A symposium in the US capital on Tuesday highlighted the many influences Italy has had on the White House through the centuries, from Cicero’s ideal of the gentleman politician to the concept of equality espoused by Filippo Mazzei, which influenced Thomas Jefferson in guiding the nation’s founding principles.
The symposium “Italy in the White House: A Conversation on Historical Perspectives” was organised by the White House Historical Association in cooperation with the National Italian American Foundation, the Italian Institute of Culture and the Italian Embassy. The day-long event took place in the Association’s headquarters, the Decatur House, a historical home built in 1818 just steps from the White House.
The symposium gathered experts in the overlapping histories between the two nations, as well as diplomats and first-person witnesses to the relationships between Italy and the United States.
Campbell Grey, an associate professor of classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania, was on hand to lead conference attendants through some of the important historical connections that tie the two countries together, such as the long correspondence in the late 1700s between Benjamin Franklin and Italian philosopher and jurist Gaetano Filangieri.
Grey also touched on the friendship between Jefferson and Mazzei, a Tuscan physician who aided Virginia in acquiring arms during the American Revolution, and inspired the Declaration of Independence maxim that all men are created equal.
Grey said the White House contains a vast assortment of Italian items, among them a mosaic in the drawing room inspired by those found at Pompeii, the Carrara-marble fireplace mantle in the Red Room, and paintings by Costantino Brumidi in the Palm Room.
White House Historical Society President Stewart McLaurin in his welcome speech toasted new Italian Ambassador to the US, Armando Varricchio, who spoke positively of the event. “Today’s symposium represents for us Italians a great privilege, but above all, an excellent opportunity to deepen a long and in many ways surprising history of interactions between our country and the United States,” Varricchio said.
photo: bust of Cicero