October 29, 2010

"Gabriele d'Annunzio: Living Life as a Work of Art" at NYU's Casa Italiana


Portrait of Gabriele d'Annunzio (March 12, 1863—March 1, 1938)
at Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò
"On the soles of my shoes, the heels of my boots I carry the earth of the Abruzzi, the mud of my estuary. When I find myself amongst strangers, isolated, different, wildly hostile, I sit down, cross my legs and gently shake my foot, which to me seems weighty with that ground, that bit of earth, that moist sand, and it is like the weight of a piece of armour—an iron defence." —Gabriele d'Annunzio, Suo se pondere firmat (Its very weight adds firmness). Quoted from Gabriele d'Annunzio: Defiant Archangel by John Woodhouse, Clarendon Press, 1998, p. 9.
Today I visited "Gabriele d'Annunzio: Living Life as a Work of Art," the latest exhibit at Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò, New York University's Department of Italian Studies. Running through December 15, 2010 the showing provides a small glimpse into the controversial life of Italy's "warrior bard."


Veiled bust of Eleonora Duse and a letter, which reads, "Veiled witness who suddenly, recognizing the fighter equal to the splendor of her foreboding, in the vows of her forgiveness wished for her own wound, deepened and poisoned to acquire again..."

Best remembered for his invasion of Fiume (Rijeka) in 1919, D’Annunzio was a veritable Renaissance Man. Born into a reasonably well-to-do family in Pescara, in the Abruzzo region of Southern Italy, he would go on to become a writer, pilot, soldier, WWI war hero, politician, adventurer, and perhaps, Italy's greatest modern poet. In 1924 he was given the title Prince of Montenevoso. His was a life of extraordinary deeds and pleasure with many military exploits and scandalous love affairs.


Placard showing his mistress Maria Gravina and daughter Renata

In an excellent review of the show by Inga Pierson at i-italy.org D’Annunzio was described thusly:
"Born in March of 1863, D’Annunzio died in March of 1938. Historical circumstances effectively placed him between two worlds and perhaps, this serves to explain the many contradictions in his character. He was a passionate conservationist: he invented the term “cultural goods” (“beni culturali”) and the notion that these should be protected by a ministry of the State. And yet, no artist or writer embraced the turning of the 19th Century and the dramatic onslaught of modernity with quite the same vigor and energy. D’Annunzio was interested in science and technology, in sexuality and freedom, in women and fashion, in architecture, gardens and airplanes, ships and military offences, poetry and Nietzsche. He wanted to be a Prince and yet he founded a Republic in which women could vote and hold elected office almost 30 years before those rights would be recognized in Italy. He cultivated a monastic life-style and yet he continued to write, love and collect things with unyielding frenzy. He lived for luxury but insisted on the essential simplicity of beauty."

Silver eagle with diamonds for eyes

The Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò gallery has on display many placards detailing the various periods of the great poet's life, photos, and several interesting possessions from the extravagant Vittoriale, D'Annunzio's beloved villa on the shore of the Gardone Riviera in Northern Italy. Among my favorite pieces on exhibit were his model airplane, military uniform, and silver cast eagle head with diamonds.


D'Annunzio's uniform
(All photos by New York Scugnizzo)

Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò
24 West 12th Street (between Fifth and Sixth Avenues)
Mon. through Fri. from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
through December 15, 2010
Free admission
For more information, visit http://www.casaitaliananyu.org/.

Also see the NYU press release: