Italy found herself in the most unfavourable conditions to prepare for the great international competition of 1867. During the first years of its new existence, a foreign army encamped in Veneto, and the difficulties caused by the sudden changes in the Peninsula, had not left it with the security indispensable for the development of industry and enterprise; and in 1866, at the last moments, the war held the country's destiny in abeyance. If, therefore, despite some shortcomings, the Italian Exhibition is remarkable, it is undoubtedly due to the vitality of the race, to the prodigious wealth of a land favoured above all others, and to that creative faculty which seems to be a particular gift of its inhabitants. In no country is the link between art and industry, the fusion of these two elements and the tendency of the worker to raise and ennoble matter, so marked; and, after having admired the statues filling the great gallery which separates the Palais du. After admiring the statues that fill the great gallery separating the Kingdom of Italy from the Empire of Russia, after passing through the elegant porticoes designed by the architect Cipolla and covered with arabesques and graceful ornaments by the Roman painter Samodjia, you will understand, as you pass through the halls and see the individual effort shown in each product, the future that awaits Italy, when the collective action it still lacks and the unity of impulse will be given to it entirely.
The present generation, whose twenties are beginning to claim their share of active life, and whose habits do not tie them to the old state of things, is destined to complete the work of national unity, at the very moment when the piercing of the Suez Isthmus brings back to the ports of Italy the commercial movement of Asia which once enriched it. There is, however, a long way to go from the present situation to that which existed in 1859, and from the 1472 kilometres of railways, almost all concentrated in the north, to the 4840 kilometres which now radiate outwards and link the most distant parts to a common centre. 13,986 kilometres of telegraph wires are at the service of commerce, and the ceaseless flow of electricity, transmitting from one end of the Peninsula to the other movement and life, will soon complete the transformation so happily begun, all the elements of which are to be found together at the Exhibition Palace. The arts, industry and the earth show their splendour and wealth there in turn.
In the first gallery, Vela's Last Days of Napoleon I, which attracts and holds the crowd, Dupré's admirable Piety, Miglioretti's Charlotte Corday and the Neapolitan Kid, Barzachi's Phryne, Pierre Magni's Reader, Lazzerini's Innocence, Tabacchi's Ugo Foscolo, The Vanity of Tantardini, and so many others, which should be mentioned in this collection of works of rare merit, worthily uphold the ancient fame of Italian sculpture, and one finds it difficult to leave this beautiful spectacle to seek out the hard work of industry and, to pass, without transition, from the anatomical preparations of Dr. Brunetti, professor at the University of Padua, - true masterpieces which have earned him, if we are to believe the indiscretions of the grand jury, a great prize, but which are no less for the profane than for those who are not consumed by the sacred fire of science, to the graceful and elegant jewels of Castellani, or to the cellular magnaneries of Dr. del Prino, who contains these poor worms and raises them in isolation to the great advantage, it seems, of silk production.
Printing and bookselling are in the forefront of the liberal arts, and although Italian printers are far from the fame of their predecessors and no longer undertake those great and beautiful publications, which in the fifteenth century made the name of the Venetian Helpers illustrious among all, the name of the Helpers of Venice, there are in Italy not less than six hundred typographers, employing from eight to ten thousand workers, and having together more than two thousand presses from which a great number of editions of good authors have come out, very correct and remarkable for the extreme modesty of their prices. The Monnier of Florence presents several remarkable copies, and the publisher Edouard Sonzogno of Milan, exhibits specimens of some of the illustrated newspapers he publishes. Next door, the Mechitarist Fathers of St. Lazarus in Venice show us the Armenian translation of the Emperor's life of Julius Caesar. The printing is beautiful and worthy of this renowned establishment. The parchments of Foligno, Arpino and Salmona in the ancient kingdom of Naples, which are almost all sold in Rome, form a singular contrast with the endless papers of modern factories; but as long as Rome is the sovereign city of Catholicism, Foligno and Salmona will see the sale of their products maintained, for in the eternal city traditions are preserved unchanged.
Some parts of Italy, and sometimes the wildest, have remained faithful to certain industries; and the harmonic strings, the manufacture of which was introduced into France, about 1766 by a Neapolitan workman named Savarese, are still the heritage of the villages of Abruzzi. Bologna and Venice still make masks of a thousand different shapes that are exported all over the world. Florence has kept the deserved reputation earned by the skill of its wood carvers and the talent with which workers, or rather true artists, execute these mosaics in hard stone which form admirable paintings. The Last Supper of Emmaus, sent by the royal factory, and the tables and other works of Bosi, give interesting models of these products, worthy in every respect of the work done in the sixteenth century under Grand Duke Ferdinand I. - The carved frames by Giusli, Aegisto Gaiani and Diotisalvi Dolce should be viewed with care. The same room contains furniture in ivory and ebony of great effect, such as that of Louis Antoni and Jean Brambilla, from Milan, and Luigi Annoni. The carved wooden sideboard by Nicodemus Ferri and Charles Bartolozzi, from Siena, deserves special mention, as does the ivory reproduction of the Fountain of Jaia, by Giusti, and the Triumph of Themis, an ivory bas-relief by Gaetano Scotti.
Let's talk about the filigree goldsmith's art of Emile Forte. Everyone who has passed through Genoa has been tempted by the Rue des Orfèvres, and now the most graceful models of this gold and silver foam are coming to seduce and provoke the desire of buyers. Fortunately, at the Palais de l'Exposition, temptation fights temptation, for there is no lack of it; one even meets the most ruinous of all, the one that reason invokes, the temptation of the cheap, and would you not feel it, when you see these straw gloves from the factory in Naples at fourteen francs a dozen in lambskin, and at seventeen francs in kid? The hats made from this Tuscan straw, famous among all the straws in the world, are nearby, and when you see these pieces so fine you cannot believe that they have come from the fingers of a peasant woman who has woven them with the March wheat sown on purpose. Before the wheat is ripe, the straw has been cut and then left for a few days exposed to the dew in order to whiten it, then it is put into sheaves; the ears are removed, the strands are matched by means of a very ingenious machine, and soon it is transformed into these fabrics (for it is difficult to use any other expression) which reach, according to the degree of fineness, very high prices.
As for the products of the Marquis Ginori's factory, one of the glories of Tuscany, the beauty of the work justifies the praise they receive. The boxes with figures in relief, imitation of the famous factory of Capo-di-Monte in Naples, the large bas-reliefs, the copy of the ancient faiences of Faenza and Urbino, have renewed these manufactures and proved, like the mosaics and the Venetian glasses of the Salviati knight, placed in the same room, that an energetic will supported by science and by taste, manages to overcome all difficulties.
Venice owes to the knight Salviati the rebirth of one of its most justly famous industries. The manufacture of pearls, which were exported to Africa and the Indies, had always been preserved, but that of blown glass and mosaics had disappeared. Seeing these chandeliers, these girandoles, the glasses and the cups of a thousand shapes of an airy lightness, made only two months ago, who would not take them for those pieces taken from an old collection that amateurs fight for at a high price. In addition to all their beauty, they have the rare merit of being modestly priced and within everyone's reach.
I wish I could say the same about the jewellery exhibited by the famous goldsmith Castellani. There are necklaces and earrings, bracelets and rings, tiaras, of the purest style and an elegance that nothing can equal, but, alas! the price he attaches to all the objects that come out of his hands is so great, that only the richest can afford this almost royal luxury. Alongside these splendours, Italy has wished to prove the extent to which taste has been preserved in her countryside, and she exhibits the silver and gold ornaments which the peasant women of the various provinces still wear. - They are there, those silver balls and pins which shine like stars in the black hair of the women of the vicinity of Verceil and Novara, the large gold necklaces of the Roman countryside, the large earrings which accompany so well the brightly coloured costume of that superb race of women who are to be found in the Marche, in the vicinity of Loreto. Each of these jewels of the peasant woman could serve as the subject of a long story, for most of these women are beautiful and each of these races has a physiognomy which is quite particular to it. - It is a happy idea to have brought together this curious ensemble, and the public proves it by always crowding to this showcase, while it neglects other objects of greater price, but which are far from having the same character.
The streams of silk in the same room, the white and the yellow, golden like ripe wheat, also attract them. Accustomed to seeing the fabric woven and ready to be transformed into a garment of a thousand colours, according to the shade with which it has pleased the manufacturer to clothe it, the women of the North remain astonished and surprised in front of these threads with their brilliant reflections, so supple and so strong, which are in themselves an elegance. Before the disease which has been raging for several years among silkworms, their harvest was a real manna for the whole country. In a fortnight, without changing the other products of the land, silkworm rearing brought in more than two hundred million for the peasants and landlords who generally shared the product. - Since the disease, the harvest has fallen to eighty millions; but the mulberry trees are still numerous, and, as last year the native breeds succeeded better than the seeds of foreign importation, it is hoped to see the disease disappear within a few years, and this production, the most fruitful for the country, resume its original activity. It is to Roger, King of Sicily, that Italy owes the introduction of silkworms in 140. After the conquest of Athens, he brought to Sicily from Greece, where the art of rearing silkworms, brought from China, had been introduced under Justinian, around the year 525 A.D., and had been preserved as a secret for seven centuries, seeds of silkworms and a few hundred workers from Pagan; they soon passed to Calabria and to several Italian cities. In 1400 Florence had large silk factories, and soon Europe was dependent on Italy. Her factories have since had to give up the struggle with the factories of France, Switzerland, Germany, and England; but she now prepares the greater part of the silks which she formerly shipped in the raw state, and the local industry derives great benefit from them. - Cotton has also been in recent years the source of a very considerable movement of business in the southern provinces, amounting to over sixty millions annually.
The subterranean products, those of the interior of the soil, are no less important for Italy than the fruits of the earth: In some provinces the breeding of cattle and pigs, whose quality is equal to that of the most renowned breeds, provides for local consumption and for export those famous cured meats Coppe or Capocolli (selected parts of the shoulder or thigh), sausages from Milan, Florence, Verona and Ferrara, Mortadella from Bologna, Coteghini, Zamponi, Cappelletti from Modena, so sought after by gourmets. - As they have been more neglected up to now, the results will be all the more considerable, and on many points will provoke profound changes. There are buried treasures in the Apennines and in southern Italy, which await only arms and capital to become a new source of wealth. Some of these mines have already been exploited. The sulphur of Romagna and Sicily, the copper, lignite and soffioni (bellows) of Tuscany, whose volcanic vapours produce the boric acid so much sought after by commerce, the peat which, treated by a process of compression and drying, is already replacing, in many industries, the very expensive English coal; The marbles, whose beauty and infinite variety are now in demand all over Europe, and which benefit from the ease of the present modes of transport; the iron mines of Sardinia and Elba; the silver lead; the cast iron and irons so remarkable in Lombardy; the oil which is beginning to be exploited in the vicinity of Parma and in the Abruzzi, near Chieti, from which a very active and intelligent industrialist, M. Ribighini, has already succeeded in exploiting it. Ribighini, who has already succeeded in extracting excellent products, are represented in the machine gallery by samples which should be a subject of study for scientists, economists and businessmen, who, from different points of view, can draw valuable lessons from them. The results of their examination will not be in doubt, for the Italian soil contains all the riches that work and willpower can wrest from it.
One cannot leave Italy without mentioning the gigantic hemp plants of the Romagna region, sometimes five metres high; the cheeses of Lombardy and the oils whose trade is so considerable in the southern provinces and in the Genoa river. Milan, Lodi, Pavia, Cremona, Mantua, exchange nearly seventy-five million francs in butter and cheese, the most famous of which, without doubt, Parmesan, known throughout the world, is made only in the part of the territory subject to irrigation.
When better manufacturing processes have made the excellent wines of Piedmont and the light vintages of the Romagna region transportable, where in certain years a litre of wine, produced by the great vines which run and entwine themselves along the trees placed at the edge of each field, sells for barely two sous, Northern Italy will see its vineyards, like Sicily, become the object of considerable export to foreign countries. - Finally, Italy has a coastline larger than England itself, and a population of 16,000 fishermen who engage in small-scale fishing with 9,522 boats of 29,976 tons. When, in addition, a fleet is sent out to search for coral every year, with profits amounting to nearly nine million francs, one has the right to consider the sea as a heritage that should give children the same resources that it provided for their fathers.
The success of Italy at the Palace of the Universal Exhibition is very remarkable, and we must congratulate Mr. Giordano, who was in charge of the thousand details of such a complex organization, for having been able to carry out his delicate and difficult mission. Little by little, doubts are dissipating, and every day we see the immense resources of a privileged land, which has received from Providence water and sunshine, the two great elements of prosperity, and we appreciate more fairly the important role that the future holds for it.
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée