Among the four hundred works of art in Milan’s Museum of the 20th Century is the famous “The Fourth Estate”, painted by Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo in 1901.
The masterpiece – which depicts a crowd of workers as they march to claim their rights – has become a symbol of the historical events that would soon after manifest themselves, as the lower class took center stage and became one of the strongest forces in modern times in the early 1900s.
Pellizza da Volpedo’s painting well represents the past century also in the way it became famous. It wasn’t so much the people who went to see it at Sforza Castle, where it was initially showcased; it was its countless reproductions on postcards, magazines and newspapers: a clear sign of how the public’s and artists’ attitude towards art was changing.
A few years later, the German philosopher Walter Benjamin explored and explained this shift in his popular essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”.
Today, the Museum of the 20th Century has collected works from Milan’s Civic Art Collections (including works by Balla, Morandi, Boccioni, Kandinsky, Modigliani, De Chirico, Picasso, Fontana, Matisse, Mondrian, and Klee) in Palazzo dell’Arengario, built between 1936 and 1956. The building, with façades decorated with bas-reliefs by Arturo Martini, was renovated by noted architects Italo Rota and Fabio Fornasari in 2010.
This is a place where the 20th century can still speak to us through art.