Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Futurism and Florence

Established in Italy at the turn of the twentieth century, Futurism was a contrast to the Romanticism that had gone before. The Futurists emphasized and glorified contemporary concepts of the future – speed, technology and industrialisation. They embraced the modern world. F.T. Marinetti published his Manifesto of Futurism in 1909, first in an article in the Italian ‘La Gazetta dell’Emilia’ before it was taken up by the French paper ‘Le Figaro.’ Marinetti wanted no part of the old world and tradition,
“Let’s break out of the horrible shell of wisdom and throw ourselves like pride-ripened fruit into the wide, contorted mouth of the wind! Let’s give ourselves utterly to the Unknown, not in desperation but only to replenish the deep wells of the Absurd!”

There was no artistic programme in the manifesto, just a battle cry against the vanguard, a threat to remove Italy “from its smelly gangrene of professors, archaeologists, tour-guides and antiquarians. […]We mean to free her from the countless museums that cover her like so many graveyards.”

And what has this to do with Florence?

As with the Renaissance of the Middle Ages, Florence was the birthplace of the Futurist movement, and in particular the Piazza della Repubblica, or Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele II as it was then. The cafés  of the piazza hosted meetings between the intellectuals and literati as they drew up their manifestos, published articles, pamphlets and books - Caffé Gilli, Caffé Concerto Pazkowski and Caffé Guibbe Rosse.

The cafés are elegant reminders of a bygone era and you would find it hard to imagine fights breaking out in them (though Caffé Gilli on its website claims none happened within its walls!), but fight the Futurists did. In 1913 a room in the Caffé Guibbe Rosse became the main office of the Lacerba Group of Futurists. The Giubbe Rosse website promotes its part in the movement as a “workshop of ideas, projects and passions.” The presence of the Futurists peeved the Chess Club who also used the café and who protested. A poem was circulated highlighting their concerns:

Giubbe Rosse è quella cosa
che ci vanno i futuristi
se discuton non c'è cristi,
non puoi più giocare a dam...

Giubbe Rosse is the place
Where the futurists go
If they start a discussion it is inevitable
You cannot play chequers anymore..

It was not just the Chess Club who were unimpressed by the Futurists at Giubbe Rosse, and the café is not ashamed to admit that “…pandemonium reigned. Tables were overturned…” when Futurists and members of the Vocianist Group came to physical as well as ideological blows.

The battles are over; Futurism went into decline though its influence can be seen in works of Art Deco, Surrealism and Dada-ism. The cafés are proud of their part in the movement. You don’t need to be able to hold court on the tenets of Futurism to pay a visit, but an appreciation of their contribution is beneficial, when you dine or take coffee there.
Piazza della Repubblica
Picture courtesy of Roland Geider, via Wikipedia and reproduced under GNU Free Documentation License.
  

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