Adolfo Wildt, Maschera di Mussolini (Il Duce, 1924)
At the beginning of the twenties, Adolfo Wildt is the author of one of the most iconic portrait of Benito Mussolini, soon become so emblematic and popular that the artist is asked to produce several versions of it. Among them, there is Maschera di Mussolini, which counts four different samples created between 1924 and 1928 in different materials The one here considered is the sample acquired in 1928 by Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Milan and still pertaining to the museum: a fragment composed by a green marble slab, behind a Carrara marble mask portraying Mussolini.
The Sacralisation of the New Man’s Total Politics through the Arts
Shaping the New Man’s Reality by Fashioning National Myths
Monumentalism: Visualising Subjectivity and Objectivity
In 1923, when the first sample of this series is commissioned by Margherita Sarfatti to Wildt, in order to celebrate the inauguration of the Casa del Fascio in Milan and the Marcia su Roma’s first anniversary, the PNF has just taken the power in the Italian government, while Wildt is an artist already affirmed. After this first, successful commission, Wildt sculpts various versions of the same subject, using different materials and framings. Eight of them are busts and four are masks, as the Maschera di Mussolini here considered, where the framing tends to highlight the abstract and almost visionary expression of the Duce. This sculpture is so important not just because it is one of the early Mussolini’s portraits, but also because it represents one of the first, strong symbols of the fascist political propaganda at the beginning of the Ventennio Thanks to this 'universal', assertive abstraction, it acquires a 'shared' value, understandable by the public and, at the same time, allegory of the political power. In that way, politics conveyed through cultural means can be easily spread during all the artistic and public events, transforming a monument into a collective symbol.
Moreover, the dichotomy embodied by the sculpture, divided between tradition and innovation, past and present, contributes to introduce new codes, new myths into the Italian politics. In fact, on one side Wildt takes inspiration from the Roman sculpture, as stated by the severe expression with carved eyes, the head-ribbon generally used by the Roman athletes (infula), and the white and green marbles. On the other side, he is able to materialise an effective portrait, essential and modern in its shapes, at the point that it becomes emblematic among the artists, the fascist party and the people. It is not a coincidence that, during the Liberation (25 April 1945), one of the bronze samples is hit several times and, therefore, damaged.
Maschera di Mussolini represents a turning point in the fascist cultural politics most of all because it is able to introduce the Duce’s iconography into the artistic circuit, soon become massive in whole Italy and beyond. Wildt himself, in a short span of time (1924-1928), creates numerous replicas of the artwork, then frequently reproduced on catalogues and books. Furthermore, one can find Wildt’s Maschera exhibited in some of the main artistic events of that time – from Biennale di Venezia (1924) to the Esposizione di Arte Italiana in Amsterdam (1927), from the Deuxième Exposition d’Artistes du Novecento Italien in Geneva (1929) to the Mostra del Novecento Italiano in Buenos Aires (1930).
Bossaglia, Rossana. 2002. Da Wildt a Martini. I grandi scultori italiani del Novecento. Milan: Skira.
Ferlier, Ophélier, Avanzi, Beatrice, and Fernando Mazzocca. 2015. Adolfo Wildt (1868-1931). L'ultimo simbolista. Milan: Skira.