Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

California Italian Studies

California Italian Studies banner

Of Plaster Casts and Monks: Images of Cultural Heritage in Risorgimento Italy


In a new nation formed from regions of differing political traditions and histories, no single work of art or building could emerge as an emblematic image of Italian culture.  Instead, this essay argues that two classes of images – one an object type, the other the representation of a social class -- grew to epitomize the cultural identity crisis of the newly founded state. 

Both types of images, furthermore, were closely connected to the activities of the national superintendency.  The first were products of the archaeological innovation of Giuseppe Fiorelli when he the director of the national museum in Naples in 1863:  they were the plaster casts of the ancient Pompeiians who perished in the eruption of Vesuvius.  The second were monks:  members of the ancien regime’s privileged first estate and former residents of the ecclesiastic estates that became state property – some as national monuments – with the suppression of religious corporations in 1866.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View