Il Duce’s Cultural Cachet

Stephen Gundle, joint curator of a current exhibition on anti-Fascist art and the decline of the cult of Mussolini, examines the political demise and commercial rebirth of the Italian dictator.

Anyone for a 2011 Mussolini calendar, complete with a different picture of Il Duce for each month? Or how about a wall clock featuring the dictator’s face? Or a key ring, a fridge magnet, a T-shirt, a flag, a statuette, or even an app for your iPhone? The souvenir industry that has developed around the figure of Benito Mussolini is extraordinary in its variety and inventiveness. Ever since the ban on the production and sale of such items was lifted in 1983, enterprises mostly based in or near the dictator’s birthplace of Predappio in the Romagna region have been dedicated to the commerce of artefacts evoking or depicting the fallen dictator. For 20 years this trade was a semi-clandestine one. The objects were on sale in only a few souvenir shops whose sole customers were the nostalgic Fascists, who visited Predappio on the occasion of the anniversaries of Mussolini’s birth and death and of the March on Rome that brought him to power in 1922. In recent years the trade has expanded. Anyone going on holiday to the Adriatic resorts of Rimini or Riccione will see the souvenirs on sale in tourist shops and motorway service stations. Other locations have also sought to cash in on the phenomenon, including Salò, the seat of the puppet regime that ruled the north of Italy under Hitler’s patronage in the final months of the war, and the Passo del Furlo, a mountain pass in the Marche region that boasts a rock formation resembling Mussolini’s profile. On the Internet dedicated sites as well as eBay offer a wide choice of gifts and nicknacks.

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