These two posters, produced in 1933 and 1934, advertise two new models produced by the Italian car manufacturer Fiat, targeting an envisioned new middle-class customer base. Both cars have explicitly Fascist names: Ardita and Balilla. The first poster is characterised by a complete predominance of the image over other advertising elements and by the creation of an effect of speed and dynamism. The second one, while also creating an impression of movement, presents more solid and well-defined figures. Both posters produce a modern, elegant image of the woman as a driver and a potential car buyer.
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
While these posters are more traditional and less experimental than the Futurist and avant-garde ones of the same period, they still testify to a progression beyond previous advertising models, specifically of the Art Nouveau visual style which was dominant at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, based on the representation of idealized and ultra-refined figures. Here the human figures are still central, but become more solid, well-built, and well-defined, in terms of lines and in terms of colours, which are more vivid. They are more ‘monumental’ in the way that they occupy the space in the composition, which is evident here especially in Dudovich’s poster.
This shift was certainly influenced by the style of the Novecento artistic movement (Coradeschi and Rostagno 1987, 66-68; see for instance La famiglia by Mario Sironi and Giochi atletici italiani by Achille Funi), and at the same time was a response to the requirements of the regime, in terms of the type of image of the nation they wanted to project: imperial, monumental, dominant, and modern. The attitudes and behaviours of the figures depicted also changed, and became bolder, daring, sometimes impertinent; in general, they came across as more ‘real’ and authentic. In the 1920s, theories of advertisement started being developed, and one of the central principles was that effective ads must strike the viewers, rather than simply produce nice and reassuring images (Villari 2008, 64).
The predominance of images over textual elements was a trademark feature of Alberto Bianchi’s illustrative style: in his posters, the writing is minimal, often limited to the name of the company advertised, and there are normally no slogans. In his Ardita Fiat poster, the woman at the wheel is the absolute protagonist of the picture, as we barely see the car, except for the wheel. The dynamic composition, with lines departing from the woman’s head and hands, emphasizes the idea of speed. Both posters produce a modern, elegant and emancipated representation of the woman, which can be surprising, in the context of an ultra-masculine regime like Fascism, and in a field, motoring, which had been until then almost exclusively limited to men. However, the emergence of a consumerist system could disrupt the rigid social roles established by the regime, as women became potential customers and buyers, and therefore needed to be included in advertising processes, in new and alluring images having potential for self-identification (see Gundle 2008, 58-59).
Cars and motoring constituted one of the myths promoted by the regime, centred on ideas of speed, technology, modernity, and travelling. The promotion of private motoring and car ownership, which both Fiat and the regime undertook in the 1920s and 1930s, still leveraged the fascination for speed, but also tried to propose an idea of motoring as more elegant as well as more domestic, familiar, and accessible. This shift in ideas connected to motoring were functional to the regime’s and Fiat’s joint attempt to turn the automobile into a mass consumer, or at least a more popular, product, and in so doing modernize the nation.
This undertaking is reflected in the ads analyzed here, particularly in the slogan ‘Balilla per tutti’ (Balilla for all). Here the commercialization of the new Fiat car models is intertwined with the celebration of Fascism, through the choice of the names for the models, but also through the inclusion of visual references to the regime. In the Ardita Fiat poster, in particular, the Italian flag and the woman’s outfit, together with the name ‘Ardita’ which stands out against the background, are an immediately recognizable reference to Fascism.
Coradeschi, Sergio and Ippolite Rostagno. 1987. ‘The Novecento Style in Italy: Commercial and Graphic Design’. The Journal of Decorative and Propaganda Arts 3 (Italian Theme Issue): 66-83.
Gundle, Stephen. 2008. ‘Un Martini per il Duce: l’immaginario del consumismo nell’Italia degli anni Venti e Trenta’. In L’arte della pubblicità: il manifesto italiano e le avanguardie 1920-1940, edited by Anna Villari, 38-61. Cinisello Balsamo: Silvana Editoriale.
Mughini, Giampiero and Maurizio Scudiero. 1997. Il manifesto pubblicitario italiano. Da Dudovich a Depero (1890-1940). Milan: Nuova Arti Grafiche Ricordi.
Scudiero, Maurizio. 2002. Dudovich. Eleganza italiana. New York: Publicity & Print press.
Villari, Anna (ed.). 2008. L’arte della pubblicità: il manifesto italiano e le avanguardie 1920-1940. Cinisello Balsamo: Silvana Editoriale.