The Present and the Future of Russo-Italian cultural relations were in the center of attention at the Forum

A conference entitled “Russia-Italy: A Dialog of Cultures” took place on November 17 in the General Staff Building of the State Hermitage Museum. The participants heard presentations by leading researchers of cultural ties between the two countries.

The conference included four podium discussions. The participants in the first of these discussions, “Russia and Italy in the European Context,” discussed the contemporary cultural ties between the two countries and the opportunities for their development in the future. 

The speakers in the discussion were Dmitry Shvidkovsky, historian of architecture and Rector of the Moscow Institute of Architecture, Lev Belousov, Acting Dean of the Faculty of History of Lomonosov Moscow State University, Mikhail Talalay, historian and specialist in Russo-Italian ties, Paola Coni (Italy), Director of the Italian Institute of Culture in Saint Petersburg, Giorgio Ziffer (Italy), Chairman of the Italian Association of Slavic Studies Scholars, and Daniella Rizzi (Italy), leading Slavic Studies scholar at Ca’ Foscari University.The discussion was moderated by Aleksandr Chubaryan, academic director of the Institute of General History of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), member of the RAS.

“Italy is the Guest Country of the VII Saint Petersburg International Cultural Forum.In Russian life cooperation with, and ties to, Italy have always been of foremost importance.Today we will talk about the problems of cultural interaction and that which is known in global science as “the image of the other,” i.e. mutual perceptions of Russians about Italy, and Italians about Russians”, - Aleksandr Chubaryan said.

Dmitry Shvidkovsky talked about the past and future of Russo-Italian ties in architecture.

“About 60 people defend their double diplomas at the Moscow Institute of Architecture every year.Partner institutions include universities of Turin, Milan, Rome, and Palermo.Our students, in addition to English and French, study the Italian language with much diligence.Many of our graduates have created joint Russo-Italian architectural companies, which currently work actively in Saint Petersburg and Moscow.They create interiors, design mansions, offices and large industrial enterprises.In the 20th century we had a very enthusiastic attitude to Italian architecture.It was a path of transforming Russian architecture into the European architecture.When you walk around Milan in the districts built in the 1910s-1920s, you suddenly encounter city blocks reminiscent of Stalin’s Moscow.Until the beginning of WWII, best graduates of the Academy of Fine Arts in Saint Petersburg use to travel to Italy by all means”, - Dmitry Shvidkovsky said.

The Director of the Italian Institute of Culture in Saint Petersburg dedicated her talk to discussing the future of Russo-Italian cooperation in the sphere of science.

“My suggestion is to hold annual conferences for Russian and Italian professionals in history, architecture and philology.This is especially important because Russia has very few specialists in Italy in general, and the history of Italy in the 19th and 20th centuries in particular, while Italy has many scholars of Slavic Studies but very few historians.As the Director of the Italian Institute of Culture in Saint Petersburg I believe that it is very important to organize a series of such conferences, and invite not only the prominent scholars of Slavic Studies but their young colleagues as well”, - Paola Coni said.

Daniela Rizzi talked about working on the bibliographic publication dedicated to Russian presence in Italy in 1900-1940.The book that took Italian scholars 10 years to prepare, will be published in Russia in 2019.

“Our initial goal was to reconstruct the history of post-revolutionary Russian emigration, but soon we came to a conclusion that it cannot be differentiated from the life of all previous Russian diasporas in Italy, and from the life of Soviet culture representatives.The book is about the representatives of political emigration caused by the events of 1905 and the October Revolution, and some representatives of the Soviet culture who started visiting Italy after the Mussolini regime restored the diplomatic relations with the USSR in 1924”, - Daniela Rizzi said.

Lev Belousov talked about Russo-Italian cultural ties in the period between WWI and WWII.

“We have much in common, including mentality, we are very similar. This has to do, in large part by that Russia and Italy had never had systemic contradictions.Even during a very difficult period that our countries went through in the 1920-1930s, despite the considerable ideological differences, pragmatism prevailed in cultural policy.

It’s enough to mention the Venetian Film Festival.In 1932 the USSR presented “Road to Life” film, and in two years, at the second festival the Soviet Union presented seven films and they won the so-called Mussolini Cup.Those were “Jolly Fellows,” “Boule de Suif” and a number of other films.

In that period we had common cultural imagery.The first and foremost image of any totalitarian culture is the leader.This image was imposed on the workers of culture and was implemented in various forms.The second image was the image of fighter, athlete, soldier, someone who is pursuing a lofty goal.The third is the heroine mother as the embodiment of the cult of the family.And then the nation as the main carrier of culture”, - Lev Belousov said. 

The discussion entitled “The Visual Image of Intercultural Dialog” was dedicated to creative interaction between Russia and Italy in architecture and arts. Italian architects have taken part in creating many architectural monuments of Russia, from the Kremlin in Moscow to classical ensembles of Saint Petersburg. In the avantgarde era the cultural dialog was implemented in futuristic art forms in their Italian and Russian variants. Speaking at the discussion were Dmitry Shvidkovsky, Rector of the Moscow Architectural Institute; Sophia Lourie, journalist, local historian and author of the “Italian Saint Petersburg” sightseeing route; and Maria Chiara Pezenti (Italy), researcher of interactions between the Russian theatre and commedia dell'arte.

Russo-Italian ties in the area of belles-lettres were in the focus of the discussion “To Discover the Other: Two Centuries of Literary Attraction.” The main topics of the discussion included the poetry of futurism, Italian borrowings in the history of the Russian languages and issues in translating Russian poetry and prose into Italian. The event brought together Denis Beznosov, chief editor of Studi Slavistici magazine and translator of Gogol’s works, Gabriella Imposti (Italy) professor of Russian literature at the University of Bologna and other specialists.

The discussion entitled “Film Dialog: Parallels and Intersections” focused on the Italian film art, which has always occupied a special place in the hearts of Russian film-goers. The participants in the discussion talked about the influence of Italian neo-realistic films on the Soviet literature, the images of Russians and Italians in our national cinematographies, and examples of successful cooperation between the cinematographers of both countries.

One such example is the family union of Tonino Guerra, an Italian, who was the screenwriter for Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni and Andrei Tarkovsky, and Soviet filmmaker Eleonora Yablochkina. Throughout several decades of their marriage, the couple completed many joint film projects.

Eleonora Yablochkina, widow of Tonino Guerra, was an honorary guest of the conference. Other participants in the discussion included Ekaterina Grantseva, academic secretary of the Department of Regional Studies at the Institute of General History of the RAS, Marco Sabbatini (Italy), specialist in the area of Russo-Italian cultural ties, and other experts.