Coming out of the Great War is a documentary and iconographic exhibition which examines and shows the correlation between the University of Padua, at that time Royal University, and the historic, social and cultural context, a specific link that is formed during the First World War.
This moment and the engagement are very relevant, with some interesting singularities that we’ll try to narrate through a visual perspective, to highlight their self-representation.
Our journey will start from the 8th february 1848, without sinking too deeply into the roots of the University, which are innervated in the urban territory. It is a significant date, more than once pointed out as the moment when university students began playing a new role in the city. In this particular day, we are spectators of a public display of a fighting spirit that makes them rise up against the “enemy”, the Austrian invader, to reaffirm the Italian values. A riot that overflows from the square in front of Caffè Pedrocchi and Palazzo del Bo, one of Padua central areas, finally leading to the retreat of the Austrian troops.
A memorial stone hung to the university palace recalls that event, fixed in the collective imagination thanks to one of the most iconic representations of the history of the Risorgimento of Veneto.
The students’ active role is renewed with the institution, shortly after, of a Guardia Civica on a volunteer basis. A lot of them enlists in its ranks, as in the Legione dei Crociati padovani. It’s a clear signal of a widespread armed mobilisation among students, as well as paduan citizens, reflecting an ever more strong will to take up weapons to defend common values.
During the second half of the XIX century, that same spirit will be strengthened, even after the outbreak of the First World War, with irridentist outbursts and the creation of the so-called Battaglione di San Giusto, exclusively made of volunteers, such as Beniamino Romagnoli, Raffaele Cantoni and Claudio Suvich, to mention some names.
Quite a lot of students elinst in this occasion, about 1200, as reported by the rector Ferdinando Lori in his inaugural speech for the academic year, the 4th november 1916 in the Aula Magna. It’s a spirit which will come out even in the post-war period, when, alongside the celebrations for victory, it will be declined in the heroic sacrifice and memory of the dead students.
Through this point of view, commemoration becomes rhetorical, as shown by the monument chosen to represent this virtual exhibition: the panels of the bronze Doorway of Palazzo del Bo, which opens to the public view the ancient Courtyard, connecting the prestigious venue of the University with the city, and, in particular, with VIII february 1848 street (as it was named in 1899). One closed, they reveal a symbolic meaning centered on the students consecration, forging a dialogue between the Athenaeum and the city of Padua based on that valiant sacrifice, set in the same location where the first manifestation of the fighting spirit took place.