Old Masters Exhibitions and Fascist Propaganda: Italian Masterpieces in London, Paris and Belgrade (1930-1938)

  • Abstract:

    During its totalitarian rule, the Fascist regime frequently promoted exhibitions in order to draw popular consensus within and outside national borders. Italian art, and particularly Renaissance art, represented a model of ideal beauty and unchallenged civilization deeply rooted in European historical consciousness. It offered both images of municipal virtue and national excellence. Artists, patrons and the portrayed men, whether fictitious or historical, conveyed a sense of authority, strength and wisdom. Moreover, flourishing artistic patronage was often associated with the idea of good governance. Thus, Italian art of the past became the mirror of contemporary Fascist Italy and its «New Man», whose ultimate prototype was Mussolini himself. However, as Francis Haskell pointed out, these exhibitions not only contributed to construct Italy’s national identity, but were also part of a wider foreign policy strategy. This paper will investigate the Old Masters exhibitions promoted by the Fascist government during the Thirties, i.e. Italian Art 1200-1900 (London 1930), L’Art Italien de Cimabue à Tiepolo (Paris 1935) and the exhibition of Italian portraits organized in Belgrade in 1938. Italian cultural policy will be considered in relation to its dynamic alliances and rivalries, in order to shed light on the context that involved both physical and symbolical displacements of artworks for propaganda purposes.