Research Projects

Risorgimento in immagini. Celebrità, mediatizzazione della politica e memoria visuale nel lungo Ottocento

The Risorgimento in images. Celebrity, mediatisation of politics and visual memory in the long Nineteenth Century




Data avvio: 1 January 2014

Data termine: 1 January 2016


This project is part of the framework of academic initiatives and research promoted by the Inter-University Centre for Cultural History (CSC) based in Padua. Its aim is to inaugurate an innovative and original research construction site on the Risorgimento analysing the role played by images in public communication and the politicisation of the private sphere and everyday life. Recent historiographical contributions suggest that, already in the 19th century, one of the defining traits of modernity was taking shape namely the close connection between social relations and policies and images, media, public communication and the world of entertainment. In fact, well before the advent of cinema and television, it was actually in the course of the long nineteenth century that the radical changes which had a profound effect on the public debate and the political imagination took place in Europe and the United States in terms of image production techniques, diffusion circuits and the ways in which images were used. It was with the potential for reproduction offered first by lithography and then by photography (in a patent issued in 1839) that visual communication first acquired a commercial, mass profile and impacted on the embryonic national patriotic imagination. In the public sphere images took on the status of privileged condensation, organisation, value and meaning propaganda, norm and memory, identity and belonging, news and events tool. In the private sphere they showed a similar ability to enthral and performed a mirroring role as leisure objects linked to domestic amusement but also as a vehicle for information and knowledge, an opinion forming channel and a means of self-representation of personal, family and social identity. In both spheres - public and private - images showed a special ability to act as vehicles for the century's dominant languages, styles and rhetorical contents capable of accentuated dramatisation and powerful emphasis on the visual content of a narrative with significant recourse to emotional codes and sensationalism (characteristics of popular publicity and feuilletons), a sometimes spasmodic attention and lay cult of what the language of the day called 'famous contemporaries'. As Giuseppe Garibaldi's international media success shows, the events of the Italian Risorgimento were played out in a space which was anything but marginal to such processes. Quite the contrary, transformations in the technology of images and the media system moved side by side with and intersected the whole Italian nation building process one of whose most effective means of definition, propaganda, appropriation and symbolic value memory linked to events, practices and public figures was precisely visual forms of expression. As production techniques, circulation channels and image consumption practices constitute an integrated and inter-dependent system - the "visual culture" of a specific era - the purpose of this research is to present an overview of the communication circuits by which Risorgimento news, events, key figures and 'stars' were conceived, represented and brought to public awareness by means of images and not only within Italy. The methodological framework of the project is based on a radical re-thinking of the status of iconographical material as a contemporary history source. Adopting an 'archaeological' perspective in the study of these sources means, in this sense, conferring on them the status of documentary material in the strictest sense of the term, namely authentic historical 'finds' requiring analysing and enhancing in primis as fundamentally important elements in a a cultural context whose complexity of codes and communication dynamics can only be retraced in this way.