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Mussolini and the idealisation of Empire: the Augustan Exhibition of Romanità

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The Augustan Exhibition of Romanità, held in Rome's Palazzo delle Esposizioni between 1937 and 1938, exemplifies the aestheticisation, ritualisation and sacralisation of politics during the Fascist era in Italy. This article conducts a multi-layered spatial analysis of the exhibition that considers space as passively experienced, as an agent to re-map memory, as a mediator between intention and reception and as having both physical and mental characteristics. The relative sizes of the spaces, their sequence and their axial placement within the Palazzo's plan were the most powerful forces that conveyed the exhibition's overall political and social aims. The Mostra Augustea della Romanità (MAR) is here analysed as a form of historical representation with a specific narrative which is played out within an orchestrated space in order to create and reinforce a (Fascist) political identity. The idea of Rome took on material aspects through a kind of ‘recognition effect’ for the visitor by presenting Romanità as a collective mirror in which to view an image of their own social visage. Thus an active connection would, according to the organisers, be forged between a Roman past and a Fascist present, and its two leaders and creators, Augustus and Mussolini, as well as between the individual and society. The MAR also demonstrates the prevalence of the cult of Il Duce in Fascist society and its importance for maintaining high levels of consent. With its focus on a particular view of the ancient world, the MAR was an ephemeral event that acted as teleological justification for the advent and supposed permanence of Fascism, which at the same time presented itself as a unique archaeological, scientific and educational document of the Roman world.
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Keywords: Fascism; Mussolini; architecture; exhibitions

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Architecture,Building and Planning, University of Melbourne, Australia

Publication date: 01 August 2011

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