Jun
02

Birth of a nation

By
This mountain of marble and metal was created by the Roman sculptor Ettore Ferrari, and was inaugurated on May 1, 1887, nine years after the king's demise.

This mountain of marble and metal was created by Roman sculptor Ettore Ferrari in honor of King Vittorio Emanuele II, and was inaugurated on May 1, 1887, nine years after the king’s demise.

As anyone who has ever walked along the Riva degli Schiavoni knows, there is a honking big statue in the middle of the street.

Many (most? all?) countries can boast imposing effigies of men on horseback, usually brandishing a saber, or their hat, or maybe a banner.  Brandishing, anyway.

Considering that, in the case of the mounted man on the Riva, nobody has seen fit to provide even the tiniest clue as to who he is, you’ve probably been satisfied to surmise that somewhere, at some time, this man did something bronzeworthy..

Then you take pictures of the more memorable lions, and move on.

But for anyone who would, in fact, like to know what’s up with all these characters, I am ready to reveal all.  And my excuse is the date, June 2, which is a national holiday known as the Festa della Repubblica, or Republic Day. Although the man relates only inversely to the event (more on that below), I’m exploiting this occasion because there isn’t another one around that fits him any better.

The swordbearing cavalier is King Vittorio Emanuele II (also known as the “Father of the Fatherland”), and he was the first king of the newly created nation of Italy.  Clicking on that link will spare us slowing down for a reprise of most of the details; the “juice” of the subject, as they put it here, is that in 1861 Italy pulled itself together to form one nation out of many assorted mini-nations, duchies, and kingdoms.

The pulling-together process was long, toilsome, and often extremely bloody.  Then the newly-minted Italians, having established the Kingdom of Italy on March 17, 1861, had to find a ruler.  The mantle fell on the aforementioned Vittorio Emanuele, a member of the House of Savoy (one of the oldest ruling families in Europe), who was already King of Sardinia and, more important, had been a major participant in the Unification process.

Some of the main events which led to this moment, with several Venetian codicils, are depicted in nearly insane detail on the monument, as follows:

Our story begins with Venice (represented by a heroic woman as well as the winged lion of San Marco) in chains, prisoner of the Austrians who occupied the city until 1861.

Our story begins with Venice represented as a heroic woman as well as by the winged lion of San Marco.  The scene recalls the condition of the former Serenissima under the oppression of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and its soldiers who occupied the city until 1861.  Her sword is broken, her flagstaff snapped, and the lion is gnawing at his chains.  Her cap recalls the doge’s “corno,” the characteristic hat of the Venetian dukes.

IMG_6022   vitt e

Below her left foot is a shattered shield, with the dates 1848-1849 in the center.  This was the period of the desperate uprising against the Austrians and the attempted establishment of the Kingdom of Venice.  Around the border are incised the names of

At her feet is a shattered shield, with the dates 1848-1849 in the center. This was the period of the doomed uprising against the Austrians led by Daniele Manin, and the short-lived establishment of the Republic of Venice. Still more important is the fact that his uprising was part of a larger series of conflicts against the Austrians in northern Italy in what is generally called the “First War of Independence.” Around the border are incised the names of certain important battles: Monte Berico, Marghera, Goito, Mestre.

On the north side is the shield of the House of Savoy, and above it a tangled scene in low relief which shows the future King in the process of winning the battle of TK.

On the north side is the shield bearing the simple emblem of the House of Savoy, and above it a tangled scene in  relief which shows the future king in the process of defeating the Austrians at the battle of Palestro (May 31, 1859). He personally fought at the head of the Sardinian bersaglieri.

A generic scene of grisly combat, with the King front and center.

A generic scene of grisly combat, with the not-yet-king front and center.

On to the happy ending. Austria defeated, Venice once again proud, with full sword and snarling lion unchained.

On to the happy ending. Austria defeated, Venice once again proud, with full sword and snarling lion unchained.

The lion's right paw tramples not only a few links of the former chain, but a document with the date "1815" inscribed on it --

The lion’s right paw tramples not only a few links of the former chain, but a document with the date “1815” inscribed on it.  That year saw many momentous events, but for our purposes it signifies the Congress of Vienna, which marked the earliest step toward the eventual Unification of Italy.

On (date tK) the Venetians voted on the proposal to join the Kingdom of Italy.  The number of votes are inscribed here:

On October 21 and 22, 1866, Venetians voted on the proposal to join the Kingdom of Italy. The number of votes are inscribed here: Yes 641,758, No 69.

IMG_6011  vitt e

On the hem of the robe of victorious Venice is a single name: MANIN.

On the hem of the robe of victorious Venice is a single name: MANIN.

The larger scene is the king's entrance into Venice in 1866.  Below it, though, is an important afterthought, just to bring the saga to the appropriate close: A square tablet which reads 1 May

On the south side, we see the king’s arrival on his first state visit to Venice.

On DATE TK, King Victor Emanuele II entered Venice and rendered homage to the city in the Piazza San Marco.

On November 7, 1866 King Victor Emanuele II entered Venice and rendered homage to the city in the Piazza San Marco.

A detail of the king pausing before the majestic scene.  Hidden behind his entourage are two illegal pigeon-feed sellers, 5 illegal long-stemmed-rose sellers, and 85 illegal selfie-stick sellers.  Oh wait -- that's today.

A detail of the king pausing before the majestic scene, which lacked the now permanent contingent of illegal sellers of pigeon feed, long-stemmed roses, and selfie-sticks.

text here

And to bring the story to its fitting conclusion, this assortment of details (plaque with the date 1 May 1867, and the shield bearing the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus) immortalizes the date on which Rome was voted the capital of the new Italy.

Remarkable, how big this little lion is, compared to all the rest.

I see swords and guns, but don’t discern a pen in this collage.  I’m sure there must have been at least one somewhere in the midst of this whole affair.

Flag of the Kingdom of Italy (1861-1946).

Flag of the Kingdom of Italy (1861-1946).  No need for fussy crowns and mythic beasts in the center — the coat of arms of the House of Savoy does the job.

I mentioned above that I’m writing this on Republic Day, even though the king relates to it only inversely.  I say that because after 85 years of kings, the Italian people went to the polls on June 2, 1946 and voted to replace him with a republic.  That’s one impressive job-performance evaluation.

Furthermore, the king and his entire family were sent into exile, which demonstrates some prudence on the part of the new government, considering that 54 percent (almost all in the North) had voted for a republic but 45 per cent voted to keep the monarchy (almost all in the South).  There are a few characters around Venice who still make a point of putting out the royal flag on certain occasions.  It’s a vain gesture; the Italian Constitution forbids the reinstatement of a monarchy by constitutional amendment.  The only way to bring back a king would be to write a completely new constitution.  This is not on anybody’s to-do list.

In any case, if there were to be a new king, he couldn’t come from the House of Savoy, as the Savoyards formally renounced their claim to the (non-existent) throne in 2002 in return for being permitted to set foot in Italy again, should the mood strike.

But the statue remains, and even if nobody now recognizes who it is on the horse, it served a very important purpose in its time. Statues of Vittorio Emanuele II and his co-divinity, Giuseppe Garibaldi, began to appear in many places after Unification.  The reason, as so aptly and famously put by contemporary statesman Massimo d’Azeglio, was “Now that Italy has been made, we need to make the Italians.”

You wake up one morning and you’re an Italian.  What is that supposed to mean?  Statues of the two major protagonists were one way of focusing public attention on the new reality and the new identity.

The analogous statue to Giuseppe Garibaldi, by Augusto Benvenuti, was inaugurated on July 24, 1887, a few months after the king's memorial.

The analogous statue to Giuseppe Garibaldi, by Augusto Benvenuti, was inaugurated on July 24, 1887, a few months after the king’s memorial.

“To transmit the … sense of a common past and present identity … effectively, urban space became re-defined for the political realities of the late nineteenth century.  Public commemorations became widespread, especially through the erection of monuments and plaques, and the re-naming of streets.  Their inauguration ceremonies encouraged the collective participation in the spectacle of the ‘imagined’ nation.  Personality cults which glorified national figures such as King Vittorio Emanuele II and Giuseppe Garibaldi were perceived as important tools in the nation-building process.”  (Laura Parker, “Identity, memory, and la diarchia di bronzo, Commemorating Vittorio Emanuele II and Giuseppe Garibaldi in post-Risorgimento Venice.”)

I close with some trivia, which as everyone knows, I never consider trivial.

 

This is a place-holder.

The Savoia & Jolanda hotel is just steps away from the kingly statue.  I’m guessing that it was named for then-prince Vittorio Emanuele III (the grandson of the man with the sword) and his daughter Jolanda.  He ruled from 1900 – 1946, and his visit to Venice in 1882 with his mother, Queen Margherita, inspired a number of memorials.

For example, this plaque above the Coop supermarket on via Garibaldi.

Such as the plaque above the Coop supermarket on via Garibaldi.

Which states:

Which states:  “Margherita Queen of Italy and Vittorio Emanuele Hereditary Prince on July 20 1882 Leaning from this balcony admired the festival ordered in their honor The new example of the ancient bond which in days that are happy or sad unites realm and people It was desired that this be remembered June 1902.”

Queen Margherita was reportedly much more popular than her husband.  This statue represents her holding a torch which is alight at night.  Take that, Statue of Liberty. An attractive legend holds that the pizza Margherita was created in her honor, composed of the three colors of the national flag (tomato, basil, mozzarella).

Queen Margherita was reportedly much more popular than either her son or her husband. This statue represents her lifting a torch which is lit at night. (Take that, Statue of Liberty.) An attractive legend holds that the “pizza Margherita” was created in her honor, composed of the three colors of the national flag (tomato, basil, mozzarella).  There is no “pizza Vittorio Emanuele Maria Alberto Eugenio Ferdinando Tommaso, Father of the Fatherland,” meaning no disrespect.  I can’t even begin to think what it would be made of.

 

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Comments

  1. Mary Ann DeVlieg says:

    Thank you Erla for another superb post: your faithful romps through history, both known and little-known, illustrating what we walk past and (mostly ignore) on a daily basis. Brava and many thanks again. I should be volunteering for the festa here today but instead I’m scotchtaped to the computer doing work that pays in schei rather than in good community relations. Hey ho. Your post certainly cheered me up. Will you dedicate one to Daniele Manin, hero, Jewish and legally adopted by a Catholic Doge (true?), saviour and patriot who died penniless and ignored as an exile, as it in London?…? (You prob have already…)

    • Erla says:

      I’m glad my post cheered you up — that’s always a great thing to hear. I’ve referred to Daniele Manin on a number of occasions, to one degree or another. Such as: “March 22, Yet another historic day in Venice,” and “March 22, much more than the second day of spring.” Manin’s Jewish grandfather converted to Catholicism and, according to custom, changed his last name to that of his baptismal godfather, Ludovico Manin, the last doge of Venice. I don’t know if that amounts to having been legally adopted. So actually Daniele Manin was Catholic. He died in Paris in 1857, where he had been living in exile, occupying his time by giving Italian lessons. I’m not sure about the “penniless” part; his wife was a Venetian aristocrat who owned substantial amounts of land in Mestre, the Venetian hinterland, as well as the area of Treviso. I haven’t read anything that implied he was ignored by anybody; he was kind of a rockstar of the revolutionary movement. His body was brought back to Venice and given a rockstar funeral in the Piazza San Marco.

  2. Murissa says:

    This is one of my favourite statues in Venice. I remember walking by it in amazement and had to photography as much detail as I could. Thanks for explaining its meaning and its intricate details!!

  3. Kathy Maher says:

    A tour de force of research, Erla. You make history come alive. Brava!

  4. Freda says:

    I am planning a stay in Venice in winter and enjoying your knowledgeable posts very much indeed. Thank you.

  5. Tim Doonan says:

    Yes, once again you have created a very, very interesting story out of objects or scenes that are typically ignored. The intensity of feeling for Victoria Emmanuel II was so heartfelt, so genuine, that the grandiose ‘Wedding Cake’ monument in Rome was built in his honor. After all, thanks to Vic, for the first time since the Roman Empire, no foreign soldiers were stationed on Italian soil. And I myself like the details around this statue; they remind me of the purpose of stained glass in cathedrals – to tell a story.
    (PS the quality of the photos in your articles is terrific!)

  6. […] Here is what I have managed to learn about “Roma intangibile.”  The expression seems to have resulted from a mashup of events and remarks.  We begin with the “Capture of Rome” (“Breccia di Porta Pia“), on September 20, 1870.  It was the final event of the Risorgimento; the Papal States were defeated, and the way was open to the unification of Italy under its first king, Vittorio Emmanuele II. […]

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