Not so parallel lives: the Exempla Virtutis in the German and Italian tradition

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In the eighteenth century, public statuary shifted from the commemoration of princes to the celebration of ‘great men’: men, less so women, who had excelled in the arts and sciences, on the battlefield or in the political-administrative realm. Reflecting ancient and Renaissance virtue ethics, these public recognitions of virtuous behaviour (exempla virtutis) were intended to encourage emulation in order to rally the nation to the revolutionary and Napoleonic war effort. This article analyses the gradual nationalization of the exempla virtutis in early nineteenth-century Italy and Germany. It retraces the creation of spaces to commemorate great men and charts the changing biographies of those selected for inclusion in the Roman Pantheon and Walhalla respectively. The article argues that rather than overcoming national divisions the eclectic selection of ‘great men’ actually functioned as a magnifying glass for tensions within the nation, thus undermining the very notion of a ‘national monument’.




Bouwers, E. G. (2020). Not so parallel lives: the Exempla Virtutis in the German and Italian tradition. Journal of Modern Italian Studies, 25(4), 372–386.

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