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“The Renaissance Perfected” – Tuscany a Fascist Potemkin Village – Must Reading for Southern-Italian Americans!

“The Renaissance Perfected” – Tuscany a Fascist Potemkin Village – Must Reading for Southern-Italian Americans!

Tom Verso (October 31, 2015)

‘The Northern Question’ … is never a topic of southern-Italian American academic consideration; while untold English language volumes relentlessly pure forth about its sister obverse, “The Southern Question.” The phase “Southern Question” denotes issues about Italy south of Rome that are problematic for the northern Italians. Presumably southerners have no problem with their northern conquers and cultural hegemonist, ergo: No ‘Northern Question’ historiography. /// /// In his book “Terroni” – which should have sparked a southern-Italian American historiographic revolution, instead has been largely ignored by southern-Italian American ‘scholars’ persisting in what Kant called “Dogmatic Slumber” – Pino Aprile posits the concept of “cultural lobotomy” to characterize the complete removal of southern Italian history from southern Italian society and Italy at large. Instead of learning their three thousand year history and the demise of southern society at the hands of the Garibaldini / Piedmontese, the people of the South have had foisted upon them a few centuries of northern Italian Medieval/Renaissance history and culture, which has translated into a virtual ‘national identity’ (i.e. the quintessential essence of Italian culture is northern Renaissance culture) /// /// “The plot thickens”: Professor D. Medina Lasansky of Cornell’s Department of (not Italian Studies) Architecture, in an incredibly mind-boggling scholarly tour-de-force (1058 mostly long annotated multi-language endnotes, and 30 pages of fine print bibliography) demonstrates that the Renaissance history/culture foisted upon Italians and by extension their southern-Italian American progeny is largely an illusionary fabrication by a Fascist political-economic-SCHOLARLY oligarchy. Her book is a profoundly meticulously documented and eloquently narrated definitive study of the political and social processes by which a dominant oligarchical minority imposes its subjectively embraced history and culture on the society as a whole. While it is not Prof. Lasansky’s purpose, nevertheless her book de facto demonstrates how historiographic theories of cultural such as Aprile’s “Cultural Lobotomy”, Gramsci’s “Cultural Hegemony” and Said’s “Orientalism” are in fact implemented. How the masses are deluded into believing an economic and politically motivated fabricated history, and SCHOLARS carry the historiographic and pedagogical water for the oligarchs. /// /// “The Renaissance Perfected” is a stunning work of scholarship … Absolutely Stunning!!! Professor Lasansky is a mighty Nietzschean scholar who writes history with a hammer, smashing the false historiographic idols that dominate American universities Italian Studies programs and southern-Italian Americana generally. /// /// And yet, in the fourteen years since its publication, studies of college catalogue course descriptions and conference themes show no evidence that her work has made its way into Italian Studies or Italian American Studies curriculums and conferences. /// /// Southern-Italian Americans generally and most tragically students of southern-Italian descent are still being deluded into thinking illusionary northern Italian Medieval/Renaissance history is THEIR history, and being denied the reality of THEIR three thousand year history and culture – “Behold the Students Sleeping Before the Chairs of Wisdom – Thus Spake Zarathustra ” … Nietzsche.



The Northern Question

Nelson Moe begins his profoundly thought provoking book “The View from Vesuvius: Italian Culture and the Southern Question” with the question:
“How Did Southern Italy Become ‘The South’?”(p 1)
However, what is seemingly never asked is the obverse question, i.e.
How Did Northern Italy Become The North’?
Similarly, regarding the perennial and virtually proverbial “Southern Question,”  Moe cites:
“The Piedmont official Chevalley, who visited Sicily in ‘The Leopard’ and was not ‘convinced that he was in a place which was part of his own nation’.” (p.1)
His own nation”, of course being the Piedmont: profoundly different than the former “Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. Moe goes on:
Currently many have felt similar Chevalley like doubts. The vexed relationship between the two parts of the country, often referred to as the Southern Question, has shaped Italy's political, social, and cultural life during the past century”. (p 1 emp.+)
Again, obversely: “The Southern Question” implies (but never asked) ‘The Northern Question’, i.e.:
How ‘The Northern Question’ “has shaped Italy’s political, social, and cultural life during the past century.”
The phrase “Southern Question” denotes the ‘question’ in the minds of northerners about the South (e.g. fictionally Piedmontese Chevalley; historically Tuscanese Franchetti and Sonnino’s seminal work); specifically how different the South is from the North historically, politically, economically, culturally and most any other ‘–ally’ that comes to mind.
To my mind: while it is most certainly not Professor Lasansky’s intention or purpose; nevertheless, her book, “The Renaissance Perfected – Architecture, Spectacle, & Tourism in Fascist Italy”, provides a unique opportunity to explore from a Southern point of view, what I call, ‘The Northern Question’; i.e. How Did Northern Italy Become the North? And, how the North subsumed the South and became identified as the historic and cultural Totality of geographic Italy.
Constructing an Italian National Identity
The ‘Past’ is studied and comes to be known though remnants that remain from the ‘Past’ (e.g. documents, artifacts, etc.). Historians generally describing past societies based on the study of the remnant documents of a society (e.g. newspapers, legal manuscripts, political speeches, literature, diaries, etc.) – archeologist work from artifacts.
Moe, for example, is concerned with the documented “cultural representations”of ‘The South’. He writes:
My book … above all focuses on cultural representations of the south … The cultural representations themselves have received relatively little attention…Much of my analysis is in the form of close readings [of documents] that examine specific rhetorical strategies and figures of speech.  (p. 7-8)
The “representations” of Italy that Moe found in the nineteenth century overwhelmingly “represented” Italy in terms of northern medieval communes.He writes:
“What shaped the vision of Italy is that broader tendency in the culture of the Risorgimento to posit the medieval communes and republics of the center-north as the ideal foundation for the new nation
Anticipating Pino Aprile’s book “Terroni”, Moe rhetorically asks the question:
“What has happened to the South’s history…?” (p. 205)
In short, as Aprile documents in great detail, the three thousand year South of Rome history and culture literally disappeared. It was (is) not part of, what Moe calls “Italian national identity”.
However, what cannot be emphasized enough, there was nothing ‘natural’ or ‘historically evolutionary’ about the ascendance of the medieval communes and republics concept of the “Italian national identity”.
It was “constructed”!  Moe writes:
“The medieval communal civilization of the center-north became a model for the construction of Italian national identity. (p. 205-206)
The emphasis on “Construction”!
This is to say, there was no sense of a universal Italian national identity before the Risorgimento in terms of “medieval communes” or otherwise. Italians in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, the Piedmont, etc. had no senses of being Italians in the nation-state in any sense of the word.
Moe uses the word “construction” in a metaphoric sense pertaining to the development of the national ideology expressed in literature with literary illusions.  For example:
“Diomede Pantaleoni's … that splendid, glorious movement of our communes, which characterizes the history of northern and central Italy” (p. 206)
The word Construction cannot be emphasized enough. While Moe uses it in a metaphoric sense, Professor Lasansky, in her book “The Renaissance Perfected,” voluminously documents how, in the twentieth century, the medieval communal civilization became the basis of Italian national identity, and was literally (physically) constructed out of bricks and mortar.
The Constructed Past
Southern-Italian Americans love to recant their “wonderfully marvelous” trips to Italy. People raised by off the boat parents and grandparents from Naples, Sicily, Calabria, etc.; people who wax nostalgically about their pre-suburb ‘Little Italy’ days, and who still carry remnants of southern-Italian languages (not dialects) laced into their English conversational idiom. And, yet when they go to Italy, they invariably travel to Rome, Tuscany and most egregiously Milan (practically a Swiss border town – Italy’s Tijuana), places not remotely having any relevance to their southern-Italian heritage. A southern Italian heritage they know absolutely and literally nothing about beyond ‘Little Italy’ nostalgia.
How is it that southern-Italian Americans boastfully proud of their southern-Italian roots are so misguided (mis-educated) about the reality of their history and heritage?
How is it that the great American university centers of Italian Studies totally identify ‘Italian’ with Rome and northern Italy, most especially Tuscany, teaching virtually (literally?) nothing about the three-thousand year history and culture of tens of millions of southern-Italian Americans? In short … Thank You Mussolini!
 Professor Lasansky writes:
"This book examines the way in which the late Middle Ages and Renaissance were manipulated and deployed in service of politics during Italy's Fascist regime between 1922 and 1945.
“The fascist regime – and by this I mean the scholars, artists, architects, journalists, local leaders, and government ministers who worked on projects that were supported by the central government – redefined the Middle Ages and Renaissance in a manner all its own. (p. xxvii emp.+)
Moreover, Mussolini himself was the source of the Middle Ages and Renaissance “manipulation” and “redefinition”. She writes:
Mussolini supported extensive building projects, new urban plans, exhibits, and scholarly publications.
“He sought to ensure Italy’s position as a cultural center, firmly established during the Renaissance, would remain unchallenged under his government and that his position as its leader would resonate with the celebrated historical examples. (P 77 emp.+)
Moreover, the Fascist  “manipulation” and “redefinition” of the Medieval / Renaissance tradition continues unabated long after Mussolini, down to the present. Prof. Lasansky writes:
In contemporary Italy, medieval and Renaissance culture remains a central component of cultural, economic, and political identity... (p. xxvii)
Further, as this blog has repeated documented, that “manipulation” and “redefinition” of the Medieval / Renaissance” tradition is not limited to Italy. It also continues pervasively in the American universities’ Italian Studies programs (e.g. see Related Articles #2).
Tuscan Arezzo: A Fascist Potemkin Village
Professor D. Medina Lasansky provides volumes of data supporting the fact that Mussolini and his Fascist regime between the years 1922 and 1945 literally (physically) created the Italian national identity from an illusionary Medieval/Renaissance Tuscany.
“The Renaissance Perfected” is a very long and challenging read. However, to my mind the essence of her case is eloquently made based on medieval/Renaissance-ization of the Tuscan city Arezzo. So representative of the Fascist fictional and illusionary Italian national identity that Prof. Lasansky devotes a whole chapter to this brilliant Fascist illusionary carnival history that still prevails today, even in American universities’ Italian Studies programs and tourist industry.
Arezzo is a quintessential example of the renowned Tuscan tourist traps, and ‘grand tour’ stopovers for American Italian Studies students; a virtual Potemkin Village devoid of historic reality. I wonder how many Italian Studies thesis papers and Ph.D. dissertations draw on Arezzo or Arezzo like experiences.
Lasansky writes:
“The town of Arezzo is one case among many [that can be] told about almost any town in Tuscany [Yes! Including OMG! Florence?]
“Buildings were restored to a hypothetical medievalism and given new public functions. A new canon of sites was established to draw the attention of tourists. ... The multifaceted urban project was simultaneously a tool for civic redefinition and a means for declaring Fascist allegiance. (p.107)
Below are a few examples of the Arezzo “manipulation” and “redefinition” of medieval and Renaissance culture undertaken for the explicit intent to develop a tourist industry and define the Italian national identity as northern Italian generally and Tuscany very most particularly.
Palazzo dei Priori (aka Palazzo Comunale)
Before “manipulation” and “redefinition”:
After “manipulation” and “redefinition”

 Keeping in mind the above comment about the nature of knowledge of the past: i.e. the ‘Past’ is studied and comes to be known though remnants that remain from the ‘Past’ (e.g. documents, artifacts, etc.); Prof. Lasansky’s comment about the historic characteristic of the 1931 version of Palazzo dei Priori are especially cogent and constitutes, what I judge to be, the essence of her book’s thesis. She writes:
“By 1927 engineer Umberto Tavanti had developed six possible plans for medievalizing the building's façade.
They were not based upon historical document or extant depictions of Arezzo's Priori building.
None of the six can be termed a reconstruction in the proper sense of the term, since none recreated a facade that had once existed.
In fact no visual or written document survives that might shed light upon the appearance of the palazzo during the fourteenth century..
Nor were Tavanti’s designs the result of archaeological exploration of the structure, a fact that is noteworthy considering he was an experienced archaeologist.
Instead, each of the six plans was proposal for a hypothetical fourteenth -century facade, and each was as fantastic as the next. (p 112)
The fact that Tavanti’s archeology background play no part in his designs may be attributed to the fact that he was not commissioned to ascertain historic reality. He was commissioned to design a building that would (1) draw tourist and (2) provide a basis for Tuscan-esque Italian national identity.
In short, the building those tourists who daily stand gawking at and taking pictures of  is nothing more than an illusion of the Arezzo Medieval/Renaissance building. There is no basis in historic reality to support the contention that the current building is in any way the ‘reproduction’ of the historic building.
Piazza Vasari
Again, motivated by lust for tourist money and seeking a basis of Italian national identity the so-called restoration of the historic Piazza Vasari was undertaken.
While Piazza Vasari had a medieval history, like the above dei Priori so-called “restoration”, it was not based on any historic reality. Rather,
“In order to reintroduce a sense of the medieval communal-era, the designers conclude it was necessary to transform this space into a more monumental and symbolic center
“[Further] a sense of Arezzo’s local history was to be revived so that it could contribute to a stronger Italian identity. (p. 130)
 Regarding historic reality, Prof. Lasansky writes:
“[The designers] knew very little about the original form and design of the medieval piazza, and so instead based their efforts on an idealized image of what the medieval past should look like. (p. 131)

Piazza Vasari
Before “manipulation” and “redefinition”

After “manipulation” and “redefinition”

Palazzo Cofani Uguccione della Faggiola (aka Palazzo Briozzolari)
Before: “manipulation” and “redefinition”

After: “manipulation” and “redefinition”

Palazzo Lappoli
Before: “manipulation” and “redefinition”

After: “manipulation” and “redefinition”

Piazza Vasari Today

 In sum: the Piazza Vasari “restoration” projects were masterful acts of deception devoid of historic reality. Prof. Lasansky writes:
“The projects were convincing … there was nothing strikingly ‘inauthentic’ about these buildings. They appeared to be typical representations of a genera.
“The convincing appearance is in no small part due to the consummate craftsmanship of Castellucci, a superior architect of deception.
“Such deception was, in many ways, typically Mussolini and the Fascist. (p 137 emp. +)
Further, the “deception” was not limited to the builds on the piazza.
“In addition to the buildings, the piazza itself was redesigned. The stone pavement was replaced with bricks made of the Tuscan ‘cooto’ set in a herringbone pattern within a frame of travertine. (p 137)
House of Petrarch: One final illustration of historical deception
Before “manipulation” and “redefinition”

After “manipulation” and “redefinition”

Tuscan Festivals – “manipulation” and “redefinition”
The above are only a few of the many example of the Fascist regimes “manipulation” and “redefinition”of the architecture of Tuscany in an effort to define a national identity and promote tourism. There are many more in the book.
However, the  “manipulation” and “redefinition” was not limited to architecture. Similar efforts were put into festivals such as the now renowned tourist attractions as the calico in Florence and the palio in Siena. Prof. Lasansky writes:
“Although, records indicate that the ‘calcio’ was played during the Renaissance, the 1930’s components, design, and path were a Fascist invention
The calico was in fact one of several Renaissance festivals reintroduced and restyled during the late 1920s and early 1930s by the local Facist leaders…”
The famous horse race, or ‘palio, in Siena was redesigned in 1928 under the guidance of the Fascist podesta…
The Giostra del Saracino, a joust was introduced by the podesta in Arezzo in 1931 …
The Gioco del Pont in Pisa was reintroduced in 1935 by the podesta and Mussolini’s minister of press and propaganda…
The production of these festivals publicly affirmed the Fascist loyalty of the men who promoted them ...  (p65)
The festivals maintained little correspondence to the historical periods in which they had orginated. (p. 66)
Professor Lasansky devotes major chapters in her book to how “festivals were redesigned during the regime to achieve political objectives of national identity and tourism.”
Conclusion – Mussolini Laughing
Coming full circle: based on Professor Lasansky’s work, we are able to answer the question: “What has happened to the South’s history…?” (p. 205)
Professor Lasansky, acting the boy in “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, gives voice to the deception that is the historic representation of Tuscany and northern Italy; e.g. “The joust and piazza we see today are the lasting legacy of Fascist design.” (p259)
 The depth and breath of her scholarship is nothing less than an historiographic revolution in twentieth century cultural history of Italy.
She has demonstrated that by the beginning of WW II, Tuscany and much of northern Italy had been transformed in a manner such as the Arezzo example above. The medieval/Renaissance “deception” was complete, providing a basis for a tourist industry and an Italian national identity.
Even as the northern Italian communist humanitarians were butchering Mussolini and his companions in Milan’s public square; they could not know that decades later after their ideology lay in the ‘dustbin of history’, Mussolini’s accomplishment would be flourishing not only in Italy but also in America.
Mussolini’s Fascist capitalism was replaced by parliamentary capitalism; nevertheless his ideological and commercial objectives continued to be profoundly successful. Building on his initiatives, the northern capitalist tourist industry continues to be successful even beyond his imagination.
In turn, that tourist industry was predicated on creating a Medieval/Renaissance national Italian identity. Again, Mussolini was successful far beyond his goals. While the obliteration of the history and culture of the former Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was well underway in the nineteenth century (e.g. Piedmont King Victor Emmanuel adoration in the form of monuments and street names throughout the South), Prof. Lasansky has demonstrated that Mussolini delivered the coup de grâce to southern history and culture acting though hisFascist regime” i.e.,
“… the scholars, artists, architects, journalists, local leaders, and government ministers who worked on projects that were supported by the central government – redefined the Middle Ages and Renaissance in a manner all its own. (p.xxvii)
Further, what Mussolini could not have anticipated, the process of his “manipulation” and “redefinition” of Medieval / Renaissance tradition was not limited to Italy.
The “manipulated” and “redefined ” Medieval / Renaissance has continued in the American university system’s Italian Studies Programs as evidenced by curriculum course descriptions, professorial credentials; most significantly, all the programs have options for students to study abroad, primarily in Tuscany.
The scholars in those programs continue in Mussolini’s Fascist historiogrphic tradition of “deception”, perpetuating illusionary northern Italian Medieval / Renaissance history and the corresponding Italian national identity, at the expense of the South and thereby supporting the northern Italian tourist industry (see for example Related Article #2).
In the process, the American progeny of Italy south of Rome have lost any semblance of the reality of their history and culture, fully adopting the northern Italian identity.
Virtually all the major universities have Italian Studies programs based on the Fascist national medieval/Renaissance national identity. They have schooled the American public generally and the tens of millions of southern-Italian Americans particularly in the Fascist historical deceptions; helping to market northern Italy as a tourist site and northern Italian products such as olive oil and wine (see Related Article #1).
The culmination of this profound marketing deception in the US is symbolically represented by:
“The culinary magazine ‘Bon Appetit’s May 2000 special collector’ edition dedicated to Tuscany. Twenty-five classic traditional Tuscan dishes were prepared and photographed in some of the region’s most scenic spots…
 and the nostalgic prose of Frances Mayes the author of the best seller ‘Under the Tuscan Sun.’ (p. 263)
Surely Mussolini is laughing and savoring the irony that the USA, the country that destroyed his regime, is so massively committed to supporting and perpetuating the fruits of his labor.

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