Portatrici, Lavandaie, Cucitrici: Picturesque Modernism and the Image of the Italian Woman at Work

Anna Aline Mehlman Dumont, B.A.

My project centers on allegorical depictions of women’s work the work of Novecento artists such as Sironi and Campigli produced during the Fascist ventennio. I propose a new understanding of these works, which are often discussed in the context of the classical, instead locating them with in the tradition of ethnographic image collecting undertaken by art critics and social reformers invested in preserving forms of Italian life seen as under threat from modernity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I draw on photographic collections of women sewing, washing, and carrying water amassed by activists such as Elisa Guastalla Ricci, and published in art periodicals like Em-porium and The Studio to argue that such picturesque depictions are the product of anxieties about the place of women’s domestic labor at the moment of Italian industrialization. The second half of the project turns to the representations of these forms of work in the work of female painters like Leonor Fini and Edita Broglio. For the first time, this project puts their surreal depictions of women’s work into conversation with their male collaborators of the ‘30s, investigating their depictions of futile and nonsense work.

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