Gino Boccasile

Gino Boccasile, the son of a perfumer, was born in Bari, Italy, on 14th July, 1901. Trained as an illustrator he moved to Milan in 1925 and worked at the Mauzan-Morzenti Agency. Over the next few years he produced posters and illustrated fashion magazines.

Boccasile spent time in Buenos Aires and Paris before opening his own agency, ACTA. During this period he produced illustrations for several publications, including La Donna, La Lettura, Bertoldo, Il Milione and Settebello.

A supporter of Benito Mussolini, Boccasile produced propaganda material for the government. Anthony Rhodes, the author of Propaganda: The Art of Persuasion: World War II (1987) has argued: "Posters were created for the Duce by Italy's leading graphic artists. Foremost among them was Gino Boccasile, whose posters epitomized the Fascist themes: the courage of the black shirts against the Allies, anti-Semitism, and the portrayal of the enemy soldiers as barbarians."

On the outbreak of the Second World War he produced several racist and anti-semitic posters that targeted the allies. This included one poster that referred to African-American soldiers in the United States Army. As Mark Bryant has pointed out in his book, World War II in Cartoons (1989): "In Gino Boccasile's famous Italian poster depicting the cultural barbarism of the American troops, the black American sergeant, his features transformed nearly into a gorilla's face, grasps Greek art treasures, ludicrously under priced with animal savagery."

Gino Boccasile, Italian poster (1940)
Gino Boccasile, Italian poster (1940)

Anthony Rhodes has argued: "Their propaganda about barbarian mercenaries in the British army was supplemented when the United States came into the war by Boccasile's famous poster of an American black G.I. carrying off the marble statue of the Venus de Milo with a $2 price ticket attached to its neck. The Americans would plunder and destroy the cultural treasures of the more civilized continent."

The loss of Sicily created serious problems for Benito Mussolini. It was now clear that the Allies would use the island as a base for invading Italy. A meeting of the Fascist Grand Council was held on 24th July and Galaezzo Ciano got support for his idea that Italy should sign a separate peace with the Allies. The following day Victor Emmanuel III told Mussolini he was dismissed from office. His successor, Pietro Badoglio, declared martial law and placed Mussolini under arrest.

Mussolini was was rescued from his prison at the Hotel Campo Imperatore on 12th September 1943. With the support of the German Army, Mussolini set up the Italian Social Republic, based in Salò. Boccasile decided to support Mussolini's new government and enlisted in the Italian SS Division. His tasks included drawing their recruitment posters and illustrating propaganda material.

With Allied troops approaching, Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci, attempted to escape to Switzerland. They were captured at Lake Como by Italian partisans on 27th April, 1945. The following day they were shot and their bodies displayed in public in Milan.

Later that year Boccasile was arrested and imprisoned. He was later tried for crimes committed during the war. Although he was acquitted, he had trouble getting work as an illustrator. However, he eventually set up his own agency in Milan.

Gino Boccasile died from bronchitis and pleurisy on 10th May 1952.