Patriotic Demonstration by Giacomo Balla

What’s going on in Giacomo Balla’s painting Patriotic Demonstration?

  • Rome rallies to join World War I
  • Disembodied limbs dance across canvas
  • Italian flags aflutter

Patriotic Demonstration combines Futurism’s best and worst. The painting dances with movement. It’s also a rally for violence and war. These are primary Futurist priorities. Giacomo Balla mixed allegiance into the piece as well. So, viewers may notice the Italian flag among thee painting’s colorful whirls. The canvas swirls with excitement. It represents the pro war rallies of 1914 and 15. Italy prepared to enter World War I filled with idealistic fervor. This spirit inspired Futurists, such as Balla, to embrace this movement. They channeled its fiery energy into their work and this one’s a prime example.


Balla infused Patriotic Demonstration with excited anticipation. I love the variation in tonal qualities of the shapes he integrates. For instance, the shadowy dark sweeps and opaque shaded limb-like projections. These give us a sense of arms sweeping in circles. It lends the piece a slight human element. But these are frenetic people – almost violent. It’s an idea that brings together the two sides of Futurism; movement and warfare.

Futurism – Moving Pictures

Portraying forward movement obsessed Futurist artists. They developed fresh techniques to show subjects in motion on canvas. Futurism drew inspiration from chronophotographs and mass production machinery. These pictures were scientific illustrations of bodies in motion. They helped in anatomy and physiology studies into human and animal body functions. As a side benefit, these photos were also striking and beautiful. It was a revelation to see a body moving in a still picture.


Painters at the turn of the century loved these invigorated images. They used chronophotos to show movement with a spectrum of the figure in pieces. This carried them, gliding across the canvas in an optical illusion of action. Most of these artworks involved humans or animals. But this one stands out in its higher level of fragmentation.


Instead of humans, Balla gives us body parts in Patriotic Demonstration. Nothing here reads straight forward. It’s a chaotic jumble of energy. The only recognizable features are frenetic actions at a wild rally. Emotions sweep the scene in vague shapes. This leaves viewers guessing at the actual subject matter. We must lean in and analyze. Only then does the political rally burst forth for us.


Futurism – Machinery & Mass Production

Balla filled Patriotic Demonstration with object elements rather than human ones. Even his arms that seem to grasp and swing flags are more like mannequin parts than people’s limbs. He shaped them into matte trunks. Balla curled each into improbable curvature right where it might become recognizable.

This gives the swirling motion of the painting a machine feeling. It’s like a rotating fan with flags attached. This kind of hands-free movement appealed to Futurists. They embraced factories, mass production, and machinery. These entities represented progress to them. It was common for Futurists to strip away the human element in artwork – bowing at the altar of “innovation”. This is where the story of their art movement slips into a darker tone.


Patriotic Demonstration by Giacomo Balla


Futurism – War

The Futurists saw themselves as progressive. They believed technology and innovation earmarked progress. That’s why they revered machinery and mass production. But their pro-war stance originated elsewhere. Warfare seemed progressive to them because they saw it as a sort of societal cleansing. This naive perspective came with the timing. The world had never known a holistic war. It was just before World War I. Futurists didn’t yet know how war would destroy so much. They were idealistic. More importantly, they didn’t know any better. Notions of humanity lurked backstage in Futurist artwork. War, machinery, and showing motion on canvas took the spotlight.

Patriotic Demonstration blends these three elements. It’s a perfect Futurist melange. We see frantic flags. But it’s a rally without ralliers. Instead of humans, Balla portrays only disembodied limbs and Italian flags. Country matters much more to the painter here than humanity. The title describes this. It’s a demonstration of fealty to one’s homeland.


Our most hardcore patriots are often soldiers. They’re required to put country before humanity and might even have to take a life for the sake of duty. That’s the ultimate expression of putting nation before person. So, the mannequin-like arm pieces waving these raucous flags in a pro war rally reminded me of this. Calling out for war is one way to push humanity toward the back burner of your priorities.

I love Futurism despite this dark side. In fact, that’s what I appreciate most about Patriotic Demonstration. This painting epitomizes Futurist movement and energy. It also portrays a pro-war rally with a noticeable lack of people present. Balla plays these elements in a concert of colorful shapes. The blend of dark webs, Italian flags, and pale limbs feels like a chaotic dance. There’s a threatening undertone. But the vivid red, blue, and green in motion keeps this masterpiece alive. It celebrates war before humanity knew what a world war really was. That innocent enthusiasm pulls us into the painting. Even if we now know better about warfare, Balla’s rallying movement intrigues us.



Patriotic Demonstration – FAQs

What’s the story behind Patriotic Demonstration by Giacomo Balla?

There are two theories about the exact pro-war rally Patriotic Demonstration portrays. But one thing’s certain, Giacomo Balla supported Italy joining the war in 1915. He expressed this Futurist ideal on canvas with frantic, fluttering Italian flags.

There was a Rome rally March 9th of 1915 where the expression “Morte Giolitti” rang through the crowd. Galla inserted this precise phrase into a study for this painting. So, this event may have been a source inspiration.

However, the number 8 stands out in Patriotic Demonstration. It’s one of the painting’s few clear and direct symbols. Eight was the emblem for the House of Savoy, led by the Italian king. This points to the March 21st demonstration. The rally took place outside the Royal Palace where the words  “Long Live Italy!” filled the air.


Why is Giacomo Balla’s Patriotic Demonstration an important painting?

A harbinger for Italy entering World War II, Patriotic Demonstration exemplifies Futurism. That’s evident in the frenetic movement of flags swirling across its canvas. Futurists revelled in the portrayal of motion through paint.

They also shared a staunch enthusiasm for war. Viewers will discover this pro-warfare attitude in the violent fluttering of Balla’s Italian flags. He drew inspiration for the painting’s details from Rome’s pro-war rallies of 1915. He channeled their nationalist fervor into Patriotic Demonstration.

This painting thus captures a critical inflection point in art history. Young artists who’ve never known the horrors of war call for it to “cleanse” their country. Little did Italians know the destruction ahead for them in World War I. Thanks to Balla’s painting, we have a sense of the impetus that led Italy into joining the fray.


Where can I see Patriotic Demonstration in person?

I recommend a trip to Madrid to see Giacomo Balla’s masterpiece. You’ll find it featured in the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza collection. At about 3.3 by 4.5 feet, Patriotic Demonstration feels much grander in person. Head to room 34 in the museum and see for yourself – it’s a wonder in motion.

Its bright Italian colors whirl between light and dark extremes. So, viewers can’t resist the pull of its volatile motion. I found myself swaying before it. We can also sense the clamorous cry of the 1915 rallies that inspired this masterpiece. It takes us to a more innocent time and place – loud with the exuberance of youth.


ENJOYED THIS Patriotic Demonstration ANALYSIS?

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Maurizio Fagiolo dell’Arco – Balla, the Futurist, Rizzoli, 1988

See Patriotic Demonstration on the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid website

The 20th-Century art book (Reprinted. ed.). London: Phaidon Press

Bertrand, Sandra (July 24, 2014). “Invasion of the Italian Futurists”. Highbrow Magazine.

The Guggenheim on Italian Futurism

Greenwald, Xico (April 22, 2014). “Back to the Futurism”. New York Sun

Poggi, Christine (2009). “Photogenic Abstraction: Giacomo Balla’s Iridescent Interpenetrations“. Inventing Futurism: The Art and Politics of Artificial Optimism. Princeton University Press.

Vivien Greene (ed.): Italian Futurism 1909 – 1944. Reconstructing the Universe, Guggenheim Museum 2014Vivien Greene (ed.): Italian Futurism 1909 – 1944. Reconstructing the Universe, Guggenheim Museum 2014