This poster is one of the many artworks produced in the late 1920s and early 1930s to celebrate Italo Balbo’s mass flights across the world (see also Mario Gros Cioccolato. This one in particular portrays the mass flight to the United States, which was carried out in 1933 as part of the celebrations for the 10th anniversary of the March on Rome and the inception of the Fascist regime. The poster advertised the Italian companies involved in the mass flight: Savoia Marchetti, which built the seaplanes (idrovolanti S.55), Isotta Fraschini which built the engines, Magneti Marelli, which provided batteries and other components, and the Società italo-americana pel petrolio, which provided the fuel.
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
The theme of flying was central to the regime and to itsrhetoric of modernization and military supremacy. It was one of the areas in which the regime invested the most in its efforts to achieve the status of world power. Accordingly, a very powerful imagery about flying, modernity, and military power was stimulated and drummed into Italians by means of words, images, and spectacular demonstrations, right from the inception of the Fascist regime, as a powerful form of propaganda. According to some historians, the connection and identification between flying and fascism was so strong in the mind of Italians that for many people ‘Fascism was synonymous with flying’ (Wohl 2005, 51).
As soon as Mussolini seized power, in 1923, he expanded the air budget and started building the myth: for instance, in October 1923 263 planes flew above Rome to celebrate the first anniversary of the March on Rome. In the same year, he decided to create an independent air force (the Regia Aeronautica Italiana): at the time, only Great Britain had one. A few years later, he appointed the Fascist leader Italo Balbo as the undersecretary of aviation, and this would lead Balbo to become a central figure of the regime. Between 1928 and 1933, Balbo organised a series of mass flights or crociere (cruises) around the world, which became incredibly successful and effective tools for propaganda. Balbo and his squad flew first in the Mediterranean (1928-1929), then to South America (1930-31), then to New York, in 1933. The mass flight to New York was called the ‘crociera del decennale’ (cruise of the decennial), because it would cap the year-long celebrations for the tenth anniversary of the Fascist revolution (1932).
In order to understand the impact of these undertakings, it is worth mentioning that nothing like that had ever been attempted before: Balbo flew on the Mediterranean with 61 seaplanes, to South America with 12, and to New York with 25. There had been no mass flights of such dimensions before, and no group flights at all across the Atlantic. These were incredibly dangerous missions at the time and they contributed to the credit of the Italian aviation. Balbo and Mussolini were keen to beat the drum for these achievements so as to feed the myth: for instance, there were several journals dedicated to the theme of flying and the achievements of the aviation (among which the most famous was probably L’Ala d’Italia. Balbo even wrote a novel on the flight to South America (Stormi in volo sull’oceano), which later became required reading for middle-school children. The exploits of Balbo and other Italian aviators were also filmed and documented by the Istituto Luce, a governmental filming Institute which showed its newsreels throughout the country. Writers, illustrators and artists were encouraged to produce artworks focusing on and celebrating the myth of flying, thus countless advertising posters celebrating the Crociera del decennale, like the one we are analysing here, were produced.
Marcello Dudovich was one of the most renowned illustrators and poster designers in Italy, having been active since the end of the 19th century, and having won several prizes. Here he abandons his usual elegant and sinuous representation of human figures, especially women (see Bianchi and Dudovich Fiat), and adapts his style to a more austere and propagandistic subject. He depicts the seaplanes seen from below, in an orderly, almost geometric flight formation, and struck by a beam of light, standing out against the dark blue background. The perspective from below, the ascending movement, and the beam of light give the seaplanes, and the mission itself, an awe-inspiring and almost divine aura. All these element create a majestic and monumental representation with an immediate and strong visual impact which served the purpose of impressing the viewers and effectively perpetuating the ‘myth’ of flying, connected to the regime’s power.
Mughini, Giampiero and Maurizio Scudiero. 1997. Il manifesto pubblicitario italiano. Da Dudovich a Depero (1890-1940). Milan: Nuova Arti Grafiche Ricordi.
Pellegrini, Sonia (ed.). 2009. L'officina del volo: futurismo, pubblicità e design. Cinisello Balsamo: Silvana Editoriale.
Villari, Anna (ed.). 2008. L’arte della pubblicità: il manifesto italiano e le avanguardie 1920-1940. Cinisello Balsamo: Silvana Edioriale.
Wohl, Robert. 2005. The Spectacle of Flying: Aviation and the Western Imagination, 1920-1950. New Haven-London: Yale University press.