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The Florentine serata. Teatro Verdi, 12.12. 1913

(by Ann-Katrin Günzel)

The serate futuriste started from 1910 onwards as a propaganda campaign for the Futurist movement. They implied the declamation/recitation of poetry as well as the political and ideological concepts of the Futurists and were later increasingly complemented by the presentation of artistic ideas and innovations in the fields of architecture, painting, music and dance.

By 1913 the Futurists had already staged a consistent number of provocative and (as a result (?) even spectacular serate in the theaters of Italy and even though the audience should have known what to expect, the end of that year brought about a performance in Florence’s Teatro Verdi, which, due to the turmoil/uproar it caused, made history as the „Battaglia di Firenze“. Judging from contemporary accounts, between 2.000 and 7.000 visitors had been penned up in the theater hall and the mere appearance of the Futurists on stage around 9:30 pm was enough to make an „inferno“ break loose, as the painter Ardengo Suffici put it.[1]

The theater had been chosen explicitely as a location of passive cultural consumption on the part of the conservative well-educated middle classes. The aim was to clamourously shatter this, as it was then coined, „passatist“ (that is, obsolete) consensus, the theater being thus used as and turned into a reformed public space of communication.[2] The specific futurist form of direct communication substituted the conventional means of artistic expression by methodically and formaly replacing the latter with dynamic and aggressive movement. Marinetti described his new strategy with these words: „Scendere nelle vie, dar l’assalto ai teatri e indurre il pugno nella lotta artistica“[3] „Go out in the streets, attack the theaters, introduce the fist into artistic contest“.

The program of the Florentine serata was similar to the preceeding performances, as the Futurists presented their political and artistic concepts, followed by the loose verses of futurist poetry. Subsequently, however, the Florentine poet Giovanni Papini read his manifest Contro Firenze passatista, declaring Florence „the least futurist city of the world“.[4] Furthermore, he called his native city one of the most worm-eaten tombs of art (une delle tombe più verminose dell’arte) and challenged the Florentines to stop being a huge museum for Tourists and instead live for the present and future. They should enlarge the narrow streets and ditch/throw the „passatists“ and Dantists into the river Arno, as to finally turn the museum-like, medieval Florence into a modern, european city. Yet, to attain this goal they would have to take courage and discard their pretended glorious heritage, which in Papini’s eyes, was a lethal burden, corrupting the souls and weighing down on the shoulders.[5] The new wind of Futurism would come as an energetic and disinfecting necessity to such a city, which, oozing, sick and mouldy with „passatism“, can only then realize, that the year 1913 has arrived. Declaring war to the audience by proclaimed disdain, the Futurists tended at the same time to provoke active response. And Papini’s speech indeed raised a storm of indignation, as the public responded to this defamation of Florence by one of its native sons with complete outrage: They cried and whistled, blowed pipes and horns, roistered with rattles and all objects that were at hand – in part also throwing them, in addition to the already obligatory shower of vegetables, on the stage. In spite of this performance, described by Cangiullo as an almost dantesque event, the program was carried on. Even after Carrà had been hit by a stinking egg during his talk on „pittura de profumi“ („painting with odours“) Soffici went on to supplement his commentaries on the „pittura futurista“ and Boccioni explained the concept of „dinamismo plastico“.[6]

The Florentine serata ended with the police’s appearance on stage, closing down the event. The Futurist thereupon celebrated their victory in the Caffè „Giubbe Rosse“ on Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II (today’s Piazza Repubblica) until the sun rose. Afterwards, however, Marinetti called the Florentine serata with his undamped turmoil as „bestiale e dannosa sotto tutti i punti di vista“ („bestial and damaging in all respects“) and refused to arrange another serata in the city.[7] The Florentine poet Alberto Viviani, who had attended the show, described the audience as consiting of people from the whole middle classes: students, aristocrats known and unnknown, policemen and a great amount of vulgar people, as well as the scum of the city.[8] But respected people had been spotted as well, among them the poets Aldo Palazeschi and Theodor Däubler, the editors Ferrante Gonnelli and Attilio Vallecchi, furthermore the writers and philosophers Arrigo Levasti and Arturo Reghini with a score of benevolent admirers of the futurist movement.

Not many and partially contradictory accounts of the Florentine serata have been published in the press. The simple fact, that on the very same evening Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, stolen from the Louvre a few years before, had been discovered in an art dealers shop on Borgo Ognissanti, made this „passatist“ painting – of all things – the headline of next day’s local newspapers.[9] The futurist journal Lacerba gave a resoconto sintetico of the event on december, 15th, describing two opposing groups of combattants: On the one side the Futurists with their weapons courage, impertinence, new ideas and innovative poetry, on the other side around 5.000 enemies with potatoes, carots, onions and apples, electric torches, trumpets and car-horns. While according to Lacerba the Futurists brought home a „grande gioia“, their enemies only gained fatigue, hoarseness, expenses and at the end a great getaway.[10]

The serate had been consciously modelled as scandals, as the uproar confirmed the effectiveness of the previous provocation. The notice of the press/media (?) and therefore a wide range of attention was (almost) guaranteed. The shock was a means of mobilisation. The serate had become a new form of artistic message, a means of aesthetic appeal (Wirkungsästhetik), to further the breakthrough of futurist ideas. As the Futurists did not just read or recite their manifestos as mere text/literary contributions, but instead freely acted their words out on stage to provoke reactions, the started a form of performance-art, consisting of real, spontaneous action and the interaction of the audience – the genre of arte-azione, as Marinetti termed it.[11]


[1]  Il caffè fiorentino dei futuristi negli anni incendiari 1913-1915, Florence 1983, p. 66 says, that a deafening/bestial and terrifying uproar/turmoil started as soon as the curtain had been raised to show the Futurists on stage. La nazione (Firenze 13.12.1913) counted 2.000 visitors, the Futurists themselves increase the number to 5.000, cf. Lacerba (“Grande serata futurista” 15.12.1913) and Cangiullo, F.: Le serate futuriste, 1960, p. 102, whereas the Corriere della sera („Serata di baccano a Firenze“, 13.12.1913) of the following day mentions as many as 7.000: In alcuni palchi avevano preso posto più di venti persone (ibid.). As the archive of the Teatro Verdi has been destroyed during the inundation of the Arno in 1966 there are no direct records of this institution.

[2] Cf. also La voluttà d’essere fischiati (1911).

[3] F.T. Marinetti: Guerra sola igiene del mondo (1915). Prime battaglie futuriste, in: Luciano de Maria (ed.): Teoria e invenzione futurista, Milan 1968, p. 201.

[4] M. Drudi Gambrillo and T. Fiori (ed.): Archivi del Futurismo, Vol. 1, Rome 1958, p. 180-183.

[5] Che si abbia il coraggio di rinunziare a quella che ci sembra la nostra gloriosa eredità e invece è il peso morto che ci rovina l’anima e ci piega le spalle. G.Papini: Contro Firenze passatista. Firenze, Teatro Verdi 12.12.1913, in: Lacerba 15.12.1913 and in: Archivi del Futurismo (1958) Florence, p. 180-183.

[6] Däubler, Th.: Im Kampf um die moderne Kunst, Berlin 1919, p. 138.

[7] Marinetti in a letter to Papini, 16.12.1913 (Archivio Papini, Fondazione Primo Conti, Fiesole),in: Bei Berghaus, G.: Italian futurist theatre, Oxford 1998, p. 127.

[8] Viviani, A.: Giubbe rosse. Il caffè fiorentino dei futuristi negli anni incendiari 1913-1915, Florence 1983, p. 66. Viviani makes use of the Tuscan expressions beceri e teppa in gran numero to describe the audience.

[9] La nazione, Firenze 13.12.1913. Here, the acount of the serata is does not appear until page 4.

[10] Lacerba, N. 24, Florence 15.12.1913, front page.

[11] F.T. Marinetti: Guerra sola igiene del mondo (1915). Prime battaglie futuriste, in: Luciano de Maria (ed.): Teoria e invenzione futurista, Milan 1968, p. 201 and Günzel, Ann-Katrin: Eine frühe Aktionskunst: Die Entwicklung der arte-azione im italienischen Futurismus zwischen 1910 und 1922. Ein Vergleich mit Happening und Fluxus, Frankfurt 2006.