Archive for Vittorio Emanuele II

Jun
02

Birth of a nation

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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.

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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.

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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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Italian flags have been appearing on windows, balconies, even people -- a dazzling change from the usual bring-it-out-only-when-there's-a-soccer-game mentality.

Today, March 17, there is cause for rejoicing in the old Bel Paese.  In fact, it’s a national holiday. Some political parties have been bickering — you know how they love to bicker –about exactly how much joy is justifiable, but I think most of their shenanigans are going to be drowned out.  It’s just too big a deal.

What? One hundred and fifty years ago today — March 17, 1861 —  Italy was born. The process of labor had lasted 41 years (120 years, if you count the uprising in Genoa on December 5, 1746 as the start), but here it finally was: A whole country with one name where before there had only been jostling, homicidal kingdoms, duchies, princedoms, and the occasional city-state such as Venice and the Papal States, each loaded with greed and heavy weaponry and ruled by people whose characters were so stuffed with ambition that there wasn’t much room left for scruples. Mostly.

Revolution: Italy wasn’t a country for most of history, recorded or otherwise; it became a country as the fruit of heroic and idealistic travail, a period known as the Risorgimento. This process involved not a few bloody and horrific battles, conducted by people whose names deserve to be read aloud in every public square today. Actually, every day. They believed in a unified Italy with passion and conviction (like most revolutionaries), and certainly more strongly than a lot of people today believe in anything, considering that they were willing to die for it.  In fact, there were no fewer than three Wars of Independence which led ultimately to the country we associate so happily with pizza and “O’ Sole Mio” and Vinnie and Guido.

So today is known as the anniversary of the “Unita’ d’Italia,” the unity, or uniting, of Italy. Let us pause briefly for the national anthem, and I hope any of you hecklers can look these people in the face.

The National Anthem: It goes by several names : “Inno di Mameli,” “Fratelli d’Italia,” or the original title, “Canto degli Italiani.” This stirring piece of 19th-century patriotic romanticism is crammed with historic references , each of which plays a specific symbolic role. Goffredo Mameli composed this poem in 1847 at the age of 21. not long before his untimely death. The text exhorts Italians to awaken, reclaim their historic pride, and struggle till independence is achieved. Even I know the first of its five verses.

The most moving passage begins the second: “For centuries we’ve been trampled and derided, because we’re not a people, because we’re divided. Let us all gather under one flag, one hope, to fuse ourselves together….” The term is the same one used for producing alloys of metal.

The Great Men: The struggle for independence was led by the even-then-legendary General Giuseppe Garibaldi and his noted partner, General Nino Bixio, and many other patriots, particularly Mazzini and Cavour.

The maximum monument to Garibaldi, near his eponymous street in Castello. His is one of those names, like Bolivar, that's bigger than ten ordinary people.

And what founding a nation be without certain mythic phrases? Every child learns them and they become part of the common vocabulary, even if you don’t use them. More or less like I cannot tell a lie.”

Garibaldi, at a certain crucial point in the struggle, is supposed to have turned to Bixio and declared, “Nino, qui si fa l’Italia, o si muore” (Here one creates Italy, or dies). He probably didn’t say that, scholars point out; the rallying cry that is documented also has a certain ring to it: “Italia qui bisogna morire!” (“Italy, here we need to die,” the sense being the need to make a desperate assault, once and for all, without thinking of survival).

There is also his equally famous reply to King Vittorio Emanuele II of Savoia, who commanded him to halt his imminently victorious advance on Trento: “Obbedisco,” said Garibaldi.  “I obey.” It’s hard for me to come up with a one-word response so freighted with meaning, one that isn’t profane.

Every revolution needs at least one philosopher, and Giuseppe Mazzini was it. Considered one of the fathers of the nation, he now watches over the vaporettos milling around the Rialto stop.

While these terms might not be needed every day, it’s more common to hear somebody describe a thing that’s been done, created, thrown together, really fast, as having been done “alla garibaldina” — like a soldier of Garibaldi. This isn’t to disparage a man who was universally admired, even by his enemies, for his courage and discipline, but to express how his troops had to keep improvising in order to keep going.

Unity Today? You might think that unity would be something nobody would argue with today, but you would be in error. The politicians governing some Italian regions (what correspond to our states), are all tangled up in snarly disputes about how valuable it really is to be part of one whole country with one name. (Sorry, Garibaldi, I guess all those men of yours died for nothing.  Oh wait — they died so that politicians could argue later about whether what they did ever mattered.  Impressive.)

In the Piazza San Marco, this almost totally unnoticed plaque says: "Garibaldi here greeting free Venice expressed his hope that Rome be made the capital of Italy. February 26 1867." His wish was fulfilled in 1871.

The Northern League wants the northern regions to secede, for example, and when its intensely right-wing members look at the unified Italy they see only disaster and bankruptcy of every sort (financial, moral, political, etc.) where many people from beyond the borders notice only a great country with a great history and great food and great art and and great music and so on.

And speaking of music, the League doesn’t even like the national anthem. And they don’t just nag about it, some politicians have even left their city council meetings when the anthem was played. Apart from being moronic, it shows some invigorating hypocrisy.  They seem to have forgotten (or dismiss) the fact that when most of them fulfilled their compulsory military service (until the draft was suspended in 2005), they swore a solemn oath to defend their country.  Sounds a little strange to say later, “Oh well, we didn’t mean THAT country.”  Second, they got elected to governmental bodies of some sort, which to me represents a sort of agreement to the system as organized by the Constitution.  Put more crudely, they’re happy to have the gig, and now they’re going to waste time talking about how stupid it is.

Vittorio Emanuele II, the first king of Italy, always ready to attack at San Zaccaria. Italy remained a kingdom until 1946, when a referendum determined that it would become a representative democracy.


What I think: While flaws and defects and even derelictions of duty may abound (this being a country populated by people and not by angels, though the gross tonnage of paintings and statues of the winged beings might make you doubt it),  this is a country that deserves all the admiration usually lavished on more famous peoples and revolutions, such as the French, or the American, or the Russian.  Furthermore, until a person can say “I could have done everything they did, and I’m willing to die, just tell me where to stand and what to have on,” that person would do well to take several deep breaths and change the subject, because comments from people who can’t say that matter less than a sack of dried split peas.

The Soundtrack:  Like most children of his generation, Lino also learned, along with kilometers of poetry, a slew of the patriotic songs which were composed and sung during the Risorgimento. He can still sing verses and verses of them — it’s extremely cool.  He vividly recalls being taken, with the rest of his class, to the Piazza San Marco on April 25, 1946 (Liberation Day). He was eight years old, and the teachers had armed everybody with little Italian flags to wave.  He remembers singing “O Giovani Ardenti,”  among various pieces, and as you’ll see below, it practically sings itself.

I’d love to translate all of these songs for you, but I suspect you can interpret the main words, which are the ones you’d expect in songs such as these (independent, liberty, union, battle, sword, slave, and so on).  “Camicia Rossa” refers to the emblematic red shirt worn by Garibaldi’s soldiers; “Suona la Tromba” is a call-to-arms rally, and “La Bandiera dei Tre Colori” (or “La Bandiera Tricolore“)  is plainly about the flag, the most beautiful in the world.  

So a big shout-out to all my Italian friends in the US, of whatever generation they may be: Camilla, Bill, Ben, Francesca, and Nicolo’.  I hope you’re proud as all get-out.  I am.

Next: The celebrations.

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