- The Renaissance Perfected: Architecture, Spectacle, and Tourism in Fascist Italy
Lasansky's book on the Renaissance and Fascism began as a meditation on tourism as an agent of change with specific reference to the reshaping of contemporary Florence under the influence of "heritage tourism." The reordering of Florence's historic center to better reflect the expectations of today's visitors [End Page 156] (especially foreign visitors) when confronting the "authentic" Renaissance, has put the author in mind of earlier efforts to restructure and reappropriate the city's past. While for Lasansky, Florence's Renaissance center has been exploited almost from its inception by those wishing to trade on Florence's cultural capital for stark political ends, this kind of trafficking in Florence's rich history reached its peak in the 1920s and '30s under Mussolini and the Fascist regime. Lasansky has fused these various interests — tourism, the civic architecture and public spaces of Florence, the idea of the Renaissance, and Italian Fascism — into a work of considerable ambition and obvious scope.
The title of Lasansky's book appears to have a double meaning. Its first sense underscores her belief that under Fascism a kind of consensus formed, especially among the era's more prominent scholars, about the meaning and place of the Renaissance in Italian national history. According to this line of thought, Fascism was able, where the previous parliamentary regime had not been, to impose some order on the various strains of interpretation of the Renaissance emanating from the nineteenth century. According to Lasansky, what emerged was not necessarily new, but rather was a familiar idea (more or less Burckhardtian) about the period given a heightened sense of urgency in Fascism's attempt to salvage the Risorgimento's stalled project of nation building, as well as a greater commitment to reclaim or restore the physical remains such as buildings and public spaces, of Italy's pre-modern past. In its second sense, The Renaissance Perfected refers to the success of this commitment, at whatever cost to historical authenticity, in presenting to the regime's mass constituency an idealized — heroic and hyper-patriotic — view of the Renaissance.
Lasansky's is the most recent in a line a fairly smart books on the reception of the Renaissance in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Renaissance Perfected recalls Marla Stone's important work, The Patron State, to which it is in a number of ways quite indebted, but brings a focus still somewhat new in Renaissance studies. Where fields such as American Studies, for example, have for some time been quite at home considering the relationship of high to popular culture, the field of Renaissance studies, Lasansky and a few others excepted, has not. One hopes that Lasansky's book stimulates further interest in this fascinating and quite important subset of the reception of the Renaissance in recent times.
As worthy as Lasansky's book is, it is not without its limitations. As Lasansky's real interests lie elsewhere, her treatment both of Renaissance historiography and the intellectual and cultural history of Fascism are at times a bit thin. Most questionable may be her contention that Fascist-era scholarship offered nothing new, only the completion, or perfection, of previous views of the Renaissance. Something quite different may, in fact, be truer: that postwar Renaissance historiography was (and remains) much more beholden to the quite original work of Italian and émigré scholars working under and for the regime than we have until now been uncomfortable admitting.