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Against Mussolini

Renato Guttuso's The Massacre, oil on canvas, painted in 1943.

Against Mussolini

Powerful Works of anti-Fascist imagery on display until 19 December

Issued on 17 September 2010

A University of Leicester expert in Italian Studies is one of the curators of a London exhibition displaying powerful works of anti-Fascist imagery.

The exhibition at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, 39a Canonbury Square, entitled Against Mussolini: Art and the Fall of a Dictator will run from 22nd September to 19th December 2010.

Director of Italian Studies at Leicester and one of the curators of the exhibition, Dr Simona Storchi, will also be giving the last of five informal Saturday Gallery Talks linked to the exhibition on 11th December at 3pm. Gallery Talks are free with an admission ticket on the day.

Dr Storchi commented: ‘The exhibition is the result of a four-year research project on the cult of personality of Mussolini.

"Mussolini was the first dictator of the 20th century to harness the visual arts and the mass media of his regime. The works on show reveal the way artists depicted the decline of the cult and the collapse of the Fascist regime. My special interest in this project has been in the development of Mussolini’s iconography, and, as far as this exhibition is concerned, on the rise and fall of Mussolini’s image.

"One notable example documented in the exhibition is the equestrian statue of the dictator that was erected in the sports stadium in Bologna. This was pulled down by an angry crowd in 1943, after Mussolini’s fall, and later turned into two statues of partisan fighters which today stand at one of the city’s gates, a clear example of anti-fascist art.

"All the works we have gathered for this exhibition, many of which are on show in the UK for the first time, are a powerful condemnation of the cruelty and violence of the Fascist regime and of the atrocities of the war.’

While several major exhibitions have been devoted to exploring the propaganda imagery of Fascist Italy, art produced by those hostile to Mussolini and his regime has received surprisingly little attention in recent years. The exhibition will draw on a wide range of material – painting, sculpture, graphic design and documentation – to provide a comprehensive and illuminating study of this under-explored area of modern Italian culture.

The exhibition constitutes a central element of a wider research project entitled The Cult of the Duce: Mussolini and the Italians, 1918-2005, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and led by Prof. Stephen Gundle (Warwick University), working in collaboration with Prof. Christopher Duggan (Reading University) and Dr Giuliana Pieri (Royal Holloway, University of London). The aim of the project has been to investigate the nature, purposes, functioning and impact of the personality cult of Mussolini in the period from 1918 until 1945. The after-effects of the cult in popular memory have also been studied.

Against Mussolini: Art and the Fall of a Dictator relates to the part of the project concerned with the decline of the cult. It brings together some of the diverse paintings and drawings produced in Italy and abroad throughout the Fascist era, but focuses particularly on the years immediately following Mussolini’s initial fall from power in 1943 and the period of civil war and resistance. This period witnessed the destruction of many Fascist symbols and images of Mussolini. Portraits in homes and local Fascist organisations were thrown out while larger works were attacked and defaced. Popular anger reflected the detachment from the cult that the hardships and setbacks of the war brought. Artists shared these feelings and in several cases anticipated them. Many of the works in the exhibition are characterised by a demonisation and a desecration of the man who had once been hailed as a demi-god, depicting a grotesque figure of tragic or comic proportions.

The virile Duce is turned into an obese, mis-shapen man in works that have an air of blasphemy. Others represent meditations on the tragedy of the Nazi occupation and civil war. Together they offer a unique insight into the way the visual arts responded to a period of transition that still remains controversial today.

The cult of Mussolini cast a shadow in post-war Italy and nostalgic Fascists continued to cultivate their admiration in private. But, for the majority of Italians, the failings of the dictatorship and the horrors of war were sufficient to end any attachment to Fascism’s dreams of building a mighty nation. Artists played a vital part in portraying these horrors and in visualising the disenchantment with the man who led the country for more than twenty years. Their works stand as testimony to that particular, tragic phase in Italian history that preceded the rebirth of democracy. They also offer something more: a stark condemnation of the vanities of dictatorship and of the violence that is an intrinsic part of Fascism. To this extent they offer a universal message of humanity and peace that is no less urgent in our troubled times than it was in the middle of the twentieth century.

Against Mussolini: Art and the Fall of a Dictator will run from 22nd September to 19th December 2010 at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, 39a Canonbury Square, London N1

Admission is £5.00, concessions £3.50, and includes the permanent collection and temporary exhibitions. It is free to under 16s and students on production of a valid NUS card.


Notes to Editors: Some historical details and more information about the exhibition Against Mussolini: Art and the Fall of a Dictator follow.

For information about Dr Storchi’s role in the exhibition please contact her on: email ss557@leicester.ac.uk, Tel. +44 (0)116 252 2654.

For information more generally please contact Sue Bond Public Relations Tel. +44 (0)1359 271085, Fax. +44 (0)1359 271934 E-mail. info@suebond.co.uk, www.suebond.co.uk

Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) began his political career as an ardent Socialist, promoting the overthrow of the Liberal state through an aggressive journalistic style that led him to be appointed editor of the party’s newspaper Avanti!. However, the outbreak of the First World War represented a turning point in his evolving political consciousness, causing him to reject his party’s official line of neutrality in favour of the interventionist cause, seeing in war a chance to shake bourgeois society to its foundations and precipitate revolution. He established his own newspaper, Il Popolo d’Italia, which functioned as the mouthpiece of his particular brand of Socialism – and of the nascent Fascist movement.

Officially founded in March 1919, Fascism’s programme initially attracted few supporters with its bewildering blend of right-wing nationalism and leftist social reforms. Dismal election results that year encouraged yet another ideological reappraisal on the part of Mussolini, who undertook a further – and irrevocable – move to the Right, abandoning the movement’s earlier republicanism and anticlericalism, and shedding the last vestiges of Socialist ideology in an opportunistic pursuit of power. In response to the industrial unrest precipitated by the economic problems of the post-war era, Mussolini played on fears of an imminent Bolshevik revolution of the kind he had once encouraged, presenting Fascism as the sole defender of law and order. With support for the movement increasing, the Liberal Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti invited Mussolini to form an anti-Socialist alliance in 1921 which led to the election of thirty-five Fascist Deputies. However, Mussolini was not satisfied to play a supporting role. The failure to suppress the Fascist ‘March on Rome’ of 28 October 1922 revealed a fatal lack of political will to resist the rise of Mussolini’s movement, culminating in his appointment as Prime Minister at the end of the month.

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