The Italian painter Mario Sironi and the Great War. An exhibition in Chieti

Mario Sironi (1885 - 1961)
Born in Sassari and grown up in Rome, Mario Sironi is one of the most important artists of the Italian Futurist movement that he joined already in 1914 when he moved to Milan. Before being drawn towards Mussolini’s political movement in the 20s, Sironi took part at the World War I. He enlisted in fact along with several futurists – among other Filippo Tommaso Marinetti or Anselmo Bucci - in the Battalion of Volunteer Cyclists and Drivers, moved then to the Corps of Photoelectrical Engineers. In 1917 he became finally officer and was sent on the eastern front, on the Piave river line. Here, he continued his artistic activity mainly as illustrator for the fortnightly trench newspaper  “Il Montello”.

These – in part less – renowned works of Sironi are at the centre of a new exhibition in Chieti at the historical Palazzo de’ Mayo, which will start on 22nd February and can be visited till end of May 2014. Supported by S.E.T and Fondazione Chieti, the curator Elena Pontiggia gathers more than 50 works of artists such as Balla, Carrà, Léger, Grosz and Dix and tries so to shed light on the dramatic experience of the WWI, on the one hand, and to depict the Italian and European artistic spirit that influenced the key figure of the exhibition, Sironi. For the first time the graphic and pictorial output of the Italian Futurist artist during the time-span 1915-1918 will be analyzed in details, without neglecting some of his most important works of the 1920s.

Further information (only in Italian) here, just click on the link related to the exhibition and download the material:  

Here some interesting examples of Mario Sironi 's work as illustrator of the trench newspaper "Il Montello".)

Luigi Pirandello and his "Berecche and the War"

Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936)

Luigi Pirandello is maybe one of the most renowned and studied Italian writers of the XX Century and we guess everybody can cite at least one of his pieces. Yet we may also suppose that not so many had the chance to read his war novella entitled Berecche and the War (Berecche e la Guerra). To this last we’d like to refer today, providing maybe to our readers a suggestion for an upcoming reading. Pirandello wrote this short novel at different stages, probably between 1914 and 1917, publishing part of it as separate stories and part in another war novels (for example in Frammenti di cronaca di Marco Leccio). He then collected all the materials of Berecche and the War in 1934 for the definitive edition in his Stories for a Year (Novelle per un anno) and organized them into eight chapters. Like Pirandello, Berecche, the main character of the short story, is a non-combatant – born after the wars for the unification of Italy (which ended in 1861) and too old to fight in the WWI – who lives in himself the tensions and violence of the time. He witnesses both the failure of his ideals and myths on the broader political and social context of the European growing tensions and experiences the effects of the conflict in his private life, in his family.

Instead of offer here a summary of the content – spoiling so the surprise of the reading – let’s rather direct our attention to Pirandello’s introductory note, since it presents the – not purely fictional – context of the whole story and gives therefore a key of interpretation. The novella, states its author in the opening pages, was composed “in the months preceding our (i.e. Italy’s) entry into the World War” and describes not only the furious political debate between interventionists and their adversaries, but also and above all the cultural, emotional and psychological collapse of its protagonist, “a studious man educated like so many others at that time in the German fashion, and especially in the disciplines of history and philology”.
Already in the opening scene, when Berecche in a beer-house in Rome listens to and discusses with his fellows, who support Italy’s entry against its former allied the Austrian Hungarian Empire, we are aware that the protagonist symbolizes an identity based on nineteenth-century notions of method, order and discipline, an education model deeply rooted in the German culture which was largely prevailing in the cultural milieu of the Italian bourgeoisie. To quote once again Pirandello’s opening note, for people like Berecche, Germany had “become not just spiritually but also in their thoughts and feelings, as an intimate part of their lives, their ideal native land”. Yet, their spiritual and cultural Heimat was suddenly opposed to the duties toward the natural and political homeland and depicted by 1914 as a leading military and industrial power which endangered the world equilibrium. 

We can suppose that Berecche would have faced this political, social and cultural crisis thanks to his skilled mind and refined culture, maybe he would have even found a personal interior solution to the conflict between his admiration for the German culture and the national loyalty which his friends and then the whole Italian society was claiming. He would probably have found a solution if only this crisis hadn’t upset also his familial and emotional life. His future son-in-law (a native of the Trento region who refused to fight for his nation, the Austrian Empire) and even his only son Faustino (a young student excited also by the interventionist propaganda) suddenly enlisted in the Legione garibaldina (the “Garibaldi legion”), a group of Italian volunteers – mainly from the left interventionist wing – leaded by some Garibaldi’s grandchildren and that supported the French Army on the western front already in 1914, i.e. before a political decision for the military intervention of Italy was made. 

Berecche and the War provides in this connection not only an analysis of a conflict between the generations (father-son) intensified by the general crisis of that crucial year for Italy’s history, but also the emotional collapse of the protagonist. Overwhelmed by the despair of the women (his wife and his older daughter) and racked by both the remorse – for having been so hard with Faustino and his interventionist ideas – and the dread of losing him under the German fire, Berecche’s previous identity collapses: his principles are suddenly overturned and he proposes in the final chapter to enlist, he too, and fight at his son’s side. And Pirandello does not spare his characteristic humor in depicting the emotional breakdown in the scene of Berecche’s riding school – to get ready for the cavalry action – and his final ruinous fall – a humor which exacerbates the tension and disillusion of the protagonist’s personal crisis.
But we are revealing far too much about this novella, so just read it. Berecche and the war enable you to enjoy fully Pirandello’s narrative genius and at the same time to approach the Great War from another perspective, that from below, from the subjective point of view and the private feelings of an old retired, a non combatant history professor, who far from being an isolate and exotic case represents at least a shade among the countless interior – both emotional and cultural – fronts of conflict that WWI opened in the daily life of the normal people. 

Why Centenary?

The recent announcement of National Archives about the possibility of having more than 1.2 million pages of 300,000 digitised diaries available represents a good news and something frightening at the same time. We all have seen that the year 2014 has started with a generalized frantic (sometimes even hysterical) warm-up around the themes of World War One Centenary and in such way we all really run the risk of forgetting why we (have to) remember. In other words, mainly in the politicians’ speeches we are already detecting a strange mixture of arrogance, pride, embarrassment and pointless declarations about the Great War and its legacy. The problems often rise when their declarations take off and land on a political map. Forgetting for a while about numbers and recurrence, all the players now active in the Centenary machine should ask themselves what’s the main goal of such Centenary. This is really a turning point: either we understand it as new knowledge opportunity or we are going to throw away a great one-off (in a lifetime) historical knowledge challenge.

In such very complicated frame, the above mentioned announcement by National Archives is going to put in front of everyone’s eyes a simple matter of fact: there are many opportunities to take advantage of and there are risks we are running as well, if we will not be able to manage the complexity that this anniversary is already unveiling. The overload of initiatives, information and new unbound sources that we will bump into during the next years is something that would need to be managed and supervised. We also know that there are no wise global directors and director’s cuts. If we are not able to do this hard work of selection and mutual understanding and if we’re not even willing to try to tackle its criticalities, it would be better to look to the other side of the Centenary, namely the business and touristic side of this event (something that in all countries is not detachable from the event itself) and consequently to concentrate on this part of the job. There’s nothing wrong in doing this, on the contrary we could succeed in doing something good for this time of doldrums…

A photo reportage about the Great War on the Brenta river valley


    1 View of Col d'Astiago from the Brenta river valley

    2 A passage through the terraced fields and the dry-stone walls

    3 Gallery for artillery fire

    4 View on Valstagna and the valley from the gallery

    5 View on the southern part of the Brenta river valley

    6 Old hut along the mule track of the WWI

    7 Gallery of the Great War

    8 View on the top of the Asiago plateau

What we offer today is a photo reportage related to the itinerary about the Brenta river valley (see here for the complete itinerary). 

Is there a place of the Great War that you photographed and that you would like to share with us? We are open to publish your own photo reportages. Just use the contact form beside to get in touch with us and to receive the image requirements. 
Thank you!

Toys and Great War at the Musée de la Grande Guerre du Pays de Meaux

The Musée de la Grande Guerre du Pays de Meaux has proposed once again an interesting exhibition which just ended on the 5th of January. We are sure that such theme (toys and games) is going to come back in the next years of the Centenary. War & Game(s) – this is the title of the exhibition – was originally presented in Bruxelles (Musée Royal de l’Armée et d’Histoire militaire) in 2011 and is now offered to the public with an enriched version. It collects toys and small playthings of the First World War and places them beside photos of the contemporary artist Virginie Cornet, aiming so to disclose the connection between two worlds which appear at first sight unrelated to each other: toys and war. The visitor discovers in this way how even the childhood was mobilized (we shouldn’t forget that the WWI was really a “global conflict”, involving everybody), on the one hand, and how the border between reality and fiction was manipulated even in the quiet and thoughtless space of children plays.

Arranged in four sections – “the artist’s work”, “playing at war”, “mobilizing the childhood” and “my father, this hero” – the exhibition describes how the child’s and adult’s worlds overlap and create a symbolic space of interconnection. A wide range of puppets – from the more expensive to the cheapest ones – shows how little boys and girls played during the Great War dressing their toys as soldier or as nurse, recreating so the roles of their parents and identifying themselves with the adult’s duties. No surprise, in this connection the educational and recreational importance of playing was often intermingled with propaganda messages and indoctrination purposes (let’s consider for example the attempt to introduce the learning of the alphabet using key-words coming from the war semantic field or to change doll-dresses into uniforms, or even to shape the features of the puppets according to the political and historical protagonists of the time). Beside this social and cultural aspects,  War & Game(s) does not neglect the more intimate significance of playing and considers also the relationship between fathers, fighting in the trenches, and their children. These latter may have elaborated the dramatic situation using their toys, giving significance to it by moving little tin soldiers on the playground and figuring out why their fathers were far away. On the other hand, a collection of toys put together by the soldiers during the pauses in the trenches or in the backlines using waste matter of the war (scrap metal, pieces of exploded grenade, etc.) and sent then back home, testifies how they tried to cooperate in educating their children and to mitigate their absence.

Many other aspects of this interesting topic deserve for sure to be investigated and analyzed in more detail, but the exhibition War & Game(s) offers to the visitors a captivating introduction to the same. You can read more here.

Upcoming conference on Sport and First World War in Firenze

One of the most popular images
related to sports and WW1 (IWM)
Several times we pointed out the varied link between Great War and Sport, discussing some of its different meaning or referring to some important athletes-soldiers. Now, a new conference, which has to be hold in Firenze in May 2014 under the title “Lo sport alla Grande Guerra”, aims to shed light on the topic. The organizers – Siss (Italian Society for the Sport History) and Sism (Italian Society of Military History) – wish to focus their attention on the Italian case-study, discussing the metaphoric value of sport as representation of the battlefield and its symbolic significance from the civil to the military perspective, and considering then also the broader European context. You can find below the CfP with some suggested topics which could fit the main interests of the conference, but also other related aspects concerning the connection of Sport and Great War are welcomed. Proposal can be sent till mid January 2014. Further information also here.

“Lo sport alla Grande Guerra" - Convegno di studi Siss-Sism – Firenze, May 2014

Siss (Società Italiana di Storia dello Sport) and Sism (Società Italiana di Storia Militare) propose a meeting to study the role of sport in the European culture during the First World War when sport found a major advantage for its change and growth. The Conference will be hosted in Florence in May 2014 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War.
The aim of the conference is to share the deep relevance that sport had with the industrial revolution and the development of Italian society through its social and political metamorphosis. Just think of the growing interesting of Catholics and Socialists, who measure themselves against emerging sport, and even the obvious link with Gabriele D’Annunzio and the competitive spirit of his undertakings.
Sport by definition and origin seems to be the most appropriate instrument to deal with this important historical topic from the point of view of war and its effects, to hand on the great value of peace, as the Organizing Committee, created for the recurrence of this centenary, underscores
Furthermore internationalism is another of the fundamental features of sport, that gradually lead Italy, from a provincial reality to be in touch with belligerent and allied nations. Many heroes of the Great War were athletes who became soldiers. From a civil competitive spirit to barbarism of the fight, where boldness and athletic training were undoubtedly of great importance, thus a change of course happened as regards as to Ellias and Dunning’s interpretation (1986) of the sports field like metaphor of the battlefield. Sportsmen’s blood spilled during the First World War seems to demonstrate the opposite view, as if that sportsman was a “man of war, not only for physical preparedness, but also for the intense pleasure of the fight, that always makes a hero of him” (S. Giuntini, Lo sport e la Grande Guerra, SME 2000)

The Conference will be divided into four section, one of which for those 35 years old and under will deal with posters. The best poster will be awarded a prize.

Topics and suggestions:
1. Sporting events at the root of the Italian army’s evolution
2. From soldier-gymnast to soldier-athlete
3- Sports as heroism “who can deny that today la Gazzetta dello Sport is more useful to the Italians than ten cultural magazines […]?” (F.T. Marinetti 1915, Zanetti Lorenzetti s.d.)
4. Toward a European sporting identity

Deadline date:
The deadline for applications is 15 January 2014. In the application please include the following documents, all compiled to one attachment,and email it to
1. a brief cover letter with a short description of yourself
2. a CV
3. abstracts should not exceed one page
For more information, contact : Angela Teja (, mobile phone: 3491324919) and Virgilio Ilari ( They will be happy to respond to anyone's questions.

The poets and the World War: "The Silent One" by Ivor Gurney

Ivor Gurney (1890-1937)
Ivor Gurney is one of the rare figures to join a work of poetry and a work of music. We should keep this in mind while reading today his books and the wonderful poem we selected (see where he writes "And thought of music" in the poem). The Silent One can be considered today the Great War in compendium: the difference between being dead or still alive, the scourge of war, the trap of overwhelming barbed wires, the feeling between comrades and the relation between different levels of the army, the nightmarish journeys through the no man's land, the contrast between friendly tones and the "finicking accent" of orders, the torment of recalling a familiar voice ("Bucks accent") now silenced forever, the alternation between dialogues and the whizz of weapons, the contrast between past memories and future possibilities in the bleak present of the fight. Beside all these things (and beside all the things that each reader can find in such short and rich poem) there's one extra important thing that could be pointed out: we could call it proprioception in poetry, the great awareness of the body's position often recalled in writing. Similar to what we experienced in the poem by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson we posted here a few months ago, what emerges from a comprehensive analysis of the Great War poets is the new entry of proprioception in the verses. It's not only an English thing, we can find this in the Italian poets or in the French ones. It's not the first time that poetry discovers the centrality of body and proprioception (think about Dante in the Divine Comedy). But a global rethinking of the First World War poetry is today allowed thanks to this new category and is probably sorely needed, maybe under a comparative umbrella. Try to recall the war poems you know. Maybe an idea for a conference and a call for papers...


Who died on the wires, and hung there, one of two–
Who for his hours of life had chattered through
Infinite lovely chatter of Bucks accent:
Yet faced unbroken wires; stepped over, and went
A noble fool, faithful to his stripes– and ended.
But I weak, hungry, and willing only for the chance
Of line– to fight in the line, lay down under unbroken
Wires, and saw the flashes and kept unshaken,
Till the politest voice– a finicking accent, said:
‘Do you think you might crawl through there: there’s a hole.’
Darkness shot at: I smiled, as politely replied–
‘I’m afraid not, Sir.’ There was no hole no way to be seen,
Nothing but chance of death, after tearing of clothes.
Kept flat, and watched the darkness, hearing bullets whizzing–
And thought of music– and swore deep heart’s deep oaths
(Polite to God) and retreated and came on again,
Again retreated– and a second time faced the screen.

(From Collected Poems by Ivor Gurney)

Here is the link to the poem's manuscript in "The First World War Poetry Digital Archive" of the University of Oxford, an essential source for all people studying and reading the "war poetry".