Designed by the architect most closely associated with fascism, Marcello Piacentini, the Palace of Justice was the largest building constructed in Milan in the interwar period. Piacentini intended that the building, with its extensive decorative program, would assert the state’s authority in Milan, the commercial and financial center of Italy and the birthplace of fascism, and serve as a permanent monument to the legal system that structured the fascist state. In Giustizia Fascista: The Representation of Fascist Justice in Marcello Piacentini’s Palace of Justice, Milan, 1932–1940, Lucy M. Maulsby examines the controversy surrounding the decorative program, which ultimately involved government officials at the highest levels, and argues that the building evinces a genuine uncertainty about how to translate fascist policy into a cultural program. The continued use of this building as the setting for the nation’s legal dramas raises questions about how and to what extent these symbols continue to embody the notion of justice in Italian society and culture today.
In Milan, the commercial and financial center of Italy and the birthplace of fascism, the new law courts that were begun with great fanfare in 1932 opened quietly late in the summer of 1940, only a few months after Italy entered World War II as an ally of Nazi Germany (Figure 1).1 Since forming a dictatorship in 1925, Mussolini had aggressively used the judiciary, along with other established instruments of state control (namely, the police and army), as a means of reinforcing and securing his command. New legal codes authored by Alfredo Rocco, a conservative fascist theorist and the minister of justice from 1925 to 1934, enhanced the power of the executive branch, restricted secret societies, outlawed strikes and lockouts, and instituted other government reforms intended to strengthen the state’s authority.2 Although the kinds of terror unleashed in Italy during the 1920s and 1930s never reached the extremes of Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia, force and punishment served as means to repress dissent with the aim of silencing opposition and creating an obedient population. In the same years that Mussolini oversaw Italy’s transformation from a democracy to a political dictatorship, Il Duce approved plans for the construction of a massive new Palace of Justice in central Milan. Designed by Marcello Piacentini, the architect most intimately associated with Mussolini, the Palace of Justice was the largest building constructed in Milan in the interwar period and also the most important of a number of law courts built during the fascist era.3 Mussolini intended for the building to rival in its symbolic importance the nation’s highest court, which was, and still is, housed in the Palace of Justice in Rome (Giuseppe Calderini, 1888–1910) and to assert the state’s authority in Milan, a city whose influence, wealth, and culture were second only to the national capital, Rome.4
Despite its importance to the regime, scholars of modern Italian architectural history have largely overlooked Piacentini’s massive law courts, seeing them simply as evidence of the fascist regime’s preference for classically derived monumental architecture and its disregard for the traditional urban fabric (the project required the demolition of a significant swath of the city, and its scale overwhelms the few remaining historic elements, most notably the modest fifteenth-century brick church of S. Pietro in Gessate on the opposite side of the street).5 Art historians have positioned the decorative-arts program that Piacentini devised for the building as an example of the regime’s investment in figurative representation and its support for the mural arts in civic buildings, which would culminate in the law of 2 percent.6 This law, passed in 1942, stipulated that at least 2 percent of the construction budget for public buildings be set aside for the acquisition and permanent installation of works of art; the U.S. government made a similar policy part of the New Deal in 1934 but officially abandoned the practice in 1943 in response to the needs of a wartime economy.7 However, little consideration has been given to the decorative program as an extension of Piacentini’s architectural enterprise. Discussion and analysis of the building’s most important sculptural grouping—the monumental triptych Roman Justice (Romano Romanelli, Giustizia romana, also called La giustizia di Traino), Biblical Justice (Arturo Dazzi, Giustizia biblica), and Fascist Justice (Arturo Martini, Giustizia fascista, sometimes called Giustizia corporativa)—in its architectural context provide an opportunity to relate the Palace of Justice to changing notions of judicial power and to the fascist appropriation of the Roman past, or Romanità (Romanness), a theme that has dominated scholarship on interwar Italy, particularly that on Rome.8 In addition, the controversy surrounding the decorative-arts program, which involved local and national figures (many of whom had little interest in the aesthetic debates among the cultural and intellectual elite) and erupted shortly before the building’s completion, demonstrates the general confusion surrounding the translation of fascist policy into a cultural program, particularly in the final years of the regime.9
Piacentini’s massive stone-faced building, which is still in use today as law courts, occupies a prominent position along the broad Corso di Porta Vittoria, a principal east–west artery, approximately one-quarter of a mile (about 400 meters) from the Piazza del Duomo and the Palazzo del Capitano di Giustizia (the traditional center of the city and home of the law courts, respectively). The project represented the city’s response to the increasingly decentralized operations of the courts, the crowded conditions and outdated facilities at the Palazzo del Capitano di Giustizia, and was part of the municipal government’s comprehensive plan to rework the old fabric of central Milan undertaken in the same years.10 Each side of the trapezoidal building serves as an entrance to one of the courts housed within the complex: the front entrance on Corso di Porta Vittoria leads to the Court of Appeals, the highest court in Milan; the side entrances along Via Freguglia and Via Manara lead to the Tribunal Court (Tribunale); and the rear entrance facing Via San Barbara leads to the Magistrate’s Court (Preture). The tower held a library and legal archives (Archivio Notarile), and dispersed throughout the building were a variety of other services, including a post office. Piacentini organized the various functions of the complex—accommodated largely in offices and courtrooms of varying dimensions—according to their importance within the hierarchy of the Italian legal system (Figure 2). He situated courtrooms adjacent to major entrances and at the ends of the three major circulation halls, or ambulatories, a logical composition consistent with his preference for Beaux-Arts-inspired plans in the design of monumental civic buildings. The emphasis on order, hierarchy, and clarity expressed in the plan and elevation echoed the rhetoric surrounding the contemporary redevelopment of central Milan, which anticipated the radical reordering of the city center by demolishing the existing fabric and constructing new roads, squares, and buildings scaled to the needs of modern life.
The Decorative-Arts Program for the New Palace of Justice
Piacentini commissioned sixty artists to carry out more than 140 frescoes, mosaics, and sculptures for the interior in 1936, in order to make the building “speak of [its] age,” as the great “palaces of the Renaissance from the Schifanoia to the Farnesina” had done for generations of Italians.11 He originally had intended a substantial sculptural program for the exterior; the most spectacular element of this was a 10-meter red porphyry statue of Justice that would have stood above the main entrance.12 Probably due to concerns about escalating costs, this and other elements of the exterior program were abandoned. Nevertheless, the municipal government, the agency responsible for the building’s construction, remained committed to funding the decorations planned for the courtrooms and public spaces of the interior.
Piacentini’s effort to revive the mural arts, a tradition in Italy that reaches back to antiquity, reinforced fascism’s nationalist agenda by offering an alternative to French easel painting, whose cosmopolitan and bourgeois associations had appealed to Italian artists and their clients after Italian unification at the end of the nineteenth century.13 Instead, Piacentini tied his artistic endeavor at the Palace of Justice to celebrated works of the Italian Renaissance. Throughout the interwar period, the arts of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance—periods characterized by the political structure of independent city-states and the intellectual ferment brought about by a resuscitation of knowledge from antiquity—were strategically deployed by the regime to support its own myths and agendas. Evidence of this appropriation can be found in the government’s restoration activities in Tuscany, the cradle of the Italian Renaissance.14 For artists such as Massimo Campigli, Mario Sironi, Carlo Carrà, and Achille Funi, all of whom signed the “Manifesto della pittura” in 1933 and participated in the Palace of Justice project, the mural arts represented a possible corrective to the diminishing role of art and the artist in the public sphere at that time. Creating paintings, sculptures, and frescoes permanently fixed to the wall also provided Piacentini and others of his generation with an opportunity to critique the implied impermanence of recent avant-garde architecture (whose glass walls and thin planes challenged the solidity of masonry construction) and to enrich the symbolic meaning of architecture, a subject Piacentini explored at the Convengo Volta in Rome held in October 1936.15 He undoubtedly hoped that the decorative-arts program then under way for the Palace of Justice in Milan would exemplify the interrelationship between art and architecture that he believed was at the center of fascism’s cultural project.
Piacentini controlled nearly every aspect of the building’s decorative-arts program, putting into practice his belief that mural art was subservient to architecture. In an effort to limit the autonomy of the artists—whose excessive independence, he argued, had resulted in the aesthetic failures of Rome’s Palace of Justice and the Monument to Victor Emmanuel II (Giuseppe Sacconi, 1886–1911)—and to ensure the “perfect fusion between the architect and collaborating artists,” he favored artists whose work he knew was consistent with his expectations.16 The majority of these had well-established practices and had collaborated with Piacentini on earlier projects. For Milan’s new Palace of Justice, Mario Sironi, the artist most closely associated with fascism, ornamented the wall behind the judges in the Appeals Court of Assizes (Corte d’assise d’appello);17 and Arturo Martini designed the low-relief panel Giustizia fascista positioned at the center of the monumental triptych along the ambulatory of the Court of Civil Appeals (Corte d’appello civile). Both artists had recently completed monumental works for Piacentini’s Recorate (Rettorato) at the University City (Città Universitaria, 1932–35) in Rome: the fresco Italy between the Arts and Sciences (Sironi, L’Italia fra le arti e le scienze, 1935) in the main hall (aula magna) and the towering bronze statue Minerva (Martini, 1935) in front of the building. Other artists with whom Piacentini had previously worked included the second-tier sculptor Timo Bortolotti; Achille Funi, a painter and teacher who briefly served as the director of the Accademia di Brera in Milan before being forced to resign for his fascist credentials in 1945; sculptors Arturo Dazzi and Ercoli Drei; Ferruccio Ferrazzi, who was both a painter and a sculptor; and Romano Romanelli, a sculptor and member of the prestigious Accademia d’Italia.18
Piacentini also invited a few younger artists, such as Lucio Fontana and Fausto Mellotti, to participate, in response to public accusations that local talent had been overlooked and as a gesture to the more avant-garde currents in Italian art.19 To make certain that these artists would produce work in keeping with his intentions, he required all artists to submit models for review and reserved the right to intervene at any stage of the design process (a level of control he likewise sought to employ during his management of the Città Universitaria project). Although these artists were in the minority, their participation was consistent with fascism’s desire to project an image of inclusiveness and its effort to foster consensus about matters of style (or at least the appearance of consensus), particularly after the very public and (for the regime) embarrassing exchange of polemics between avant-garde and traditional architects during the early 1930s.20
Roman Justice, Biblical Justice, and Fascist Justice
The conceptual focus for the building’s decorative-arts program was provided by the monumental triptych Roman Justice, Biblical Justice, and Fascist Justice mounted on a wall of the ambulatory of the Court of Civil Appeals, a space for gathering as well as a passage (Figure 3). The sculptural group, which remains nearly unchanged from when it was first unveiled, occupies the central axis of the Palace of Justice and marks the conclusion of the principal entrance sequence approached from Corso di Porta Vittoria. From the corso, the visitor ascends low-rising granite stairs and passes three carefully chosen Latin inscriptions (Figure 4), two of which are from the Code of Justinian. Drawn up during the reign of Emperor Justinian (527–65 CE), the code synthesizes the principles of ancient Roman civil law, the basis for the Italian legal system as well as those of Western Continental Europe and their former colonies.21 The third inscription comes from On Laws by the Roman philosopher and lawyer Cicero in which he argues that justice and law are derived from natural law and are thus universal.22 A more sophisticated attempt to position fascist justice within the tradition of natural law permeates the entry on “Justice” in the Sindacato Nazionale Fascista degli Architetti (1932–33), edited by the idealist philosopher Giovanni Gentile.23 Although the inscriptions would have been comprehensible to only a few viewers, the prominence of the Latin quotations served as a reminder of the Roman origins of modern Italian law and promoted the authority of the printed word in the civil law tradition.
The triptych is first visible from the rectangular entrance hall, or atrium, reached after visitors pass through the building’s imposing, oversized tripartite portal (Figure 5). The atrium fills two levels of the palazzo and extends to the spacious Court of Honor (Cortile d’onore), where Attilio Selva’s monumental marble-and-porphyry statue Law of Rome (Legge di Roma) stands.24 In the interior, gigantic piers reproduce the scale of the portals on the exterior; these piers, combined with the highly polished marble on the interior façade, contribute to the grandeur and sacred tenor of the atrium. Floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the interior court and along its surrounding corridors on the ground floor and second floor (piano nobile) permit diffuse light to enter and allow visitors to glimpse the panels. Long, low stairs of dark gray stone along each side of the atrium provide access to the second floor, where the most prestigious spaces within the palazzo—the offices of the head of the Milan judiciary and the Court of Civil Appeals—are located (Figure 6). The ambulatory of the Court of Civil Appeals provides a viewing place where the public (the judges used an alternative system of circulation) would have an opportunity to consider the meaning of the panels.25 Their placement along the central axis and in proximity to the most important offices in the building reinforced association with the highest duties of the court as well as operations of other offices and courts within the vast complex.
Roman Justice, the first panel of the triptych, shows a triumphant Trajan stopping to hear the petition of a widow seeking justice for her murdered son (Figure 7). The narrative strengthened associations between the precepts that guided ancient Roman law and those of the nation’s modern legal system. Indicative of its resonance and Trajan’s symbolic value, the same theme was repeated elsewhere in the building; imagery associated with the Roman emperor appeared in Italian architecture frequently in the late 1930s.26 Romanelli’s triumphant and muscular Trajan, positioned centrally in the foreground of the relief, sits astride his horse in the company of legionnaires who hold their standards aloft. This image reinforced the ruler’s identity as conqueror and resonated with the fascist regime’s imperial aspirations, particularly after the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 and Mussolini’s Declaration of Empire in 1936. According to contemporary reports, Romanelli based his relief on Dante’s account of Trajan in the Divine Comedy (1308–21).27 Since at least the middle of the nineteenth century, Dante had been employed as a symbol of national identity and unity, an attribute strengthened by the unification of Italy, and the fascists used it to justify imperial expansion and the spread of Italian culture, especially in the late 1930s.28 The project for the Danteum (1938) by rationalist architect Giuseppe Terragni, a monument to Dante’s epic poem, would have permanently fixed this literary work within the symbolic landscape of central Rome had the project been completed. Romanelli’s relief suggests a narrative of justice in which the state, as embodied in its ruler, operates as a benevolent force, deploying its authority to protect society’s most vulnerable members, a theme that is reinforced in the next panel.
Biblical Justice (Figure 8) depicts three episodes drawn from the Old Testament: the Fall of Lucifer (representing heavenly justice), the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Paradise, and the Judgment of Solomon (representing earthly justice). The Judgment of Solomon occupies the foreground and is positioned on the right side of the panel. The king sits on his throne with his left arm outstretched, and his decision sets in motion a process that will resolve the dispute between two women and restore the child to its rightful mother.29 The prominent inclusion of biblical themes in the triptych provided evidence of the state’s new relationship with the Catholic Church, codified by the Lateran Accords. Ratified in 1929 and enormously popular, the accords helped to repair the hostility between the Italian state and the Catholic Church that had developed in the wake of Italian unification by clarifying the spiritual and temporal authority of each. Minister of Justice Rocco, who was concerned with protecting the state’s interests, provided oversight in crafting this agreement, which included among its precepts the legitimacy of marriage rites performed according to canon law. References there and elsewhere in the building to the Old and New Testaments provided visual evidence of the rapprochement between church and state, and they set this building, and the legal codes it was meant to embody, apart from its nineteenth-century counterpart, the Palace of Justice in Rome.
The prefascist liberal state, pressured to provide a variety of government buildings to accommodate the institutions of the new government and a symbolic language for the nation, oversaw the construction of massive new law courts in Rome after the establishment of the national capital in that city in 1871. Intended to symbolize the centralized ministry, the secular government, and the modern nation, the massive Roman Palace of Justice occupies a prominent site on the far bank of the Tiber River adjacent to the Castel Sant’Angelo containing the surviving remains of Hadrian’s Tomb (130–39 CE) and a short distance from the Vatican (Figure 9). One of the principal aims of the officials involved in crafting the architectural and iconographic program of the Palace of Justice in Rome was to clarify the state’s temporal, secular authority in relation to the universal spiritual authority claimed by the church.30 Liberal government officials rejected architectural features such as domes, a form associated with ecclesiastical architecture, and eliminated religious subjects from the building’s extensive decorative program, going so far as to reject images of Justice holding law books, fearing that they too closely resembled the tablets of Moses.31 Piacentini, who from his residence and studio in Rome had a view of the bank of the Tiber River on which the Palace of Justice stood, certainly grasped the symbolic importance of making biblical references a key element of the decorative program for the Milan building. Their inclusion acknowledged the fascist state’s legal recognition of the Catholic Church and communicated the triumph of Christianity over paganism in a narrative of cultural renewal that culminates in the final panel of the sequence: Fascist Justice.
Commanding the central axis of Fascist Justice is the female personification of Justice, who sits on the Tree of Knowledge (i.e., of good and evil) around which a serpent is wrapped (Figure 10). In keeping with iconographic traditions grounded in the Italian Renaissance, in her left hand Justice holds a balance (a signal that judgment will be dispensed evenly), and in her right hand she holds a sword (a reminder of the state’s power to inflict punishment) across her lap.32 Rendered with a sense of mass and weight that recalls the figures adorning the late Roman Arch of Constantine, Justice stares directly and dispassionately ahead. Around this central axis, Martini organized the panel into four registers that explore human strengths and weaknesses through episodes drawn from Greek and Roman mythology and the Christian Bible.33 The dominating figure of Justice, larger and in higher relief than the surrounding figures, is set apart from the events unfolding around her. Piacentini, describing the building to art critic Raffaele Calzini as it neared completion, explained that justice, unlike religion, is “universal, and therefore cannot make reference to time or place.”34 This notion of a “single and absolute” justice departed from the positivism of the late nineteenth century and demonstrated the growing influence of German idealism among Italian intellectuals.35 Against this background, Piacentini, whose professional and personal contacts placed him in proximity to Rocco (who died before the project’s completion), as well as other influential fascist thinkers and leaders (including the philosopher Gentile), attempted to argue for the universal authority of justice, communicated through the extraordinary scale of the building and its component parts as well as the decorative-arts program within a conception of history that positioned fascism as the culmination of a glorious Italian past.
Indeed, the triptych’s thematic grouping represented an iteration of fascism’s repeated claim to be the inheritor of Imperial Rome and of the Holy Roman Empire, a distinctly fascist vision of history in which ancient and papal Rome served as the justification and model for the making of a fascist “Third Rome.” This narrative helped to rationalize the massive urban-renewal projects planned for the national capital shortly after Mussolini declared a dictatorship in 1925, such as the opening of Via dell’Impero (1924–32, now Via dei Fori Imperiali), which connected Mussolini’s government headquarters in Piazza Venezia to the Colosseum, and as such became a dominant theme in fascist rhetoric and propaganda during fascism’s imperial phase after 1936.36 This version of history also structured the sequential path taken by visitors through the Mostra Augustea della romanità, a large exhibition in honor of Augustus held in 1937–38 in Rome.37 The leading fascist intellectual of the time, Gentile, employed this narrative to describe the conceptual structure of the new fascist city known as E.U.R. (originally intended as the setting for the Esposizione Universale of 1942—E.42—and planned but never held) located just south of Rome.38 Piacentini oversaw the development of that exhibition’s master plan from 1937 to 1939, the same years he directed the completion of the Palace of Justice in Milan, and remained involved in the exhibition as the superintendent for architecture, parks, and gardens (Figure 11).39 Anticipating the symbolic and formal logic of E.U.R., the Palace of Justice in Milan can be understood as an ideal fascist city removed from the conflict of everyday life, in which a strong central state, manifested in the personification of Justice and the institution of law, represents the culmination of several thousand years of history.
The themes found in the monumental triptych are echoed in the balance of the decorative-arts program. For these works, Piacentini instructed the artists to select subjects “closely tied to the theme of Justice,” and suggested that these “could be inspired by biblical or historical” narratives.40 He also required that their work be figurative, making clear that the Futurist-inspired abstraction of Benedetta’s murals (1934) for the central post office in Palermo (Angiolo Mazzoni, 1926–34) would not be appropriate. In contrast to Nazi Germany, fascist Italy never adopted an official policy that controlled artistic freedom. Instead, the state supported (in principle) art that embodied the ideals of fascism, from the realism of Novecento to the abstraction of Futurism.41 Indeed, avant-garde artists and architects supported the regime and argued through the mediums of exhibitions, periodicals, and built works that their artistic ambitions were consistent with fascism’s aspirations.42 Projects such as Mazzoni’s post office in Palermo and Giuseppe Terragni’s Casa del Fascio in Como (1935–36)—the latter included installations by Mario Radice comprising bold text, photographs, and flat colored panels—demonstrated how avant-garde artistic practice could contribute to the symbolic resonance of public buildings. Piacentini, however, felt that abstraction was inconsistent with the monumental intentions of his building and, perhaps more importantly, incapable of being understood by a broad audience.
Piacentini not only limited the participation of avant-garde architects and demanded that all works be figurative; he also directed the form and content of the works at various stages of the design process (probably assisted by the head of his Milan office, Ernesto Rapisardi), in a model of collaboration that echoed the structure of Mussolini’s corporative state. Writing for the progressive design journal Costruzione-Casabella (formerly Casabella), Raffaello Giolli complained that Piacentini’s aversion to modern art accounted for the rejection of Fontana’s initial terracotta model, of which no known record remains.43 Fontana revised his project, and the result was a classically inspired tripartite low relief in marble, depicting Justice positioned between allegorical representations of legislative and executive power, a substantial departure from the impressionistic and abstract compositions for which he was becoming known. Massimo Campigli also painted over his fresco of the Ten Commandments (of which a photograph remains) as it neared completion. The completed work, Do Not Kill (Non uccidere), depicts a group of women mourning a dead youth set against a field of red (Figure 12). The cubist references of the stylized figures and the flat background render this fresco one of the most “modern” works in the building. The single narrative focus brings the fresco in line with the works of art adorning the other courtrooms. However, its abstraction perhaps accounts for its omission from the lengthy and well-illustrated account of the building published in Architettura—which Piacentini directed and which was the official voice of the National Fascist Syndicate of Architects (Sindacato Nazionale Fascista degli Architetti)—and its inclusion in the list of works deemed unfit for public view in 1939.
As the building neared completion, the decorative-arts program became the subject of an intense controversy among the project architect, artists, magistracy, and local and national government officials. The head of the Court of Appeals and the most powerful member of the Milan judiciary, Tito Preda, sent a report to Milan’s fascist-appointed podestà (a position that replaced that of the democratically appointed mayor in 1926) outlining his objections.
In his letter, Preda described the sculptures and mosaics already put in place as “tolerable.”44 Sironi’s mosaic must have been among the works that met with his guarded approval. Placed at the far end of the courtroom behind the magistrates, it had a weighty monumentality and somber palette that matched expectations for the decoration of public buildings (Figure 13). Sironi placed Justice, dressed in a classically inspired white robe and holding a raised sword, at the center of the composition, framed by the personifications of Law, Truth, and Force, the latter a muscular youth holding the fasces (the symbol of the Fascist Party).45 This mosaic, along with the monumental triptych, was reproduced in color in the special issue of Architettura, a copy of which was sent to Mussolini.46 Nevertheless, Preda derided most of the paintings and frescoes that had been completed in terms of their size, style, and content, and he complained that the paintings planned for the Magistrate’s Court were “puerile and ridiculous.”47 He accused Piacentini and the city officials responsible for the project’s oversight of having given the artists too much freedom and demanded that the city remove or cover the images that he thought inappropriate or antifascist.48
Piacentini responded by defending the integrity of his project and arguing that Preda’s views were the product of a naive and excessive conservatism. For example, Piacentini noted that the head of the Court of Appeals objected to works with nude figures, such as Campigli’s Do Not Kill and Carlo Carrà’s two frescoes Universal Judgment (Giudizio universale, 1938–39) and Justinian Establishes New Laws and Frees a Slave (Giustiniano dà nuove leggi e libera uno schiavo; Figure 14; see Figure 12). Preda also misinterpreted all works representing scenes from the Old Testament, including Ferruccio Ferrazzi’s Daniel in the Lion’s Den (Daniele nella fossa dei leoni) and Achille Funi’s Moses with the Tablets of Law (Mosè con le tavole della legge), to be Jewish and, in light of the 1938 racial laws, antifascist. The racial laws, an extreme manifestation of the increasingly reactionary political climate, were far-reaching and sought to exclude Jews and other “non-Aryans” from participating in Italian society. These laws barred Jews from studying or teaching in public schools, from marrying non-Jews, and from owning or managing companies involved in military production or those that employed more than one hundred people or exceeded a certain value. Further regulations eventually banned them from skilled professions, such as medicine, law, and architecture.49 Preda’s protest and the confused response of national officials can be understood as representative of a broad uncertainty about how to adapt new government regulations into a larger cultural context.
Despite being repeatedly rebuffed by local authorities, Piacentini, writing from a clinic in Rome where he was convalescing after surgery, campaigned for the integrity of his project.50 He eventually received the support of the minister of education, Giuseppe Bottai, one of the most powerful figures in the cultural polemics of the interwar years and an advocate for artistic pluralism. Bottai, like Piacentini, understood Preda’s effort to extend the racial laws to the decorative-arts program of the Palace of Justice as an attack on modern Italian art, something that fascism had long promoted. In the first of a series of letters to the minister of Justice, Dino Grandi, Bottai appealed to the minister’s “open” and “modern” intelligence and long-standing commitment to the ideals of fascism. In addition, he proposed that it was a mistake for the state to ostracize works of art made in its honor.51 Bottai also approached Mussolini, who despite his earlier support of modern art, remained silent. Bottai persisted with additional letters to Grandi. Indicating the growing intensity of the controversy, the influential conservative art critic and journalist Ugo Ojetti, in an essay published in 1942 in the nation’s leading daily, Corriere della Sera, reminded readers that the removal of the “chaste white curtains” covering the work of Carrà, Ferrazzi, Campigli, Siro Penagini, Guido Cadorin, Funi, and Pio Semeghini would restore the “living dead” (sepolti vivi).52 Piacentini, writing for Primato in support of the recently passed law of 2 percent, cautioned artists that ministers would cover with curtains any work that did not adhere to their expectations.53 Ultimately, Mussolini, reminded of the ongoing controversy by Marino Lazzari, the general director of antiquities and fine arts for the Ministry of Education, commanded Grandi to have the curtains removed in June 1942 and make all the frescoes available for view.54 The episode is indicative of the often-arbitrary means by which important decisions were made and the persuasive role of personal and professional alliances in the interpretation of government policy.
The Palace of Justice, like most fascist-era buildings, maintained its original function after the close of World War II and the establishment of the Italian Republic. In the period immediately after the war, the government invested significant resources to repair the damage to the building caused during the Allied forces’ bombardment of Milan, a strategic target because of the city’s extensive rail connections to northern Europe and its industrial infrastructure; and the building was later expanded in response to the changing needs of the judiciary. Following fascism’s final collapse, the authorities removed explicit references to fascism from view, as they had done in other government buildings, to signal the end of a discredited regime. The fasces and the inscription DUX (a reference to Mussolini) in Sironi’s mosaic and the figure of Mussolini in Primo Conti’s fresco Earthly and Heavenly Justice (La giustizia del cielo e della terra) were covered with gray paint. Nevertheless, the vast majority of works remain essentially unaltered today, perhaps reflecting the view that their integrity as works of art surpasses their influence as political propaganda. In a similar fashion, the Criminal Codes (authored mainly by Rocco, 1931) and the Civil Codes (1942) were cleansed of their fascist content but remained in effect during the postwar period.55 In the context of a nation in which the built environment records the layered history of a succession of rulers, the postfascist Republican government’s appropriation of the buildings and civic imagery of fascism can be seen as an effort to assert its dominance over a vanquished enemy. Nevertheless, the fascist notion of history and judicial power that reverberates throughout the building remains substantially unaltered and unchallenged. The continued use of this building as the setting for the nation’s legal dramas, most recently the soap opera–like trials of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, raises questions about how and to what extent this imagery continues to embody the notion of justice in Italian society and culture.
Feedback offered following earlier presentations of some of this material at the annual conferences of the Society of Architectural Historians (2004) and of the College Art Association (2013) provided an opportunity to reframe my initial research. I am particularly grateful for the questions posed by John Harwood and Fabio Barry, and for the support of Judith Resnik and Ruth Weisberg. The comments and editing of Swati Chattopadhyay and an anonymous reader greatly improved the text. Stephen Robert Frankel’s careful reading gave the essay polish it otherwise would not have possessed. Jane Watkins did an excellent job putting the final text in order. All translations are the author’s, unless otherwise indicated.
DDR, “Rocco, Alfredo,” in Historical Dictionary of Fascist Italy, ed. Philip Cannistraro (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1982), 461. See also Mario Sbriccoli, “Rocco, Alfredo,” in Dizionario del fascismo, ed. Victoria de Grazia and Sergio Luzzatto (Turin: Einaudi, 2005), 2:533–538.
New law courts were built in Trieste (Enrico and Umberto Nordio, 1912–29); Messina (Marcello Piacentini, 1923–29); Pisa (Gaetano and Ernesto Rapisardi, 1935–58); Catania (Franceso Fichera, 1936–53); Lecco (Mario Cereghini, 1938–41); Palermo (Gaetano and Ernesto Rapisardi, 1938–57); and Bolzano (Paolo Rossi de Paoli and Michele Busiri Vici, begun 1939).
A number of scholars have placed the construction of major new law courts in the context of significant legal reform, and social and political change. See, for example, David B. Brownlee, The Law Courts:The Architecture of George Edmund Street (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1984); Katherine Fischer Taylor, In the Theater of Criminal Justice: The Palais de Justice in Second Empire Paris (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993); Terry R. Kirk, “Church, State, and Architecture: The Palazzo di Giustizia of Nineteenth-Century Rome,” PhD diss., Columbia University, 1997. For more general discussion of the aesthetic representation of legal ideas, see Law and the Image: The Authority of Art and the Aesthetics of Law, ed. Costas Douzinas and Lynda Nead (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999); Judith Resnik and Dennis Curtis, Representing Justice: Invention, Controversy, and Rights in City-States and Democratic Courtrooms (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2011); Yale Journal of Law & the Humantities, special issue (Winter 2012).
For many scholars in the postwar period, the Palace of Justice confirmed expectations for the architectural failures of totalitarian governments. Ferdinando Reggiori described the building as “grande, anzi immense, ma non grandioso,” in Milano, 1800–1943 (Milan: Edizioni del Milione, 1947), 375; and Paolo Mezzanotte and Giacomo Bescape noted that “L’architettura del Palazzo, pur di nobile severità, risente della crisi spirituale dell’architettura moderna, oscillante fra il rigido e arido precettiamo razionalista e una volontà di ritmo e di romana grandezza,” in Milano nell’arte e nella storia (Milan: E. Bestetti, 1948), 1056. More recently, Maurizio Grandi and Attilio Pracchi explained that “L’aggiornata monumentalità in grado di appagare le esigenze celebrative del regime,” in Milano: Guida alla architettura moderna (Bologna: Zanichelli, 1991), 277; and Mario Lupano described the project in similar terms in his chapter “Decline.” Mario Lupano, Marcello Piacentini (Bari: Laterza, 1991), 153. The building is not discussed, for example, in such seminal works as Giorgio Ciucci, Gli architetti e il fascismo:Architettura e città, 1922–1944 (Turin: Einaudi, 1989); or Richard Etlin, Modernism in Italian Architecture, 1890–1940 (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1991). More recently, scholars have begun to position the building within national and international narratives. See Sandro Scarrocchia, Albert Speer e Marcello Piacentini: L’architettura del totalitarismo negli anni trenta (Milan: Skira, 1999), 63–65; Paolo Nicoloso, Mussolini architetto: Propaganda e paesaggio urbano nell’Italia fascista (Turin: Einaudi, 2008), 178, 190–91; Diane Ghirardo, Italy (London: Reaktion, 2013), 36–37.
Giovanna Ginex et al., “Il Palazzo di Giustizia di Milano: Le opere decorative,” in GliAnnitrenta: Arte e cultura in Italia (Milan: Mazzotta, 1982), 53–57; Giovanna Ginex, “Il dibato critico e istituzionale sul muralismo in Italia,” in Muri ai pittori: Pittura murale e decorazione in Italia, 1930–50, ed. Vittorio Fagone, Giovanna Ginex, and Tulliola Sparagni (Milan: Mazzotta, 1999), 25–45; Antonella Greco, “Piacentini e gli artisti,” in Marcello Piacentini Architetto, 1881–1960 (Rome: Gangemi, 2012), 39–52.
John Wetenhall, “A Brief History of Percent-for-Art in America,” Public Art Review 5, no. 1 (Fall/Winter 1993), 5.
For an overview of this theme and bibliography, see Luca Scuccimarra, “Romanità, culto della,” in de Grazia and Luzzatto, Dizionario del fascismo, 2:539–41. The bibliography on this theme for Rome is vast. See, in particular, Spiro Kostof, The Third Rome, 1870–1950: Traffic and Glory (Berkeley: Berkeley University Art Museum, 1973), as well as more recent studies including Borden Painter, Jr., Mussolini’s Rome: Rebuilding the Eternal City (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005); Emilio Gentile, Fascismo di pietra (Rome: Laterza, 2007); Paul Baxa, Roads and Ruins: The Symbolic Landscape of Fascist Rome (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010); Joshua Arthurs, Excavating Modernity: The Roman Past in Fascist Italy (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2012). For a more general treatment of this topic, see Paolo Nicoloso, Architecture per un’identità Italiana (Udine: Gaspari, 2012).
Scholars in recent decades have devoted a significant body of work to the cultural politics of Italian fascism including Emilio Gentile, Il culto del littorio: La sacralizzazione della politica nell’Italia fascista (Rome: Laterza, 1993); Mabel Bezerin, Making the Fascist Self: The Political Culture of Interwar Italy (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1997); Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi, Fascist Spectacle: The Aesthetics of Power in Mussolini’s Italy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997); Marla Susan Stone, The Patron State: Culture and Politics in Fascist Italy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998); Ruth Ben-Ghiat, Fascist Modernities: Italy, 1922–1945 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001).
For a more detailed discussion of the interwar transformation of Milan, see Lucy M. Maulsby, Fascism, Architecture, and the Claiming of Modern Milan, 1922–43 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014); for the Palace of Justice, see “Fascist Authority: The Palace of Justice, 1932–1940,” 86–105, in the same volume.
“Ho sempre pensato che il Palazzo Comunale di Siena figurerebbe non bene se non vi avesse dipinto Simone Martini, e così tutti i Palazzi della Rinascenza, da Schifanoia alla Farnesina, sarebbero freddi e aridi e non affermerebbero sufficientemente la loro epoca, se spogliati degli affreschi che ne rivestono le pareti.” Piacentini to Calzini, 2 Jan. 1942, Biblioteca di Scienze Tecnologiche, Florence, Fondo Marcello Piacentini, envelope (busta) 111. The artists are Alberto Bazzoni, Alfredo Biagini, Timo Bortolotti, Remo Brioschi, Luigi Broggini, Anselmo Bucci, Guido Cadorin, Corrado Cagli, Massimo Campigli, Arnaldo Carpanetti, Carlo Carrà, Giannino Castiglioni, Giovanni Colacicchi, Primo Conti, Arturo Dazzi, Ercole Drei, Ferruccio Ferrazzi, Lucio Fontana, Achille Funi, Nino Galizzi, Italo Griselli, Bruno Innocenti, Giannino Lambertini, Leone Lodi, Giacomo Manzù, Antonio Maraini, Vitaliano Marchini, Marino Marini, Arturo Martini, Piero Marussig, Giacomo Maselli, Fausto Melotti, Francesco Messina, Enzo Morelli, Cipriano Efisio Oppo, Eros Pellini, Siro Penagini, Carlo Pini, Carlo Pizzi, Giovanni Prini, Domenico Rambelli, Romano Romanelli, Guilio Rosso, Alberto Salietti, Antonio Giuseppe Santagata, Enrico Saroldi, Attilio Selva, Pio Semeghini, Gino Severini, Mario Sironi, Ivo Soli, Ottavio Steffenini, Silvano Tajuti, M. Giovanni Tolleri, Mario Tozzi, Gian Filippo Usellini, Gianni Vagnetti, Corrado Vigni, Francesco Wildt, and Silvio Zaniboni. A list of all of the works of art in the building along with their locations and additional identifying material can be found in Ginex et al., “Il Palazzo di Giustizia di Milano,” 56–57; Giovanna Ginex, “Le opere decorative del Palazzo di Giustizia di Milano. Inventario,” in Fagone et al., Muri ai pittori, 209–13.
See Archivio Civico, Milan, Servizi e Lavori Pubblici, folder (fascicolo) 166, 1936.
Romy Golan, Muralnomad: The Paradox of Wall Painting, Europe, 1927–1957 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2009), 2.
D. Medina Lasansky, The Renaissance Perfected: Architecture, Spectacle, and Tourism in Fascist Italy (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004).
Golan, Muralnomad, 1–3. Golan provides an overview of this international event, 58–66. See also Emily Braun, Mario Sironi and Italian Modernism: Art and Politics under Fascism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 158–62; and Emily Braun, “Racemi d’oro: Il mosaico di Sironi nel Palazzo dell'Informazione,” in Racemi d’oro: Il mosaico di Sironi nel Palazzo dell’Informazione, ed. Emily Braun (Milan: Immobiliare Metanopoli, 1992), 29–42.
“La perfetta fusion tra architetto e artisti collaboratori …” Marcello Piacentini, “La legge per gli artisti,” Primato, no. 11 (June 1942), 210.
For Sironi, see Braun, Mario Sironi and Italian Modernism. For his involvement in the Palace of Justice project, see 184. For a discussion of this mosaic see Elisabetta Longari, “Il Mosaico per il Palazzo di Giustizia di Milano,” in Sironi: La grande decorazione, ed. Andrea Sironi (Milan: Electa, 2004), 382–93.
Achille Funi (Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, 1934–37, and Christo Re, 1934, Rome), Timo Bortolotti (Casa Madre dei Mutilati, Rome), Arturo Dazzi (Monument to Victory, Bolzano, 1925–28, and Monument to the Fallen, Genoa, 1931), Ercoli Drei (Palazzo di Giustizia, Messina, 1912–28), Ferruccio Ferrazzi (Palazzo delle Corporazioni, Rome, 1931), and Romano Romanelli (Piazza della Vittoria, Brescia, 1927–32).
“Le statue del Palazzo di Giustizia,” L’Ambrosiano, 17 Feb. 1933. “Le statue del Palazzo di Giustizia motive di ingiustizia,” Il Secolo Sera, 23 Sept. 1936.
Nicoloso, Mussolini architetto, xxvii.
Central inscription: IVRIS PRAECEPTA SVNT HAEC HONESTE VIVERE ALTERVM NON LAEDERE SVVM CVIOVE TRIBVERE (“The precepts of law are these: to live honestly, not to injure another, to give each his due”). Left inscription: IVIRISPRVENTIA EST DIVINARVMM ATOVE HVMANARVM RERVM NOTITIA IVSTI ATOVE INIVSTI SCIENTIA (“Jurisprudence is the knowledge of things divine and human and knowing what is just and what is unjust”). Justinian, Institutes, book I, title I, sections 1 and 3. Translation by Hérica Vallardes.
Right inscription: SVMVS AD IVSTITIAM NATI NEOVE OPINIONE SED NATVRA CONSTITVM EST. Marcus Tullius Cicero, De legibus, I.x.28. (“We are born for justice, and right is based not upon men’s opinions, but upon nature”). Cicero, De legibus, with translation by Clinton Walker Keys (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1977).
G. Sol, “Giustizia,” Enciclopedia italiana di scienze, lettere ed arti (Milan: Treves-Treccani-Tumminelli, 1932–33), 17:394–95.
“La grande statua della Legge per il Palazzo di Giustizia,” Corriere della Sera, 5 Aug. 1939.
George Edmund Street’s Royal Courts of Justice in London provides a model, as David B. Brownlee has amply shown, for understanding how a legal and social system might be given spatial expression. Brownlee, The Law Courts, 38–81, 206–63.
Ferrazzi selected the same story for his fresco in the Civil Registry (Cancelleria centrale civile). A photographic reproduction of Trajan appeared alongside those of other Caesars in Marcello Nizzoli, Edoardo Persico, and Giancarlo Palanti’s Sala della Vittoria at the 1936 Triennale in Milan.
“Le opera d’arte per il palazzo di Giustizia,” Corriere della Sera, 26 July 1936.
For more on monuments to Dante and the Danteum, see Etlin, Modernism in Italian Architecture, 517, 519–21; Thomas L. Schumacher, Terragni’s Danteum: Architecture, Poetics, and Politics under Italian Fascism (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2004), 36–37.
For a general overview of the themes of each panel, see “La scultura nel nuovo Palazzo di Giustizia,” Il Popolo d’Italia, 25 Aug. 1939.
Kirk, “Church, State, and Architecture,” 330. See also Terry Kirk, “Roman Architecture before the Lateran Pact: Architectural Symbols of Reconciliation in the Competitions for the Palazzo di Giustizia, 1883–87,” in Guglielmo Calderini: La costruzione di un architettura nel progetto di una capitale, ed. Fedora Boco (Perugia: Accademia di Belle Arti di Perugia, 1996), 23–47.
Kirk, “Church, State, and Architecture,” 330.
For a history of the iconography of Justice, see Resnik and Curtis, Representing Justice, 8–12.
For an overview of the iconography of this panel, see Gianni Vianello, Nico Stringa, and Claudia Gian Ferrari, Arturo Martini: Catalogo ragionato delle sculture (Vicenza : Neri Pozza 1998), 294–98. See also La Giustizia Corporativa: Autorilievo per il Palazzo di Giustizia in Milano di Arturo Martini (Milan: Edizioni del Milione, 1937).
“È [Justice] universal, e non pùo quindi aver riferimento a epoche nè a luoghi.” Piacentini to Calzini, 2 Jan. 1942, Biblioteca di Scienze Tecnologiche, Florence, Fondo Marcello Piacentiti, envelope (busta)111.
“La Giustizia è una sola, assoluta.” Piacentini to Calzini, 2 Jan. 1942, ibid., envelope (busta) 111; Sol, “Giustizia,” 394–95.
Nicoloso, Mussolini architetto, 34–81.
Golan, Muralnomad, 108–9; Joshua Arthurs, “The Totalitarian Museum: The Mostra Augustea della Romanità,” in Arthurs, Excavating Modernity.
Gentile, “Roma Eterna/L’idea di Roma,” Civilta, no. 2 (21 June 1940), 4–8. For an overview of the plan, see Enrico Guidoni, “L’E 42 città della rappresentazione,” in E 42, Utopia e scenario del regime, ed. Maurizio Calvezi, Enrico Guidoni, and Simonetta Lux (Venice: Marsilio, 1992), 17–82.
Mario Lupano, “Piacentini’s Part: E42 from Conception to the Building Phase,” Lotus International 67 (1990), 127–44.
“Sara di carattere strettamente inerente alla Giustizia e potrà anche essere ispirato a soggetti biblici o a fatti storici.” Contract with sculptor Silvio Zaniboni, 15 Oct. 1938, Archivio Civico, Milan, Servizi e Lavori Pubblici, folder (fascicolo) 62, 1942.
For a thoughtful analysis of many of the complexities of fascist cultural policies, see Stone, The Patron State.
Diane Ghirardo, “Italian Architects and Fascist Politics: An Evaluation of the Rationalist’s Role in Regime Building,” JSAH 39, no. 2 (May 1980), 109–27; David Rifkind, The Battle for Modernism: Quadrante and the Politicization of Architectural Discourse in Fascist Italy (Venice: Centro Internazionale di Studi di Architettura Andrea Palladio and Marsilio, 2013).
R. Giolli, “Piccola Inchiesta sul Palazzo di Giustizia,” Costruzioni-Casabella, Nov. 1942, 30.
Preda to Scotti, 22 July 1939, Archivio Civico, Milan, Segreteria Generale, folder (fascicolo) 10, 1942.
See Longari, “Il Mosaico per il palazzo di Giustizia di Milano,” 382–93.
Nicoloso, Mussolini architetto, 190.
“Purili e ridicule.” Preda to Podestà, 22 July 1939, Archivio Civico, Milan, Segreteria Generale, folder (fascicolo) 10, 1942.
Preda to Podestà, 31 July 1939, ibid., folder (fascicolo) 10, 1942; Scotti to Piacentini, 17 July 1940, ibid., folder (fascicolo) 10, 1942.
Suzan Zuccotti, The Italians and the Holocaust: Persecution, Rescue, and Survival (New York: Basic Books, 1987), 36–43. See also Renzo De Felice’s seminal Storia degli ebrei italiani sotto il fascismo (Turin: Einaudi, 1972).
Piacentini to Scotti, 15 July 1940, Archivio Civico, Milan, Segreteria Generale, folder (fascicolo) 10, 1942.
Bottai to Grandi, 17 Sept. 1940, Biblioteca di Scienze Tecnologiche, Florence, Fondo Marcello Piacentini, box (cartella) 95.1.
“Una pudica cortina di tela bianca.” Ugo Ojetti, “La giustizia e i sepolti vivi,” Corriere della Sera, 8 Mar. 1942.
Antonella Greco, “Affreschi di Razza,” Storia Illustrata, Jan. 1990, 38–41; Preda to Podestà, 1 July 1940, Archivio Storico Civico, Archivio Rivolta, Milan, box (cartella) 41, L/3.
Greco, “Affreschi di Razza,” 41.
Indeed, scholars seem to agree that Italian law was only partially affected by political ideology and that the legal system remained largely unaffected by the vicissitudes of politics. Antonio Padoa-Schioppa, “A Sketch of Legal History,” in Introduction to Italian Law, ed. Jeffrey S. Lena and Ugo Mattei (New York: Kluwer Law International, 2002), 17. See also Thomas Glyn Watkin, The Italian Legal Tradition (Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate, 1997), 42–43.