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This talk will look at the visual propaganda of the extreme right covering nearly 100 years since Benito Mussolini’s ‘Black Shirt March on Rome’ in October of 1922. It will be divided into two parts. The first part will examine the art which the fascist and Nazi regimes actively promoted, focusing on such themes as the cult of the body beautiful, hyper-virility and military values, the celebration of rurality and tradition, the exploitation of classical antiquity, and antisemitism. The Nazi regime’s attack on modern art, which it treated as degenerate (entartete), will also be briefly discussed. Particular attention will be devoted to the portraits of the Duce and of the Führer, whose ubiquitous presence played a major part in the cult of their charismatic leaderships.

The fascist and Nazi regimes collapsed in 1945, yet, as the second part of the talk will show, their imagery has far from disappeared. In the past few decades the Italian far right that was born from the ashes of fascism has succeeded in presenting itself as a moderate and modern conservative party. Yet perusal of its propaganda output reveals a constant re-use, albeit in veiled form, of the iconographies, symbolic motifs, and slogans of the past, and party leaders have recurrently portrayed themselves in their publicity (election posters, leaflets, newspapers…) in postures that subtly evoke those of Mussolini. It will be argued that these references to fascism, “hidden in plain sight,” serve to reassure the diehards that the values of the past have not been betrayed. While largely focusing on Italy and Germany, the talk will also briefly comment on some fascist features that can be traced in the propaganda of such populist leaders as Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump on the world stage today.

Dr. Luciano Cheles is a member of the Laboratoire Universitaire Histoire Cultures Italie Europe of the University of Grenoble (France), and has taught at the universities of Lancaster (Great Britain), Lyon and Poitiers. His research has focused on visual propaganda and he has mounted several exhibitions on the subject, focusing especially on fascism, Nazism, and neo-fascism. His publications include the co-edited volumes Neo-fascism in Europe (Longman, 1991), The Far Right in Western and Eastern Europe (Longman, 1995), The Art of Persuasion. Political Communication in Italy from 1945 to the 1990s (Manchester University Press, 2001) and The Political Portrait: Leadership, Image and Power (Routledge, 2020). He has also published extensively on the arts of 15th-century Italian courts (Urbino, Ferrara, and Mantua), as well as on the impact of Renaissance iconography on 19th and 20th century French, British, and American visual cultures. He has been the recipient of a Terra Foundation Senior Fellowship at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, in Washington, D.C.

Read more research by Dr. Luciano Cheles → Read about Cheles’ book, The Political Portrait →
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