European studies blog

Exploring Europe at the British Library

Introduction

Discover the British Library's extensive collections from continental Europe and read news and views on European culture and affairs from our subject experts and occasional guest contributors. Read more

01 July 2022

Your name here: five Spanish bullfighting posters from 1769

If you’re of a certain vintage you’ll remember the colourful bullfighting posters where you could have your name hand-printed, a souvenir of the modern period of Spanish tourism from the 1960s onwards.

There’s a plentiful literature in Spanish on bullfighting, as you might imagine, including bibliographies (there’s a sample below).

Lorca wrote about it (his lament for Ignacio Sánchez Mejias) and Goya and Picasso painted it; and it’s supplied a vast range of metaphors. One might say of a politician: ‘Mr X has made a dextrous pass of the cape’. (In Britain he would have put the ball in the back of the net.) Bullfighters were among the celebrities fêted in Hola.

The BL has recently acquired five posters from 18th-century Madrid.

Bullfighting posters RB.37.c.85(1-5)

Bullfighting posters, RB.37.c.85(1-5)

The venue was the Plaza Extramuros de La Puerta de Alcalá, which opened in 1749 and closed in 1874. It was so called because it was outside the city limits.

The fights were in aid of the Reales Hospitales General and de la Pasión.

Each fight featured 18 bulls and the owners and of course bullfighters are named: Antonio Galeano, Juan de Escobar (both of Seville); Juan de Amisas and his son; Sebastián Vicente González, Severino Rodríguez, el famoso Juan Romero, Miguel Gálvez (alias El Lechero), Manuel Alonso (alias Mal Ojo), Bernardo Assensio (alias El Chavó), el indio Mariano Ceballos, ‘natural de Lima, en el reyno del Perú’, Joseph Romero (alias El Niño Bonito).

Some of the bulls will be ‘embolados’ (with mufflers on their horns).

Performances begin at 10 am and 4 pm.

Spectators sitting in the sun will have government permission to turn down one side of the brim of their hats to shade their eyes; this is not permitted to those seated in the shade. This may have been a reaction to the recent Esquilache riots of March 1766. Charles III’s minister Esquilache had wanted to ban garments which were effective as disguises and for concealing weapons: long capes and broad-brimmed hats. But these were typical Spanish wear, and the natives took against it.

Scene depicting the Esquilache Riots

The Esquilache Riots, from José Amador de los Ríos, Historia de la villa y corte de Madrid. (Madrid, 1861-64). 1852.c.20.

Equally interesting is the evidence of what we now call the custodial history of these posters. Posters are ephemera, material intended to be discarded when done with, and therefore rare (see Foster).

These posters are in excellent condition. There’s no glue, showing they were never pasted on a wall. They’ve been folded vertically down the middle, indicating they’ve been kept in an album. On the back are numbers: these I think contemporary with the posters. They’re at the top right nowadays but in the past when folded were on the first ‘page’. (You can see also that the continental 7 hasn’t always had a bar across it.)

On the fifth poster we also see the name ‘Dn Mariano Pizi’ (? or possibly Pizarro). (My thanks to BBM and FGB.) It’s probably not a signature as it lacks the flamboyant ‘rúbrica’ with which Spaniards scribbled over their names (and still do). Perhaps it’s the name of a customer.

So the evidence suggests that someone – Don Mariano? – was collecting bullfighting posters new and keeping them in an album.

And who was Don Mariano? Mariano Pizzi y Frangeschi was professor of Arabic at the Reales Colegios de Madrid. There are various of his works – including an Arabic grammar in verse (Add. MS. 10436, 10437) – in our Manuscript Collections, dated 1764, 1776 and 1782. So we can place him in Madrid around 1769.

He published Tratado de las aguas medicinales de Salam-Bir, que comunmente llaman de Sacedon, escrito en lengua arabe por Agmer-Ben-Ab-Dala, medico en Toledo, en el año de mil cinquenta y quatro ; traducido al idioma castellano e ilustrado con varias notas. This however turned out to be not a translation from the Arabic but a fake written by Pizzi himself (see Bravo).

Title page of Tratado de las aguas medicinales de Salam-Bir

Title page of Tratado de las aguas medicinales de Salam-Bir (Madrid, 1761) 14535.b.23. (Image shown from a copy in the Wellcome Collection Library)

Furthermore, I was delighted to read in Dowling:

[The famous author] Don Nicolás Fernández de Moratín presided over a group [tertulia] which included the most stimulating intellectuals of the reign of Carlos III, and his son Leandro tells us that the only statute which governed the informal gathering limited conversation to four vital subjects, namely, the theater, bull-fighting, love, and poetry.

Moratín père wrote a poem on the bullfight, Fiesta de toros en Madrid. Dowling again:

The story that went around literary circles in Madrid was that the professor of Arabic in the Estudios Reales, that picturesque fraud Don Mariano Pizzi, had given Don Nicolás a translation from the Arabic on which the poet based his poem.

Further proof that these posters belonged to Pizzi, a man with tastes high and low.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

References/Further reading:

On Bullfighting:

Graciano Díaz Arquer, Libros y folletos de toros (Madrid, 1931) 011899.d.35

Biblioteca Nacional (Spain), La fiesta nacional: ensayo de bibliografía taurina (Madrid, 1973) 2725.e.1742

José Sánchez de Neira, El toreo: gran diccionario tauromáquico nueva ed. corregida por el autor (Madrid, 1896-97) 7906.i.27

Luis Carmena y Millán, Bibliografía de la tauromaquia (Madrid, 1883)
2330.d.21.

Luis Carmena y Millán, Tauromaquia: apuntes bibliográficos (Madrid, 1888)
011902.h.20.(2.)

Luis Carmena y Millán, Catálogo de la biblioteca taurina de L. Carmena y Millán (Madrid, 1903)
011907.f.15

Biblioteca Nacional (Lisboa), Bibliografia tauromáquica : impressos e manuscritos (Lisbon, 1927; reprinted [1982?]) YA.1986.b.1293

Anales taurinos (Madrid, 1900-). Includes portraits and advertisements. Discontinued. P.P.1863

Manuel Fernández y González,. Las glorias del toreo ... Cuadros biográficos, lances y desgracias de los diestros más célebres ... Artículos sobre costumbres de los pueblos aficionados á esta clase de espectáculos. (Madrid, 1879). Our copy was destroyed in WWII (D-7911.c/11), but there is a digitised copy at the Biblioteca Digital de Castilla y León.

On ephemera in the BL:

Ann-Marie Foster, ‘‘I am sending herewith’ – First World War Ephemera at the British Library’, Electronic British Library Journal 2017 article 3

Other:

Julián Bravo, ‘El apócrifo manuscrito árabe sobre Sacedon’

John C. Dowling, ‘The Taurine Works of Nicolás Ferndez de Moratín’, The South Central Bulletin, 22 (1962), 31-34. 8350.250000

17 June 2022

Icelandic manuscripts in the British Library

As the National and University Library of Iceland commemorate the 250th anniversary of Joseph Banks’s expedition to Iceland with an exhibition, we are publishing a series of blogs on all things Icelandic in the British Library collections. We will be covering the stories behind the arrival of our earliest Icelandic manuscripts; travel literature in the wake of Banks; some of the key figures in the movement of Icelandic material culture and ideas; as well as our latest acquisitions.

For those who want to know more about Joseph Banks’s expedition to Iceland, check out our guest blog from 2017 by the foremost expert, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Iceland, Anna Agnarsdóttir.

We begin our series on Icelandic National Day (Þjóðhátíðardagurinn) with a blog on Icelandic manuscripts at the BL.

The significance of the Icelandic manuscripts in the British Library is not to be exaggerated, especially in comparison to those held in Iceland and Denmark. The majority date to the 17th and 18th centuries and are copies of manuscripts held elsewhere. That said, the variation between manuscripts, the unique codicology of different versions of the same text, their production contexts and provenance, their later use and transmission, given the instability of originally orally circulated histories and sagas amongst other works, all contribute to a historic interest in all Old Icelandic manuscripts, the BL’s included.

The stories behind the BL manuscripts are woven into the story of a burgeoning scholarly and general interest in the far North from the mid-18th century, its literature, geographical uniqueness, and its potential insight into a British cultural identity locating its origins further and further North. The British Museum opened in 1759 soon after Paul-Henri Mallet’s Introduction à l’histoire de dannemarc appeared, the first comprehensive work to deal with Norse mythology in a widely-read language, translated in a heavily edited form by Thomas Percy in 1770 as Northern Antiquities. This was the period of James McPherson’s Ossian, when the folktales of Britain’s nations and islands were rediscovered, a period that would form the backdrop to Romanticism and its notion of the Sublime based on unspoilt and awe-inspiring nature. Indeed, the true far North, whether identified as the Arctic, “Lapland” (modern day Sápmi), or Iceland, was held up as exemplary of untouched and therefore “primitive” nature. A glimpse into these preserved ancient worlds would bring antiquarians, travellers, and writers closer to the original state of nature, the essence of a national identity.

John Cleveley the younger, View of the Cathedral Church of Skálholt, southern Iceland; with houses, and villagers tending cattle in the foreground

John Cleveley the younger, View of the Cathedral Church of Skálholt, southern Iceland; with houses, and villagers tending cattle in the foreground, Add MS. 15511, f.17

It is therefore no surprise that Iceland appealed to Joseph Banks in 1772, when a replacement expedition had to be rapidly arranged following his exit from Cook’s Resolution. Banks was familiar with scholarly interest in ancient Northern European customs, as well as with the treasures for the geographer and natural scientist: “The whole face of the countrey new to the Botanist & Zoologist as well as the many Volcanoes with which it is said to abound made it very desirable to Explore [...]” (Banks’s Journal, in Agnarsdóttir, p. 47). He brought back around 40 manuscripts and 121 printed books, such was the significance of the Icelandic language as another preserved connection to prehistoric cultures, given its proximity to Old Norse. Banks donated most of these items to the British Museum shortly after his return with a few more presented over the following decade (Add MSS 4857-4900). These have been catalogued in detail with folio-level descriptions for each item, which are available in the finding aid.

Icelandic gradual, Sloane 503

Icelandic gradual, Sloane 503

While Banks’s donation was the largest set of Icelandic manuscripts to have entered the British Museum Library at the time, they were not the first. The Sloane collection, one of the Museum’s foundation collections, contained an Icelandic gradual, a beautiful choral service book from around 1600. The collection also contains a curious autograph draft of a letter about Iceland, which the polymath Sir Thomas Browne eventually communicated to the Royal Society, bound together with letters on the subject of Iceland from his friend, the Reverend Theodor Jonas of Hitterdal (Sloane 1911-13).

The Banks manuscripts are a mix of religious texts, legal texts, annals, short dictionaries and lexica, and collections of all manner of Sagas. Of course, in this period Sagas were beginning to capture the imagination in Britain thanks to Mallet and Percy, and the first English Saga translations – more often free translations based on an intermediary language – would soon abound.

As Margaret Clunies Ross tells us, mediaeval Icelandic texts became accessible only through the assistance of Icelanders, who aided scholars across Scandinavia to gain a grasp of their rich heritage. One Icelandic antiquarian would influence the Anglophone reception of mediaeval Icelandic literature more than others. Grímur Jónsson Thorkelin came to Britain in 1786 on an official commission to find historic material related to Denmark and ended up staying for almost five years. He would be best known for his influential Latin Beowulf translation, and, as far as the BL is concerned, for “the sale to George III in 1788 of over seven hundred Scandinavian works from his own collection” (Hogg). However, it was his presence in Britain and his interactions with British scholars here and in Copenhagen, which shaped the transmission of Saga and Edda literature.

Title Page of Add MS 4857, f.1

Title Page of Add MS 4857, f.1

Thorkelin brought with him several transcriptions of important manuscripts from the Arnamagnæan collections in Copenhagen, to be shared with, if not donated to, institutions and antiquarians engaged in Old Norse and Icelandic literature. The British Museum received his transcriptions related to the history of Britain, Iceland and Norway (Add MSS 5311-18), but others would also find their way there. The acquisition of the Stowe Collection in 1883 brought with it three Icelandic manuscripts once owned by Thomas Astle, an acquaintance of Thorkelin and author of The Origins and Progress of Writing (1784), a book on palaeography that had already made use of some of the Banks Icelandic manuscripts. The Icelandic Stowe manuscripts (Stowe MS 6, 979 and 980) have been the subject of a recent article by Bjarni Ásgeirsson, who discovered that the 14th-century parchment bifolium included at the back of Stowe MS 980 was once part of a manuscript held in Copenhagen, known as the Reynistaðarbók. Ásgeirsson suggests convincingly that Thorkelin was responsible for its removal, given that it relates to the lives of several Archbishops of Canterbury and would have been of interest to his English audience. Thorkelin’s brazen intervention in the manuscript no doubt hampered the understanding of “the culture of scribes who produced the codex” (Ásgeirsson).

Thorkelin’s time in England coincided with the groundbreaking publication (in which he was also involved) of volume one of the most comprehensive critical edition of Poetic Edda, Edda Sæmundar hinns Fróda, giving those with Latin access to the most important source on Norse mythology. This set off vernacular translations across Europe and Clunies Ross points to William Herbert’s Select Icelandic Poetry as the early highpoint.

Opening of Göngu-Hrólfs saga in Add MS 4857, f.2r

Opening of Göngu-Hrólfs saga in Add MS 4857, f.2r

As mediaeval Icelandic literature grew in popularity amongst scholars, antiquarians and the reading public alike, its early manuscript witnesses would often turn up in major British private collections, as we have seen with Stowe 980. Thorkelin’s influence is threaded throughout this history and his name is inscribed in the important Codex Scardensis, one of the largest extant 14th-century manuscripts, which contains the Icelandic Sagas telling the lives of the apostles. The ownership history becomes murky between the 450 years it spent at the church in Skarð in western Iceland, near where it was produced, and its re-emergence at a sale in England in 1836. In that time, it had managed to acquire an inscription explaining its contents as verified by a certain Grímur Thorkelin. Former BL colleague Pamela Porter suggests the inscription was made by the next most significant Icelandic figure shadowing the BL collections, the lawyer and scholar, Finnur Magnússon.

Magnússon, according to Porter, was in the business of selling manuscripts to British collectors and institutions at inflated prices as a “profit-making enterprise”. The BL’s largest set of Icelandic manuscripts, some 437 items, were indeed acquired from Magnússon in 1837 (Add MSS 11061-11251), described by the Assistant Keeper of Manuscripts, Sir Frederic Madden as in “the greater part […] sad trash, and scarcely worth binding”. Indeed, the significance of this set is minimal if we look at their use in current studies and how they figure in online indexes. However, understanding the contexts and material detail of these albeit later transcriptions will no doubt offer insights into how Sagas, for example, were understood and classified. Kapitan points to “the shortcomings of the existing digital descriptions of Add. MS 11109 [including] the erroneous identification of texts, and the incorrect dating of the volume”. Without comprehensive cataloguing of this material, the argument goes, inadequate descriptions will always limit the effectiveness of large-scale data analysis of multiple manuscript corpora, which might otherwise uncover new connections and insights for scholars. In other words, we might not yet know how significant Magnússon’s donation could be for scholarship today. As Clunies Ross says of the BL’s Banks donation, “relative importance cannot be measured only in terms of the antiquity or uniqueness of the mss, but must take into account the use to which such manuscripts could be put and their impact upon scholars”.

Magnússon’s negotiations with the British Museum were drawn out, Madden being unconvinced by the high price tag. While Magnússon offered comprehensive preliminary remarks to his collection defending the estimated value (Add MS 29537), the Museum learned of two altogether finer and more important Icelandic manuscripts up for sale: copies of Sæmundar Edda and Snorri Edda once owned by the antiquarian Adam Clarke. “Both were paper copies, clean, sound and elegantly written, and bore matching, handsome gold-tooled bindings” (Porter) and can now be found at Egerton 642 and 643.

Initial detail in Add MS 4857, f.15

Initial detail in Add MS 4857, f.81

Initial details in Add MS 4857, f.15 and f.81

And what of the reference to Thorkelin in the Codex Scardensis? Well, we do not know for sure that Magnússon wrote the inscription but Porter’s suggestion does make for a neat link between the figures so crucial to the BL’s Icelandic manuscripts, and shows how the BL collections resonate in the wider landscape. In fact, the story of Codex Scardensis’s return to Iceland does have another BL connection in that the highly prized manuscript, when eventually up for sale at auction in 1965 after decades of private ownership in the UK, was sold to Torgrim Hannås, acting on behalf of a consortium of Icelandic banks, and so it returned to Iceland. Hannås, a Norwegian-born antiquarian bookseller, would go on to donate his collection of over 700 Scandinavian books comprising dictionaries, grammars, phrasebooks and the like, to the BL in 1984.

The story of mediaeval Icelandic manuscripts in the BL more or less stops there, in the first half of the 19th century, but we hold a number of items that tell a more modern story of Iceland through the eyes of those inspired by those very Sagas, perhaps the most intriguing being William Morris’s diaries (Add MS 45319 A-C). Another curiosity is a set of accounts of the “revolution” in Iceland in 1809, written by its main protagonist, Jørgen Jørgensen (Egerton 2066-2070). We hope to publish further blogs on those collections as part of this series.

Last page of Add MS 4857, from Aefintýr af einum Meystara

Last page of Add MS 4857, from Aefintýr af einum Meystara, a narrative of the career of a Master Paul at Paris

Further information on Icelandic manuscripts in the BL and beyond can be found on a number of indispensable websites indexing, describing or digitising Old Icelandic literary sources. Long-running negotiations between Iceland and Denmark over the 1960s and 70s settled the return of a substantial portion of the unparalleled collection of Icelandic manuscripts compiled by Árni Magnússon. The two eponymous collections in Copenhagen and Reykjavík hold the key material for the period, all of it catalogued and much of it digitised on the electronic catalogue handrit.org. Other important sources of information include:

Dictionary of Old Norse Prose – a dictionary that also indexes manuscript witnesses to Old Norse Prose under the holding institution’s shelfmark

The Skaldic Project – an index concentrating on mediaeval Norse-Icelandic skaldic poetry, including an index of around 10,000 kennings listed by English referent

The Icelandic Scribes Project presents detailed information on the scribal networks around the manuscripts produced under the patronage of Magnús Jónsson í Vigur (1637-1702), some of which have ended up in the Banks collection.

There is no complete catalogue of mediaeval Icelandic manuscripts in the British Library as yet, however Jón Helgason, former head of the Danish Árni Magnússon Institute, produced a manuscript catalogue available in the Copenhagen and Reykjavik institutes. Work is currently under way in Copenhagen on a published version, Catalogue of the Icelandic Manuscripts in the British Library. Until its publication, we are reliant on earlier texts that focus on particular aspects of the collection, or on online indexes, which are also not comprehensive when it comes to BL material. This new spreadsheet collates current catalogue information on all known Icelandic manuscripts and those related to Iceland, and we would appreciate any recommendations for additions from the community.

Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections

References

Paul-Henri Mallet, Introduction a l'histoire de Dannemarc, ou l'on traite de la religion, des loix, des mœurs & des usages des anciens danois.(Copenhagen, 1755-56) 153.c.3.. English translation by Thomas Percy, Northern antiquities: or, a description of the manners, customs, religion and laws of the ancient Danes, and other northern nations … With additional notes by the English translator, and Goranson's Latin version of the Edda. ...(London, 1770) 989.c.16-17..

Edda Sæmundar hinns Fróda (Copenhagen, 1787-1828) 85.g.5-7

William Herbert, Select Icelandic Poetry (London, 1804-1806) 11565.c.58.(1.)

Anna Agnarsdóttir (ed.), Sir Joseph Banks, Iceland and the North Atlantic 1772-1820. Journals, Letters and Documents (London, 2016), YC.2016.b.2118.

Bjarni Gunnar Asgeirsson, ‘Anecdotes of several Archbishops of Canterbury: A Lost Bifolium from Reynistaðarbók discovered in the BL’, Gripla 32 (2021), 

John Bonehill, ‘“New Scenes drawn by the pencil of Truth”: Joseph Banks’ northern voyage’, Journal of Historical Geography 43 (2014), 9-27. P.801/3025

Margaret Clunies Ross, The Norse Muse in Britain 1750-1820 (Trieste, 1998), Document Supply 4300.868500

Katarzyna Anna Kapitan, ‘Perspectives on Digital Catalogs and Textual Networks of Old Norse Literature’, Manuscript Studies: A Journal of the Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies, Volume 6, Number 1, Spring 2021, pp. 74-97

Pam Porter, ‘Preserving the Past: England, Iceland and the movement of manuscripts’, Care and Conservation of Manuscripts 8, (Copenhagen, 2005), 173-190

Pam Porter, ‘England and Iceland: more movement of manuscripts’, Care and Conservation of Conservation of Manuscripts 9, (Copenhagen, 2006), 20-34

Jón Þorkelsson, ‘Islandske håndskrifter i England og Skotland,’ Arkiv för nordisk filologi 8 (1892), 199–237

15 June 2022

Ceramics and the Avant-Garde: the life of Tullio d’Albisola

During the interwar years, the focus of Italian Futurism expanded from the fine arts into a variety of media and mass media that were easily accessible to the wider public. On the one hand, the Futurists were attracted by new forms of communication intended for a wide audience, like the radio and advertising; on the other, they engaged with the large market of commercial items, such as furniture and household objects, that entered the majority of the Italian dwellings. Their intent was a real union between art and everyday life, a total rejection of traditional art hierarchies going beyond the move by the fine artist into the decorative arts, which would become increasingly popular in postwar Italy with artists like Fausto Melotti, Lucio Fontana, and Giacomo Manzù, to mention just a few.

Coppa amatoria, Tullio d’Albisola, 1930

Coppa amatoria, Tullio d’Albisola, 1930, from Enrico Crispolti, La ceramica futurista da Balla a Tullio d’Albisola (Florence: Centro Di, 1982) 3113.170350 v 151

It is within this background that Tullio Spartaco Mazzotti, an artist and entrepreneur from Albissola, a small community on the Ligurian coast, invited the Futurists to design ceramic objects that he could produce in his father’s factory, the Ceramiche Giuseppe Mazzotti Albissola. In his project he involved the founder of Futurism, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, who coined his Futurist pseudonym Tullio d’Albisola, and many artists, architects, and poets, like Benedetta Cappa, Bruno Munari, Farfa (Vittorio Osvaldo Tommasini), Fortunato Depero), and Enrico Prampolini. As described in the Manifesto Ceramica e aeroceramica (Ceramics and Aeroceramics) that he co-wrote with Marinetti in 1938:

‘[…] Tullio d’Albisola brings into ceramic the aesthetic of the machine […] speed […] cosmic forces […] simultaneities of contrasting or harmonizing emotional states […]’

Photograph showing (left to right) Farfa, Tullio d’Albisola and Marinetti in front of ceramics by Farfa

Photograph showing (left to right) Farfa, Tullio d’Albisola and Marinetti in front of ceramics by Farfa, 1930, from La ceramica futurista da Balla a Tullio d’Albisola.

Despite the number of Futurist tiles and ceramics manufactured in Italy during this time, d'Albisola was the only one who reached a wider public. With their unusual shapes and abstract decorations, his ceramics openly challenged the more conventional pottery of Sevrès, France, the fine porcelains from Vienna, and the contemporary ceramic production in Italy that was largely based on classical ideals.

During his adhesion to Futurism, d’Albisola applied his creativity and experimental personality to a variety of media, besides ceramic design, and was an enthusiastic supporter of the ideas and projects of his Futurist fellows. For example, he convinced his old father to entrust a young Futurist architect, Nicolaj Diulgheroff, with the project of a new location for the factory, which was completed in 1934 and is today one of the remaining examples of Futurist architecture in Italy. He made sculptures, wrote poems, designed the factory’s graphic identity (from the letterhead, to the advertising), and engaged at different rates with photography, cinema and painting. The genuineness and delicacy of his poetry is in apparent contrast with his most vanguard outputs, like the famous Futurist tin-books (‘Lito-latte’), which he financed entirely, although the project was eventually a flop.

Litolatta logo

Litolatta logo, from Filippo Tommaso Marinetti/Tullio d’Albisola Parole In Libertà Futuriste Olfattive Tattili Termiche (Rome, 1932). HS.74/2143, Courtesy of Archivio Tullio d’Albissola

Thanks to the success of their Futurist ceramics, the popularity of the Mazzotti factory increased exponentially, and the name of d’Albisola began circulating within the artistic circuits in Italy and abroad. New avant-garde movements could be found in Albissola in the 1950s and 1960s, such as Spatialism, the Arte Nucleare, and Co.Br.A (the latter developed in Albissola the M.I.B.I., ‘Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus’). Although Futurism was long gone, the Mazzotti factory continued to be one of the favorite workshops of the international Avant-Garde, where artists like Fontana, Manzù, Aligi Sassu, Agenore Fabbri, Sandro Cherchi, Asger Jorn, and Karel Appel, realized the striking post-modernist sculptures that we all know. ‘The modern ceramic art was born in Albisola’, Italian architect and critic Gio Ponti wrote.

Casa Mazzotti

Casa Mazzotti, designed by Bulgarian Futurist Architect Nicolay Diulgheroff in the years 1930 to 1932 for Tullio d'Albisola, who lived and worked here until his demise. It is a rare example of original futurist architecture. © UrbanItaly

On divergent but parallel paths, both d’Albisola and Ponti supported, for their entire life, the resurgence of ceramic practice, and assisted and guided in their careers worldwide renowned artists like Fontana and Melotti. Ceramics, however, continued to be largely seen as unsuitable for making art: as Melotti admitted in an interview in 1984, asking a sculptor to make ceramics was like ‘asking a poet to write advertisements’. (Tre ore con Fausto Melotti, television interview conducted by Antonia Mulas for RAI Italy)

Eleonora Traversa, Royal Holloway University of London

References:

Enrico Crispolti, La ceramica futurista da Balla a Tullio d’Albisola (Florence: Centro Di, 1982) 3113.170350 v 151

Danilo Presotto (ed.), Quaderni di Tullio d’Albisola, vol. I-IV (Savona: Editrice Liguria, 1981-87) P.421/871

Ursula Lehmann-Brockhaus, ‘Incontro Internazionale della Ceramica’ Albisola, Sommer 1954 (Rome: Campisano Editore, 2013)

The event Italian Collections in UK Libraries: Past, Present & Future will take place on Friday 17 June at the British Library. This event is now sold out.