The Power of Images in the Age of Mussolini
History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology
The year 1937 marked the bimillenary of the birth of Augustus. With characteristic pomp and vigor, Benito Mussolini undertook numerous initiatives keyed to the occasion, including the opening of the Mostra Augustea della RomanitÃ , the restoration of the Ara Pacis , and the reconstruction of Piazza Augusto Imperatore. New excavation campaigns were inaugurated at Augustan sites throughout the peninsula, while the state issued a series of commemorative stamps and medallions focused on ancient Rome. In the same year, Mussolini inaugurated an impressive square named Forum Imperii, situated within the Foro Mussolini - known today as the Foro Italico, in celebration of the first anniversary of his Ethiopian conquest. The Forum Imperii's decorative program included large-scale black and white figural mosaics flanked by rows of marble blocks; each of these featured inscriptions boasting about key events in the regime's history. This work examines the iconography of the Forum Imperii's mosaic decorative program and situates these visual statements into a broader discourse that encompasses the panorama of images that circulated in abundance throughout Italy and its colonies. Therein I highlight the Roman, particularly Augustan, models that Mussolini consciously exploited to depict himself as the founder of a new empire. Of special interest are instances of analogy to the figurative references displayed on state-issued postcards, medals, and stamps. This study of quotidian - often ephemeral - objects, fundamental in any archeological analysis, underscores not only the scope of the iconography and its audiences, but also the extent to which the minor arts, along with state architecture, functioned as integral components of a multi-faceted system of propaganda. I demonstrate how the Forum Imperii operated effectively in the aggregate of Fascist propaganda by exploiting the images already present in the collective memory of Rome, a memory established through Mussolini's observance of the Augustan model of ritual, policy, public display, colonization, and his belief in personal destiny.