Lucio Fontana, Vittoria (1936)
Vittoria is a massive plaster monument (around 5 metres high), which was located in the Salone d’Onore of the 6th Milan Triennial, in 1936. The room was then renamed Sala della Vittoria, after the name of the statue. In a total-white space, stood a powerful symbol: a woman, representing the victory, guiding a pair of rampant horses on a socle decorated with the inscription 'The Italian people created the empire with their blood, will fertilize it with their work and defend it against everyone with their weapons. Mussolini' ('il popolo italiano ha creato col suo sangue l’impero, lo feconderà col suo lavoro e lo difenderà contro chiunque con le armi. Mussolini'). The room was conceived this way after the brutal conquest of Ethiopia and after the foundation of the colonial empire. Being a temporary work, it was destroyed right after the VI Triennale.
The ‘arte di Stato’: Modernity and Modernization
The Boundaries of Realism: Constructing Collective Subjectivities
After winning a public competition, Lucio Fontana – with the help of the architect Giancarlo Palanti and of the painter Marcello Nizzoli – is in charge of the setting up of the Salone d’Onore, then Sala della Vittoria, during the VI Triennale di Milano (1936). If compared with other thematically similar representations (like Martini's Vittoria, for example, Fontana’s victory is different for many reasons. First, it is a plaster monument with a metallic scaffold: materials generally used just for preparatory studies and models. Secondly, it is an environmental installation more than a simple group of statues, embodying the principle of the 'arte totale'. Moreover, it immediately follows a significant episode of the ‘fascist path’: the conquest of Ethiopia and the foundation of the fascist empire in Africa ("Africa Orientale Italiana", AOI), occurred in May 1936. In this way, Vittoria seems a commemoration of the military and political facts promoted by the PNF: a modern and concrete version of the ancient Roman triumphi, the celebration of fascism after a significant military victory.
From another perspective, this monument can be considered as the counterpart of Pablo Picasso’s Guernica (1937): instead of denouncing the violent injustices to the detriment of the African populations, colonized and manhandled, it glorifies the military power and the territorial occupation of Africa. It is then an artistic allegory, where the Victory is a realistic portrait of a standing woman guiding a couple of rampant horses, becoming a collective message both for the cultural elite of the society and for the visitors of the Triennale. Fontana’s Vittoria is the perfect example of the 'arte di stato'since it represents something official and captivating – the celebration of the fascist power –, being part of an environmental installation specifically conceived for that room and that occasion. The sculptural triptych is in fact located within a huge, rationalist environment, where everything is geometric, simple and a-chromatically white. 'The light was […] diffused, emerging from behind long vertical panels (or diaphragms) lining the walls in a double row. It was bright, however, using large numbers of high wattage bulbs [almost 150] that left the viewers blinking' (Curtis 2008, 33). The result is a bright and monochromatic volume, with the exception of the entrance, where Nizzoli, represents a vertical sequence of five Roman condottieri’s portraits in black and white concrete inlay.
The white on white environment celebrates a symbol on the edge between the natural and the supernatural dimension tending towards abstraction and anticipating interesting experimentations, such as Le Vide of Yves Klein (1958). This syncretism, already evoked within the programme of the VI Triennale di Milano (Papini 1936), is yet developed in contradictory terms, because it is modernity strongly recalling the Italian tradition, a present moment erasing the past and forging a glorious future. In other words, it is politics expressed in an artistic language (aesthetically, materially and iconographically), rational environmentalism at the service of the State. It is something ephemeral attempting to become immortal, like a national mausoleum: Vittoria was actually destroyed right after the end of the Triennale, in a crucial moment for Fontana, ten years before the Manifiesto Blanco (1946).
Papini, Roberto. 1936. 'Le arti a Milano nel 1936.' Emporium a. XLII, vol. LXXXIV (500): 64-115
Crispolti, Enrico. 2006. Lucio Fontana. Milan: Skira.
Curtis, Penelope. 2008. Patio and Pavilion: The Place of Sculpture in Modern Architecture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.