Tolkein exhibition opens 16th November 2023 in Rome

Tolkein exhibition opens in Rome

Culture News

A major show on Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien opens tomorrow at the National Gallery of Modern Art (GNAM) in Rome. The Tolkein exhibition and runs until 11th February 2024.

The upcoming exhibition, reportedly funded by Italy’s culture ministry with a generous €250,000, has stirred both intrigue and controversy. Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano announced the exhibition to the youth wing of Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party, framing it as a special “gift” to the party’s leader. Meloni, in her 2021 autobiography and political manifesto “I Am Giorgia,” revered Tolkien’s fantasy epic, referring to it as a “sacred” text.

Meloni’s affinity for Tolkien dates back to her youth activism days within the post-fascist Italian Social Movement when she donned hobbit attire for school visits. Notably, in 2008, she posed beside a Gandalf sculpture for a style supplement in Corriere della Sera newspaper.

While Tolkien’s works found resonance with the British counterculture movement of the 1960s, in 1970s Italy, they also garnered an unexpected following on the far right. For some Italian neofascists, Middle-earth’s lore symbolises an existential struggle akin to their ideological stance—an eternal clash between tradition and modernity. Critics argue Meloni strategically employs Tolkien’s narrative to frame her own story of battling tradition versus modernity within socially acceptable bounds.

The Tolkein exhibition

The exhibition, named “Tolkien: Man, Professor, Author,” is a significant cultural event, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Tolkien’s passing and the first publication of “Lord of the Rings” in Italian.

Showcasing manuscripts, letters, memorabilia, and artworks inspired by Tolkien’s literary world, the exhibition opens in Rome and will tour other Italian cities until February 11, 2024.

The exhibition will also focus on his relationship with Italy: “I am in love with Italian, and I feel rather lost without the possibility of trying to speak it,” reads one of his letters. There is also evidence of his trip to Venice and Assisi in 1955; as well as his many contacts, direct and indirect, with Italian scholars and intellectuals.

Space will also be given to film adaptations old and new, from Ralph Bakshi’s animated film to director Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which was able to portray on the big screen one of the most ambitious and popular sagas in world literature, winning seventeen Academy Awards.

Meloni is scheduled to open the exhibition tomorrow, however Sangiuliano played down political attacks on the show as celebrating right-wing Italian culture saying he had no time for “petty polemics”. He also noted both that the Hollywood films of the Lord of the Rings saga were a global smash and that figures ranging from former Democratic US President Barack Obama to ex-Beatle Paul McCartney had publicly voiced their love for the South-African-born, Birmingham-raised author.

Meloni’s cultural interest

Despite assertions that the exhibition was not a personal request from Meloni, her administration’s interest in cultural affairs is increasingly evident. This involvement includes the nomination of right-wing journalist Pietrangelo Buttafuoco as the new president of the Venice Biennale and the strategic placement of conservative allies in influential positions within the national broadcaster Rai and the Maxxi Foundation, which oversees the renowned Maxxi modern art museum in Rome.

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