Baroquemania

Italian visual culture and the construction of national identity, 1898–1945

Imagined Baroques offers a new account of Italian post-unification visual culture through its entanglement in the Baroque. The book argues that, by reinventing Baroque forms in their artistic and architectural practices, modern Italians confronted their fears about their nation’s past and imagined future. Although ignored by most scholarship, the Baroque was repeatedly evoked in modern Italian visual culture and intellectual history. This is so because, between the fin de siècle and the end of the Second World War, the reception, influence, and disavowal of the Baroque enabled Italians to probe the fraught experience of national unification, addressing their ambivalent relationship with modernity and tradition. The Baroque afterlives in modern Italy, and its temporal and conceptual destabilisation, allowed Italians to work through a crisis of modernity and develop a visual culture that was both distinctly Italian and modern. Imagined Baroques interrogates a diverse range of media: not only paintings, sculptures, and buildings, but also magazine illustrations, postcards, commercial posters, pageants, photographs, films, and exhibitions. The Baroque functioned in post-unification Italy as a legacy of potential annihilation but also of potential consolidation, and as a critique of modernity and a celebration of an intrinsically Italian road to modernity. Unearthing the protean and contradictory legacy of the Baroque in modern Italy shows that its revivals and appropriations were not repositories of exact facts about the seventeenth century but rather clues to how visions of modernity and tradition merged to form a distinct Italian identity.

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