• Rationalism on Set: Glamour and Modernity in 1930s Italian Cinema

This exhibition explored a little-known period of Italian cinematic history, highlighting the strong Modernist influence apparent in the set designs created for a number of romantic comedies during the inter-war years. A selection of vintage photographs were complemented by sketches and contemporary periodicals sourced from the Cineteca Nazionale, Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia (Rome), the Cineteca di Bologna, the Museo Nazionale del Cinema (Turin) and the RIBA Collections. Rationalism on Set was on display at the Estorick Collection from 18 April until 24 June 2018.

Until recently, Italy’s contributions to architecture and cinema in the 1930s have been overlooked. The exhibition looked at the role played by Italian architects and architectural culture in the development of a Modernist aesthetic for film sets of the 1930s, which was increasingly adopted in contemporary films, largely due to the production company Cines, which sought to raise the quality of Italian cinema after a period of decline in the 1920s.

Many architects recognised the powerful role that cinema could play in popularising modern architecture; some, like Giuseppe Capponi, got personally involved with set design, while others, such as the editors of Casabella and Domus, vocally supported their colleagues’ efforts to reflect in film settings the latest developments in architecture and to ‘educate’ the public by familiarising them with modern design.

These modern sets were often photographed prior to filming, and it is these photographs – which could be easily confused with the images of real interiors published by contemporary architectural journals – that were on display. Comparing them with images of contemporary architecture from the RIBA Collections highlighted influences such as that of the Bauhaus, and revealed the international rather than local character of these films’ Modernist aesthetic.

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Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau on the set of La Notte by Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960 © Sergio Strizzi Photography

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Pasquarosa, Vase of Flowers, c. 1916

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