novecentoBeing the nearest city to Benito Mussolini’s birthplace in Predappio, Forlì in Emilia-Romagna has the dubious honour of being forever guilty by association with the infamous Fascist dictator.

This makes it a fitting location for an exhibition of art and life in Italy between the world wars.

Novecento (the 1900s) in the elegant San Domenico gallery, is a comprehensive journey back to a period of time from 1918 up to 1943, the year of Mussolini’s death.

The spectre of Mussolini dominates the exhibition in Forlì.

A reminder of the town’s past is on the stand near the ticket office. A leaflet, translated into English, invites visitors to explore the ‘Routes of modern architecture in the Fascist era Forlì’.

The political aberrations of Il Duce’s reign are most evident in the first rooms. It shows how the artistic movements of Futurism and Cubism and the propaganda of the times were eerily in synch with one another.

You sense the pride and spirit of optimism in works that celebrate a heightened sense of nationalism.

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A more sedate image from the Fascist era : Felice Casorati’s ‘Ragazza in Colina’ (1929)

With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to reflect how quickly such triumphalism can lead to the political aberration of totalitarianism.

The ambitious exhibition seeks to show how all aspects of life were touched by the ideology of this era with a comprehensive display of paintings, sculptures, architecture and fashions. The highlights for me were works by Felice Casorati, Giorgio de Chirico and Mario Sironi.

The aim here is focused on culture rather than politics but since creative expression never occurs in a vacuum you can’t view the works without reflecting on the oppressive system the artists lived under.

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