The Renaissance Perfected: Architecture, Spectacle and Tourism in Fascist Italy

Article excerpt

The Renaissance Perfected Architecture, Spectacle and Tourism in Fascist Italy

D. Medina Lasansky Penn State University 380pp 62.50 [pounds sterling] ISBN 0 271 02366 X

THE RENAISSANCE PERFECTED is an excellent example of the impact which cultural history is having on the understanding of the state, and politics more generally. Social and cultural history began with the desire to explore and appreciate the lives of the many, to capture popular and vernacular worlds. Yet institutions and ideologies shape those worlds, so cultural historians have found themselves at the forefront with innovative studies of aspects of politics usually ignored by a conventional political history: ritual and representation, mobilization of the imagination. Such cultural history requires of its practitioner multiple areas of skill and insight and true interdisciplinary range. The results can often be fresh and unexpected.

D. Medina Lasansky's The Renaissance Perfected: Architecture, Spectacle and Tourism in Fascist Italy displays the rich possibilities of cultural history. For it brings to the well-studied terrain of Fascist Italy fresh approaches and makes important connections between fields usually studied apart: architecture, urban history, political history, and popular culture. The subject matter is the vast enterprise of Fascist state patronage, which celebrated Italy's medieval and Renaissance past through many--and some vast--building, restoration and design projects. While Mussolini chose his party's name from the lexicon of republican Rome, he favoured as the background for civic life a combination of late medieval and Renaissance aesthetics. This was the style of most Italian towns, with their piazzas, churches in distinctive Italian Romanesque or Gothic, fountains and city halls. The Fascist Ministry of Leisure Affairs turned this civic heritage into a tourist's wonderland: it restored houses to 'original' style, filled country villas with period collections of furniture and objects, all perfected and adorned, so as to create experiences of total immersion in a glorious late medieval past. Dante's sexcentenary celebration in 1991 raised themes which the Fascist Party would develop soon after. On their holidays and weekends Italians could marvel at the achievements of their forefathers, the perfectly proportioned buildings and the figures of beautiful people who had inhabited them. The Renaissance spaces--indoors and out--were animated by the pageantry of festivals: some renewed like the Palio in Siena, some invented like the 'medieval' living game of chess at Marostica. …