The Dictator Stays in the Picture: The Forgotten History of a Controversial Mural

By Kenneth DiMaggio and Carl Antonucci.

Published by The International Journal of the Image

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Published online: June 4, 2014 $US5.00

Italian-Canadian painter Guido Nincheri painted over two hundred church murals and church-paintings during his lifetime. The Canadian Encyclopedia notes how “Nincheri’s frescos are also now winning more attention.” Yet one of Nincheri’s frescos will always cause him controversy. On the cupola of the Church of the Madonna della Difesa in Montreal, Nincheri was commissioned to paint a mural celebrating The Lateran Treaty, for which Mussolini recognized the Vatican as a separate state. As a result, Mussolini features prominently in this mural, as a man on horseback no less (though as his grandson notes, appearing more befuddled than grand: “Look at the expression of Il Duce. It’s as if he’s saying, ‘What am I doing here?’”) Nevertheless, Nincheri’s fresco did briefly cause him to be placed in an internment camp during World War II. Having convinced Canadian authorities he was pressured to paint in Il Duce, he was released and would then go onto a career painting numerous religious paintings throughout churches in North America. Curiously, his fresco depicting Mussolini would survive—a contrast with another mural that featured a controversial leader in Diego Rivera’s Man at the Crossroads, initially commissioned to hang at New York City’s Rockefeller Center. But when the Mexican painter refused to take out the image of Lenin in this mural, his work was destroyed. Why was Nincheri’s controversial political leader allowed to remain, and not Rivera’s? More importantly, do art works depicting controversial historical figures, have a right to remain in their original creations, as their artists intended? Is posthumous censorship or destruction of such works, more harmful and even dangerous, than allowing such controversial works to be exhibited without alteration that might have valid justifiable reasons?

Keywords: Mussolini, Guido Nincheri, Diego Rivera, Controversial Art, Church Murals

The International Journal of the Image, Volume 4, Issue 2, June 2014, pp.43-51. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: June 4, 2014 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 284.832KB)).

Kenneth DiMaggio

Professor of Humanities, Humanities, Capital Community College, Hartford, Connecticut, USA

I am a Professor of Humanities at Capital Community College in Hartford Connecticut. CCC is an urban community college where students are often reading at a level that is below traditional college course work, thus making literacy a prime issue that constantly needs to be addressed. As a teacher of Literature and Writing, I am constantly looking for texts or pedagogies to help address the above issue.

Dr. Carl Antonucci

Director of Libraries, Central Connecticut State University, New Britain, Connecticut, USA

Carl Antonucci is completing a doctorate in History from Providence College on politics in late 20th century Providence. His other area of interests include Italian-American studies, and recently co-authored an article with Kenneth DiMaggio titled "When Russo Street was Mussolini Street: Revisiting an Apocryphal Chapter in the Italian American Narrative" which he presented at the 2013 conference of the Book in Regensberg,Germany.