Popularizing Roma Capitale
Representations of a Royal Rome in the Pages of L’Illustrazione Italiana in the Late 19th Century
AbstraktiFrom its inaugural issue in 1873 to the end of the 19th century, the Milan-based illustrated weekly newspaper L’Illustrazione Italiana helped popularize Rome in its new role as the secular capital of modern Italy. This essay explores the implications of its news coverage as more than just documentation, but as implicit endorsement and promotion of the nationalization and secularization of the Eternal City. Following the completion of the Risorgimento, Italy’s reunification movement, one of the biggest challenges facing the newly united nation was overcoming strong regional diversity and a proud tradition of independent republics and small kingdoms. Rome was the only city which all regions could support as the national capital, a central and dominant position reflected in the publication’s masthead. L’Illustrazione Italiana was particularly important in disseminating images to a broad national audience of the architectural projects and ephemeral events in the new national capital relating to Vittorio Emanuele II, the king who oversaw reunification and who best personified the new Italian state. His usefulness as a human embodiment of nationalist values greatly increased with his unexpected death in 1878, not long after the leftist Sinistra party had seized control of parliament. Successive Sinistra leaders actively fashioned projects relating to the king as aggressively patriotic expressions of Italian state power. The pages of L’Illustrazione Italiana chronicled in detail the king’s funerals in the ancient Roman Pantheon, the various events and national pilgrimages to his tomb there, and the contentious restoration of the Pantheon that removed external signs of its ecclesiastical role as a church. No urban project in Rome enjoyed more attention than the lengthy genesis of the Monument to Vittorio Emanuele II, eventually erected on the north slope of the Capitoline. By the time its construction began in 1885, the king had been firmly established as the symbol of the new nation in the capital and his office – and by extension the Italian state – associated with the grandeur of ancient Rome in an effort to symbolize their permanence. Through its selective coverage, focusing disproportionately on projects relating to the king, and its often transparently patriotic text, L’Illustrazione Italiana can be seen as a participant in the shaping of history.
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