Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna: The Context

The following article is concerned with the historical and cultural context in which the "Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna" was founded and the a presentation of the stakeholders involved in its establishment. The article refers in its argumentation to other articles, which discuss the arthistoric interpretation, the architectural aspects of the building and the collection of the Galleria separately. For an in-depth discussion of these aspects follow the links below:

Main Page: An Art historical interpretation The Collection The Building

Gerolamo Induno - La partenza dei coscritti

1. Historical Context
2. Other Stakeholders

Historical Context

Victor Emmanuel II, first King of United Italy

Italy became a nation state on the 17.03.1861, when King Victor Emmanuel II of the House of Savoy was able to unite almost all Italian states. The only exceptions were Rome and the Vatican, which was under French control and Venice which was under Austrian control at that time. In 1866 Otto von Bismarck offered an Alliance to Victor Emmanuel II in order to ensure victory over Austria in the following War. All parties engaged in the War in order to unify their nations against a common enemy. Italy was able to annex Venice in the process and greatly benefitted from the effects of the war by being able to postpone reforms that had the potential to split the country.

In 1870 Italy was able to benefit from the War between Prussia and France, because the French gave up the Papal States and Rome in order to be able to keep Prussia at bay. On the 20th of September 1870 the Italian unification was complete. Now that Italy was unified after removing French and Austrian troops from their soil, it was time for the Italians to face their internal political problems. The country was sharply divided into left and right wing camps and lower classes were not allowed to vote. This began to change when Antonio Depretis initiated the political idea of Trasformismo. The system divided Italy into districts that voted for their representative in order to send them to Cabinet. However the system was deeply corrupted and authoritarian and enabled Depretis to stay in power. He banned public gatherings, sent dangerous individuals into exile and adopted a military police standing. However, he also abolished the arrest for debt, made elementary education free and compulsory for every Italian and secularized school and church.

Depretis remained in power through corruption, but after years of corruption his government lost effectiveness, leading to a coup that overthrew him in 1877. He was followed by Francesco Crispi who continued the Trasformismo corruption and considered banning other parties under martial law. He wanted to turn Italy into a great world power and increased taxation on the public as well as military spending. Italy extended its influence in Africa and China. Despite his very authoritarian and political right wing attitudes he pushed liberal policies through the cabinet. In 1888 the public health act gave basic health care to every Italian.

The Battle of Dogali by Michele Cammarano

Because so much attention was paid to external affairs, Italy could not afford to pay more attention to finer internal conflicts. In the south, landlords dominated the lower class who could not find work. They were malnourished, struck by disease and received no help from the government, on top of higher taxation. In 1897 a banking crisis made the situation even worse and many of them emigrated to other European nations or the US.

Other Stakeholders

An important personality in the establishment of the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna was Guido Baccelli, the minister of education of the young Italy. Baccelli was particularly keen to point out that not only historical objects, but also contemporary art and culture had to be valued as fundamental aspects of the Italian national renaissance. Therefore, he pushed forward the establishment of a national institute especially dedicated to modern art by the means of two ministerial decrees that shaped the organization and characteristics of the project.

Guido Baccelli, Italian Minister of Education Umberto I, King of Italy

The final decree that led to the foundation of the institute, however, was the royal decree of King Umberto the First, who had climbed the throne only five years earlier as the successor of his father Victor Emmanuel II - the first King of the united Italy, the so-called "Padre della Patria". King Umberto's reign was marked by the continued struggle for an Italian national identity that his father had to face before him. Italy with Umberto I on the throne saw the African colonization of Eritrea (1889) and Somalia (1886) and the approval of the Alliance with the German Empire and Austria-Hungary (1882), but also the Bava-Beccaris massacre of anti-governmental protests in Milan at the hand of the Italian Prime Minister Antonio di Rudinì (1839 - 1908). Umberto's approval of the prime minister's actions made him particularly unpopular with the left wing circles, which escalated with two assassination attempts of anarchists, the latter one being successful. The attempt of establishing a national collection of contemporary artworks can easily be interpreted as an act of identity-formation and thus befits the general European, post-napoleonic tendency of creating symbols of the newly formed nation-states.

Piazza del Duomo, Milan, Bava Beccaris Massacre

Nowadays, exists another museum for modern art in Rome called the Maxxi - Museo nazinale delle arti del XXI secolo - which translates into the 'Museum of Art of the 21st century'. It was finished in 2009 and serves as a successor of the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna as it displays aesthetic materials of our time. It is interesting to note that the function of defining modernity, originally attributed to the Galleria, is now associated with a newer building, a new messenger.