2017 105th College Art Association Annual Conference, New York
The IAS sponsored the session “Italianità diversa: Diversity and Multiculturalism in Italian Art,” organized by Jennifer Griffiths (American University of Rome and Iowa State University of Rome). Read abstract
Recent critical studies, for example Cristina Lombardi-Diop and Caterina Romeo’s edited collection on Post-colonial Italy (2012), have reflected on the existence of a heterogeneous landscape and a diverse population in Italy today that dispel modern, politically-motivated notions of unified Italian-ness and belonging. Italy has always been, in John Dickie’s words, an “internally differentiated space” (2001) as exemplified by the cosmopolitan city centers of ancient Rome, Renaissance Venice, or Baroque Naples. Long before unification, these hubs of international exchange were producing a rich body of visual culture that reflected far-flung global influences and input. If culture is mutable rather than fixed and national borders are permeable rather than impenetrable, then how does art of the Italian peninsula in the early modern and modern eras before 1870 reflect the ambiguous relationship between the internal “Italian” landscape and its external “other”?
There is an acknowledged paradox in speaking about Italian art before the existence of Italy. Trying to construct a monolithic sense of Italian identity, the Risorgimentisti often drew upon a history of visual culture characterized by fragmentation. Accepting Alberto Banti’s culturalist approach and the principle that a “Risorgimento canon” was drawn from strongly rooted images and symbols, particularly those derived from a two-thousand-year-old Christian tradition, this panel will revisit how such images are reflective of diversity rather than unity. It will explore the idea that the plural, multicultural realities of ‘Italian’ experience are thoroughly reflected throughout the history of its art. From the black attendant in Benozzo Gozzoli’s Procession of the Magi at the Palazzo Medici Riccardi to portraits of Garibaldi that construct his iconic image on the basis of his South American experience, how have other cultures been embraced, assumed, and/or appropriated into the history of what we, for the sake of structural ease, call Italian art? How can revisiting images of Italy’s past modify contemporary perceptions of italianità? Paul Kaplan’s extensive contributions to The Image of the Black in Western Art (2010-2012) or Lucy Riall’s study of Garibadi (2008) demonstrate the difficulty of defining any work of art as Italian and reveal some of the cracks in a unifying notions of Italian-ness or italianità. This panel seeks papers to re-examine specific images or sets of images that offer new insights into the nature of cross-cultural exchange between Italy, Africa, Asia, or the Americas. How have people and places from beyond the geographic borders of Europe been represented, underrepresented, or misrepresented in Italy? Papers might address issues of cultural appropriation, the role of artist immigrants from beyond Europe, or the activities of non-European patrons.