Matilde Cartolari: Ambassadors of Beauty

Dr. des. Matilde Cartolari

Ambassadors of Beauty. Italian Old Masters and Fascist Cultural Diplomacy (1930-1940)

The dissertation investigates the exhibitions of Italian Old Masters promoted by the Fascist government abroad in the 1930s. Starting with the great Italian exhibition held at the Royal Academy in London in 1930 (Italian Art 1200-1900), the research examines the subsequent double exhibition in Paris in 1935 (L’Art Italien de Cimabue à Tiepolo at the Petit Palais and L’Art Italien des XIX et XX siècles at the Jeu de Paume) and, finally, the exhibition of Italian portraits through the centuries held at the Prince Paul Museum in Belgrade in 1938. The American tour of the Italian masterpieces in 1939-1940 is only analysed in relation to the European context.

Through an extensive survey of archival materials and the press campaign, the thesis reconstructs the organisational dynamics of the exhibitions, and notably the (verbal and visual) rhetoric of the transfer of the exhibits in relation to international cultural diplomacy. The research has shed new light on the relationship between Old Master exhibitions and the international art market, notably through the example of the art dealer Joseph Duveen and his company, the Duveen Brothers.

Through a rich set of textual and iconographic sources, the thesis aims to offer a broad and multidimensional perspective on exhibitions as meeting point between art historiography and the art market, museums and heritage protection, restoration and legislation, nationalism and internationalism. At the same time, the thesis outlines the peculiarities and development of Fascist cultural policy over the decade, from the ephemeral triumphalism of the Ethiopian campaign to the unrealised dream of E42.