Photomontage in the Fascist Magazine La Difesa della razza: Visual Sources, Manipulations, Controversies

From Firenze University Press Journal: CROMOHS

Vanessa Righettoni, Università degli Studi di Firenze

On August5,1938, the new propaganda organ of the Fascist regime and mouthpiece of its racist doctrine, La Difesa della razza(Defence of the Race), made its debut. The image featured on the cover of that first issue and which, at the same time, served as a visual and ideological manifesto, was an eloquent photomontage. It consisted of three heads: one of a Jew, one of a black woman, and a third, that of a white man, separated from the others by a sword to preserve the alleged purity of the Italian race.Thus, the hatred machine was set in motion.That summer, the Ministry of Popular Culture, which had total control over the media, launched a press campaign in support of the infamous racial laws of autumn 1938. The Manifesto della razza(Manifesto of Race), signed in July by eminent scholars, had summed up the essence of Fascist racism in ten points and was published in several newspapers.

And many of those scientists ended up on the editorial staff of La Difesa della razza under chief editor Telesio Interlandi, who also edited other anti-Semitic publications, such as Il Tevere and Quadrivio. The fortnightly magazine aimed to develop and disseminate a scientific doctrine of race that would justify colonial policy and, above all, discrimination against Jews. As the first article stated, with the creation of the Empire the Italian race has come in contact with other races; therefore, it should be wary of any hybridism and contamination. ‘Racist’laws in such a sense have already been elaborated and applied, with Fascist energy, in the territories of the Empire.4After Italy’s 1936 conquest of Ethiopia, and the laws against ‘madamism’ and Jews in 1937 and 1938, according to Interlandi: ‘This magazine was born at the right time. The first phase of the racist controversy is over, science has spoken, the Regime has proclaimed the urgency of the problem.’ The purpose was thus to convince the public that colonialism, the ban on mixed marriages, and recent persecution measures were legitimate and necessary for defending Italians from racial degeneration. In short, it was time to spread the scientific and aesthetic Fascist theories about race: ‘we will popularize, with the help of scholars of various disciplines related to the problem, the fundamental concepts upon which the doctrine of Italian racism is based; and we will prove that science is on our side.’

As we read in the advertisements announcing the release of the new periodical, alongside the articles by journalists and anthropologists, the images would be no less important. Indeed, they were perhaps the periodical’s most persuasive communication tool, especially thanks to the medium of photomontage, solidified by its success in many of the regime’s exhibitions. This cut-and-pastetechnique of assembling images and texts offered a way to disassemble, reassemble, and manipulate heterogeneous sources, weaving them into a new texture: a modern language mobilised to engage the beholder through violent visual propaganda. The first cover by Idalgo Palazzetti, a member of the GUF (Fascist University Groups) in Perugia, quoted above, serves as a prime example.

He arranged the three human faces on a single diagonal, an invitation to observers to make a comparison that would inevitably draw their attention to the evident, striking differences. The idea of a strict hierarchy between the races was also conveyed by the use of different visual sources including a classical statue; a sculpted ‘caricature from the third century, belonging to the Rheinisches Landesmuseum Trier’; and an ethnographic photograph by Lidio Cipriani, director of theNational Museum of Anthropology in Florence and a contributor to the regime’s racist magazine. Those watching the montage thus ended up associating Italians with the perfect head of a classical sculpture, Jews with the hooked profile of a defamatory caricature, and black people with the prognathic face taken in Africa only a few years earlier.


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