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Bismarks Ausspruch

  • Author: 'E B W I'
  • Publisher: Anonymous Austrian Publisher
  • Date: 1915
  • Dimensions: Map: 27 x 42.5 cms


Austro-Hungarian War propaganda [1915]: pictorial map in which Italy is Judas-like traitor & betrayer of her pre-war Allies

About this piece:

Bismarks Ausspruch: Gott hat den Menschen nach seinen Ebenbilde erschaffen, den Italiener aber nach jenem des Judas [Bismark’s saying: God made Man in his own image, but Italy in the image of Judas]

Separately issued small monochrome propaganda poster in the form of pictorial map of Italy and surrounding regions. Trimmed to outer border of engraving. Trace of old central horizontal fold. Two or three minor repairs to old tears, a couple of which intrude unobtrusively into lower image, but otherwise fine and clean.

A rare and highly unusual Austro-Hungarian pictorial propaganda map, most probably dating from the early Summer of 1915.

In May 1915 Italy finally entered the First World War. She had been Austro-Hungary & Germany’s pre-war ally in the so-called Triple Alliance [1882], secretly negotiated by German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck to provide peace & territorial security for the newly unified Germany and prevent a European war in which she might face attack on two separate fronts. It was then, with some dismay that the two Central Powers witnessed Italy’s initial failure to honour the perceived obligations of that long-standing agreement, though Italy claimed that the original 1882 alliance had been formed purely as a defensive one not, as in 1914, an offensive one.

And after remaining a neutral on the sidelines for several months following the initial Declaration of War in August 1914, Italy finally came in, but on the side of Austro-Hungary & Germany’s enemies, the Entente Powers – France, Britain & Russia.

The deep sense of betrayal of her former pre-war allies is viciously driven home using Bismarck’s famous epigram about the perfidious character of the Italians, which was no doubt drawn from his own extensive diplomatic experiences in Europe, as both first Chancellor of a unified Germany [1871-1890] and Minster President & Foreign Minister of Prussia  [1862-1890].

It is his stern features, topped by a Prussian pickelhaube helmet,  which look out from Germany over the Alps towards Southern Europe. The dual-headed Austro-Hungarian eagle takes to the skies by his side, whilst the symbolic female figure of Germania, with sword & shield in hand, rallies the massed ranks of the German & Austro-Hungarian armies.

The implications of the scene are clear – Germany and Austria have been betrayed by the Italian Judas, whose change of allegiance has been bought by foreign silver.

Italy appears in the guise of a uniformed bersaglieri soldier, who fills much of the Italian peninsula, the miniature figure of King Victor Emmanuel (V.E) clinging to his trouser leg. The Italian soldier’s right hand holds a dagger over Trieste (the Italian-speaking areas of  Trentino and Istria were part of Austria but had long been seen as occupied territories by Italian nationalists & irredentists). His left receives the proffered symbolic “30 pieces of silver” from the hand of the French Marianne, whose other hand holds a money bag of 8 million French francs. By her side stands the tall and distinctive top-hatted figure of British Foreign Minister, Lord Grey, who proffers a further money bag of 30 million Pounds. He also draws from his coat pocket a document labelled Völkerrechtsbrüche [Breaches of International Law].

In Corsica and Sicily can be seen the figures of Italian Foreign Secretary, Sidney Sonnino and Conservative Prime Minister, Antonio Salandra. Salandra had been brought into a national Cabinet after the fall of the coalition government of Giovanni Giolitti in March 1914. Giolitti was an experienced and popular  politician who still retained the support of a large majority of Italian Parliamentarians though his views on Italy’s obligations to the Austro-German alliance and her ongoing neutrality after August 1914 differed markedly from those of Salandra & Sonnino.

In the map, Sonnino can be seen passing to Salandra a rolled agreement (Vetrag) to which is also attached a dangling seal symbolically stamped with the figure 30 (pieces of silver). This must be the so-called London Treaty or London Pact, which finalized Italy’s entry’s into the War on the side of the Entente Powers.

After Germany and Austro-Hungary’s Declaration of War in August 1914, Salandra sought to keep Italian troops out of hostilities, whilst Sonnino’s diplomatic efforts intensified to try and assess & quantify the best way forward, in the light of what Salandra unashamedly termed Italy’s “sacred egotism” (sacro egoismo). Many in Italy still considered it likely that this would be a brief conflict that would be over by the late Summer of 1915. As the tide of the War seemed to move in the favour of the Entente Powers in early 1915, Italy saw the potential benefits of a final peace settlement that could bring useful territorial gains & satisfy the long-standing irredentist claims against Austria along her northern borders. As Martin Clark in his Modern Italy, 1871 to the Present, explains (p.219):

On February 16, 1915, despite concurrent negotiations with Austria, a courier was dispatched in great secrecy to London with the suggestion that Italy was open to a good offer from the Entente….The final choice was aided by the arrival of news in March of Russian victories in the Carpathians. Salandra began to think that victory for the Entente was in sight, and was so anxious not to arrive too late for a share in the profits that he instructed his envoy in London to drop some demands and reach agreement quickly…The Treaty of London was concluded on April 26 binding Italy to fight within one month…Not until May 4 did Salandra denounce the Triple Alliance in a private note to its signatories.

The revocation of the Triple Alliance in early May 1915 caused political chaos in Italy, as Giolitti neutralists and pro-war nationalists clashed, and with the majority of Italian Parliamentarians still opposing war. Salandra tendered his resignation in mid-May, which was refused by Giolitti, in fear of having to take the post himself and/or causing a violent nationalist backlash. Finally on May 23rd Italy formally declared war against Austro-Hungary.

In the end, Italy’s entry into the war brought little of the immediate rewards anticipated by Salandra & Sonnini especially given the fact that no quick Entente victory materialized and Italian military successes proved extremely limited in 1915-16.

On the heel of the Italian peninsula one can also see the fool or jester-like figure of Gabriele D’Annunzio [1863-1938] the Italian poet and political agitator, who sits dangling his feet in the warm waters of the Adriatic. D’Annunzio has emigrated to France in 1910 and was there in August 1914 when War was declared. He soon established himself, with typical self-publicity, as a vociferous advocate of Italy’s entry into the War on the side of Entente Powers. Returning to Italy in early 1915, when war was finally declared, he immediately enlisted first with the Army as a cavalry officer, then with the Navy as a torpedo boat commander, and finally as a pilot, serving with the Italian Air force and losing an eye in action, furthering his largely self-promoted status as an Italian war hero. In his most famous escapade, he led an eight aircraft mission over Vienna in August 1918 which dropped thousands of propaganda leaflets (which he had penned himself) on the capital’s population. The implication is once more that D’Annunzio’s vociferous support for entering the war on the side of the Entente Powers in 1914-15 had been bought with foreign silver – hence the bag of 30 pieces that is placed symbolically by his side.

Just off the southern coast of the peninsula, appears the listing profile of the French armoured cruiser, the Léon Gambetta. The ship was part of a French battle fleet based at Malta which was operating a blockade against the Austrian navy in the Adriatic in early 1915. On April 27th 1915, whilst patrolling the Straits of Otranto, the Léon Gambetta was sunk by torpedoes fired from the Austro-Hungarian submarine, U-5, commanded by  Captain Georg Ludwig von Trapp (later the patriarch of the Von Trapp family singers, of Sound of Music fame!). The Léon Gambetta sank within ten minutes with the loss of nearly 700 men.

Seemingly sold as a separate broadsheet for a price of 20 Austrian Heller, the map is signed by the as yet unidentified Austrian artist in the lower left corner, with only his initials: “E.B.W.I”.

In all, an extremely rare & fascinating piece of First World War Austro-Hungarian map propaganda.

Refs : Vienna Library, Austria – Digital Collections