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Through the Diplomatic Looking Glass



A special category of books remains, those books concerning Italian embassies or residences of Italian ambassadors. These are books of photographs that, regretfully, often do not have an author, even though conceived and edited by the ambassador who, at the time of publication, was serving in the embassy pictured in the book.

The volume is often a tribute to the house or the buildings where the ambassador spent time. In most cases, these books are widely illustrated and have a limited text. The text, often in both Italian and English, is typically devoted to the history of the buildings. Even though they are not-for-sale books and, therefore, printed in limited editions and not easy to find, they offer a unique opportunity to look at places otherwise inaccessible to the public.

Among the diplomats who have edited books of this kind, we can mention Gaetano Cortese, who published The Embassy of Italy in Brussels in 2000, available in Italian and in French. As well, we can note Ferdinando Salleo’s 1992 The Embassy of Italy in Moscow, available in Italian and in English. In 1997, Maurizio Moreno edited The Embassy of Italy in Prague, while Luca Daniele Biolato (together with Tadeusz Jaroszewski) published The Szlenkier Palace: Embassy of Italy in Warsaw. A number of others are available, including Pasquale Baldocci’s 1993 bilingual Italian and English, The Residence of the Italian embassy in MoscowAmbassador of Italy in Tanzania. The Embassy of Italy in Berlin was published by Silvio Fagiolo in 2005 and is dedicated to the restored building that hosts the Embassy inaugurated in 2003. Fagiolo describes well the meaning of some of these buildings: “Embassies are spaces that summarize sometimes striking and dramatic human and political paths in the relationship between peoples and countries.”

In 2005, Stefano Ronca edited the book, The Embassy of Italy in Bucharest. Ronca also provides an interesting description of the diplomatic residence:

For the diplomat, the house has a greater importance than one can have for other professions. You expect the residence of an ambassador to reflect the character, the taste, the culture, the hospitality and the heat of the country that he represents.

Other volumes have been dedicated to the Embassy of Italy in Lisbon, to the Embassy of Italy in London, to the Embassy of Italy in Vienna, and to the Embassy of Italy and its garden in Tokyo .

The most complete survey of buildings hosting Italian embassies is the series of eight volumes that Mariapia Fanfani, the wife of Amintore Fanfani, the one-time Prime Minister of Italy, published between 1969 and 1989 under the title The Embassies of Italy in the World. In this series, she has documented one hundred and thirteen diplomatic embassies. According to Leonardo Vergani, as reported in the seventh volume:

Mariapia Fanfani began her photographic reports in the sixties. She got in contact with our embassies, as did all journalists travelling in foreign countries that were torn to pieces by war and by natural calamities, where diplomatic personnel is constantly in the frontline. It was then that she thought about dedicating these volumes, by now seven, to the embassies, to those houses of Italy that represent not only the voice of our country in foreign countries, but also the meeting point, the point of mediation, the point of of rapid intervention. In our embassies people work, under extremely difficult conditions, to continue action in favour of peace, to save our citizens who sometimes risk their lives. . . . Our embassies more and more often succeed in continuing a dialogue in a world upset by the most merciless and blind terrorism, averting breaking the thin thread of hope. In the tragedies of our daily way of living, our embassies become irreplaceable points of reference.

Other countries have similar kind of books. As an example, the book Building Diplomacy published by the photographer Elizabeth Gill Lui in 2004 (Cornell University Press ) deals with the architecture of United States missions abroad. The author has realised the book after having travelled to fifty countries to photograph American embassies, chanceries, and ambassadorial residences.

Other buildings have also been photographed and published. The book, Where Diplomacy Meets Art[1], widely illustrated, follows the history of the buildings that have housed the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the words of the author,

For the first time, this book presents to the eyes of the general public the interiors of the state reception rooms in the successive historical buildings of Italian diplomacy: the Palazzo delle Segreterie di Stato in Turin; the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence; the Palazzo della Consulta, the Palazzo Chigi, the Farnesina, and the Villa Madama in Rome.

[1] Colombo Sacco di Albiano, Ugo, Dove la diplomazia incontra l’arte, Colombo, Rome, 2006.

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last update 26/02/08 - © Stefano Baldi

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