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39 posts categorized "Italy"

09 November 2017

Alberto Savinio. The social utility of Surrealism

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One day in 1937, in Paris, André Breton, read to me a page in which he wrote that in the time before WWI, the name of my brother, Giorgio de Chirico, and mine, stand among the leaders of that art-form which later took the name of “Surrealism”’.

This is how Alberto Savinio begins the preface to his collection of short stories titled Tutta la vita (‘A whole life’). The stories were published in various newspapers and magazines between 1942 and 1944, before being gathered and published under that title in 1946. The British Library holds the edition published in 1953, which contains in addition 13 illustrations of his paintings and drawings.

Savinio tp
Title page with the author’s self-portrait from Alberto Savinio, Tutta la vita (Milan, 1953) 12472.e.9.

Now, what happens then when a surrealist painter transfers his skills into writing?

Pieces of furniture talk among themselves revealing uncomfortable secrets to Candido Bove about his wife, while he is sitting on the sofa, sleeplessly overcome with grief as she died just the day before. This is what happens! (In the story ‘Poltrondamore’ [Lovesofa])

Savinio Nonna

‘La nonna’ picture by Savinio reproduced in Tutta la vita (facing p. 49).

A taxidermist, nicknamed God Almighty, kills and embalms his wife and his assistant, after finding them naked under the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden he made in his house. This is what happens! (In the story ‘Il Paradiso Terrestre’ [Heaven on Earth]).

Savinio Adamo Eva

 ‘Adamo ed Eva’, picture by Savinio reproduced in Tutta la vita (facing p. 96)

When Miss Fufù receives the piano she ordered, she notices that it looks bigger; the morning after she finds it breathing heavily and surrounded by little pianos: the piano was pregnant. This is what happens! (In the story ‘La pianessa’ [Miss Piano]).

Savinio Sorelle
 ‘Le due sorelle’, picture by Savinio reproduced in Tutta la vita (facing p.257)

In Savinio’s short stories “A whole Life” is injected in pretty much everything, in fact, we could say that objects are more alive than people. What these short stories have in common is that the surreal events their main characters experience have a formative function, that is, surrealism here has a social purpose: it aims at shaking the reality of the main characters, whose life is flattened by loneliness, self-absorption, surrender. As Savinio continues in his preface:

... surrealism, as many of my literary works and paintings demonstrate, does not content itself with representing the shapeless and expressing the unconscious, but it wants to give shape to the shapeless and consciousness to the unconscious

This becomes clearer in Anima, the story of Nìvulo, a child described by his father as a typical old house in Milan, where façades do not face the street, but the rear garden: a child with the face turned inward. Nìvulo has the soul of his brother, who died at birth 32 years before, trapped in his body, this has prevented him to live his life, in fact, has prevented him from even learning to talk.

The social purpose of Savinio’s work is more explicit in the tale titled ‘Scendere dalla collina’ (Walking down the hill).

Parents, do not let your children grow up under the shadow of a great man… Equally, do not let them grow up under the shadow of a memorable event or a remarkable idea, and, let me also add: do not let your children grow up under the shadow of a famous name.

It is difficult not to read here a certain autobiographical reference since Alberto Savinio, whose real name was Andrea Francesco Alberto de Chirico, changed his last name so that he would not be eclipsed by his more famous brother.

Savinio L45-2089 cover

The British Library also holds a copy of the prestigious first edition of Alberto Savinio, pittura e letteratura (Milan, 1979; L45/2089, pictured above), a volume with black silk covers printed in gold, the pages printed in Bodoni characters on azure blue paper, and numerous beautiful plates of Savinio’s paintings glued on the pages.

Giuseppe Alizzi, Acquisitions South Support Manager

References/Further readings

Filippo Secchieri, Dove comincia la realtà e dove finisce – Studi su Alberto Savinio. (Florence, 1998). YA.2202.a.24958

Matteo Marchesini, Soli e civili – Savinio, Noventa, Fortini, Bianciardi, Bellocchio. (Rome, 2012) YF.2017.a.21214)

Alberto Savinio, musician, writer and painter (Milan, New York, 1995.) q95/27443

06 October 2017

Montalbano’s Rice Balls

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In 1965, after sending his short novel to Italo Calvino, who at that time was working for Einaudi, a publishing house, the Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia  received this reply:

I read your detective thriller … it will be a popular book … Seeing how you are so good and sound at this, I’ve decided, in a bid to match the grim times we are living through, to offer bitter little titbits in every letter. Otherwise where’s the fun? ... This Sicily is the least mysterious society in the world. By now, everything in Sicily is clear, crystal-clear: the most tormented passions, the darkest interests, psychology, gossip, crimes, lucidity, fatalism, none of these hold any secrets any more, everything has been by now classified and catalogued … the entry ‘Sicily’ gives us the rare pleasure, so rare as to be unique, of being able to confirm at each new reading that our information pack on Sicily was already well-stocked and up to date enough. So much that we fervently hope that nothing will change, that Sicily will stay totally the same, so that at the end of our life we can say that there is at least one thing we have managed to know thoroughly! (Italo Calvino Letters, 1941-1985, 2013. p.306. YC.2013.a.12579).

Calvino was probably right, nothing new under the Sicilian sun; however, what would he have said, had he witnessed, thirty years later, the popularity of another Sicilian writer, Andrea Camilleri, whose detective stories have reached a big audience outside Italy? Following the publication of La forma dell’acqua (Palermo, 1994; YA.1995.a.7115), Camilleri’s series of novels, which feature the character of Inspector Montalbano – a Sicilian detective in the police force of Vigàta, an imaginary town in the island – has sold about 10 million copies in North America, Australia, and in the UK where, since 2011, the BBC has broadcast the TV adaptation.

Monatalbano cover 2
Andrea Camilleri, Gli arancini di Montalbano, with photographs by Ferdinando Scianna (Milan, 2006) YF.2008.b.486

The British Library holds a copy of the special edition of Camilleri’s Gli arancini di Montalbano (2006, YF.2008.b.486), the first collection of short stories featuring Montalbano, first published in 1999. In the 2006 edition, each short story is accompanied with a photograph taken by Ferdinando Scianna to visualize the atmosphere.

The ingredients of the so called sicilianità, some of which Calvino lists in his letter - the most tormented passions, the darkest interests, psychology, gossip, crimes, lucidity, fatalism - are brought to the surface by Camilleri making the stories accessible to a broader audience.

Montalbano 2
Tre castagni
, photograph by Ferdinando Scianna, used to illustrate the story  ‘La prova generale’ in Gli arancini di Montalbano

In the first story, La prova generale (you can hear it read by the author here), with a few pages Camilleri manages to show us a Sicily able to laugh at itself in the beginning, to then sink into despair, dissolving the suspense in an unexpected manner, that is, not with a twist, but by way of changing the very dynamic expected in a detective story. “This Sicily” is still able to excite a great deal of curiosity.

Gli arancini di Montalbano is also the title of last short story: by calling the Sicilian rice balls “Gli arancini”, that is, by using the word in the masculine (here in the plural form), Camilleri challenges the Sicilian areas where the feminine is preferred: the author is originally from Porto Empedocle, had he been from Palermo or Trapani he would have chosen the feminine gender, so the title would have been “Le arancine di Montalbano” - an amusing discussion about this can be read here; and here is what the Accademia della Crusca says).

Disappointingly enough, Camilleri does not tackle this open debate in his story. Nevertheless, it does contain Adelina’s recipe for the best Arancini, enough to make Inspector Montalbano decide who to spend New Year’s Eve with. Adelina, Montalbano’s maid, has two sons bouncing in and out of prison: this rare occasion when both of them are free, “rare as the appearance of the comet Halley”, must be celebrated with Gli arancini. Things, obviously, don’t go exactly as planned.

Montalbano 5
Gibilmanna
, photograph by Ferdinando Scianna, used to illustrate the title story in Gli arancini di Montalbano 

Giuseppe Alizzi, Acquisitions South Support Manager

References

Italo Calvino, I libri degli altri, lettere 1947-1981. (Torino, 1991). YA.2000.a.32812 (Collection of letters written while working at Einaudi. Letters sent to Sciascia p. 538)

I Siciliani, foto di Ferdinando Scianna (Torino, 1977). L.42/12

 

29 September 2017

'Poema a fumetti' by Dino Buzzati

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The British Library holds a copy of the first edition of Poema a Fumetti by Dino Buzzati, which, published in 1969, is the novelist’s last literary work.

Buzzati Cover 2
Cover of Dino Buzzati, Poema a Fumetti (Milan, 1969). Cup.700.ee.12. (An uncensored version of this image appears at the bottom of the post.)

Wait, literary work? Is it a literary work?

It has words in it, yes, and, as the title suggests, is a poem, a story; however, it’s a story told with more than just words, as these are paired with illustrations, drawn by the author himself. What is interesting about Dino Buzzati’s last work before his death is that, even though it is not the work for which the writer gained recognition (he won the Premio Strega in 1958 with Sessanta Racconti, a collection of short stories), it is hardly the amusing/adventurous story we expect to read in a comic strip. Certainly, Italians were already familiar with darker comic strips, the so called “fumetti neri” (Diabolik was published for the first time in 1962) and graphic novels (La ballata del mare salato, first of the Corto Maltese series, was published in 1967), but less familiar with a comic strip created by a novelist to re-tell and re-imagine a story from Greek mythology, namely, the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Buzzati chose this story to reflect and visualize, on one hand, the literary themes his readers were accustomed to, such as hold and death (Il deserto dei Tartari, 1940; 11567.c.28.); mystery and surrealism (Sessanta Racconti, 1958; 12472.pp.6.); love and women (Un amore, 1963; 12521.h.47.). On the other hand, by modernising it, the story portrays the time the author was living in – a time when pop culture was shaping the young generation’s imagination: the story takes place in modern-day Milan where a singer-songwriter named Orfi descends into the Realm of the Dead to look for Eura, his girlfriend who died recently.

Buzzati Orfi
Buzzati’s Orfi (above) and Eura (below) from Poema a fumetti

Buzzati Eura

The beyond is, in the words of Julian Peters, “exactly like the world one has known while living – in Orfi’s case, it looks like modern-day Milan. The only real difference is that there is no death, and consequently, no emotional intensity to one’s existence. This is because, as Buzzati’s entire narrative is bent on demonstrating, all human emotions, and above all love and sexual desire, are in one way or another connected to our knowledge of our own mortality.” ()”).

Buzzati Discesa
Orfi’s descent into the underworld, from Poema a fumetti

If this does not make Poema a fumetti a literary work, it does open a new window onto the history of comic strips: although, as Peters argues, “Buzzati’s graphic narrative makes no attempt to distance itself from the characteristic ‘lowbrow’ elements of pulp comics”, what it does do is to push the subject matter towards a lyrical depth. And this was something Italians were not used to coming across in a comic strip.

Poema a Fumetti was translated into English for the first time by Marina Harss in 2009, as Poem Strip.

Giuseppe Alizzi, Acquisitions South Support Manager

 References/further reading

Julian Peters, “Graphic Poetry: Dino Buzzati’s Poema a fumetti”, http://www.imageandnarrative.be/index.php/imagenarrative/article/view/1294

“Poema a fumetti” di Dino Buzzati nella cultura degli anni '60 tra fumetto, fotografia e arti visive : atti del convegno internazionale, Feltre e Belluno, 12-14 settembre 2002, a cura di Nella Giannetto ; con la collaborazione di Manuela Gallina., (Milan 2005) YF.2006.a.27755

 

Buzzati Cover
The uncensored cover of Poema a Fumetti

11 September 2017

International Collaboration: a Dutch Polymath and a Czech Printer in 17th-Century Rome

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We do not often realise just how much collaboration took place between foreigners working abroad rather than in their native countries in 17th-century Europe. One interesting example of such a collaboration is that between a Dutchman, Cornelius Meyer, and a Czech printer, Jan Jakub (or Giovanni Giacomo) Komárek, who worked and collaborated in Rome, a veritable hive of intellectual activity at that time.

Meyer Arte de restituire tp
Title-page of Meyer’s L’arte di restituire a Roma la tralasciata navigatione del suo Tevere (Rome, 1685), 49.h.10 (1).

Little is known of Cornelius Meyer except that he was born in Holland in 1629, was generally accepted to be a polymath and trained as an architect, civil engineer and an engraver. He moved to Rome, one of the most vibrant and active capitals in Europe, in the 1680s and died there in 1701. He is principally remembered for his studies on technology, particularly his masterminding improvements to the navigability of the River Tiber in his L’arte di restituire a Roma la tralasciata navigatione del suo Tevere.

Meyer Nuovi ritrovamenti Dragon
Title-page of Meyer’s Nuovi ritrovamenti, divisi in due parti (Rome, 1689-96) 49.h.10 (2), showing the alleged dragon seen near the Tiber

He is also remembered for his description and detailed account of the sighting of a dragon ‘nelle paludi fuori di Roma’, in December 1691. Despite his detailed and beautiful engravings of the beast’s skeletal remains, Meyer’s account of the dragon was an elaborate hoax not unlike ‘Piltdown man’ but was so skilfully produced and illustrated that he duped many learned men and scientific experts.

Meyer Occhiali
Engraving of three wearers of different kinds of spectacles, from Nuovi ritrovamenti

Meyer’s engraving of spectacles and their wearers for his work on various technologies, Nuovi ritrovamenti, divisi in due parti, printed by Komarek on behalf of the Accademia Fisico-matematica, one of the most important scientific academies in Rome, is extremely finely detailed, recalling similar images by Holbein. It imparts a very human perspective on what could have been a dryish discussion of the important science of optics, which had made very considerable advances since Galileo first used the telescope to study the heavens systematically. Moreover, by depicting the wearers of the spectacles in fine detail, two with fulsome beards, all three wearing caps or bonnets, and two wearing beautifully detailed ruffs, thereby modelling their visual aids, Meyer imparts a sense of scale and proportion to his illustration and is able to show the size of the pince-nez spectacles and their respective lenses he has designed (one set of which is even tinted) to their best advantage and how well they would look and fit on the noses of prospective clients.

Meyer Nuovi Ritrovamenti 1689
Title-page of the 1689 volume of Nuovi ritrovamenti, with Komarek’s imprint ‘all’Angelo custode’.

Despite the Italianization of his forenames to Giovanni Giacomo, the printer Jan Jakub Komárek was born in Hradec Králové, in Bohemia, in 1648. He moved to Rome between 1669 and 1672 and was originally employed as a technician in the papal print works of the Congregazione della Propaganda della Fede, founded in 1622. He set up his own printing press at ‘all’Angelo custode’ and later, ‘alla fontana di Trevi’ and was active until 1700, publishing several liturgical works by Giovanni Giustino Ciampini, Andrea Pozzo’s celebrated Prospettiva, and works for the Accademia of the Collegio Clementino. The work is an excellent example of very effective networking and of the creation of considerable synergy between author and publisher and of truly international co-operation: a Dutchman having his work printed by a Czech printer in Italy.

This co-operation is also a very timely reminder of the very great debt that the whole continent of Europe, and Italy in particular, owes to Germany. It was a German, Johannes Gutenberg, who invented printing with moveable type in the 1450s, something which played such an important role in disseminating new texts and ideas, and created an ever-increasing demand for the printed word. But we should also not forget the debt owed by Italy to German printers and engravers, from Albrecht Dürer to Lucas Cranach. From the first introduction of printing to Italy in 1465 by Konrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz, who worked in partnership at Subiaco, printing was firmly established in Italy by German printers.

Denis Reidy, former Curator Italian and Modern Greek Collections 

08 May 2017

Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages 2017

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The annual Seminar on Textual Bibliography for Modern Foreign Languages will take place at the British Library on Monday 5 June in the Eliot Room of the Library’s Conference Centre, with the usual varied range of speakers and topics. The programme is as follows.

11.00     Registration and Coffee

11.30     David Shaw (Canterbury): The impact of the Aldine octavos on sixteenth-century paper for printing the classics.

12.15     Lunch (Own arrangements).

1.30     Pardaad Chamsaz (London): A murky business: the composition of Honoré de Balzac’s Une Ténébreuse Affaire.

2.15     Rhiannon Daniels (Bristol): Where does the Decameron begin? The editorial ‘problem’ of the paratext and the question of rubrics.

3.00     Tea

3.30     W. A. Kelly (Strathclyde): The Book trade in Moravia.

4.30     Barry Taylor (London): Allegorical title pages.

The Seminar will end at 5.15 pm.

The seminar is open to all and attendance is free, but please let Barry Taylor (barry.taylor@bl.uk) or Susan Reed (susan.reed@bl.uk) know if you would like to attend.

Narrenschiff 1499 Unnutzen Bücher

20 March 2017

Actaeon was not a voyeur

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The current small exhibition about Ovid in art (primarily ceramics) at the Wallace Collection reminded me of an earlier one at the National Gallery. Here some artists of our time paid homage to Actaeon on the entirely bogus grounds that he was a voyeur, and regaled us with a mock-up of a peep-show and similar treats.

But let’s back to the text, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, book III: Actaeon was out hunting and stumbled on Diana, goddess of chastity and the hunt, bathing with her nymphs.

Actaeon MS Harley 4431

Actaeon surprising Diana at her bath, miniature from Christine de Pizan, L’Épître Othéa, part of MS Harley 4431.

In Mary Innes’s translation for Penguin Classics (1955 and much reprinted):

The nymphs, discovered in their nakedness, beat their breasts at the sight of a man ... Crowding around Diana, they sheltered her with their bodies, but the goddess was taller than they, head and shoulders above them all

Vengefully, the goddess sprinkles Actaeon with water, turning him into a stag and causing him to be killed by his hounds.

Actaeon Emblemata 12305.bbb.37 Actaeon transformed, and pursued by his own hounds, from Andreas Alciatus, Emblemata (Lyons, 1551). 12305.bbb.37

Ovid gives the message right at the start:

Fortunae crimen in illo,
non scelus invenies; quod enim scelus error habebat?
(Destiny was to blame for Actaeon’s misfortunes, not any guilt on his part; for there is nothing sinful in losing one’s way.)

Ovid himself likens himself to Actaeon in Tristia II. Explaining why the Emperor Augustus exiled him to Romania, he says “Like Actaeon, I saw something”. What we don’t know, but Ovid obviously thought Actaeon was innocent, which meant that he was innocent too.

Actaeon 833.l.1

Diana and Actaeon from Ovid, Metamporphoses (Venice, 1513) 833.l.1.

But later authorities couldn’t help wanting to put the blame on Actaeon.

Fulgentius (5th century) said that Actaeon wasted all his time on money on leisure (hunting) and was therefore consumed by his hobby.

Actaeon IB.23185

 The story of Actaeon, from Ovidio methamorphoseos vulgare, translated and allegorised by Giovanni di Bonsignore (Venice, 1497) IB.23185.

Giovanni di Bonsignore (14th century) said he turned into a stag because his love of the solitary pursuit of hunting had made his proud and anti-social, like the stag.

Camões in the Lusiads (16th century) says much the same about Actaeon, but this is interpreted by Manuel de Faria e Sousa in the 17th century as something to be applied to the young King Sebastian.


Actaeon King Sebastian 10631.c.4
 The headstrong King Sebastian of Portugal from Fray Bernardo de Brito, Elogios dos reis de Portugal (Lisbon,
1603) 10631.c.4

Headstrong young Sebastian, like Actaeon, was too keen on sports and neglectful of the need to find a wife. And of course he died young, at the battle of Alcacer Quibir, because of his hot-headedness and left Portugal without an heir, leading to what the Portuguese call the “Philippine Domination” of 1580-1640.

So, be careful when you go down to the woods.

But whatever his mistakes Actaeon was not a voyeur.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies

References:

Barry Taylor, ‘O mito de Actéon: interpretação e poetização’, in Mythos: a tradição mitográfica portuguesa; representações e identidade séculos XVI-XVIII, ed. Abel N. Pena (Lisbon, 2008), pp. 55-66. YF.2012.a.29085

The Metamorphoses of Ovid. Translated and with an introduction by Mary M. Innes (Harmondsworth, 1955) W.P.513/58.

Gerlinde Huber-Rebenich, Sabine Lütkemeyer, Hermann Walter, Ikonographisches Repertorium zu den Metamorphosen des Ovid : die textbegleitende Druckgraphik (Berlin, 2004-), I.1, pp. 38-39. YF.2008.b.1354

 

28 September 2016

Giorgio Bassani 1916-2000

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Giorgio Bassani is best known for the great sequence of five novels and a collection of short stories, first published separately between 1950s and 1970s which, after a process of constant linguistic revisions, were finally published in 1980 as ll Romanzo di Ferrara. This definitive edition (British Library X.950/26023), comprised Dentro le mura (originally published as Cinque storie ferraresi), Gli Occhiali d’oro, Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini, Dietro la porta, L’Airone, and L’Odore del fieno. Only Bassani’s first collection of short stories, Una città di pianura, published in 1940 under the pseudonym Giacomo Marchi in order to evade the Racial Laws then in force, was omitted.

CM bassani  1 Photograph
Giorgio Bassani

Bassani’s most famous work is Il Giardino del Finzi-Contini (The Garden of the Finzi-Contini), which chronicles the relationship between the narrator and the Finzi-Contini, an aristocratic Jewish family in Ferrara, in the 1930s (especially in 1938 when the first Racial Laws were first promulgated in Italy) and his love for Micòl, the beautiful, capricious, and mysterious daughter of the family. It was made into a film by Vittorio de Sica in 1970. The novel (or perhaps the film?) also inspired Valley of Shadows, a ballet by Kenneth MacMillan, first performed in March 1983.

Bassani Giardino
Giorgio Bassani, Il Giardiono dei Finzi-Contini (Turin, 1962)  11626.t.14.

De Sica’s film, though lavishly-produced, critically well- received, and ultimately very moving, proved controversial as it took several liberties with the novel, notably by making crassly explicit the relationship between Micòl and Malnate. The film also lacks the novel’s all-pervasive and multi-layered atmosphere of foreboding and its evocations of death (there are, for example, descriptions of three different cemeteries, the necropolis at Cerveteri, the Jewish cemetery in Ferrara, and the one in Venice). Bassani, who initially supervised various versions of the screenplay but was not consulted about certain last-minute changes, violently denounced the film in the article ‘Il Giardino tradito’ (‘The Garden betrayed’) that appeared in the magazine L’Espresso in the same week as the film’s official opening. He had his name removed as one of its script-writers and the opening credits just state that it was ‘freely derived from the novel by Giorgio Bassani’.

Like his fiction, Bassani’s poems and essays were collected in the 1980s, published respectively as In rima e senza (1982), and Di là dal cuore (1984). Bassani was also an occasional translator and scriptwriter, whose translations include James M. Cain’s The Postman always rings twice (published in 1946, three years after Luchino Visconti’s film Ossessione, itself an adaptation of the novel). Screenplays by Bassani include La Donna del fiume (1954) in collaboration with, among others, Ennio Flaiano, Alberto Moravia, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Mario Soldati.

As editorial director of Biblioteca di letteratura, the publisher Feltrinelli’s series of new writing, Bassani scored a real coup by publishing Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s Il Gattopardo (The Leopard), a work that had previously been rejected by two other publishers. In his preface to the first edition of the novel, Bassani gives an account of the only time he saw Lampedusa, in 1954 at a literary conference in San Pellegrino Terme where the latter had travelled with his cousin, the poet Lucio Piccolo, who was the recipient of a prize at that gathering.

CM Bassani 3   CM Bassani 4
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Il Gattopardo (Milan, 1958) 12472. r.3. and Racconti (Milan, 1961) 11589.m.12.

Lampedusa wrote Il Gattopardo, his only novel, in a brief outburst of creative activity shortly before his death in 1957. Shortly afterwards Bassani was sent a typescript of parts of the novel and, recognising its worth, travelled to Palermo where he met Lampedusa’s widow, retrieved the rest of the manuscript and also that of Lampedusa’s three short stories and an autobiographical memoir. Il Gattopardo was published in 1958 and, in the wake of the novel’s sensational success, Bassani also published Lampedusa’s Racconti in 1961.

There are numerous striking similarities, recently studied, between Il Gattopardo and Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini, two of the greatest Italian novels of the 20th century. Notable among them are the depiction of social classes threatened with extinction, and the omnipresence of death.

To mark the centenary of Bassani’s birth, the British Library in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute is organising “Remembering Giorgio Bassani (1916-2000), a three-day conference. Details of the programme can be found here; to book for the sessions at the Italian Cultural Institute, please contact the Institute (020 7235 1461; icilondon@esteri.it). To book for the sessions at the British Library, please email chris.michaelides@bl.uk and type ‘Bassani Conference’ in the subject line.

Chris Michaelides,Curator, Romance Collections.


References/further reading

Sophie Nezri-Dufour, Il Giardino del Gattopardo: Giorgio Bassani e Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. (Milan, 2014).

Sophie Nezri-Dufour, Il Giardino dei Finzi-Contini: una fiaba nascosta. (Ravenna, 2011). YF.2012.a.28385.

Giorgio Bassani,Opere [edited by] Roberto Cotroneo. (Milan, 1998).

26 September 2016

Il Decamerone – “Corrected” by Rome

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Giovanni Boccaccio, poet, Humanist, orator, narrator and ambassador, father of the Italian novel, is one of the greatest storytellers known. He composed Il Decamerone (The Decameron)  in the mid-14th century and it  was first circulated in manuscript form in the 1370s. Despite being one of the most meddled-with texts to have endured, its ‘Frame story’ structure – ten tales told by each of ten people gathered together for a fortnight – has become canonised as a model for literary prose. Two texts in particular, one prepared by Ruscelli in 1552 and one by Salvati in 1587, are notorious for their meddling emendations. The Decameron is also widely known for its erotic components and it has quite unfairly led to its author and his work bIl eing associated with ‘obscenity’.

A common perception is that it is this supposed obscenity which has led to the book having been banned and suppressed here and there by the usual powerful groupings of offended sensibilities. The Roman Catholic Church did indeed ‘ban’ The Decameron but knew that they could not simply obliterate such a well-known and widely circulated work; the 15th and 16th centuries saw an estimated 192 printed editions alone. Faced with the Reformation, the Catholic Church needed to defend itself and reconsolidate its position of authority. To this purpose, one of the several measures taken by the Council of Trent was to create a commission to assemble and manage a list of forbidden books resulting in the fabled Index Librorum Prohibitorum which  identified books which were heretical, anti-clerical or explicitly sexual.

But how was the Church to manage The Decameron? Quite craftily was how. In the early 1570s, under the leadership of Vincenzo Borghini, a team of clerical scholars in Florence set about emending its text. They cloaked their expurgations by trying to convince people that they had kindly corrected existing editions, enhancing the language and in the process arriving at the ‘true’ text written by Boccaccio; original authorial intent had been revealed, “By Order of the Inquisition”.

So in 1573 the Florentine printers Giunti issued Il Decameron ... Ricorretto in Roma, et emendato secondo l'ordine del Sacro Conc. di Trento, et riscontrato in Firenze con testi antichi & alla sua vera lezione ridotto da' deputati…

Decameron 1573 tp C.7.a.8. The title page of the 1573 Florence edition of Il Decameron (C.7.a.8).

Borghini’s approved edition implied that manuscripts of The Decameron had been mischievously distorted to include outrageous slights against the Church and its servants. The erotic elements, the ‘obscenity’, often key to a tale’s plot and meaning, remained but all the references to the clergy had been removed. The crux of the problem for them was the dignity of the Roman Catholic Church and they managed it by simply removing references to priests, monasteries and so on; generic terms served their purpose with nuns becoming ‘ladies’ or ‘dames’, abbesses becoming random figures of aristocracy.

The British Library has three copies of this ‘corrected’ edition.  One  exposes clearly the motivations of the Church expurgations and emendations. A century after its publication another scholar called Marco Dotto systematically went through it annotating the pages: re-inserting the censored details and re-correcting Borghini’s emendations. Dotto wrote a short explanatory essay voicing his outrage at the mutilation of Boccaccio’s great work by the ‘scalpel’ of the Inquisition. He viewed himself as a ‘physician’ repairing their butchery, healing it and restoring the text to its true, we could say, rude health.

Decameron Day 3 story 1 annotated Day Three, Story One (Masetto, gardener at a convent) annotated by Marco Dotto. ‘Garden of Ladies’, or Convent? (C.7.a.8)

The story of Masetto of Lamporecchio told by Filostrato on Day Three is a favourite tale from The Decameron and illustrates  how the book has been meddled with. Masetto, a handsome young man, schemes to get a job as a gardener at a convent by pretending to be deaf and dumb. Two nuns talk of what they have heard rumoured to be the best pleasure a woman can get and scheme to meet Masetto in the garden’s woodshed. Other nuns witness this and insist on their share also. One day, the Abbess passes Masetto, spent and asleep on a bank in the garden. The wind happens to blow his shirt up and reveals all his glory to the head of the convent; consumed with desire she takes him to her quarters believing she can sleep with the young gardener with impunity as, deaf and dumb, he can tell no tale. All this is draining for Masetto so he decides to reveal he is cured. It is claimed as a miracle, nurtured by his tending the convent gardens. We can see how Dotto’s annotations restore the expurgated ‘munistero di donne’ used by Boccaccio which the clerics had rendered as ‘giardino di damigelle’. Borghini frequently anonymised particular named locations to protect reputations and often removed them entirely to places in France.

The last uncensored Decameron of the 16th century was printed in 1558 and with so many early editions it is interesting to make comparisons between them. Here we can see a folio with the start of Masetto’s story in an edition printed in Venice by Manfredo Bonelli in 1498. The text and the woodcuts faithfully assert the setting as a convent and its characters as nuns.


Decameron Day 3 story 1
 Masetto of Lamporecchio in the ‘Garden of Ladies’, Day Three Story 1. (C.4.i.7)

But censorship comes from many sources, individual sensibilities may be offended as much as organised, institutional interests; a fact that can be seen in this mid-15th century manuscript of The Decameron where the concluding sentiment on Masetto’s tale, has been heavily censored and obscured by another hand.

Decameron Add MS 10297
Censored mid-15th century manuscript (Add MS 10297 f.46r)

Such are the fascinations with obscenity and censorship, the simple fact that Boccaccio is one of the greatest storytellers ever to be printed can be in danger of being overlooked. We can celebrate this year’s Banned Books Week  by appreciating a good read of unexpurgated editions of this great collection of stories; though it can be fun to read the censored efforts too. But do remember that original authorial intent should never be taken for granted – sometimes it is wrested away by the operations of power and can be lost forever because of some individual’s  or organisation’s disapproval and assault.

Christian Algar, Curator, Printed Heritage Collections.

Decameron storytellers C.4.i.7
 The storytellers; the woodcut illustrated title page of Manfredo Bonelli’s Decamerone o ver Cento Nouelle, Venice, 1498 (C.4.i.7)

References/further  reading:

Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron. Translated with an introduction by G.H. McWilliam (London, 1972). X.908/23609

Pisanus Fraxi, Bibliography of prohibited books. Index librorum prohibitoru (3 Vols) (New York, 1962). RAR 808.803

David Wallace, Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron. (Cambridge, 1991)YC.1991.a.4224

Giuseppe Chiecchi, Luciano Troisio, Il Decameron sequestrato: le tre edizioni censurate nel Cinquecento. (Milan, 1984) ZA.9.a.636 (4)

Giuseppe Chiecchi, “Dolcemente dissumulando”: cartelle laurenziane e “Decameron” censurato (1573)(Padua, 1992)./WP.16966/53     

Giuseppe Chiecchi (ed.),  Le annotazioni e i discorsi sul Decameron del 1573 dei deputatii fiorentini. (Rome, 2001) YA.2003.a.9884

This blog is part of series for Banned Books Week 2016. See also Melvin Burgess’s blog on Censorship and the Author.

Banned Books Week was initiated by the American Library Association in 1982 in response to an increasing number of challenges in the US to books in schools, bookstores and libraries, and in particular, books aimed at children or young adults. For the first time in the UK we are holding events, activities and publishing a series of blogs, all on the topic of Censorship and Banned Books, made possible by the partnership between The British Library, Free Word and Islington Library and Heritage Services and in association with the ALA.

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05 September 2016

Verdi and Shakespeare

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In a composing career spanning more than five decades, Giuseppe Verdi considered more than 100 works, including novels and plays by French, Italian, Spanish and German writers, as sources for potential operatic projects. Among them were several plays by Shakespeare, one of his favourite writers. Although he did complete three operas based on Shakespeare plays, several others – Hamlet, Cymbeline, Antony and Cleopatra, The Tempest and Romeo and Juliet – were discussed at various times but never materialised. Of these unwritten operas, however, it was King Lear that held the greatest significance for Verdi and came closest to creation.

CM FIG.1Verdi 1872.c.15
Portrait of Verdi, from Verdi e Otello. Numero unico pubblicato dalla Illustrazione Italiana (Milan, [1887]) British Library 1872.c.15

Verdi successively approached three potential librettists for Lear: in 1845 he first mentioned the play to Francesco Maria Piave, the librettist of his Ernani, I Due Foscari and Macbeth. It was, perhaps, Verdi’s dissatisfaction with the last of these (he enlisted another writer, Francesco Maffei, to revise parts of the text) that made him commission, in 1850, a Re Lear from Salvadore Cammarano, another regular collaborator of his. 

After Cammarano’s untimely death in 1852, Verdi approached Antonio Somma. Recognising the difficulty of turning such a complex play into an opera, he kept advising Somma to reduce the number of scenes and principal characters (Gloucester and his sons were eventually removed). He also reiterated the need to avoid too many scene changes and to keep his text short. The extensive correspondence between the two men was first published in 1913 and, more recently, in a 2002 edition by the Istituto nazionale di studi verdiani which includes facsimiles of Somma’s manuscripts of his first and second drafts of the libretto (1853 and 1855), and of Verdi’s own transcription of the first version, with variants inserted in their proper place. The volume additionally includes a facsimile of Verdi’s letter of 28 February 1850 to Cammarano which contains a detailed outline of the plot. Transcriptions of all these facsimiles are also included.

CM FIG.3 SOMMA'S AUTOGRAPH
The end of Antonio Somma’s second version of his libretto of Re Lear, showing Cordelia’s death. Reproduced in Giuseppe Verdi, Antonio Somma, Per il “Re Lear”. Edited by Gabriella Carrara Verdi (Parma, 2002). LC.31.b.1041 

Verdi’s continuing reservations about the libretto meant that the project was abandoned and there is no evidence that music for the opera was ever composed. This is all the more regrettable as some of the most poignant scenes in Verdi’s operas are those between fathers and daughters - Luisa Miller, Rigoletto, Aida, and above all, Simon Boccanegra are the most notable examples - and, judging from the final scene of the libretto of Re Lear, the death of Cordelia (‘Delia’ in the libretto) would have been a notable addition to the canon.

CM FIG.2 VERDI AUTOGRAPH
Verdi’s autograph of the first version of the final scene of the libretto of of Re Lear, reproduced in Per il  “Re Lear”

The three Shakespeare operas Verdi did complete – Macbeth, Otello, Falstaff – are all great masterpieces.

Macbeth (1847), one of his greatest early works, typically full of Risorgimento connotations (the fall of a tyrant and the liberation of the country under his rule), was extensively revised for the Paris Opéra in 1865, and it is this version, which is usually performed today. As well as a magnificent banquet scene at the end of Act 2, the opera also has one of Verdi’s greatest final scenes (the death of Macbeth and triumph of Macduff), and Lady Macbeth’s haunting and eerie sleepwalking scene. 

By the time he began composing Otello in the 1880s, Verdi had become the grand old man of Italian opera – a ‘national treasure’ in today’s parlance. The fact that he had not composed a new opera since Aida, over a decade earlier, added to the public anticipation for the new work. There was, consequently, extensive press coverage both before and after its premiere, including a special Otello issue of the popular weekly illustrated magazine L’Illustrazione italiana which discussed not only the subject of opera and scenes from its first production but also looked at Verdi’s life and works, including his collaboration with his librettist, Arrigo Boito.

CM FIG.4 VERDI E L'OTELLO
Cover (above) and image of Otello's opening storm scene (below), from Verdi e Otello. 1872.c.15. 

CM FIG.5 Otello Act 1

A poet, critic and composer (his opera Mefistofele, for which he wrote the text and the music, is sometimes performed today), Boito first collaborated with Verdi on Inno delle nazioni, a cantata commisssioned to represent Italy at the 1862 International Exhibition in London, and, in 1881, on a revision of Simon Boccanegra.

CM FIG.6 Verdi and Boito at S.Agata
Verdi and Boito. Illustration from Verdi e Otello. 1872.c.15. 

Otello was Verdi’s and Boito’s first collaboration on a new opera and they were to work together again on Falstaff (drawn from The Merry Wives of Windsor, with insertions from Henry IV and Henry V). Premiered in 1893, when the composer was 80, and unusually for Verdi, a comedy, the opera was greeted with the same enthusiasm as Otello six years earlier, including another special issue of L’Illustrazione italiana. Falstaff was Verdi’s glorious and astonishing swansong, its final joyous fugue beginning with ‘Tutto nel mondo è burla’ (‘Everything in the world is a jest’).  

CM FIG.7. Falstaff Hirsch 5213
Cover of the special issue of L’Illustrazione italiana, Verdi e il Falstaff (Milan, [1893]). Hirsch 5213

Chris Michaelides, Curator, Romance Collections

References

Verdi e Otello. Numero unico pubblicato dalla Illustrazione Italiana, e compilato da U. Pesci ed E. Ximenes. Milan, [1887].  1872.c.15.

Verdi e il Falstaff. Numero speciale della Illustrazione italiana. Milano, [1893]. Hirsch 5213. 

Re Lear e Ballo in maschera. Lettere di Giuseppe Verdi ad Antonio Somma, publicate da Alessandro Pascolato. (Città di Castello, 1913). X.439/1592.

Julian Budden, The Operas of Verdi (London, 1973-82) X.0431/75

Gary Schmidgall, ‘Verdi’s King Lear Project’, in 19th-Century Music, Vol. 9, No. 2 (Autumn 1985), pp. 83-101. P.431/268

Philip Gossett. ‘The Hot and the Cold: Verdi writes to Antonio Somma about Re Lear’, in Variations on the Canon: Essays on Music from Bach to Boulez in Honor of Charles Rosen on His Eightieth Birthday. (Rochester NY, 2008). YC.2009.a.6153.

Roberta Montemorra Marvin (ed.), The Cambridge Verdi Encyclopedia (Cambridge, 2013). YC.2014.a.2360.

Stuart Leeks, ‘Verdi and the lure of Shakespeare’ (Opera North Blog) 

Recordings:

Otello, complete 1976 live recording from La Scala, conducted by Carlos Kleiber, with Placido Domingo (Otello), Mirella Freni (Desdemona), and Piero Cappuccilli (Iago).

Falstaff,  a complete 1965 live recording from the Opéra de Paris of Franco Zeffirelli’s production of Falstaff, with Tito Gobbi as Falstaff.

Our exhibition Shakespeare in Ten Acts is open until  6 September, and you can continue to find out more about all aspects of Shakespeare's life and work on our dedicated Shakespeare webpages.

17 August 2016

Umberto Boccioni 1882-1916

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On 17 August 1916 the Italian artist Umberto Boccioni, who was stationed in an artillery regiment near Verona, died from the injuries he suffered after he was trampled by his horse in a riding accident.

CM Boccioni Fig.1
A photograph of Boccioni taken shortly before his death. Reproduced in Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), genio e memoria, Edited by Francesca Rossi. (Milan, 2016). British Library LF.31.b.11722.

His untimely death – he was only 33 – deprived the Futurist movement of one of its key members. To mark the centenary of Boccioni’s death a major exhibition, “Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), genio e memoria”, was organised in Milan earlier this year, accompanied by a remarkable catalogue.

CM Boccioni Fig.2
Cover of the catalogue Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), genio e memoria

It was worthy tribute paid to the artist by the city he celebrated in some of his greatest paintings, making it the symbol of the modern metropolis. The rapid transformation and expansion of Milan can be seen in a series of works Boccioni painted between 1908 and 1911, which include his famous self-portrait showing him on the balcony of his apartment in Via Castel Morrone, in the Porta Venezia area.

  CM Boccioni Fig.3
Boccioni, Self portrait (1908) Milan, Pinacoteca di Brera.

In the background can be seen, in what were still the outskirts of city, several recently-erected buildings, one of them still under scaffolding. A similar urban landscape also features in two works painted in 1909 and 1910, Twilight and Factories at Porta Romana.

  
CM Boccioni Fig.4

Above: Twilight (Crepuscolo) 1909. Private Collection; Below: Factories at Porta Romana (Officine a Porta Romana) 1909-10. Milan, Gallerie d’Italia –Piazza Scala.

CM Boccioni Fig.5

Sharing an identical viewpoint, this time from the balcony of the apartment in 23 Via Adige, in the Porta Romana area, where Boccioni now lived with his mother and sister, but painted a few months apart, they show the rapid changes in the city. “The city rises” (to mention the title of one of Boccioni’s most famous paintings) so to speak in front of our very eyes. By the time Boccioni painted The Street enters the House (1911), showing his mother looking from the balcony into the the street below, the area has been even more dramatically transformed. The mood of this celebration of the modern city, full of dynamism, movement and activity, is not unlike that of several early Impressionist depictions of Baron Haussmann’s Paris.

CM Boccioni Fig.6
The Street enters the house
(La Strada entra nella casa), 1911. Hanover, Sprengel Museum. 

The exhibition in Milan (which will also be shown in Rovereto this autumn) demonstrated the enormous variety of Boccioni’s output both before and after he joined the Futurist movement in late 1909 or early 1910 becoming, with Marinetti, its major theorist. It also showcased two major recent discoveries of Boccioniana, both of them among the papers of Guido Valeriano Callegari, Boccioni’s brother-in-law, bequeathed to the Biblioteca Civica di Bologna in 1955 by his widow, Boccioni’s sister Amelia. Callegari was a noted scholar of Pre-Colombian America and the Boccioni material had remained unnoticed and uncatalogued among his papers for over half a century until it was discovered in 2009 on the occasion of a small exhibition the library organised to commemorate the centenary of the first Futurist manifesto. As well as books from Boccioni’s own library, it also includes a group of 22 large sheets pasted on cardboard, on which were mounted 216 cuttings from illustrated magazines reproducing works of art.

CM Boccioni Fig.7
A sheet from the ‘Memory Atlas’, reproduced in Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916), genio e memoria

The images in this compilation – now called ‘Atlante della Memoria’ (‘Memory Atlas’) and reproduced in their entirety in the catalogue of the exhibition – a range from Medieval and Renaissance works of art to contemporary paintings and show the variety of visual influences on Boccioni between 1899 and 1909. Several works featured in the Atlas were included in the exhibition, where they were juxtaposed with works by Boccioni. After 1909 the compilation of the Atlas stopped and was replaced by a collection of cuttings of hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles about Futurist events, similarly pasted on large cardboard sheets. They were kept in three folders, the third of which was compiled after Boccioni’s death perhaps by his sister and brother-in-law.

Chris Michaelides, Curator Romance Collections

References:

Chris Michaelides, ‘Umberto Boccioni, Milan and Rovereto’, The Burlington Magazine, July 2016, CLVIII, pp. 578-80. P.P.1931.pcs.

Maurizio Calvesi, Ester Coen, Boccioni (Milan, 1983). LB.31.b.279.

Roberto Longhi, Umberto Boccioni (Florence, 1914). 7875.dd.31.