Futurism amidst the ruins

One of the many remarkable things about central Rome is its aesthetic consistency. Everything is carefully presented to evoke a sense of fading grandeur. Unlike, say, London, where the hyper-modern arises side-by-side with the ancient, Rome is a vast sepulchre, decaying in the most elegant fashion.

Modern Rome can be found a few metro stops away in the suburbs, but the city centre is a beautifully curated museum Yet there are signs here and there within the centre of visions of a quite different city that could have been. Mussolini’s attempt to impose a Fascist neo-classicism on the city didn’t get too far – fortunately – but he stayed around long enough to make a mark, particularly evident in the Via dei Fori Imperiali highway that bulldozes through part of the Forum, and the imposing Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II.

Please click the thumbnails to see larger versions. These images are also available as a Flickr gallery.

The dictator’s dream of a modern city – though not necessarily his aesthetics – was shared by the Futurists, an avant-garde art movement of the early 20th century whose work exalted technology. As Filippo Tommaso Marinetti put it in the 1909 Futurist Manifesto:

We declare that the magnificence of the world has been enriched with a new beauty: the beauty of speed.

Futurist art celebrated restless movement: crowds, revolutions, construction, workshops, bridges, steamboats, aeroplanes and electric light.

Yesterday I took a tour round Rome’s National Gallery of Modern Art – the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna – which has an impressive collection of Futurist and other early modernist works. Fortunately the museums here don’t seem to have any rules about photos, so here are some images I took while wandering round.

I lost track of who did what about half-way round, so excuse the lack of captions. Suffice to say most of these are Futurist works, with some more recent pieces that seemed to me to be inspired by something of the same spirit.