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Attilio Piccirilli and Italy in 1876

I was browsing the files I recently discovered at the New York Public Library, when this portrait of Attilio Piccirilli from 1876 caught my eye. It was taken at the same time as another one of his father, Giuseppe. I'm curious if there were more portraits like these and they got lost, or if they only took these two during a trip to a local studio in Massa, Carrara, or maybe in nearby Pietrasanta.


Studio Portrait
Attilio Piccirilli, 1976

The year of the photo was a turbulent one for Italy, which had faced many upheavals since the Roman Empire collapsed. Some of the key events that marked that year were:


Attilio Piccirilli and Italy in 1876

In a historic victory, the Historical Left ousted the Historical Right from power for the first time since Italy became a unified nation in 1861. The new Prime Minister, Agostino Depretis, launched a series of reforms to modernize the country, such as giving more people the right to vote, getting rid of the unpopular grist tax, and making the first two years of elementary education compulsory.


The Italian state still faced strong opposition from the Vatican, which refused to recognize its legitimacy and its claim over Rome, the capital city since 1871. Pope Pius IX declared himself a prisoner in his own palace and banned Catholics from getting involved in Italian politics.


The economy relied heavily on farming, especially in the South, where many people lived in poverty and ignorance. The industrial sector was developing slowly and unevenly, mostly in the North, and mainly producing textiles, steel, and railways.


The Italian society was far from being homogeneous and cohesive. There were deep regional, linguistic, cultural, and religious differences that hindered the formation of a national identity. This process was never fully completed and still faces many challenges from local traditions, dialects, and loyalties.


Many Italians decided to leave their homeland in search of a better life. Between 1876 and 1970, about 25 million Italians emigrated to other countries, mostly to the Americas and to a lesser extent to France, England, and other parts of Europe.

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