The “other Modigliani,” Giuseppe Emanuele
(Mene) Modigliani, was one of Italy's earliest socialist and union
leaders to be elected to Parliament. He was the younger brother of
the legendary modernist painter, Amedeo
An exhibit at the Center for Jewish History
[*] highlights Modigliani’s activities and correspondence with
prominent thinkers, and examines the contributions of Jewish
intellectuals whose influence from 1860 to 1920 were especially pivotal
to the formation of the State of Italy.
Born in Livorno, a town with a predominantly Jewish population,
the Modigliani family were well-to-do Jews of Sephardic descent. Graduating
with a law degree, Mene became an advocate of education and welfare reform
for the advancement of society, a director of a reformist newspaper, and was
subsequently appointed president of the Glassworkers Union. He secured the
first national union contract in the history of Italy, and in 1913 was elected
to the Italian Parliament, where he was to serve for many years.
Sophisticated, with international connections to world political leaders,
Mene and his wife Vera were chief among a group of Italian intellectuals whose
views and writings were later incorporated into the constitution of 1948.
A writer and lecturer of anti-war manifestos and a radical pacifist, Mene,
with the advent of World War I, joined other European intellectuals and political
figures in the Zimmerwald Conference, to voice their strong and vehement opposition
to the horrors of war and openly articulated diplomatic alternatives.
In 1926, Mene, seeing the injustices and restrictions on civil liberties imposed
by Mussolini, and being prescient of what was becoming a fierce and rapid
rise of fascism, fled with his wife Vera to Vienna, then on to Paris. When
the German occupation of the city forced them to flee again, Mene’s
spoke his now-famous words to the authorities: "I have the honor, the
honor, if not the pleasure — to belong
to the Jewish race... four fourths of Jewish blood." Seeking a safe haven,
the Modiglianis retreated to the neutrality of Switzerland.
Mene was asked by Luigi Antonini and David Dubinsky, the brilliant labor leader
and president of the Ladies Garment Workers Union (Local 89) to visit and
lecture in the United States on the extreme dangers of Nazi and Fascist policies.
Mene's staunch views and insights as well as his accomplishments in labor
negotiations were such that between 1928 and 1938, he was a regular contributor
to the American socialist magazine The New Leader. In the 1930s he became
a great admirer of Roosevelt and firmly advocated social reform within the
boundaries of the law.
In 1947, the couple moved back to Italy where Mene died shortly thereafter.
Vera Funaro Modigliani carried on the legacy of her husband and created the
Modigliani Foundation, with the objective of documenting the history of this
post-unification political circle, and of studying the contribution of Italian
Jews to the history of socialism, labor unionism and democracy.
The Center for Jewish History and the
Centro Culturale Primo Levi in collaboration with the Italian National
Archives will run a documentary exhibit of Giuseppe Emanuele (Mene) Modigliani
from May 16, 2004 (7 p.m.) through September 1, 2004 at the Center for Jewish History. Admission is free.
Through a series of beautiful photographs, posters, correspondences with
prominent thinkers, as well as personal diaries, the exhibit highlights
the cultural, political, and social climate in which the brothers were
raised, and examines the contributions of Jewish intellectuals whose influence
from 1860 to 1920 were especially pivotal to the formation of the State