The Course of Empires: American-Italian Cultural Relations, 1770-1980
October 19-21, 2017
McEvoy Auditorium, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.
This international conference will examine the persistent fascination of American and Italian artists with the cultural achievements of ancient Rome and the Renaissance. In creating national identities, both countries turned to history for similar reasons: to find inspiration for enlightened political practices; to locate models of artistic, political, and economic preeminence; and to seek ways to ward off imperial decadence and decline. Yet alongside this tendency toward emulation, some American and Italian artists looked askance at the myths of antique and Renaissance glories, demonstrating a skepticism toward the notion of imperial greatness. They utilized imagery of the Roman Colosseum, for example, as a multivalent symbol to articulate the rise, grandeur, terrors, and fall of empire.
This conference seeks to update and broaden our understanding of American-Italian cultural relations from the Revolutionary Era through the Cold War by encompassing the diversity of voices and approaches in contemporary transnational scholarship. Among the topics to be explored are: an investigation of the roles of Italy and the newly built American Academy in Rome in keeping alive classical and Renaissance traditions at the turn of the twentieth century; an examination of the ways in which public commissions of the 1920s and 1930s (including New Deal and Italian Fascist programs) maintained a romance with the Renaissance fresco tradition; and an analysis of the increasing cross-cultural exchange between Italy and the United States in the Cold War era, with the inauguration of the Venice Biennale and the formation of the Peggy Guggenheim gallery.
We seek papers concerned with but not limited to the following issues:
- The compatibility of imperial motives and republican ideology in the work of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century American and Italian artists, such as Luigi Persico, Benjamin West, and Hiram Powers.
- The ways in which international artists, such as Constantino Brumidi and Elihu Vedder, embraced the imperial power structures of an emerging culture of American capitalism by emulating the art and architecture of the Roman Empire and the Italian Renaissance.
- The manner in which artists as diverse as Thomas Cole, Ben Shahn, and Marino Marini focused their attention on Roman ruins as cultural signs of both the magnificent and the bankrupt.
- The devastation of Pompeii as a visual metaphor of excess, destruction, and decline, as presented in the work of nineteenth- and twentieth-century artists, such as Albert Bierstadt, Giovanni Maria Benzoni, Andy Warhol, and Arturo Martini.
- The role of American and Italian film and popular culture (such as the fantasy-like construction of Las Vegas) in disseminating the myths of Roman triumphalism and decline.
- The enduring significance of Italy as muse for postwar American artists such as Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg, and David Smith.
This event, funded in part by a generous grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art, will take place on October 19-21, 2017. It is the companion conference to Hybrid Republicanism: Italy and American Art, 1840-1918, which occurred at the American Academy in Rome in the fall of 2016. Please submit a one-page abstract and two-page curriculum vitae by March 1, 2017, to SAAMSymposium@si.edu. For questions, contact Melissa Dabakis, Professor and Chair of Art History, Kenyon College, at email@example.com.
Melissa Dabakis, Professor and Chair of Art History, Kenyon College
Paul Kaplan, Professor of Art History, Purchase College, SUNY
Daniele Fiorentino, Professor of U.S. History and Political Science, Università degli Studi Roma Tre
Sergio Cortesini, Assistant Professor of Art History, Università di Pisa
Karen Lemmey, Curator of Sculpture, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Amelia Goerlitz, Fellowship and Academic Programs Manager, Smithsonian American Art Museum