He was a brutal and deceitful ruler who believed that the ends justified the means; in other words, that in order to ensure general well-being of all citizens it might be necessary to kill, torture, steal and lie.
This modus operandi may sound like it is taken straight from a handbook for unscrupulous politicians and, in fact, it is. The evil official is the main character in The Prince, a 16th-century treatise by the Italian historian, politician, diplomat, philosopher, and writer Niccolo Machiavelli (1469–1527).
Even though The Prince was published five centuries ago, there had not been any visual depictions of this character—until now. For the first time, an exhibition currently on display in Glasgow, Scotland, features several paintings of the ruthless ruler, as imagined by a Scottish artist Frank To.
To’s character is not exactly Prince Charming. On the contrary, the artist shows a dark and shadowy figure, which reflects his subject’s equally dark and shadowy disposition.
The word “Machiavellian,” which means “cunning” and “duplicitous,” was originally coined during the Renaissance to describe the cruel prince. Over the years, however, this label stuck—mostly by association—to the character’s creator as well. However, those who have studied Machiavelli’s life maintain that he was an honorable man who was genuinely concerned about the welfare of his country and wanted to protect Italy from foreign tyranny.
But, much like The Prince, Machiavelli was a political realist: he believed that sometimes, in extreme situations, “bad” actions may be necessary in order to prevent a greater disaster. In that way, he, as well as many other politicians of his era and ours, can be called “Machiavellian.”