Italy: Far right embraces Middle-earth as PM opens Tolkien show

Rome: Italy’s Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni, will personally open a new exhibition about the Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien at Rome’s National Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art on Wednesday, highlighting her far-right government’s growing interest in shaping the output of the country’s cultural institutions.

The exhibition, which, according to La Repubblica, is being funded by Italy’s culture ministry to the tune of €250,000 (£218,000), was announced by the culture minister, Gennaro Sangiuliano, to the youth wing of Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party in July as a “gift” to its leader.

In her 2021 autobiography-cum-political manifesto I Am Giorgia, Meloni described Tolkien’s 1954 fantasy epic as a “sacred” text. As a youth activist in the post-fascist Italian Social Movement, Meloni had visited schools dressed as a hobbit, and in 2008 she was photographed next to a sculpture of Gandalf for the style supplement of Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Tolkien’s books were embraced by the hippy movement of the 1960s, which rejoiced in the drug cultures of the Shire. In Italy, however, the fantasy worlds of the devout Catholic English novelist in the 1970s also found fervent admirers on the far right.

In Middle-earth lore, some Italian neofascists see an existential struggle between the forces of tradition and modernity that resembles their own ideology.

Critics of Meloni say the text allows the 46-year-old politician to narrate her story of an existential battle between the forces of tradition and modernity in socially acceptable terms.

Presenting the concept of the exhibition in Rome last week, Sangiuliano said the show was “deliberate and desired” but rejected any notion that it had been personally requested by Meloni.

Opening 50 years after the author’s death and publication of the first Italian edition of Lord of the Rings, Tolkien: Man, Professor, Author will include an array of manuscripts, letters, memorabilia and works of art inspired by his literary vision.

The first exhibition of its size in Italy, it will be on display in Rome until 11 February 2024 before touring other Italian cities.

Meloni’s personal appearance is one of several signs of her administration’s interest in the country’s cultural sector. Last week, Pietrangelo Buttafuoco, a rightwing journalist and public intellectual, was nominated as the new president of the Venice Biennale, the world’s largest contemporary art exhibition that opens next April.

Conservative allies of Meloni have also recently taken over influential positions at the national broadcaster Rai and the Maxxi Foundation, which manages the eponymous and influential modern art museum in Rome.