Postgraduate Panel 1: Propaganda

Chair: Oliver O’Hanlon, University College Cork



Miruna Sînziana Cuzman, The University of Edinburgh

Laughter as ‘the royal way to truth’ – An Irish Painter’s Vision of the Western Front

This paper will address the distinct role caricature, parody and pastiche played in the large propaganda machine employed during the First World War in Britain and Continental Europe. I will analyse a series of pictures and sketches produced by the Irish painter William Orpen – notably, a selection of works created during his stay on the Western Front in France and Flanders, immediately following two momentous events in the conflict’s history: the Battle of the Somme and the Third Battle of Ypres. His sketches, bordering on pastiche and caricature, contain scholarly quotations which range from highly rhetorical Renaissance conversation pieces to grand historical re-enactments in the style of Hans Makart’s The Entry of Charles V in Antwerp. They were produced under the auspices of the War Artists’ Scheme, supported by the British Government’s Propaganda Department. The scheme came into being in 1914, as a response to growing German propaganda, which was allegedly designed to belittle the Allied Powers, while encouraging soldiers on the Front and the civilian population of the German and Austrian-Hungarian Empire. The British responded by hiring a host of painters, who were to produce records of the First World War, at the same time subtly undermining the German military prowess and efficiency.

William Orpen, Dublin-born, based in London, and an esteemed society portraitist, stood apart as an inspired draughtsman. He wittily defied the rules and aesthetic standards designed by the War Artists’ Scheme. Despite being employed and bound by the terms of the latter, Orpen eschewed the crude and uncomplicated imagery, as embodied by Louis Raemaekers’ explicit cartoons. Armed with a fine brush, a lucid frame of mind and a keen eye, Orpen brought into being caricatures of soldiers and civilians, of massacre, maiming, mutilation, shell-shock and madness that ultimately defeated a propagandist picture’s purpose – that of uplifting the morale of the British soldier and civilian.

This paper will examine how Orpen, working with caricature and sketches similar to political cartoons, created a fine and elusive blend of images. The pictures draw their strength from playing with notions such as the uncanny, the absurd and a sardonic type of irony, showing that propaganda has a double edge; it can be used as an effective weapon against the opponent, but also as a humanitarian appeal aimed at stopping the death toll on the Western Front.



Reeta Kangas, University of Turku 

The Lion and the Vulture: The Use of National Animals in Soviet Cold War Visual Propaganda

Beasts, dogs, swine, chicken – wartime visual propaganda frequently uses animal symbolism to dehumanise the enemy. This is the case also with Soviet Cold War political cartoons, which had a significant role within the country’s propaganda machine. This paper uses the Soviet cartoonist trio Kukryniksy’s work published in the Communist Party newspaper Pravda during 1965–1982 to examine the ways in which animal symbolism was used to dehumanise the enemy and facilitate the idea of a perpetual conflict, an ideological war, between the Soviet Union and the West.

More specifically it analyses the ways in which national animals were used in Soviet political cartoons to create ridicule and hostility towards the ideological enemy, as well as, by contrast, to promote the Soviet ideology. The animal symbols in use varied from caricatured national emblems to animals with a culturally coded symbolic value. Different animal symbols communicated different ideas of the enemy country’s nature to the audience. In this way, different animals were used within varying cultural frameworks to manipulate the readership’s views on the Cold War. Thus, for example, the traditional symbolic values of a lion, courage and strength, were juxtaposed in the depiction of the British lion, which was represented in the cartoons as cowardly and weak. And similarly, the noble US eagle was turned into a dishonourable vulture to reveal the ‘true’ nature of the country.

This paper also aims to map out how animal symbolism and political cartoons are used as communication methods in ideological conflicts. Looking at animal symbolism in Soviet Cold War political cartoons helps us to understand how by portraying the enemy as an animal, the Soviet propaganda machine framed the ideological conflict and communicated the Soviet ideology to the population.



Carmen Belmonte, Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz- Max-Planck-Institut, University of Udine

 Depicting the Defeat: The Battle of Dogali (1887)

On January 26th 1887, Italy, recently involved in the colonial competition amongst European powers for control of Africa, was defeated for the first time. The Cinquecento Italian soldiers, moving from Massawa, Eritrea, to the Abyssinian interior, were attacked and slaughtered by Ras Alula’s men near the knoll of Dogali. Here, the battle received its name.

After the circulation of such grave news, Italians – stirred up by anticolonial ideology –  openly questioned the benefits of an African war. Consequently, the Italian establishment needed to find justification for their defeat at the hands of the Ethiopians and to generate motivation to continue the conquest of Africa. Hence a program of colonial propaganda and warmongering was initiated. A range of events and activities were carried out with the aim of celebrating the battle, highlighting Italian soldiers’ heroism and instigating racial hatred to inspire revenge against the enemy. To alter the general sentiments of the populace, all over the country, commemorative speeches for the Dogali’s dead soldiers took place both in churches and civic institutions. To further commemorate the battle the square of the Termini, in front of the Railway Station in Rome, was dedicated to the dead, becoming “Piazza dei Cinquecento”.

Yet, as a result of the general illiteracy of the Italian society at the end of the 19th Century, the image functioned as one of the most powerful means of propaganda, able to reach every level of social class regardless of education. This paper, based on the dialog between contemporary sources and images, aims to recognize the strategies of representation used to manipulate the defeat of Dogali.  As such, I will focus on several – commissioned and spontaneous – types of artworks: paintings, sculptures, prints, illustrations from contemporary presses, photographs and applied arts, all representing the Battle of Dogali. Through the analysis and comparison of different and opposing representations of the same event this paper will highlight the ambiguousness, myths and iconographic stereotypes employed to transform a horrible defeat into a heroic page in Italian history.


Del Boca, Angelo (1976-1984), Gli italiani in Africa orientale, Roma-Bari, Laterza.

Finaldi, Giuseppe Maria (2010), Italian National Identity in the Scramble for Africa, Bern, Peter Lang, 2010.

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