Italian Futurism

18 Aug

As we here at The Steampunk Opera blog are interested in all aspects of the past imagining the future, the time has come to turn our wayward attention to the early 20th century art movement that named itself after the very future itself, Futurism!

Materia by Umberto Boccioni, 1912

Futurism began in Italy in 1909. It was an attempt to throw off the confines of the Victorian era, to embrace change, the future, the power of industry, acceleration, the thrill of speed, the challeng and excitement of conflict and the glory of war. It saw a tumultuous, fast changing, industrial future and wished to embrace it with great aggression. It wanted the young, the strong to celebrate humanity’s triumph of technology over nature.

In 1909 Filippo Tommaso Marinetti published the Futurist Manifesto. I believe there is evidence that during the 19th to mid 20th century no one so much as redecorated their wardrobe without releasing a manifesto to announce the philosophy behind their intentions. In any case, the Futurist Manifesto attracted both attention and followers and the Futurist movement was born.

Speeding Automobile by Giacomo Balla, 1912

Here are some highlights of the Manifesto:


1. We intend to sing the love of danger, the habit of energy and fearlessness.

2. Courage, audacity, and revolt will be essential elements of our poetry.

3. Up to now literature has exalted a pensive immobility, ecstasy, and sleep. We intend to exalt aggresive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap.

4. We affirm that the world’s magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath—a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.

7. Except in struggle, there is no more beauty. No work without an aggressive character can be a masterpiece. Poetry must be conceived as a violent attack on unknown forces, to reduce and prostrate them before man.

9. We will glorify war—the world’s only hygiene—militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman.

10. We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind, will fight moralism, feminism, every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice.

Number 9 is of course very interesting and we will touch upon their intense patriotism and love of violence and war in just a second.

Funeral of the Anarchist Galli by Carlo Carrà, 1911

From an artistic standpoint they embraced ” universal dynamism”. Objects in reality were not separate from one another or from their surroundings. How to best represent this was debated and they attempted paintings in a Divisionist style. Divisionism is a method you probably know through the painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by George Seurat, in which the entire painting is made up of dots of color which the eye puts together into a picture.

However this style was several decades old by this point, hardly a method of the future and the Futurists were derided by some as backwards. Hence, one of their leading painters, Gino Severini headed off to Paris, the mecca of the avante garde art world to see what was up. He discovered Cubism and thus the Futurist love of Cubism was born.

The Galleria in Milan by Carlo Carrà, 1912

The movement became enormously vibrant, not only in painting but in sculpture, architecture and even music. They were serious about changing perception and developing utterly modern forms with no ties to the past. In music they threw off the shackles of tradition harmony, chords and instrumentation. One technique they embraced was imitating the sound of machines and industry as part of music, foreshadowing not only Industrial music, Stockhausen and John Cage, but also certainly A Steampunk Opera. We’ll touch upon architecture in a later post.

Their influence and obsession extended across Europe and into America. Russia had its own particular Russian Futurism, an offshoot based on a mistranslation who disavowed all connection with Italian futurism’s founder Marinetti and which we’ll get into tomorrow.

By 1914 the Futurists got even more political They openly embraced violence and were extremely patriotic. They began campaigning heavily for and against certain politicians and paritcularly against the Austria Hungarian Empire. They championed war and when it came they were delighted. Most futurists enlisted immediately and marched happily into World War I.

They all died of course and there was the end of the first wave of Italian Futurism.


Posted by on August 18, 2012 in Uncategorized


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2 responses to “Italian Futurism

  1. dieselpunksencyclopedia

    August 18, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    Great short article, but there is one point I can’t agree with. WWI was not the end of Italian Futurism. A number of influential Futurists incl. FT Marinetti survived the war and were joined by younger artists. The movement was very active not only in ‘pure fine arts’ field, but also in book & magazine illustration, advertisement and propaganda. Take Fortunato Depero for example. In early 1930s, the second generation of futurists developed a very special style called Aeropittura. Tullio Crali remained faithful to Futurist principles till his last day. And he died in 2000.
    Thank you for the article.

    • paulms

      August 18, 2012 at 9:08 pm

      You know, i was actually wondering if someone was going to call me on that. There is no question further incarnations of Italian Futurism did continue on. Had i not gone for the dramatic ending i would have put forth that the initial movement did die at that point, but Marinetti and later artists brought about further incarnations of the movement. In other words, saying that the first wave of Italian Futurism died is accurate but later waves were still to come. However, since i’m actually going to do several posts over the next few days on Futurism (and seeing as you already have a few posts on the subject i believe i shall be perusing your blog, as i do regularly by the way, with my pilferer bag shortly) i was planning on addressing the later waves. Still, i think accuracy is perhaps better when discussing history than drama and since this very thing annoys me when others do it, i’m going change that last line to reflect a more accurate assessment.


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