THE HISTORY OF FASCISM IN IMAGES
The bas-relief by Hans Piffrader (Klausen-Chiusa 1888 - Bolzano-Bozen 1950), with its dominating Mussolini, 'Il Duce', on horseback, was commissioned to adorn the Casa Littoria: the headquarters of the Fascist Party and related organizations. It was constructed between 1939 and 1942, as part of the overall architectural project by Guido Pellizzari, Francisco Rossi and Luis Plattner. The work consists of 57 panels of variable width, 2.75 metres high, in two rows, forming a linear development of 36 metres. It covers an area of 198 metres sq. and weighs a total of around 95 tonnes. These dimensions make it probably the most impressive bas-relief from the Fascist Era, still on public display.
Piffrader's artistic language was subject to strict control, exercised by the Committee for the Construction of the Casa Littoria. This limiting of the freedom of expression is evident in his preparatory sketches. Many of these were rejected out of hand or deeply modified during construction (including those relating to the equestrian figure of Mussolini). For this reason, in addition to the technical difficulties encountered, the work proceeded slowly. The last travertine panels, produced by the stonemasonry company of Giovanni Battista Vannucci, of Pietrasanta Lucca, only reached Bolzano around two months before the fall of Fascism, on 25th July, 1943. Due to this delay, three of the fifty-seven panels could not be installed as intended. Instead, they were put along the large balcony below the bas-relief, originally destined for use at political rallies. After the war, the Trento Superintendency of Monuments unsuccessfully proposed removing the bas-relief, to avoid the "unfavourable reactions of the foreign element". For many years the situation remained unchanged, until 1957, when the three missing panels were installed with the rest.
At the Centre:
1 An equestrian 'il Duce', surrounded by inscriptions from the main Fascist organizations and four allegorical figures.
Mussolini on horseback dominates the scene, raising his right arm in the Roman salute. The key elements that surround him are: four allegorical figures, the symbols of the Fascist university groups, the National Fascist Party, the National Afterwork Organisation, the Italian Youth of the Littorio, and the Voluntary Militia for National Security. The date of completion is shown using the Fascist calendar ANNO XX EF (the twentieth year of the Fascist era = 1942). Finally, there is il Duce's command: Believe, Obey, Fight.
In chronological order, starting from the bottom left:
2 The End of the Great War and the Return of the Soldier
A cannon bedecked with laurel leaves symbolizes the Italian victory in the First World War, November 1918. The soldiers return to their homes and the first of these, an Alpine soldier, is met by his wife and two children.
3 The Revolutionary Fury of the Red Biennium (1919–1920)
Four aggressive-looking figures, immediately to the right, symbolize the violence perpetrated by subversives, in the years following the First World War. One of them holds a flaming torch, while buildings burn in the background.
4 The Fascist "Martyrs" of Bolshevik Violence
This scene represents the victims of Bolshevik violence. To the left is the representation of someone who actually lived, mythologised by the regime and made into one of its first martyrs. This is the young Fascist Giovanni Berta, who was killed in Florence in February 1921 after being thrown in the River Arno and failing to cling to the bridge. On the right, are two imaginary figures of Fascists, who are bound and tormented with fire.
Second Section (above left):
5 23rd March, 1919: Mussolini establishes the Fasci di Combattimento
The inscription “W MUSSOLINI” (long live Mussolini) introduces the scene of il Duce founding the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento, in Milan on 23rd March 1919. This is the forerunner of the National Fascist Party (PNF). To the centre is Mussolini carrying the founding charter, flanked by three followers swearing allegiance.
6 Fascist Squads do Battle
Fascists fight furiously against Bolshevik enemies. The violence of the Fascist Squads is shown as sacrifice for the homeland. The wounded Fascist combatant in the centre recalls another work by Piffrader of the Deposition of Christ.
7 28th October, 1922: The Fascist March on Rome
The Fascist Youth with a drum marks time for the March on Rome: the prelude to Fascists taking power. In front of him, a formation of battle-hardened Fascists led by a standard bearer. In the background to the left, are the Colosseum and the hills of Rome.
Third Section (top right):
8 The Roman Legionary and the Fascist Warrior
A Roman Legionary, in a martial stance, holds a shield and the Roman standard with the acronym of the Roman Republic SPQR (Senatus Populus Que Romanus, the Senate and the Roman People). Assuming this inheritance, to the side of the legionary, is the Fascist warrior. He has on one side the law with the sword, whilst on the other Lictor's Fasces: the symbol of Fascism.
9 The Fascist Imperial Conquest: Libya and Ethiopia
Libya conquered by Fascism is depicted as the figure wearing a long tunic. It is next to a representation of the Fileni Arch, an architectural work along the Litoranea Libica, the Libian coast road inaugurated by Mussolini in 1937. There are two militiamen killing two roaring lions. The first animal is the Lion of Judah, embodying Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia; the second is the British Lion, impotently opposing the Italian conquest of Ethiopia. To close the scene there is an African figure, subjected to British colonial rule in the Mediterranean.
10 Italian Participation in the Spanish Civil War
The bearded man wearing an ammunition belt represents an Italian volunteer rushing to Spain to fight for Fascism. He holds his arm raised, to symbolize the fierce defence of Toledo's Alcázar fortress, shown in the background. Between July and September 1936, the nationalist forces barricaded themselves in, managing to resist the long Republican siege. They were subsequently liberated by troops sent to their rescue by Franco. Alcázar immediately became one of the legends of the Franco regime about the Spanish civil war. At the volunteer’s side, the waving triangular flags contain numerous symbols, which include that of Franco’s Spanish Falangists. Following, a veiled woman symbolizes oppressed Spain, while a Spanish man in typical attire carries a basket of gifts.
Fourth Section (bottom right):
11 Arts, Science & Sports Education in Fascist Italy
This part opens the last series of scenes, all dedicated to the Fascist idyll, or to the peace and prosperity attributed to the advent of the regime. The three figures here represent: the arts, which is the youth with classical theatre masks; science, holding a roll of parchment; and sports education, the young gymnast with two divers behind.
12 The Fascist-assured Agricultural Wealth
Three women laden with grapes, fruit and grain symbolize the country's abundance and food self-sufficiency under the symbol of Fascism.
13 The Family and Reconstruction under the Sign of Pax Fascista
The family in peaceful Italy is shown through the man hanging up his rifle, while his wife holds a child as it gives fruit to his father. A distance away, a worker builds a new home.
14 Il Duce as Builder, or possibly the Artist with his Project, under the Sign of il Duce
To conclude the frieze there is a male figure. This may be Mussolini, as architect of the new Italy, although it is most likely the actual sculptor, Piffrader, with his project in hand. In the upper right is the inscription DVX and at the bottom, the signature of the artist: Giov. Piffrader, aged 52.