“Born on a train: the impact of Medardo Rosso’s internationalism on his legacy”

“Born on a train: the impact of Medardo Rosso’s internationalism on his legacy”, Sculpture Journal, Volume 27, Issue 1, 2018, pp. 105–116.

The Italian Ministry of Culture has declared several works by Medardo Rosso (1858–1928) to be of ‘national cultural interest’ and therefore not exportable. This decree is based on the premise of Rosso’s ties to Italy, his country of birth and death, and on the Ministry’s belief in his relevance for Italian art, culture and history. However, Rosso’s national identity has never been secure. Claims for his ‘belonging’ to Italy are complicated by his international career choices, including his emigration to Paris and naturalization as a French citizen; his declared identity as an internationalist; and his art, which defies (national) categorization. Italy’s legal and political ‘notification’ of Rosso’s works represents a revisionist effort to settle and claim his loyalties. Such attempts rewrite the narrative of art history, limiting the kinds of questions that get asked. They shed light on Italy’s complex mediations between claims to emerging modernism and claims to a national art. This article assesses the long-term effects of transnational travel and relocation on Rosso’s national reputation and legacy. I assess his poor fit into national schools and nationally defined movements, and the ways in which his life, career and art challenge ideas about sculpture’s entrenchment in projections of the national. Rosso’s case highlights specific difficulties faced by sculptors as opposed to painters with respect to discourses of national and international identity. His example calls for a more nuanced reading of the definition of ‘home country’ and perceptions of an artist’s national cultural ‘belonging’ as single, unified or homogeneous.

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