexts in which Metaphysical painting was born and developed, broadening our understanding of this provocative yet short-lived style.
At the beginning of 1918, Italy was still reeling from the Army’s devastating defeat at Caporetto just a few months previously, which had forced a retreat of 150 kilometers and had created 400,000 refugees fleeing from Austrian occupation. One of the Army’s responses was to establish a Propaganda Service which, among other initiatives, produced humorous ‘giornali di trincea’ (trench newspapers) for soldiers to help raise morale. The pages of these newspapers featured the illustrations of many of Italy’s most important artistic figures, including Mario Sironi, Carlo Carrà, Giorgio De Chirico, Ardengo Soffici and Massimo Bontempelli, working in styles that starkly contrasted with the metaphysical painting that some of them were producing simultaneously.
With so many of its members, including the Futurist leader Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, engaged in military activity at the front, the Italian avant-garde was facing a moment of crisis in 1918. In February, Marinetti took the radical step of publishing the ‘Manifesto of the Futurist Political Party’, which formally divided the movement into artistic and political strands, although the party itself would not be established until after the war’s end. Through the party newspaper, Roma futurista, launched in September, soldiers and officers who were not artistically inclined were brought into the Futurist fold.
The final Italian offensive at Vittorio Veneto in October brought about the surrender of the Austro-Hungarian forces and fighting concluded on November 4th, a full week before the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front.
The Futurist movement in November 1918 was radically different from that which had existed at the start of the European conflict in August 1914. Some key members such as Umberto Boccioni had died and others, such as Carrà, were pursuing new metaphysical directions. Futurism stood as a nascent political party – a move intimated by Marinetti since 1913 but never launched. In March 1919, the Futurist Political Party would join forces with Benito Mussolini’s Fasci di Combattimento, laying the foundations for a new era of Italian society and culture.
Please note: CIMA will be live-streaming the program on our Facebook page.
6pm: registration and viewing of Metaphysical Masterpieces
6:15pm – program begins, followed by audience Q&A
8pm – Evening concludes
Selena Daly is a Lecturer (~Assistant Professor) in Modern European History at Royal Holloway, University of London. She previously worked as a Lecturer in Italian Studies at University College Dublin and was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2014-15. Her research interests focus primarily on Italy during the Great War. Her monograph, Italian Futurism and the First World War, was published by University of Toronto Press in 2016 and was one of five non-fiction titles shortlisted for The Bridge Book Award in 2017. She is a member of the Executive Committees of the Society for Italian Studies and the Association for the Study of Modern Italy and is an Associate Editor of the journal, First World War Studies.