April 13, 2016


This movie poster is by the Italian artist Tito Corbella (born in Pontremoli in 1885, died in Rome in 1966), who is best known as a designer of postcards of glamorous women. He also produced illustrations and film posters, such as the one presented here. The poster portrays a woman wearing a red dress adorned with white lilies; she is kneeling, her arms upstretched, with chains on her wrists. The woman symbolizes the city of Trieste, historically part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and, during World War I, its main point of access to the sea. The Italian irredentist movement had been campaigning for the city’s annexation since at least the last two decades of the 19th century. At the end of the war, in November 1918, the Royal Italian Army entered Trieste to the applause of the part of the population that favored the Italian cause. The army declared its seizure of the city and established a curfew. Annexation by Italy of Trieste and the surrounding region of Venezia Giulia was politically inevitable, but it was opposed by the newly-established Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, which also wanted to annex the city and its hinterland. The status of Trieste as an Italian city was affirmed by the 1920 Treaty of Rapallo. Annexation poisoned relations between the Italian and the Slovene populations, which at times boiled over into armed combat.

The Authors of the European Catastrophe Facing Civilization

This poster, published in Florence around 1915, portrays two women, personifications of Civilization and History, cursing the rulers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire (Wilhelm II, Franz Joseph I, Ferdinand I, and Mehmed V, respectively), and pointing at them as responsible for the First World War. The rulers appear withered by the gazes of the women. The background shows soldiers lying dead on a battlefield and a city in flames. The strongly-worded caption below the image reads: “On the ruins, produced by the insanity of an old tyrant – From the human charnel house, desired by an overbearing ambitious man – The cursing cry of eternal damnation for the four executioners of humanity is rising aloud – A cry of mothers and sons – Weeping of widows and orphans – The invoked victory of the defenders of Freedom has arrived – Justice prevails – History records the names of the barbarians, cursing them for posterity.”

Decrepit Rigmarole (To be Sung on Rainy Days, while Pinching One’s Nose with Two Fingers)

Shown here is a satirical drawing of a boat called Quistione Italiana (Italian Issue), sailing in the “Conference Sea,” carrying Italian prime minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando, British prime minister David Lloyd George, President Woodrow Wilson of the United States, and French prime minister Georges Clemenceau, the Big Four of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. Orlando is at the tiller and pleads with the others to wake up. The cabin boy on the mast symbolizes the “Jackass Slavs” and points to Fiume, the Adriatic port claimed both by Italy and the newly-established Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes. The lyrics of a lullaby appear below the image: “Once upon a time there was a tiny ship / Once upon a time there was a tiny ship / Once upon a time there was a tiny ship / That could not, could not sail any more. / 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 weeks passed… / 8,9,10,11,12,13,14 weeks passed… / 15,16,17,18,19,20,21 weeks passed… /  The sea itself was starting to … dry out.” A note below the song suggests that the verses may be repeated at will, depending on the stamina of the singer, and always while holding the nose. The poster and the lyrics reflect the national frustration and outrage felt in Italy in the spring of 1919, as it became clear that Italian expectations of gaining territory along the Adriatic as a result of sacrifices in World War I would not be met. This situation was exploited by the rising nationalist movements in Italy with talk about a “crippled victory” and ultimately culminated in the seizure of Fiume on September 12, 1919 by a force of Italian irregular soldiers led by the nationalist writer Gabriele D'Annunzio  (1863–1938).

As Firm as the Roman Legionary

This watercolor illustration portrays an armed Roman legionary holding a standard with the colors of the Italian flag while facing a German barbarian wearing a winged helmet. The image overtly suggests a parallel between the Italians fighting the Germans during World War I and the legions of ancient Rome which fought against the barbarian German tribes in the time of Julius Caesar. The standard bears the letters “S.P.Q.R.” (Senatus Populusque Romanus; The Roman Senate and the People), the motto of ancient Rome that was emblazoned on the standards of the Roman legions. Italy entered the war on the side of the Allies, France and Great Britain, in 1915, and fought mainly against the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was backed by the other great Germanic power of Europe, Imperial Germany.

It is Impossible for Everyone to Bathe in Here!

This satirical watercolor by the Italian artist Raffaello Jonni is part of a series of 79 original drawings by Jonni preserved at the Alessandrina Library in Rome. It shows soldiers of four countries with interests in the Adriatic Sea all standing around a small basin of water labeled “Adriatico” with the caption “It is Impossible for Everyone to Bathe in Here!” underneath. The image and the words are an allusion to the rivalries among the countries bordering the Adriatic – Italy, the newly-established Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, Albania, and Greece – for influence over the regions bordering the sea. The Adriatic Question was one of the most vexing issues that had to be addressed at the Paris Peace Conference after World War I. It concerned the fate of the territories along the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea that formerly belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, some of which Italy sought to annex following the empire’s defeat and breakup at the end of the war.

Of Course Eight Feet are Needed for Dealing with an Ottoman

This satirical watercolor by the Italian artist Raffaello Jonni is part of a series of 79 original drawings by Jonni preserved at the Alessandrina Library in Rome. It portrays an eight-handed Turk, being attacked by four soldiers, a Russian, an Englishman, a Frenchman and an Italian. During World War I the Russian Empire, the United Kingdom, the French Republic, and the Kingdom of Italy were allied against a coalition that included the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Kingdom of Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire. The allied soldiers are kicking the Turk with four of their collective eight feet. The illustration is thus a pun on the Italian word for Ottoman, Ottomano, which sounds similar to otto mani, meaning eight hands.