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Fanciullo del Piave

Updated: Oct 21, 2023


Piccirilli, Bacon, and Mussolini
Spirit of Youth | Photo by Eduardo Montes-Bradley

On February 14, 1936, “The Sculptor of the Immigrants” by Onorio Ruotolo appeared in the short-lived weekly La Settimana. Ruotolo was co-founder with Attilio Piccirilli of the Leonardo DaVinci Art School and a close friend. The lengthy article speaks of “The Spirit of Youth”, one of Atillio Piccirilli’s must significant works of art, a marble sculpture, a male nude representing the future of Italy. Just like the James Monroe that was to remain in the Bronx for years until moved to Highland, former home of Monroe in Virginia, “The Spirit of Youth” will never make it to Rome as intended and today I was able to photograph it where the Spirit of Youth as been quietly waiting since 1939 to be reveal as one of Piccirilli’s finest.


Fanciullo del Piave


In 1922, as part of the Italian celebrations of the 600th birthday of Dante Alighieri, Henry Bacon and Attilio Piccirilli went to Rome and were received by Benito Mussolini. Following the reception, the Italian government announced that “Fanciullo del Piave”, memorializing the sacrifice of Italians who had fought the decisive victory on the Piave during the Great War, was to be erected in Rome. The architect of the monument was going to be Bacon, and the sculptor was going to be Attilio Piccirilli. Bacon and Piccirilli knew each other very well and had previously worked together on many occasions. However, this was going to be a unique opportunity. On one hand, Bacon was an admirer of Roman architecture of Mussolini; on the other hand, Piccirilli was given an opportunity to erect a monument in Rome, the city of his paternal ancestors and where he, just like his brother Furio and his father before him, had attended the Accademia di Belli Arti. Mussolini had a lot to gain by recognizing the American architect and the long-lost Italian son who was now an American citizen living in New York. Il Duce was delighted and perfectly understood the political significance of the gift. A young boy, fresh, heroic and nude, Mussolini "saw the future Balilla of his reborn Italy”. The quoted words belong to sculptor Onorio Ruotolo who wrote about the episode in December of 1936 in the short-lived weekly La Settimana. Ruotolo, who was a close friend and colleague of Piccirilli quoted Mussolini saying “Bring me this monument immediately; we will raise it on the Pincio!” adding that Mussolini expressed his will "while the fire of his passion flashed from his coruscating gaze.” In 1921, Americans and Italian-Americans were experiencing a peculiar fervor for the figure of the Italian leader that was capturing the heart of Europe.


Fanciullo del Piave at Virginia Military Institute

After the celebrations in Rome, Bacon and Piccirilli, both of the same age, sailed back to America as Il Duce continued his march towards the Fascist consolidation of absolute power.


The reason why the statue “Fanciullo del Piave” was never delivered to Rome is not clear. According to Onorio Ruotolo, the monument was incomplete because Bacon died in 1924 and he held the key to Rome and Mussolini. Piccirilli and the statue alone would not justify the magnitude of the inaugural event that Mussolini had in mind. Whatever the reason was, the “Fanciullo del Piave”, a beautiful nude figure of the young man representing the future Balilla, was to remain in The Piccirilli Studio in the Bronx until 1939 when Anne Cocke, the wife of VMI’s 4th Superintendent, William H. Cocke purchased it and gifted it to the Virginia Military Institute to honor her late husband. The statue has since been renamed and is known today as “Spirit of Youth”, one of many sculptures embellishing the grounds of the military academy.



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A proposito del Fanciullo del Piave che hai bene descritto. Mussolini cambiò idea e abbandonò il progetto di Becon e Piccirilli per un motivo di pura propaganda del regime. Pensò di realizzare dei cimiteri grandiosi detti sacrari per accogliere le spoglie dei soldati caduti. Il sacrario monumentale poteva essere un luogo di culto per le commemorazioni che esaltassero il valore militare della guerra, l' eroismo, il sacrificio, la morte in battaglia, la vittoria sacra sul nemico. Valori che il regime fascista, consolidato negli anni, voleva trasmettere nel mito della grandezza e della conquista, sempre più sottomesso al regime nazista. Nel 1938 inaugura Redipuglia su un colle nel paesaggio naturale storico della guerra. L' architettura è un' enorme scalinata che accoglie…

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Eduardo Montes-Bradley
Eduardo Montes-Bradley
20 de out. de 2023
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Come sempre, commento brillante Carmen. Grazie mille per le informazioni dettagliate.

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