Ruskin's social criticism, which in Unto This Last (1862) harshly condemned the effects of industrialism by mythologizing medieval age and craftmanship, had a wide influence on social reformers of various political orientations: William Morris, J.A. Hobson, the Art and Crafts Movement, the guildism of Arthur Penty and GHD Cole and the New Age circle, with an impact that went as far as the early decades of the 20th century. While his work as an art critic was promptly received in the Italian cultural debate, his social criticism found little audience, at least until the turn of the centuries, and anyway not in the sphere of economic and sociological culture. In this contribution I intend to examine how the circulation of Ruskin's social thought in the Italian cultural debate between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was inscribed in the renewed interest in the social function of art, advocated in the Florentine literary journal Il Marzocco with particular reference to the work of Lev Tolstoy by young intellectuals such as Ugo Ojetti, Angelo Orvieto, and Enrico Corradini, as well as established critics as Angelo Conti. The debate became a watershed moment in Italian culture, involving crucial issues as identity and tradition, artistic heritage and national rebirth. By including in this cultural framework the reception of Ruskin’s social criticism, I intend to highlight its connection with the emergence of the movement for the conservation of the artistic heritage, in which Il Mazocco had a leading role, and to suggest it having mixed political implications. Ruskinian references were channeled in a perspective of national rebirth and regeneration; for a paradoxical but interesting twist, aspects of Ruskin's anti-industrialist and medievalist imagery converged within the new nationalist and nationalist dimension that crossed the Italian (and European) culture of the first decade of the century
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