Book Review The Art of Objects: The Birth of Italian Industrial Culture, 1878-1928

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Luca Cottini’s book represents a sizeable contribution to our knowledge and understanding of Italian history in the half-century from 1878 to 1928, a crucial period in Italy’s development as an industrial nation state. Cottini aims to reveal ‘the different and often hidden hermeneutics of Italy’s transition to modernity’ by offering ‘fragmentary symbolic episodes and exemplary cases revealing the interplay of high-, middle- and lowbrow cultures’ (p. 4). This approach enables him to write of cycling, for example, that it both laid ‘the groundwork for the growth of the Italian mechanical industry (in the production of motorcycles, automobiles and aeroplanes)’ and, alongside the development of tourism and sport, supported ‘the industrial bourgeoisie’s project to endow Italy with a shared national imagination’, as literary and fine art representations of bicycles ‘enacted an experimental space of aesthetic negotiation and investigation into industrial modernity, corporeity and the new “moving” dimension of culture’ (p. 75). Turning to smoking, Cottini’s approach allows him to conclude of cigarettes that they assisted in the construction of a ‘new modern being’ via associations with ‘fashion, war, lightness, self-annihilation, pleasure, and thought’ (psychoanalysis) and that their smoke reveals not only ‘Italian fascination for, and resistance to, industrialism’ but also ‘an “unfinished” space of trial, action, fusion of opposites, and self-reflexivity’ forming a ‘new experimental modernity’ (p. 148).
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
JournalModern Italy
Early online date22 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - 22 Apr 2019


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