In 1938, at the behest of Mussolini’s fascist government, Giuseppe Terragni and Pietro Lingeri designed the Danteum, an unbuilt monument dedicated to the famed 14th-century Italian writer Dante Alighieri structured around the formal divisions of his greatest work, The Divine Comedy. The project was not seen as supporting Mussolini’s political ambitions and never came to fruition. Nowadays, just some sketches on paper, scraps of an architectural model of the project, and pieces of a project report (Relazione), written by Terragni, remain.
The Danteum Technical Information
- Architects: Giuseppe Terragni + Pietro Lingeri
- Location: Rome, Italy
- Topics: Unbuilt Architecture
- Project year: 1938
- Drawings: Giuseppe Terragni + Pietro Lingeri
We must feel the pride of a glorious legacy without giving up on living our own life.
– Giuseppe Terragni
The Danteum Images
The structure was meant to be built in Rome on the Via dell’Impero. The intention was to celebrate the famous Italian poet Dante, extol the virtues of a robust fascist state that bases its foundations on imperial Rome’s glory. The residues of the project give us the unfulfilled dream of Terragni for a monument to Dante, in which the Divine Comedy was projected in an architectural scheme.
In 1938 Rino Valdameri, then director of the Brera Academy in Milan and president of the Società Dantesca Italiana (Italian Dante Society), had proposed to Mussolini Cabinet to build, in time for the Universal Exposition of Rome E.42, a Danteum to celebrate the great poet. Valdameri commissioned the project to Terragni and Pietro Lingeri. It was supported by steel industrialist Milanese the count Alessandro Poss who had made available the sum of two million lire as a personal contribution to the project execution. Valdameri had also proposed a board of directors of twenty members to the nascent institution, made up of ministers, supporters, and intellectuals, under the head of government (Mussolini). The Valdameri himself had proposed some names for the board, including Giovanni Gentile and Ugo Ojetti.
November 10, 1938, at the Palazzo Venezia, the Valdameri and the designers present the project, and they obtained the Duce’s consent. However, because of the political developments that led to the war entrance, the subsequent hearings to discuss the project still had been continuously postponed. At the very end, the dream of realizing the building dedicated to Dante Alighieri and the Divine Comedy remained on paper.
Regarding the project papers, we are left with a few copies of the boards of the panels with bas-reliefs photographed and entered in the drawings and the project report of Giuseppe Terragni.
Compositionally, the Danteum was conceived as an allegory of the Divine Comedy. It consists of a sequence of monumental spaces that parallel the narrator’s journey from the “dark wood” through hell, purgatory, and paradise. Rather than attempting to illustrate the narrative, however, Terragni focuses on the text’s form and rhyme structure, translating them into the language of carefully proportioned spaces and unadorned surfaces typical of Italian Rationalism.
Since the form of the Divine Comedy was itself influenced by Byzantine churches’ architectural structure, the Danteum is, in a sense, a translation of a translation. Because of the complex literary, artistic, and architectural meaning associated with the design, the theorist Aarati Kanekar regards it as exemplary of how a spatial structure can express a sophisticated poetic sense without an explicit “vocabulary” of architectural symbols.
The Danteum Plans
About Giuseppe Terragni
Giuseppe Terragni (1904 – 1943) was an Italian architect who worked primarily under the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini and pioneered the Italian modern movement under the rubric of Rationalism. His most famous work is the Casa del Fascio built in Como, northern Italy, which was begun in 1932 and completed in 1936; it was built in accordance with the International Style of architecture and frescoed by abstract artist Mario Radice.
Though his career was relatively short, lasting only 13 years, Terragni’s Rationalist architectural work is still considered one of the most influential modernist architecture drivers in Italy.