1737NE02A-.jpg
Bertelli’s ceramic 360 degree head of Mussolini, which took £1550 plus premium at Wallis and Wallis on March 21.

You have 2 more free articles remaining

Like the all-seeing, two-faced Janus, Il Duce's eyes were everywhere. Here he went one better than the Roman god with this 360-degree version, a propaganda tool reinforcing the all-embracing power of his gaze.

It is a version of the Profilo Continuo (Testa di Mussolini) made in 1933 by Renato Giuseppe Bertelli, one of many artists who responded to the dictator's orders for iconic portraits of himself to use as propaganda and to leave to posterity. Mussolini was a great supporter of the Futurist movement, spearheaded in 1909 by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, which was based upon the worship of speed and energy, underpinned by love of machines.

A 13in (33cm) high version - inscribed around the base Bertelli R, A XI, referring to Year Eleven of the New Era, after Mussolini's march on Rome in 1922 - is now in the storerooms of the Imperial War Museum, London. He left Ciano's possession when his father-in-law had him executed in 1943 for high treason, after he turned against him at a meeting of the Fascist Grand Council following the Axis defeat in North Africa.

According to the museum's records, there are two other versions of the ceramic in Italy.

Further pedigree is added by the fact that a version was exhibited in "Futurism. Novecento. Abstraction. Italian Art of the 20th century", an exhibition of modern Italian works in Russia at the State Hermitage Museum, Moscow, 2005.

How many of the ceramic versions there are is not known, but it is certainly rare as the bulk of the production was cast in metal.

So when militaria specialists Wallis & Wallis (15 per cent buyer's premium) of Lewes offered this 81/2in (22cm) ceramic example on March 21, the £600-700 estimate might have seemed modest. Marked on the base DUX ROMA 1940, it was assigned in probate from a local collection of Second World War memorabilia and aeronautica.

It sold to a UK-based international dealer in the room against telephone bidders for £1550.

By Vivienne Lawes