"Italians, your First King is Dead"

February 2, 1878

Thomas Nast

"Italians, your First King is Dead"

Symbols, Italia; Women, Symbolic;

No 'People' indexed for this cartoon.


Italia: "My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar, and I must pause till it come back to me."--Shakespeare.

This Harper's Weekly cartoon by Thomas Nast mourns the loss of King Victor Emmanuel, the first constitutional monarch of a modern, united Italy, who died in Rome on January 9, 1878.

In 1815, the Congress of Vienna, which settled the Napoleonic Wars, left Italy divided into several states, a few independent and the rest under the authority of Austria, France, or the Vatican.  The revolutionary and nationalist fervor of the nineteenth century, however, included a movement for the complete independence and unification of Italy.  In 1848, a series of revolutions throughout Western Europe intended to bring about constitutional government, but ended largely in failure.  

In the Italian kingdom of Sardinia, though, Victor Emmanuel II was elevated to the throne in 1849, and he oversaw the development of parliamentary government, economic reforms, military reorganization, and the sale of properties owned by the Roman Catholic Church.  He was also a committed supporter of Italian independence and unification.  

In 1859, with the assistance of France, Victor Emmanuel's troops drove back the Austrian invasion of Piedmont, allowing him to add Lombardy to his kingdom.  The next year, two-thirds of the Papal States voted to unite with Sardinia.  In 1861, after Guiseppe Garibaldi, the military hero of Italian independence, ousted France from control of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, Victor Emmanuel was proclaimed king of Italy.  

Following the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 (or Seven Weeks' War), during which Italy sided with the eventually victorious Prussians, Austria ceded Venice to Italy.  In 1870, during the Franco-Prussian War, France withdrew its troops from Rome, and the city voted for union with the rest of Italy.  In 1871, Rome became the capital of a unified Italy.  

In 1860, illustrator Thomas Nast was sent to England by Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper to cover the championship boxing match between J. C. Heenan and Thomas Sayers.  After completing that assignment, Nast ventured to Italy, where he met Garibaldi, traveled with his troops, and sketched the Italian War for Independence (or Unification) for the New York Illustrated News and the London Illustrated News.  The artist returned to the United States in February 1861.

To Nast, Victor Emmanuel and Garibaldi were great heroes of liberal, secular, constitutional government.  In this cartoon, bordered in funereal black, Italia, the female symbol of Italy, mourns the death of King Victor Emmanuel.  The quotation from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar expresses the grief that Nast believed most Italians felt.  The quotation on the monument's pedestal--"Those whom the state hath joined together, let no church put asunder"--is a parody of the declaration in the marriage ceremony. It recognizes the separation of church and state enacted when Victor Emmanuel came to power in Italy, and it reflects Nast's intense opposition to the Roman Catholic Church.

Robert C. Kennedy

"Italians, your First King is Dead"
July 23, 2024

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