Social Evolution and Culture
English language text of the so-called “Southern Question” suggests that since its inception circa 1870, it has been discussed largely in terms of the very significant political and economic material differences between the Italian North and South. For example, Nadia Urbinati writes:
- “Villari denounced the selfishness of the largely northern ‘bourgeoisie,’ which, because of its inability to govern, had become brutal and repressive, like a colonizing force”
- “Sonnino, declared that for southerners Italy meant nothing but repression, high taxes, and arrogant public officials
- Antonio De Viti De Marco and Francesco Saverio Nitti identified the tariff policy as the tool the North had used to industrialize at the expense of the South
(see: Italy's "Southern Question" Orientalism in One Country”, Schnider ed. p 135)
Gramsci, a Marxist, was certainly not indifferent to the material difference between the North and South. Nevertheless, a tad Hegelian, he introduced the ideological concept of culture into the discussion with his theory of Cultural Hegemony.
Sadly, Gramsci was a philosopher in the western tradition of writing in extremely un-pedagogical and esoteric style. Clarity is not a virtue in western philosophy. Indeed, as with most western philosophers he insured his immortality by creating a university cottage industry of academicians writing dissertations, books and articles about what “he really meant.”
Nevertheless, even if there is no generally agreed upon understanding among the “Chairs of Wisdom” as to “what he really meant”, the cultural concepts he posited moved the discussion of the “Southern Question”, and more generally theory of social evolution, away from the purely materialistic concepts of wealth and power to the ideological concepts of culture.
Art and Culture
One of the most obvious manifestations of a society’s culture is the art produced in that society. Indeed, archeologist and anthropologist, in the absence of linguistic documents; defined, date and differentiate one society from another by the respective remnant art works.
Accordingly, if there is a significant difference between the art of northern Italy and southern, then that fact may be interpreted as a manifestation of a cultural difference. In short, two societies united materially (politically and economically) - but differentiated culturally.
Significant evidence of this artistic/cultural disparity can be found in the analysis of Venice’s Palazzo Grassi Gallery 1989 exhibition - “Italian Art 1900-1945”. Clearly, the inference to be drawn from this empirical data and analysis is, at least in terms of art during the first half of the twentieth century, Italy was not a culturally unified country.
Art exhibits are ephemeral – they come and go. A gallery gathers works for an exhibition from lenders for a limited period of time. Then the exhibition is disassembled and the works returned to their lenders. For example, for the “Italian Art 1900-1945” exhibition, art works were gathered internationally from “61 Museum and Public Institutions, 60 Private collections and galleries and many owners who prefer to remain anonymous.” Of course, all the works were returned to lenders.
Fortunately, there was an extraordinary book published about the exhibition Italian Art 1900-1945 , “organized by Pontus Hulten and Germano Celant”. This book is not just another ‘pretty’ coffee table art book filled with pictures. It’s a tour de force in social history, making it possible for historians to study and analyze the Palazzo Grassi exhibition in a broader social context than just aesthetics; thereby facilitating the deduction of facts about Italian society, which might otherwise not be obvious.
In addition to 305 pages (8”x11”) of color photographs of all the works exhibited, there is an addition 467 pages consisting of 25 essays on a range of subjects pertinent to Italian society such as the politics of Giolitti’s Italy; architecture; movements such as Futurism and Surrealism; Italian artists in Paris and how depicted in “Western Magazines”; and very much more.
Also, an incredible “Chronology” listing of Italian Art exhibits from 1900-1989 with representative works illustrated; a “Critical References” list providing detailed information about each of the 271 Palazzo Grassi exhibits; a “Bibliography” list of each artist in the exhibition, and the history of all the other exhibitions in which they had been shown.
In short, this book is an extraordinary historical document that provides a wealth of information and analysis of Italian culture in the first half of the twentieth century. The present essay will attempt to glean an infinitesimal small bit of that information.
Specifically, the cultural difference between northern Italy and Magne Grece (i.e. south of Rome and Sicily)
1989 Venice Palazzo Grassi Art Exhibition: “Italian Art 1900-1945”
Below, “Table One” lists the artists and the number of their works exhibited, categorized by the time period the works were produced, along with summary statistics about the time period.
(Artists exhibited by Time Period - “Italian Art 1900-1945”)
There were a total of 271 works exhibited (see: col. C row 64).
Notice Time Period 1919- 39 has the:
- Largest number of artists 34 (col. D row 53),
- Largest numbers of works 155 (col. E row 53)
57% of all 271 exhibited works were produced between the years 1919 and 1939 (col. F row 53)
Notice some artists have works in more that one time period.
For example, Balla, Giacomo has:
5 works in the 1899-09 time period (row 5 col. C);
4 works in 1909-19 period (row 9 col. C);
2 works in 1919-39 period (row 20, col. C).
Accordingly, in order to develop summary information about each individual artist, all five time periods had to aggregated into one.
Table 2 below shows the total number of works exhibited for each artist in all time periods. For example, here we see Balla, Giacomo on one row (row 9) with a total of 11 works exhibited.
Further, and more to the point of this article, additional information has been added:
- artist’s Birthplace is listed in col. C
- Birthplace in turn has been classified into three Regions of Birth (Foreign born, North of Rome and South of Rome) in col. D
(Artists exhibited by Place of Birth - “Italian Art 1900-1945”)
Foreign Born (rows 3-7 yellow) refers to foreign-born Italians (except Diulgherooff, Nicolay who was Bulgarian but studied and did all his work in Italy).
North of Rome (rows 8-46 blue) refers to artist born north of Rome.
South of Rome (rows 46-49 green) refers to artist born south of Rome
- Calabria and Sicily are not only geographically ‘south of Rome’, but also share a common history and similar cultures. Accordingly they are lumped together.
- Sassari on the island of Sardinia is neither geographically ‘south of Rome’ nor, as Giovanni di Napol over at “Magna Grece.org” points out, does it share the same common history and culture of southern Italy and Sicily. However, for purposes of this analysis, I follow Gramsci who aggregated Sardinia in with southern Italian and Sicily in his “Southern Question” works.
Clearly, artist born North of Rome dominated the exhibition.
Of the exhibitions Total 271 Works (col. B row 51) and 48 Artist (col. A row 51):
North of Rome represented
- 184 Works (col. E row 46) or 68% of all works (col. F row 46)
- 39 Artists (col. G row 46) or 81% of all artists (col. H row 46)
Foreign Born represented
- 55 Works (col. E row 7) or 20% of all works (col. F row 7)
- 5 Artists (col. G row 7) or 10% of all artists (col.H row 7)
South of Rome represented
- 31 Works (col. E row 49) or 11% of all works (col. F row 49)
- 3 Artists (col. G row 49) or 6% of all artists (col.G row 49)
South of Rome art is insignificant!
Clearly, South of Rome was not considered a significant source of Italian Art from 1900-1945. Not only was South of Rome very much less representative than ‘North’, more significantly, Foreign Born had greater representation both in terms of number of works and number of artist exhibited.
Northern Lenders to Exhibition swamp Southern
As indicated above, the Hulten and Germano book provides a list of “Lenders to the Exhibition classified as either “Museum and Public Institutions” or “Private collection and galleries”. Each lender is identified by the city where the lender is located. I have in turn classified each city location by either Country, Northern or Southern Italy.
Accordingly, this list of lender locations can be interpreted as a proxy measure of which regions of Italy owned (appreciated?) the most Italian art produced in the first half of the twentieth century.
(Lenders of exhibits locations -“Italian Art 1900-1945”)
Clearly, this table shows that in the “Italian Art 1900-1945” exhibition, the vast majority of the art works came from owners in northern Italy. Northern lenders contributed 95 pieces to the show, Southern only 2.
- the large number of “Private collections and galleries” lenders from the North (56) and none from the South.
- three foreign countries (France, Germany and the US) lent more to the exhibition that southern Italy
Southerners don’t Exhibit (appreciate?) southern Artist
Further, as measured by numbers of exhibitions, the inference can be made that southern Italians do not appreciate the work of southern artist. Consider:
- Boccioni - between 1906 and 1989 there were 37 international exhibitions of his work. But, NONE south of Rome.
- Sironi – between 1924-1989 there were 24 international exhibitions of his work and only one in Sardinia.
- Guttuso – between 1940-1989 there were 12 international exhibitions of his work and only two in Sicily
In total, between 1906-1989 there were 73 international exhibitions showing the respective works of these three southern born artists, of which only three were in southern Italy (i.e. 4 %).
Clearly the above data implies that there is a significant difference between the aesthetics of northern and southern Italy. The data indicates that the South did not appreciate early twentieth century artistic movements such as Futurism, Divisionism, Neo-Impressionism, and all the other ism’s that came and went from the ephemeral ‘pop-art’ northern Italian and European cultural scene.
If the 1989 exhibition “Italian Art 1900-1945” is representative of the art produced, owned and exhibited by southern Italians, then the implications of the numbers (data) in the above tables is that little of the ‘pop-art’ of the period was produced and is owned and therefore not appreciated by southern Italians.
The difference between art produced and exhibited in the North and South is of the same magnitude as the differences between those two sections of Italy during the Renaissance.
If one assumes that art is a proxy measure of culture, the magnitudes of the differences in art produced and owned is indicative of a very significant difference in the cultures of northern and southern Italy – not unlike the cultural differences during the Renaissance.
In short, centuries of artistic data (facts) imply (logic) that culturally “Italy ends at the Garigliano” - where Magna Grece begins. One country politically - two countries culturally!