Thursday, June 12, 2014

Spotlight on our Collections: Statue of Italy Triumphant

Statue of Italy Triumphant
President Woodrow Wilson House collection
Photo: Winston Randolph
Outside the drawing room on the second floor of the President Woodrow Wilson House stands a statue given by the people of Milan to President Wilson in gratitude of Wilson’s role in World War One. The statue, made from a melted down Austrian artillery piece, depicts a feminine figure, representing either Italia Turrita (an allegory figure of Italy) or the goddess Victory. In one hand she holds a sword while in the other she carries a dead and defeated two headed eagle, the symbol of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The sculpture stands as a poignant symbol of Italy’s triumph over its longtime rival in World War One.
            Italy’s role in World War One is often less recognized than the roles of France or the British Empire. Prior to the war Italy had been allied to the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary but remained neutral when hostilities broke out in 1914. In 1915 Italy joined the war on the side of the Allies, fighting Austria-Hungary until the November 1918 peace. The war in Italy did not approach the scale or the cost of the war on other fronts; nevertheless, Italy played a significant role in the Paris Peace Conference.
Wilson in Rome
President Woodrow Wilson House
            President Woodrow and First Lady Edith Wilson received this sculpture in Milan on January 5th. In Italy, Wilson became the first sitting U.S. President to meet with the Pope (Benedict XV). Wilson also used the trip to promote his peace plan, asserting to the Italian parliament that the peacemakers must “organize the friendship of the world, to see to it that all the moral forces that make for right and justice are united and given a vital organization… [to be] substituted for the balance of power.”[1] Similar to other places in Europe, large crowds came out to meet Wilson throughout Italy believing him the deliverer of a new European peace.
1919 while they traveled through Europe before attending the peace conference. Many significant events occurred on Wilson’s trip to Italy.
Crowd to see Wilson in Rome
President Woodrow Wilson House Collection
In later years in her home on S Street, Edith Wilson made sure to cover the tip of the statue’s sword with a tennis ball whenever the grandchildren came to visit. Today the statue ushers guests into the formal drawing room of the Wilson House which holds many other state gifts the Wilsons received on their trip to Europe. These gifts, including others received by Wilson in Italy, showcase Wilson’s role as an international diplomat and highlight the scope of his travels before the Paris Peace Conference.

-Winston Randolph

[1]John Milton Cooper, Woodrow Wilson: A Biography page 465

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