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New art exhibition takes a fresh look at the fall of Italian dictator Mussolini

The fall of Benito Mussolini through the eyes of Italian anti-fascist artists during the Second World War is the subject of a new art exhibition set to open at a London gallery next week. 

Against Mussolini, Art and the Fall of a Dictator, has been curated by a team of academics led by Professor Stephen Gundle from the University of Warwick and is part of a research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. 

The exhibition will go on display on Wednesday 22 September until 19 December 2010 at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art in Canonbury Square in London.

The research project is a collaboration between the University of Warwick, Royal Holloway University of London and the University of Reading. The research project, which has run for four years, has examined how the cult of the Italian dictator Mussolini was organised and developed by the fascist regime in the inter-war years.

Among its aims has been to explore the extent to which the cult was deliberately manufactured by the regime as a tool for building popular consensus, and to what degree the cult was believed in by ordinary Italians.  This exhibition is one of a number of research outputs related to the project. The project has been responsible for making three documentary films on the cult of Mussolini which will be screened at the exhibition venue.  

Professor Gundle, Professor of Film and Television Studies at the University of Warwick said: “Several major exhibitions have explored the propaganda imagery of Fascist Italy, but art produced by those opposed to Mussolini and his regime has received surprisingly little attention. This exhibition brings together works produced in Italy and abroad throughout the Fascist era from 1922 to 1943 but mainly in the period that marked the regime’s decline and fall between 1942 and 1945.  

“Artists, some of whom had been aligned with the regime, provided a vivid and sometimes satirical portrayal of the national disenchantment with the dictator and his regime. Mussolini, who had been seen as a great new national hero, was painted  as a bloated and mis-shapen monster or  in grotesque animal form. The art produced in Italy during this tragic period stands as a lasting denunciation of the vanities of dictatorship and of the violence that is intrinsic in fascism."

Co-investigator Chris Duggan from the University of Reading added:  “The project has shown the exceptional power of the modern media to generate leadership cults, and the willingness of ordinary people to subscribe to them - especially when, as in the case of Mussolini, the cult was infused with overtly religious language and sentiment.”  

Notes to editors

For more information please contact Kelly Parkes-Harrison, Communications Manager, University of Warwick, 02476 150483, 07824 540863, k.e.parkes@warwick.ac.uk