gallery DICTATORS’ ARROGANT ART
Gaddafi has posed beneath a giant gold fist in Tripoli, but he's hardly the first dictator to use art to create the illusion of victory. From Ramses II's colossal statue to a naked Napoleon, see some of history's most infamous leaders as you never imagined.
YukioSanjo / Wiki Commons Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker Napoleon
probably wasn't going for "ironic" in naming a statue "Napoleon as Mars the Peacemaker," but then again, given his later displeasure with it, who knows? The French emperor ordered the Italian artist Antonia Canova to create a nude statue that would depict him as Mars the Peacemaker. Canova had just spent time with Napoleon and reportedly
found him charming
, so the artist decided to depict a man in great shape whose size rivaled that of any statue of an ancient Roman emperor. Although Napoleon was 33 and at the height of physique, by the time the statue was finished four years later, his condition had worsened, and he deemed the work "too athletic." Napoleon forbade its exhibition in the Louvre, and the British government bought it in 1816 for less than £3,000 ($5,000).
Jean-Christophe Benoist / Wiki Commons Constantine the Great's Colossal Head
After winning the battle to take over an empire, there's nothing better than taking over the former emperor's half-finished giant statue and remaking it in your image. After defeating co-emperor Maxentius in battle, Constantine not only took over as emperor—he commandeered construction of the Basilica and put in a 40-foot statue of himself. In modern day, the head and some other portions of the statue have survived and are preserved in the Palazzo dei Conservatori Courtyard in Rome.
Desmond Boylan, Reuters / Newscom Gaddafi's Gold Fist
Gaddafi and the U.S.
have been strained since the '70s, when the U.S. conducted naval operations in the Gulf of Sidra, which Gaddafi had claimed as Libyan territory. In response to a
terrorist attack in Berlin
that killed two American servicemen, the Reagan administration bombed Tripoli and the Benghazi region in 1986, targeting the dictator's home and
killing Gaddafi's adopted daughter
in the process. On the rubble of his home, Gaddafi erected a golden hand crushing an American plane. The monument has been shown off in many of his recent televised speeches, in which the president has lashed out at foreign attempts to intervene in Libya. Evoking the golden statue, Gaddafi tends to emphatically pump his fist during these speeches.
Pharaoh Ramses II's Colossal Statue
The colossal statue of Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II sits in the Luxor Temple, built in 1400 B.C. Ramses is considered to have been one of the most powerful pharaohs of the Egyptian Empire. Worshipped as a god by the Egyptian people, he
wiped out the religious monuments
of previous reigning dynasties. Built during Ramses' reign from 1279 B.C. to 1213 B.C., the gargantuan statue reflects his influence.
Courtesy of Germania International Adolf Hilter's Hypnotic Portrait
This portrait of the Nazi madman was painted in 1941, the first year of the Holocaust. Its most striking element is the subject's
, which corrupted an entire nation.
Benito Mussolini's Celebrity Portrait
In the 1930s, you weren't
if you didn't have your portrait done by Philip Alexius de László. The artist painted portraits of Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Warren G. Harding, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, Pope Innocent X, and the princess who would become Queen Elizabeth II. But de László also fell on the other side of history, doing portraits of Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II and Italy's Benito Mussolini. A naturalized British citizen, de László made the mistake during World War I of painting the kaiser and helping a Hungarian immigrant move to London—
landing him in jail
. Released after a nervous breakdown, de László then painted Mussolini, who was described as a "restless sitter." Given the Italian dictator's fall from power, it's not too surprising it is missing today from
de László's collection
Rob Schoenbaum, Zuma Press / Newscom The Statues of Stalin's World
What do you do when a dictator dies and his stature has influenced the art community—through terror? When Nikita Khrushchev took power in the mid-1950s, he denounced Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's creation of a "cult of personality" that affected "the source of a whole series of exceedingly serious and grave perversions." The Soviet Union began removing all the statues and artwork featuring Stalin throughout the country; today, the only two statues of Stalin left are in Grutas Park in Lithuania. In total, Grutas Park, nicknamed "
," has 86 Stalin-era pieces, making it the only place where anyone can catch a glimpse of the "Man of Steel" himself.
Saparmurat Niyazov's Golden Likeness
Though his nation's people were impoverished, Turkmenistan's egomaniacal dictator,
, spent $12 million to build a tower called the
Arch of Neutrality
, which he topped off with a 12-meter golden statue of himself in 1998. The gold-plated, self-aggrandizing monument rotated once every 24 hours so that the self-declared "Father of all Turkmen" always faced the sun. Niyazov ruled the former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan from 1985 until he died in 2006. The statue still stands in Turkmenistan today.
Kim Jong Il's New Cult of Personality
If you're planning a trip to North Korea, be prepared to see
Kim Jong Il
. The dictator has commissioned enough paintings of himself to give new meaning to the phrase "cult of personality." Among the highlights: a fresco at Kumsung College of Art and Computer Science that depicts him as a teenager, a fun-looking subway portrait that shows Kim with subway riders, one on horseback with his father and mother, and one of the well-known movie enthusiast overseeing a film shoot.
John Moore / Getty Images Saddam Hussein's Swords of Victory
Before the Iran-Iraq War even ended, Saddam Hussein had plans for his victory statue. In 1986, the dictator commissioned a statue called the Swords of Qādisiyyah, or the "
Swords of Victory
". On the day the monument was dedicated in 1990, Hussein rode in under the arch on a white horse—giving Iraqis the visual of their leader under the Arc de Triomphe. Of course, self-portrait was hardly unknown to Hussein throughout his rule: In 2002, Hussein commissioned a 39-foot statue for Firdos Square in Baghdad—which would be toppled just one year later in one of the most iconic moments of the
American war in Iraq