In its final phase (1940–44) Italian Futurism remained a vibrant and multi-faceted movement. However, its enduring Fascist sympathies throughout the dark years of World War II have proved a major obstacle to an objective appraisal of its achievements during this period, which have come to be associated almost exclusively with a genre known as aeropittura di guerra.
A late manifestation of the Futurist machine aesthetic and fascination with industrialised conflict, this ‘aeropainting of war’ is extremely problematic, ideologically speaking. Nevertheless, as an expression of the movement’s belief that war was ‘Futurism intensified’ this tendency demands closer attention than it has hitherto received, despite its unpalatable glorification of violence. Examining the formal characteristics of such work, this paper challenges the habitual presentation of aeropittura di guerra as visually crude and unimaginative, subservient to the retrogressive aesthetics of a regime increasingly in thrall to the anti-modernist cultural policies pursued by its Nazi ally, and reveals its imagery to be much more varied and inventive than is often supposed. It also examines contemporary responses to this genre, and suggests that far from being marginalised and suppressed by Fascist ideologues, Futurism’s unique ability to evoke the drama of aerial warfare did not go unrecognised — or unrewarded — by the political and cultural establishment of the day.