A look at the art of two members of the Tripartite Pact Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.
Similarities and differences in art.
The history of Italian Fascism and German Nazism are closely intertwined. Mussolini’s authoritarian system was an inspiration and blueprint for Hitler’s own political design. Hence, the two regimes became inevitable allies before and during World War II. Like in all authoritarian systems, art and propaganda were an important tool for controlling the masses. Today we are going to take a look at some of the basic similarities and differences in Nazi and Fascist art.
Both countries placed great emphasis on propagating their ideology through architectural displays and both reached back to ancient Greek and Roman style for inspiration. In Italy, this was an obvious call back to the nation’s past as the Roman Empire. Germany had no serious claim to Greco-Roman ancestry but Hitler thought that classical aesthetics were a perfect embodiment of pure Aryan spirit
Neoclassicist architecture already existed in the 18th century but this totalitarian version had a distinct look. While Roman, and much neoclassicist, architecture had rich ornamentation and rounded edges, German and Italian public edifices of this style were characterized by hard, straight edges and sparse to no ornaments. This cold, monumental style was intended to emphasize the power and supremacy of the state over the individual. In Germany, large spaces were also considered important for their function as a setting for massive community events, such as rallies and parades, and aesthetic choices such as Speer’s Cathedral of Light were often made with the look and feel of such events in mind.
The difference between the two regimes was more evident in the visual arts, especially painting and sculpture. The Third Reich only tolerated one particular style, suppressing everything else, mainly modernist ideas, as Entartete Kunst, degenerate art. Genre paintings depicting landscapes and the everyday life of the German Volk (people) were accepted.
Harmony with nature meant that agricultural workers had to be depicted without farm machinery and people depicted were expected to look “average” without individual quirks. Nudes, both male and female, had to be physically perfect. Interestingly, derogative images of Jews were rare in “high art,” since depicting the stereotypical Jew was considered to violate this physical perfection. The existence of a Germanic spirit, mystical, rural, moral, bearing ancient wisdom, noble in the face of a tragic destiny was an idea predating Nazism and was supposed to be a guiding principle of art. War paintings proliferated after the war started but had to represent heroic sacrifice and victory rather than the horror of combat.
Italy had a rather different approach to the visual arts. While there was an “official” Fascist art movement, the Novecento Italiano (“Italian 1900s”), it included a variety of artistic styles. Some artists promoted renewed but traditional arts, while others stood very far from the romanticized realism of Nazi art. Despite the existence of the Novecento, Mussolini had no intention of creating a monopoly in art. At the 1923 opening of a Novecentoexhibition, he said: “It is far from my idea to encourage anything like a state art. Art belongs to the domain of the individual. The state has only one duty: not to undermine art, to provide humane conditions for artists, to encourage them from the artistic and national point of view.”
A personal reason for this might have been Mussolini’s complete lack of interest in painting. On a political level, he supported a variety of art movements to keep all artists on the regime’s side. He also felt that only the small educated elite was interested in art, so the whole matter of painting styles was rather unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
True to this notion, Italian art was much more diverse in the Fascist era than German one under Nazism. One important example of this variety was Futurism. Futurism was founded by Italian poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in a 1909 manifesto and had a very strong Italian contingent.
Futurism rejected the past and admired speed, technology, youth and war. The first era of the Futurist movement essentially died in World War I but experienced a resurgence in Fascist Italy. It’s not hard to see how its technology- and war-loving ideology was compatible with Mussolini’s regime. Highly abstract, futurist art would have not been tolerated in Germany but was doing just fine under Mussolini’s regime. In fact, it had a significant contingent of artists who shared the basic ideals of the movement but promoted communism or anarchy instead of fascism. Even this did not harm the political tolerance enjoyed by the movement at large. Other movements active at the time include the pro-Fascist Strapaese, which concentrated on the idealization of the rural landscape and the openly anti-fascist Corrente, who were still allowed to open their exhibition just half a year before World War II.
You can learn move about how art was set in the service of politics and propaganda during on our Italian Campaign Tours. Join us this fall for our October 2018 departure date to experience Italy first hand.