In 1919, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini — otherwise known as “Il Duce” — founded the Fascist Party. In his early years, Mussolini was a fervent socialist (via BBC). However, his support of Italy’s entry into World War I led him to eventually cut ties with socialism. Capitalizing on both the public’s and his own dissatisfaction with Italy following the end of the First World War, Mussolini organized a paramilitary group called the “Black Shirts,” (via Biography).
The Black Shirts terrorized political opponents and spread fascism throughout the country. With Italy falling into chaos, King Victor Emmanuel gave permission for Mussolini to form his own government. That he did, and in 1925, he declared himself dictator and began to eradicate all democratic institutions. In 1939, Italy and Nazi Germany signed the “Pact of Steel,” officially creating the Axis Powers (via History). By 1940, Italy had joined World War II. Moreover, Mussolini implemented anti-Jewish laws in Italy. Eventually, he was voted out of power and imprisoned in 1943.
As this was the mid-20th century, color photography was not as common, and most photos of “Il Duce” were in black and white. Here’s what the Italian dictator would have looked like in color.
Benito Mussolini in color
In the above undated portrait, Benito Mussolini looks stoic and dominant. Furthermore, he’s in his military uniform to signify that he’s not just in power — he means business. With his arms crossed, one gets the sense that Mussolini would rather be feared than loved. The photo also makes it readily clear that Mussolini was fully dedicated to his role as the fascist dictator of Italy, and his unforgiving expression denotes this notion even more. By and large, this photo screams authority, and even in its original colorless form, it would have added to the cult of personality that held Mussolini’s regime together longer than it probably should have.
Towards the end of World War II, the allies advanced toward Italy, and Mussolini and his lover, Claretta Petacci, tried to flee to Switzerland (via History). According to Biography, the pair were captured and executed on April 28, 1945. Their bodies were hung on display in a plaza in Milan where spectators kicked and spat at them. His final resting spot is in his family mausoleum in his birthplace of Predappio, Italy.
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