The Progress of America (1880) by Andrea Cefaly
Victoria Woodhull, Salvatore Morelli, and feminist social reform in Italy and America
in Republics and empires
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The Calabrian painter Andrea Cefaly’s The Progress of America was completed during the artist’s stay in Naples, in a year (1880) that coincided with his intense activity as a painter and as a member of Parliament in the Left Party (1875–80). It presents iconographic elements unusual in Italian art, referencing a moment of radical social reform in both Italy and America in the late nineteenth century, with a particular focus on women's issues. Cefaly had actively participated in the Risorgimento struggle, and was drawn to American radicalism in the 1870s. The painting references American values through the presence of the flag, which is associated with the phrase ‘Civil Progress’. Instantly recognisable is the portrait of George Washington, held up by two women, celebrating the values of progress. Both Victoria Woodhull, the American feminist and presidential candidate, and Salvatore Morelli, one of the most prominent Italian activists for the political rights of women, occupy prominent positions in the canvas. Drawing on Italian political discourse in journalistic texts and political cartoons, as well as on other Italian pictures of the period with progressive political messages, the remarkably transatlantic and feminist focus of Cefaly’s composition is explored. The painting demonstrates a close symbiosis between the progress of society and the condition of women, while documenting the active participation of southern Italy’s visual and political culture in the new nation, and in the discourses of transnational radicalism.

Republics and empires

Italian and American art in transnational perspective, 1840–1970

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