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66 posts categorized "Italy"

06 August 2020

Gianni Rodari, the logic of fantasy (part 1)

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Photograph of Gianni Rodari

Gianni Rodari. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Gianni Rodari (1920-1980) is regarded as the father of modern Italian children’s literature and we celebrate his fantastic contribution to literature and education in the year of his triple anniversary. 100 years since his birth, 40 years since his death, and 50 years since his “Little Nobel”, namely the Hans Christian Andersen Writing Award, his books are still inspiring all sorts of cultural events in Italy. Last March, for instance, his iconic Favole al telefono triggered “Pronto, chi favola?”, a free storytelling service on demand set up spontaneously by actors to uplift children at home during the COVID-19 lockdown: every day from 4 to 8 pm, an actor rings a child to read over the phone one of the 70 fables included in the book.

Cover of Favole al telefono

Cover of Telephone Tales with an illustration of a child sitting on an arm chair while on the telephone

Front covers of Favole al telefono illustrated by Bruno Munari (Turin, 1962) F2/0682, and its English translation Telephone Tales (London, 1965) X.990/103

In Italy Gianni Rodari needs no introduction, but English translations of his books are few and readers in the UK are not familiar with his delicious children’s stories. Although the British Library’s acquisition policy for purchasing foreign material generally excludes children’s literature, the library fortunately holds 40 works by and about Rodari. This presence underlines the international recognition gained by the author and helps to track his legacy through translations, adaptations and critical writings. Half of our holdings, consisting of criticism on Rodari’s intellectual contribution, might serve teachers and educators as an inspiring toolkit. An interesting surprise is the existence of four musical scores inspired by Rodari’s texts, one in Italian and three in Russian. This illustrates his huge popularity in the Soviet Union, a country where his books met with massive success thanks to several translations and adaptations for schools, and that Rodari visited often between 1952 and 1979. He commented on the Soviet educational system in Giochi nell’URSS. Appunti di viaggio (Turin, 1984; YA.1990.a.3048). On the other hand, a report of his journey to China in the 1970s is available in Turista in Cina (Rome, 1974; X.709/25245).

In regard to Rodari’s fiction, the British Library holds some Italian and English first editions of nursery rhymes, fables and short stories. The most recent publication is a bilingual collection (Italian/English) Tales to change the world (Lincoln, 2008; YK.2010.a.169). Among the first editions there is also a Russian one, Chem pakhnut remesla? Kakogo tsveta remesla? (Moscow, 1954; 12843.p.54), including two poems translated by children’s writer Samuil Y. Marshak

Cover of Chem pakhnut remesla? Kakogo tsveta remesla?

Gianni Rodari, Chem pakhnut remesla? Kakogo tsveta remesla? (Moscow, 1954) 12843.p.54 

Before introducing three of Rodari’s cult stories, a brief remark on his style and preference for extremely short literary genres (aphorisms, limericks, nursery rhymes, poems, fables, etc). A supreme love of words (in sound, script and meaning), a musical ear and a witty irony are key elements in his writing, always aiming to select the exact word. His surrealist approach to linguistic invention has been compared to those of Raymond Queneau, J.M. Barrie and Lewis Carroll. Rodari’s graceful pen mastered nonsense, parody and puns to perfection. He also believed that the best literary form to educate children with courage and intelligence was the fable.

Front cover of Il pianeta degli alberi di Natale

Front cover of C’era due volte il barone Lamberto

Cover of Mr Cat in Business

Front cover of Tales told by a machine

Front covers of Il pianeta degli alberi di Natale (Turin, 1962; F2/0681), C’era due volte il barone Lamberto (Turin, 1978; X.908/85349, illustrated by Bruno Munari), Mr Cat in Business (London, 1975; X.990/7133), and Tales told by a Machine (London, 1976; X.990/8338)

Cipollino

Italian and Russian children share a common literary hero in their childhood memories, Cipollino (‘Little Onion’), the vegetable protagonist fighting for social justice in Il romanzo di Cipollino (1951, retitled Le avventure di Cipollino in 1957) and its sequel Le avventure di Cipollino 2 – Cipollino e le bolle di sapone (1952). The book was an immediate success in the Soviet Union thanks to the Russian translation and various adaptations including a ballet (Chipollino; Moscow, 1977; g.1548.v), and a cartoon. Being published by communist publishing houses, it was no wonder that the book had difficulty circulating in 1950s Catholic Italy. The British Library holds one of the late anthologies Le storie (Rome, 1992; YA.1994.a.15779), where Cipollino’s story is in good company with five others (Piccoli vagabondi, La Freccia azzurra, Gelsomino nel paese dei bugiardi, Atalanta, Il giudice a dondolo).

La Freccia azzurra

Cover of The Befana's Toyshop

Front cover of the English translation The Befana’s toyshop (London, 1970) X.990/2455.

Freccia azzurra is a toy, a blue train, that little Francesco wishes to have as a gift from the Befana. In Italian folklore the Befana is an old woman who rides a broomstick and delivers sweets or presents to good children and a lump of coal to bad ones, entering through the chimneys on the eve of Epiphany. This tradition is much loved by children and is the second most longed-for holiday after Christmas. The tale first appeared as a serial in the children’s magazine Il Pioniere, then was published as Il viaggio della Freccia azzurra (Florence, 1954) and later retitled La Freccia azzurra (Rome, 1964). In Rodari’s story, the toys come alive and escape from their toyshop in order to reach poor children’s houses. The book inspired an animated film carefully crafted by director Enzo d’Alò in 1996, with stellar contributors such as actor Lella Costa and the Nobel Laureate Dario Fo providing the voices, and Paolo Conte and Miriam Makeba the soundtrack.

A pie in the sky

Front cover of A pie in the sky

Front cover of A pie in the sky (London, 1970; X.990/2913) 

The phrase “pie in the sky”, meaning “an unrealistic enterprise or prospect of prosperity”, is borrowed by Rodari in a surrealistic and hilarious way: the image of the metaphor is transformed into an actual gigantic pie flying above Rome. That is why Rodari’s tale La torta in cielo (Turin, 1966) sounds better in its English translation. In one of the interviews in the documentary Gianni Rodari, il profeta della fantasia, teacher Maria Luisa Bigiaretti explained how Rodari worked with her pupils at a primary school in Rome in order to co-create this story starting from the title-metaphor. The chimeric pie, which suddenly appears in the sky, is actually an atomic bomb that only brave children will be able to deactivate. Written in the Sixties during the nuclear war fever years, this pacifist tale aimed to present a difficult problem to children in order to open up a debate in the classroom and prompt their alternative solution to war.

Rodari believed that every children’s author has a duty to be as close as possible to his little readers so as to write stories with which they can connect and have an enjoyable learning experience. Reading must be a personal enriching pleasure above all, as Rodari stated: “La lettura, o è un momento di vita, momento libero, pieno, disinteressato, o non è nulla” [Reading is either a moment of life, a free, full and disinterested moment, or it is nothing (my translation)].

In Omegna, Rodari’s birthplace, the town council is keeping alive his legacy with a literary festival and a theme park, the Parco della fantasia Gianni Rodari, where children and their families are able to meet Rodari’s tales and heroes at any age, getting involved in one of the most exciting adventures that is literature.

To be continued

Ramona Ciucani, West European Languages Cataloguing team

Further reading:

Pino Boerio, Una storia, tante storie: guida all’opera di Gianni Rodari (Turin, 1992) YA.1995.a.529

Francesca Califano, ‘Political, social and cultural divisions in the work of Gianni Rodari’ in Mary Shine Thompson and Valerie Coghlan (eds.), Divided worlds: studies in children’s literature, pp. 149-158 (Dublin, 2007,) YC.2008.a.8892 and m07/.33327

Bernard Friot, ‘Quel che io devo a Rodari’ in Andersen 365 (Genoa, 2019) https://www.andersen.it/quel-che-io-devo-a-rodari/

Ann Lawson Lucas, ‘Blue train, red flag, rainbow world: Gianni Rodari’s Befana’s toyshop’ in Beyond Babar: the European tradition in children’s literature edited by Sandra L. Beckett, Maria Nikolajeva (Lanham and Oxford, 2006) m06/.36134

Donatella Lombello (Padua University) on Gianni Rodari in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cx1eo9rAUXQ

Pietro Macchione, [et al.], Storia del giovane Rodari (Varese, 2013) YF.2013.a.19948

Giulia Massini, La poetica di Rodari: utopia del folklore e nonsense (Rome, 2011) YF.2012.a.26928

Il mio teatro: dal teatro del “Pioniere” a La storia di tutte le storie, [testi teatrali di] Gianni Rodari, a cura di Andrea Mancini e Mario Piatti (Pisa, 2006) YF.2006.a.37288

Gianni Rodari, Telephone Tales (translated by Anthony Shugaar), to be published in September 2020

M. L. Salvadori, ‘Apologizing to the Ancient Fable: Gianni Rodari and His Influence on Italian Children's Literature’ in The Lion and the Unicorn, vol. 26, part 2, 2002, pp. 169-202; 5221.742000

Patrizia Zagni, Gianni Rodari (Florence, 1975) X.0907/36.(100)

31 July 2020

Translation and melancholy

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Fray Manuel de Vega translated the biography of Ludovico Sforza from the Italian of Diego (i.e. Giacomo) Monti in 1699. It recounts Sforza’s life as a warning against overwhelming ambition. (The Library of Catalonia holds a digitised copy

Fr.Manuel opens his Prologue to the reader with meditations on idleness, identified by authorities with the sin of sloth alias acedia and by the early moderns with melancholy. It is, he says, particularly pernicious for those who live in solitude. (He was a member of the Order of St Benedict.) ‘Virtue has no greater enemy than idleness’. It lets in the Devil through the gates of the Imaginativa.

Opening of the prologue to Manuel de Vega, El ambicioso politico infeliz...

Opening of the prologue to Manuel de Vega, El ambicioso politico infeliz: descrito y representado en la vida de Ludovico Esforcia (Barcelona, 1699) [Awaiting shelfmark]

This is familiar territory with an early Christian and medieval history, studied by Siegfried Wenzel and others.

While most translators devoted their prologues to flattering their patrons or potential patrons, Fr. Manuel gives his a twist by recommending translation as a cure for such melancholy. He made good use of his ‘descanso’ [leisure], which was caused by ‘un desengaño que me bolviò a mi retiro’, a ‘disappointment which returned me to my retreat’.

He is by nature opposed to translations (he lards his prologue with untranslated Latin quotes), as traduttore traditore. He uses a striking image of the Spanish language: ‘nunca un cuerpo estrangero, por galan que fuesse en su trage, pudo acomodarse al nuestro, sin que quite algo del espiritu a la gala y gentileza que a nuestra Nacion son tan propias’ (‘a foreign body, however splendidly arrayed, could never match the grace of ours’).

But the book is useful, he says, more useful than some because it is both history and morality, and deserves to be widely known. (I wonder if he is thinking of the large number of works of fiction such as Boccacesque novelle, which were translated into Spanish from Italian.) He attacks those critics who ‘lounging in the midden of idleness’ (‘repantigado en el estrecolar [read estercolar] del ocio’) satirized others’ efforts, accusing them of vanity.

He praises two translators whose work is so brilliant that one cannot tell which is the original: Cristóbal de Figueroa and Juan de Jáuregui, verse translators of Guarini’s Il pastor fido  and Lucan’s Pharsalia respectively. He admits he is not in the same class. He comments that each language has its excellences which are hard to render, particularly puns (equívocos). (Remember this is the age of Góngora, Quevedo and the Metaphysicals.) He, like many a translator such as Alfred the Great, has followed a middle course between the spirit and the letter, where usage allows.

Engraving of Don Quixote in the printing shop

Engraving of Don Quixote in the printing shop. From Miguel de Cervantes, El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha (Madrid, 1853-1854) Source: Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes

Finally, he admits that Spaniards find it easy to understand and speak Italian, especially with the aid of Latin. But this does not mean that they can translate it so easily. Cervantes touches on this question in Don Quixote, II, lxii. Quixote visits a printing house in Barcelona where he has a discussion with a man who is translating from the Italian. There’s obviously some irony, as Quixote (who is a sophisticated man of letters if you keep him off the romances of chivalry) is delighted to hear that più has been translated as más and su as arriba.

In a final phrase, Fr Manuel says the translator is like an acrobat (bolteador): if he does it well he earns a pittance (medio real) and praise, and if he does it badly he falls from the tightrope and breaks his neck.

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

References:

Siegfried Wenzel, The Sin of Sloth: Acadia in Medieval Thought and Literature (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1967) X.950/9274.

26 June 2020

Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month (Part 1)

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Believed to have left India in the Middle Ages, the Romani people are one of the biggest ethnic minorities in Europe that has traditionally suffered from prosecution and discrimination. Since they often choose not to disclose their ethnic identity, the exact number of Roma in Europe is unknown and is estimated at about 10-14 million. On the occasion of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month, we present a few selections of publications written by or related to members of the Roma community in Europe.

Pieśni Papuszy — The songs of Papusza

Photograph of Bronisława Wajs

Bronisława Wajs, Wikimedia Commons 

Bronisława Wajs (1908 or 1910-1987), most widely known by her Romani name Papusza, was one of the most famous Romani poets of all time. She did not receive any schooling and, as a child, she paid non-Romani villagers with stolen goods in exchange for teaching her to read and write. At the age of 16 she got married off against her will to a man older than her by 24 years. Papusza survived the Second World War by hiding in the woods and became known as a poet in 1949, as a result of her acquaintance with Jerzy Ficowski, a poet and a translator from Romani to Polish. Her poetry, dealing with the subject of yearning and feeling lost, quickly gained her recognition in the Polish literary world.

Ficowski convinced Papusza that by having her poems translated from Romani and published, she would help improving the situation of the Romani community in Poland. However, Ficowski also authored a book about Roma beliefs and rituals, accompanied by a Romani-Polish dictionary of words, which he learned from Papusza. He also officially gave his support to forced settlement imposed on Roma by Polish authorities in 1953. As a result, Papusza was ostracised from the Roma community. Her knowledge sharing with Ficowski was perceived as a betrayal of Roma, breaking the taboo, and a collaboration with the anti-Romani government. Although Papusza claimed that Ficowski misinterpreted her words, she was declared ritually impure and banned from the Roma community. After an eight-month stay in a psychiatric hospital, Papusza spent the rest of her life isolated from her tribe. Ficowski, who genuinely had believed that the forced settlement of Romani people would better their life by eradicating poverty and illiteracy, later regretted endorsing the government’s policy, as the abandonment of nomadic life had profound implications on the Romani community.

Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

References:

Bronisława Wajs, Jerzy Ficowski, Pieśni Papuszy. Papušakre gila (Wrocław, 1956). 11588.p.45

Angelika Kuźniak, Papusza (Wołowiec, 2013). YF.2017.a.16135

Valentina Glajar and Domnica Radulescu (eds), “Gypsies” in European literature and culture (New York, 2008). YK.2009.a.21165

 

Tzigari: vita di un nomade

Cover of Tzigari: vita di un nomade

Giuseppe Levakovich and Giorgio Ausenda, Tzigari: vita di un nomade (Milano, Bompiani, 1975), X.709/23552

Tzigari: vita di un nomade is an autobiographical account telling about the persecutions of Roma and Sinti in Italy during the Second World War and about the Romani genocide, Porajmos. Tzigari is the nickname of Giuseppe Levakovich. Born in 1908 in Istria, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Levakovich became an Italian citizen after the First World War and joined the fascist army in the invasion of Abyssinia, in 1936. When the Italian racial laws were promulgated, he and his people became discriminated and prosecuted. His wife was sent to a concentration camp in Germany, and Tzigari joined the Italian resistance movement. There aren’t many written accounts shedding light on these events from a Roma perspective, and this book is certainly an early example, published in 1975.

Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections


Gypsies by Josef Koudelka

A photograph of a Roma man holding a cockrerel

A photograph of a Roma man by Josef Koudelka from Gypsies (New York, 2011) LD.31.b.2995

Josef Koudelka’s Gypsies is an unprecedented documentary photography book on Romanies. Born in 1938 in Moravia, Koudelka is a Magnum photographer still active today. The original Cikáni (Czech for Gypsies) was first prepared by Koudelka and graphic designer Milan Kopriva, in Prague in 1968. The book was not published, because in 1970 Koudelka fled from Czechoslovakia to England to seek political asylum. However, the first edition of Gypsies was subsequently published in 1975 in the United States.

It was Roma music and culture that initially drew Koudelka to start taking photographs of the people. By immersing himself into their lives he managed to capture the intricacies of their everyday existence. Leading a nomadic life, they were like him in a way. “For 17 years I never paid any rent. Even gypsies were sorry for me because they thought I was poorer than them. At night they were in their caravans and I was a guy who was sleeping outside beneath the sky.”

Gypsies offers an unbiased and honest insight into Roma people’s lives. It consists of 109 black and white photographs, taken between 1962 and 1971 in what was then Czechoslovakia (Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia), Romania, Hungary and Spain. During this time, Koudelka lived, travelled with, and documented Europe’s Roma communities. His masterful storytelling is bursting with emotion and the realism of people caught up in everyday situations, from individuals and family portraits to suited musicians, funeral processions or weddings set in rural landscapes. The unfolding candid images draw the viewer in and make them feel as if they are there with them, experiencing their lives. This rich and inspiring source of Roma iconography and self-identity is a timeless document of the community in its heyday.

Lora Afrić, Languages Cataloguing Manager

References:

Koudelka Josef. Cikáni (Prague, 2011). LF.31.b.8497

Koudelka Josef. Gypsies (London, 1975). LB.37.b.367

Quote taken from: https://erickimphotography.com/blog/2014/01/30/street-photography-book-review-gypsies-by-josef-koudelka/


“Romani, read poems and keep your mother tongue”

Cover of O Devlikano Ramope

O Devlikano Ramope (‘Gospel of Luke’) (Belgrade, 1938) W2/6259.

“Romani, read poems and keep your mother tongue” is a simple and powerful message attributed to Rade Uhlik, a great researcher of the Romani language and culture from Southeast Europe.

Rade Uhlik (1899-1991) was a Bosnian and Herzegovinian linguist and curator at the National Museum in Sarajevo. He was the first Romani scholar in the Balkans and a pioneer in Romani studies. His scholarship was varied and prolific in multiple disciplines: from language and linguistics to history and ethnography and culture in general.

Uhlik was noted for his scholarly study of the Romani language and its many dialects. Most of his research was done away from the office. He devoted his time mainly to fieldwork and to collecting stories, poems and customs of the Romani people from Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia, which was his greatest scholarly achievement. His first book published in Prijedor in 1937 was a collection of Romani poems (We hold another edition of his Ciganska poezija (‘Gypsy poetry’; Sarajevo, 1957; 011313.m.48).

Uhlik collected about 1200 Romani stories in 20 volumes of which four have been published, three outside Yugoslavia and only one in Sarajevo in 1957 as Ciganske priče (‘Gypsy stories’; 11397.dd.53). In 1938 Uhlik translated the Gospel of Luke into Romani as O Devlikano Ramope. His Srpskohrvatsko-ciganski rečnik. Romane alava (‘Serbo-Croatian-Gypsy dictionary’) was first published in three sequels in the Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society, with whom Uhlik actively collaborated, and then as an independent edition in Sarajevo in 1947 (012977.b.33. Revised edition (Sarajevo, 1983) YA.1991.a.7953).

The beginning of the Gospel of Luke, printed in two columns

The beginning of the Gospel of Luke, printed in two columns. The printing of the Gospel of Luke in Romani in Belgrade in 1938 was supported by the Bible Society.

Uhlik as a non-Roma did great service to Romani language and culture, passionately committed to the cause, almost independently and with little or no support of the Yugoslav academy and society. To preserve the memory of a great scholar, the Serbian Academy is helping the establishment of an international “Rade Uhlik” institute for the Romani studies under the sponsorship of the European Centre for Peace and Development in Belgrade.

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections

22 May 2020

“City of exiles”: Trieste and its authors

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Trieste is a city of writers, and it celebrates them loudly. It was writers who developed the current mythology and image of the city, and it is profoundly grateful to them for creating an atmosphere of pleasant melancholy and regret that draws a certain kind of visitor to the place and fuels an endless series of newspaper articles about an Italian city that is not quite Italian, but which would be much less noticed if it were.

Photograph of the James Joyce statue in Trieste

James Joyce statue in Trieste. Photograph: Janet Ashton 

At first glance, it seems to be foreign writers who define Trieste. James Joyce is perhaps the most physically obvious, his statue overlooking the Grand Canal and his name emblazoned on the cafes he drank in. But it may be Jan Morris, the Welsh travel writer, who has contributed most to perceptions of Trieste itself in the Anglophone world. It is Morris for whom the city’s name evokes the word “tristesse” and whose travelogue fuses impressions of the gentle backwater that is modern Trieste with the angry, beleaguered city she first visited in the immediate post-war period, and with the grand, cosmopolitan port of the Habsburgs.

View of the Piazza della Borsa and the Borsa Vecchia, now the Chamber of Commerce of Trieste, at night.

Habsburg Trieste. View of the Piazza della Borsa and the Borsa Vecchia, now the Chamber of Commerce of Trieste. Photograph: Janet Ashton

That foreign writers loom large tallies well with Trieste’s cosmopolitan demeanour: it is, after all, a port, a “city of exiles”, as Morris calls it, and one famously situated at the crossing point between Germanic, Slavic and Romance cultures as well.

Yet when it comes to its own native authors, Trieste long seemed to be under the sway of Italian nationalism. Italo Svevo, Umberto Saba – Italophone writers like these were the most noted literary offspring of the city. It was as if the city’s multiculturalism was more a boast than an integrated element of its own identity, and as it drew exiles from other nations it simultaneously exiled many of its own offspring in either a spiritual or a physical sense.

Trieste – along with Trento – was one of the Austrian cities symbolically most coveted by Italy in the years before the first world war. After its annexation in 1918, it became a living memorial to this fact, complete with museums of irredentism and the inevitable array of squares and street names commemorating dates or individuals important to the Italian state. A policy of suppression was adopted towards the German and Slovene languages.

Photograph of Boris Pahor, 2015

Photograph of Boris Pahor, 2015. © Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons

The best known of the writers who grew up in those years may currently be Boris Pahor, a 106-year-old Triestine Slovene, who is believed to be the oldest living survivor of a concentration camp. Pahor is also undoubtedly the only person alive who can recall the burning of the Slovene National Hall in Trieste in 1920, an event which now seems to mark the beginning of the Fascist period. For his own resistance to fascism, he was sent to internal exile in the city’s grim Risiera di San Sabba concentration camp, and from there to the several death camps he managed to survive. In 1946, Pahor returned to his native city and has remained there for most of his life since, but it is only in the last few years that it has begun to celebrate him as it does its Italian-speaking writers, holding public ceremonies in his honour and flagging his works in bookshops as those of a local author. Pahor is even beginning to be better known in the English-speaking world since appearing in a BBC documentary, though few of his works beside his renowned concentration camp memoir, Nekropola, known in English as Necropolis or Pilgrim among shadows, have yet been translated.

Photograph of Trieste from the karst

Trieste from the karst. Photograph: Janet Ashton

Jan Morris ruminates on the city’s relationship with the karst that surrounds it, characterising that harsh and stony territory where Slovene is the dominant language as a symbol of the “Slavic” wildness threatening the orderly Habsburg city. Even in the later visits she explores in her book, a border lay between town and countryside – not as impermeable as the Iron Curtain borders further east, but a border with troops and a different ideology on the far side nevertheless. But the image she evokes seems to me almost a reverse of the genuine relationship, in which the neat little farm houses and wineries of the karst provide a calm and safe retreat from the traffic noise and the mildly grubby streets below.

Manuscript of the poem Majhen plašč (A small coat) by Srečko Kosovel, 1926

Manuscript of the poem Majhen plašč (A small coat) by Srečko Kosovel, 1926. From the Digital Library of Slovenia 

Be this as it may, the city and countryside, with their topographical and linguistic contrasts, have always had an intense relationship that lends itself to literary metaphor. Srečko Kosovel, one of Slovenia’s most treasured national poets, was born in nearby Sežana in 1904 and received his cultural education at the doomed Slovene National Hall in Trieste. During the First World War trenches surrounded his home village Tomaj, marking his mental landscape as indelibly as did the natural features of the karst. After the war, the Treaty of Rapallo assigned the whole area to Italy. Kosovel moved to Ljubljana, now part of the new Kingdom of Yugoslavia, where he could at least speak his own language without repression, yet he soon felt alienated from the Serbian-dominated Yugoslavia as well. His poetry used the harsh scenery of the karst as a metaphor for his own loneliness and disorientation. His celebrated poem Majhen plašč (A small coat) is often read as a rumination on his need for a specifically Slovenian identity. He was actively associated with the earliest expressions of resistance of fascism, and this too appears in his work.

Kosovel died in 1926 from meningitis at the age of only 22. He has long been honoured in Slovenia, but it took until events marking the 90th anniversary of his death for him to gain much attention in Trieste. In 2019, there was much excitement and pleasure in the Slovene-speaking press when Patti Smith quoted him during her concert there, evoking him alongside Rainer Maria Rilke, whose Duino Elegies are one of the most famous works created there, as an emblem and child of the city.

Janet Ashton, WEL Cataloguing Team Manager 

Further reading:

Jan Morris, Trieste and the meaning of nowhere (London, 2010). YC.2001.a.15891

Srečko Kosovel, Stano Kosovel, Boris Pahor, Milko Bambič, Srečko Kosovel v Trstu ([Trieste], 1970) YF.2011.a.3347

Boris Pahor, Nekropola (Ljubljana, 2009) YD.2012.a.4385

Necropolis (Edinburgh, 2020) ELD.DS.496000

Tržaški mozaik: izbor občasnih zapiskov (Ljubljana, 1983) YA.1987.a.2951

Trg Oberdan (Ljubljana, 2006) YF.2007.a.34744

Srečko Kosovel, The golden boat: selected poems of Srečko Kosovel, translated by Bert Pribac & David Brooks with the assistance of Teja Brooks Pribac (Cambridge, 2008) YC.2010.a.8821

Srečko Kosovel, Pesmi (Ljubljana, 2004) YF.2005.a.15513

Ana Jelnikar, Universalist hopes in India and Europe: the works of Rabindranath Tagore and Srečko Kosovel (New Delhi, 2006) YC.2017.a.6504

29 February 2020

Children's Tales from Across the Channel (1)

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The British Library has just launched its new ‘Discovering Children’s Books’ web pages, a treasure-chest of stories, poems and illustrations from old favourites to modern classics, with plenty to discover along the way. This venture has inspired us here in European Collections to reflect on some favourite and classic children’s books from the collections we curate and the countries we cover. Here’s a first selection.

Cover of 'The Mitten', showing a child losing a mitten in a snowy wood

Cover of Alvin Tresselt, The Mitten (Kingswood, Surrey, 1964) X.992/87.

‘Rukavychka’, traditional Ukrainian folktale
Chosen by Katie McElvanney, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections

‘Rukavychka’ (‘The Mitten’) is a much-loved Ukrainian folktale about a lost mitten that stretches and stretches (and stretches!) to provide shelter for an increasing number of woodland animals, ranging from a mouse to a bear. Eventually the mitten bursts and they all tumble out. There are a number of different versions of the story, including a 1964 retelling in English by Alvin Tresselt  with beautiful illustrations by Yaroslava (pictured above), but the overarching message is one of sharing and helping others in need.

Illustration of Vitalis the Fox, walking on his hind legs with a nest of birds perched on his tail
Vitalis the Fox, from Jan Brzechwa, Od baśni do baśni (Warsaw, 1969) X.990/1813

Szelmostwa lisa Witalisa’ (‘The Tricks of Vitalis the Fox’)  
Chosen by Zuzanna Krzemien, Curator East European Collections

This verse tale by Jan Brzechwa tells the story of a mischievous fox, Vitalis, who is renowned for his beautiful tail and exceptional intellect. Unfortunately, he uses his intelligence again and again to trick other animals for his own benefit. Following an election campaign full of empty promises, Vitalis becomes president of the forest animals. His tyrannical, exploitative rule triggers a revolution, in which the fox’s tail is shaven and Vitalis himself chased away from the forest. And thus a brilliant, but overly arrogant dictator is punished by his subjects – a scenario by no means limited to fairy tales.

Cover of 'Glasblåsarns barn' with an illustration of two children and a coachman
Cover of Maria Gripe, Glasblåsarns Barn (Stockholm, 1987) YA.1997.a.9920.

Maria Gripe, Glasblåsarns Barn (The Glassblower’s Children)
Chosen by Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections

First published in 1964, Glasblåsarns Barn tells how Klas and Klara, children of the brilliant but impoverished glassblower Alfred and his long-suffering wife Sofia, are kidnapped by a nobleman as a gift for his own childless and unhappy wife. But their presence doesn’t make her any happier, and in the great house beyond the River of Forgotten Memories the children are neglected and traumatised. A governess is hired to look after them but turns out to be a monster who makes life unbearable for the whole household. It it takes a benevolent witch from the children’s home village and her wise raven to defeat the awful Nana, restore happiness to the nobleman and his wife, and return Klas and Klara to their parents. Maria Gripe’s story, attractively illustrated by her husband Harald, is funny and moving by turns, a fantasy that asks real-life questions about family life, love and loss, and the nature of human desires. It was translated into English by Sheila La Farge (London, 1974; X.0990/4514) and that was how I came to discover the book as a child in my local public library.

Cover of a 1924 edition of 'Pinocchio' with an illustration showing some of the characters of the story
Cover of Carlo Collodi, Le Avventure Di Pinocchio: Storia Di Un Burattino (Florence, 1924) F10/1460

Carlo Collodi, Le Avventure di Pinocchio (The Adventures of Pinocchio)
Chosen by Valentina Mirabella, Curator of Romance Collections

The story of the rebellious wooden marionette who wants to become a real boy is universally known, yet every edition of Pinocchio carries a unique freshness, a special appeal that continues to charm readers across generations. The iconic pointy nose, that grows every time he lies, the cone-shaped hat made of bread crumbs, these are Pinocchio’s most recognizable features across almost 150 years of this popular character.

Over 200 editions of Carlo Collodi’s story, first published in Italian in 1883, are held by the British Library, in virtually every language and dialect, illustrated by famous and lesser-known artists, so it’s been really hard to pick one. I chose the popular 1924 paperback edition, richly illustrated by Maria Augusta and Luigi Cavalieri, because this could be the copy that every average Italian household keeps in its bookshelves. These are the images that children look at before learning how to read.

The book is a bildungsroman telling the adventures and the many metamorphoses of an innocent and ignorant young character, who is granted human nature at the end of the story, as a reward for his efforts and hard work. Quintessentially Italian, Collodi’s book wasn’t my favourite as a child, but I can now see it in all its literary richness, not only as a reminder of the importance of frugality, honesty and education in become young adults. In fact, Pinocchio’s pedagogical value follows the introduction of mandatory education for children in the newly unified Italian Kingdom, but Collodi adds an unruly, almost anarchic edge to his story, making it a global evergreen.

Cover of 'Afke's Ten' with a picture of a small sailing-boat on a river
Cover of Nynke van Hichtum, Afke’s Ten, translated by Marie Kiersted Pidgeon (Philadelphia, 1936) 12801.f.21.

Nynke van Hichtum, Afke’s tiental (Afke’s Ten)
Chosen by Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

Afke’s tiental is a timeless story about ten children growing up in a poor household in Friesland, the Northern province in the Netherlands where Frisian is spoken. Since its first edition in 1903 it has seen over 60 editions. The author Nynke van Hichtum (pseudonym of Sjoukje Maria Diderika Troelstra-Bokma de Boer) was married to Pieter Jelle Troelstra, the leader of the socialist party in the Netherlands
The foreword of the first English edition describes it as:

A story of modern child-life in a large, happy Dutch family in a Frisian village, written by a pioneer for better children’s books in the Netherlands, “Afke’s Ten” (Afke’s tiental) is not only considered a juvenile classic in Holland, but has been recognized by the International Bureau of Education in Switzerland as one of the best “international goodwill” stories in the world for boys and girls.

It adds that ‘Mrs Troelstra had already made a name for herself with translations of Robinson Crusoe, Kipling’s ‘White Seal’ and other English stories.’

17 December 2019

Beautifully meaningless: Codex Seraphinianus

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Despite what title of this book might suggest, there is no need for Latinists or philologists: the Codex Seraphinianus is not a medieval manuscript, nor a translation from Latin, it is not written in an undiscovered or secret language either. All the scholarly efforts to decipher the text were dismissed by the author himself who revealed that the writing is asemic, therefore no hidden message to discover. And I guess this is the beauty of his work (the beauty of art in general): the trick can be exposed but the mystery remains, the mystery of creativity.

Codex Seraphinianus text
Pages of text from Codex Seraphinianus (New York, 1983) f84/0685

We look at “…those minute, agile and (we have to admit) very clear italics of his”, as Italo Calvino finely put it, and “we always feel we are just an inch away from being able to read”.

The art book by the Italian artist, designer and architect Luigi Serafini – an imaginary encyclopedia of an imaginary world – was first published in a two-volume edition in Italy in 1981, followed by a single-volume edition in 1983 published in New York, which is the edition held by the British Library. The limited editions and the value attributed to them make the Codex a rare item, sought-after by collectors. Paul Fisher Davies in his article gives an overview of the studies on the text: as he rightly points out, there is a narrative in the sequence of the images and in the way the text connects to them. Even though, the readability of narrative Davies refers to is still imaginary in that the text itself remains undeciphered, the connection between text and images has a powerful impact. Serafini says it himself in an interview: “There is no a written message or something to decode. There are other aspects. There are beauty, the relationship between the images and writing.” (You can see video of Serafini being interviewed here: https://www.the-mag.org/codex-seraphinianus-il-favoloso-mondo-immaginario-di-luigi-serafini/).

Certainly the book does not lack of the systematic division we expect from a science book, and this is marked by what can be assumed is the title, followed by an introduction and table of contents, before the beginning of each of the 11 “chapters” of the 1983 edition, as the photo above shows. However, even the illusory systematicity of the first chapter, which can be safely interpreted as dedicated to “botany” from beginning to end, does not seem to be applied in the second chapter. This begins with an illustrative catalogue of individual light particles, each with different shapes and names, and in the image below it the same light particles are shown as a swarm flying out from the head of a street lamp. This and the bigger catalogue of individual rainbow particles which comes after, tell us that the second chapter is dedicated to “light”.

Image of a rainbow and rainbow-coloured particles from Codex Seraphinianus
Rainbow particles from Chapter 2 of Codex Seraphinianus

But the chapter changes pattern and shows images impossible to interpret, even though, the text below them gives us a sense of reconciliation, an explanation which cannot, does not need to be put in words. And it makes me wonder: can attempting to read asemic writing echo back as a liberating asemic thinking? As Calvino observes “Serafini’s writing has the power to evoke a world where the syntax of things has been distorted, it must contain, hidden beneath, the mystery of its indecipherable surface, a deeper mystery still regarding the internal logic of language and thought.”.

The second chapter continues with images of fishes, snakes, birds, dogs, deer, horses, and ends with this:

Images of rhinoceros-like beasts from Codex Seraphinianus

The third chapter does not even try to make us believe it’s focusing on anything in particular, yet it does not stop overwhelming us with surreal shapes and wonderful colours. And again in the following chapters, until chapter 7: this opens with a catalogue showing the profile view of human heads, which, after so many surreal images, we find ourselves absorbing with the same puzzlement.

The beautifully meaningless journey continues and ends with a page tightly and tiredly written (with a couple of words crossed out, and a couple of others inserted in between, in different parts of the text) and partly lifted as if it accidentally detached itself and, pulling up like a curtain, shows what was not meant to be shown: the broken bones of a hand laying on the floor of a tiny grim room.

In the end what Serafini asks us to do is nothing but immerse ourselves in his magical, often disconcerting world. I find interesting that Serafini decided to give his art book – a book which celebrates freedom from the rules of interpretation and meaning – a title in Latin, which seems to impose a certain historicity based on those rules. I like to think that he does this to make us feel a contraction of time which propels us to a world where, dare I say, Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Pliny’s Historia Naturalis meet. As Serafini says in the same interview mentioned earlier, his work could be open to artists of the future, “ … every 5/6 years I could add a chapter and even in the future, I would imagine it as an open work which can be continued by other artist maybe for two or three centuries…”.

Images of fantastical machines with human hands from Codex Seraphinianus
Fantastical machines from Codex Seraphinianus

Giuseppe Alizzi, Acquisitions Support Manager

References/Further reading

Paul Fisher Davies, ‘On the comics-nature of the Codex Seraphinianus’, Studies in comics, Vol. 6:Issue 1 (2015) ZK.9.a.12040

Italo Calvino, ‘The encyclopedia of a visionary’, in Collection of Sand. Translated by Martin L. McLaughlin (London, 2013). ELD.DS.180656

18 November 2019

British Library x Charles Jeffrey Research Competition launched: show & tell top picks from the European Studies team

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Lora Afric, Languages Cataloguing Manager, reflects on some highlights from a year of fashion collaboration at the Library

The British Library has, for the third year running, worked with the British Fashion Council on the Research Collaboration Project. This year Glaswegian radical designer, Charles Jeffrey, joined forces. To mark the start of this collaboration, a catwalk show of Jeffrey’s brand Loverboy SS20 collection ‘Mind’s instructions’ was staged at the Library earlier in the year, followed in October by a Masterclass organised for BA final year and MA students, and a launch of the Research Competition. Charles Jeffrey, considers knowledge to be a ‘form of armor’. His brief instructs students to compile a research-focused fashion portfolio inspired by the BL resources. The show and tell, being the interactive part of the Masterclass, gave curators opportunity to engage with students and inspire them with samples of the visually intriguing collection items.

Image 1

‘Mind’s instructions’ Loverboy SS20 collection – The British Library, May 2019, reproduced with permission

In this blog post the European and Americas team have selected some of the most popular items shown on the day. It is not surprising that items featuring colours, patterns and poetry appealed to fashion students the most. The designs will reveal whether ‘Perhaps peace can still be found in the beautiful and the unexplained?’, as Jeffrey Charles states in his brief.

 

Picture of marble pavements in St Mark's basilica, Venice

Ferdinando Ongania, Dettagli del Pavimento ed Ornamenti in Mosaico della Basilica di San Marco in Venezia, Venice, 1881 (74/tab.1283)

Ferdinando Ongania and his Venetian workshop spent more than 10 years (between 1881 and 1893) publishing the 18 volumes of La Basilica di San Marco in Venezia. Inspired by John Ruskin’s work, Ongania commissioned studies to historians, architects, and archaeologists, and put together an exceptional body of photographs and illustrations. His work depicts every single detail of the exterior and interior of Saint Mark’s Basilica, from the architecture to the sculptures and the decorations. The British Library owns the full set, but the volume I chose for the show and tell focuses solely on the mosaic floors, whose drawings I find particularly inspiring for the kaleidoscopic richness of the details and beauty of the colours.

Valentina Mirabella – Curator, Romance Collections

Abstract floral designs

Abstract floral designs

G. Darcy, Or et Couleurs, Paris, A. Calavas, [n.d.] Probably 1920/1921? (fF5/3743)

The designs in the albums contain a variety of geometric motifs, flowers, plants and birds typical of the Art Deco style. Art Deco fashion, which started in France in the 1920s, and took its name from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs, was inspired by new artistic movements, most notably Cubism and Fauvism, by the bright colours of the Ballets Russes, and by the “exotic” styles of Japan, Persia, ancient Egypt and Maya art, among others.

The technique of “Pochoirs”, or stencils, used here, was at the height of popularity in France during the 1920s. It was frequently used to create prints of intense colour and the brilliant effects of gold and silver, as expressed in the title of these collections of plates. The full title explains further that the plates were made in the “new taste” for use by “Fabric makers, Decorators, and ornaments designers” – it was for sale at the bookshop of the Arts Décoratifs.

A particularly interesting feature of this item is that it comes from Nottingham Public Library, which acquired it very soon after its publication. It was quite successful, and was borrowed 25 times between 1922 and 1930.

I chose this item because of my interest in the Art Deco movement and the pochoir technique. The plates are very beautiful of course, and the colours are still incredibly vivid, but most of all I think it is fascinating to have a real proof of interest from readers (presumably amateur decorators and fashion lovers) in the 1920s.

Sophie Defrance – Curator, Romance Collections

The Fashion Research Competition and the staff favourite winners will be announced on 31 January 2020 when during the reverse show and tell students will reveal their work inspired by the British Library collections.

For featured American collection items please see the parallel American Collections blog.

14 November 2019

Recreating the Lost Sculptures of Umberto Boccioni

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Of the many groundbreaking sculptures Umberto Boccioni created between c. 1913 and 1915, only a handful remain in existence today – most of them were accidentally disposed of on a rubbish dump in 1927. However, using a combination of vintage photographic material taken from books, and cutting-edge 3D printing and milling techniques, four of Boccioni’s destroyed works have now been reconstructed by two digital artists: a volumetric study of a human face titled Empty and Full Abstracts of a Head, and three of the artist’s iconic striding figures. Modern audiences can now ‘see’ these lost masterpieces for the very first time at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art in London.

Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913

Umberto Boccioni, Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913. (Reproduced by kind permission of the Estorick Collection)

Boccioni’s best known surviving three-dimensional work is undoubtedly Unique Forms of Continuity in Space (1913). One of the most instantly recognisable of all modernist sculptures, it represents an aerodynamic figure – part man, part machine – racing energetically towards the brave new world envisioned by the Futurist movement, a world ‘multiplied’ by technology, speed and industrialisation.

Portrait of Boccioni

Portrait of Boccioni, from Roberto Longhi’s Scultura Futurista Boccioni (7875.dd.31.): 

This work was in fact preceded by three sculptures on the same theme: Synthesis of Human Dynamism, Speeding Muscles and Spiral Expansion of Muscles in Movement. Until today, all that remained of these earlier works were a number of photographs taken in Boccioni’s studio and at three exhibitions around the world between 1913 and 1917. More clearly than ever before, the reconstructed sculptures reveal the evolution of Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, enabling us to perceive the progressive refinement of Boccioni’s ideas and the streamlining of his sculptural forms.

Images showing Umberto Boccioni with Synthesis of Human Dynamism

Images showing Umberto Boccioni with Synthesis of Human Dynamism, from Laura Mattioli Rossi, Boccioni’s Materia: A Futurist Masterpiece, The Avant-garde in Milan and Paris, New York, 2004 (LD.31.b.256).

Why attempt to recreate long-lost works of art? Surely, only their creator could know how they looked. Projects such as this depend on the quality and quantity of the surviving visual documentation. In the case of Boccioni’s sculptures, sufficient photographic material existed to make reconstruction feasible and worth pursuing. Roberto Longhi’s detailed 1914 essay Scultura Futurista Boccioni concerning Boccioni’s works also provided many important clues as to their appearance. It is crucial to note that the reconstruction process was not undertaken as a mere technical challenge; rather, it is hoped that the resulting pieces will offer new interpretative opportunities for both specialist art historians and the general public, providing fresh insights into Boccioni’s sculptural practice. In this particular instance, the project also represents a fusion of art and technology that would have doubtless appealed to the Futurists.

Images showing the reconstruction process of Synthesis of Human Dynamism 

Images showing the reconstruction process of Synthesis of Human Dynamism 

The reconstruction process went as follows:

1. High resolution photographs of Boccioni’s sculptures were scanned from books or acquired from different museums, publishers and institutions. In total, 21 photographs were used for the four reconstructions. Two books were primarily used:

Laura Mattioli Rossi, Boccioni Pittore scultore futurista (Milan, 2006; awaiting shelfmark) and Laura Mattioli Rossi, Boccioni’s Materia: A Futurist Masterpiece, The Avant-garde in Milan and Paris.

2. Using image software, the contrast of the images was adjusted, and areas in shadow were lightened in order to bring out as much detail as possible.

3. Each of the sculptures was extracted from its surrounding space, effectively producing ‘cut-outs’ from different angles.

4. Using 3D sculpting software, these cut-outs were imported, then set as reference views.

5. The starting point of the 3D model was a ‘blob’ of digital clay which was moulded to fit the contours of the sculpture in all of the reference views. This semi-transparent form made it possible to trace the shapes of the underlying image, just as transparent paper can be used to copy a picture placed below it. The digital moulding tools mimic their real world counterparts and allow easy shaping of the ‘clay’.

6. By taking into account overlapping and receding forms, the time-consuming sculpting process eventually produced a form that was very close to how the actual sculpture must have looked. The mesh resolution was increased when all of the basic shapes were in place, and further enhanced with the addition of increasingly smaller details.

7. Light sources were adjusted in the rendering software to simulate the shadows cast in the original photographs as closely as possible. This helped to establish the size of the protruding and receding shapes, and the work’s overall proportions.

8. The finished 3D model was printed or milled.

Photograph showing visitors looking at the reconstructed statues shown at the Estorick Collection

The reconstructed statues shown at the Estorick Collection. (Reproduced by kind permission of the Estorick Collection)

The reconstructions can be seen at the Estorick Collection until 22 December, and you can see a video detailing the reconstruction process below:

Anders Rådén and Matt Smith, digital artists responsible for recreating four of Boccioni’s destroyed works

References/Further reading:

Umberto Boccioni, Pittura scultura futuriste: dinamismo plastico (Milan, 1914) 7859.de.1. (English translation by Richard Shane Agin and Maria Elena Versari, Futurist painting sculpture: plastic dynamism (Los Angeles, [2016]) YC.2017.b.2375)

Maurizio Calvesi, Alberto Dambruoso, Umberto Boccioni: catalogo generale delle opere; con la collaborazione di Sara De Chiara (Turin, 2016) LF.31.b.14033

John Golding, Boccioni: Unique forms of continuity in space (London, 1985) YV.1986.b.1014

07 November 2019

The Book as a Project: Giambattista Bodoni

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This is the first of a series of blogs dedicated to Italian typography.

It is not an easy task to write something brief about the Italian typographer Giambattista Bodoni. Bodoni the polyglot, Bodoni the artist, Bodoni who achieved rock-star fame during his lifetime. He made the Italian town of Parma world capital of printing from the second half of the 18th century, an obliged stop for intellectuals and bibliophiles during the Grand Tour. Rulers and princes would visit his workshop and he would dedicate books to them, in order to consolidate his prestige.

Bodoni shells

Illustration from Giuseppe Saverio Poli / Stefano Delle Chiaie, Testacea Utriusque Siciliæ Eorumque Historia Et Anatome Tabulis ... Illustrata, (Parma 1791). 458.g.11-13.

Trained in typography and ‘oriental’ languages in Rome, having unsuccessfully tried to come to London to learn new skills and perfect his technique, in 1768 Bodoni was called to Parma by Ferdinand of Bourbon, with the purpose of establishing and managing the government Royal Printing Office that he would be in charge of for the rest of his life.

Page from Britannia

Robert Hampden, Britannia; Lathmon, Villa Bromhamensis (Parma, 1792). G.10064.

Despite never leaving Parma, Bodoni managed to be known internationally, by choosing his patrons (Napoleon and his family, the monarchs of Spain, Italian rulers), by printing in many languages and scripts, and by setting his much-imitated typographic style. In his own words, he ‘shook the old typographic conventions’, introducing harmony and proportion in the frontispieces, showing neo-classicist taste in his bare, epigraphic compositions. The sense of perspective and the balance between space and font offer optimal readability to his pages. The series of crisp and neat ‘bodonian’ typefaces that he designed in the late 1780s are still very popular today, appreciated for the clear contrast between the thickness of strokes and the thinness of rules and serifs.

Title page from The Castle of Otranto

Horace Walpole. The Castle of Otranto, a Gothic Story. Sixth edition (Parma, 1791). 682.f.22

A lot was printed in his Greek typefaces, and many of his books were in foreign languages, including English. The most celebrated of his works in English were Walpole’s 1791 edition of The Castle of Otranto, on behalf of the London bookseller Edwards, and the 1792 Britannia by Lord Hampden. Of Britannia, the British Library owns the only copy printed on vellum (G.10064.), from the splendid library of Marshal Junot, sold by auction in London in June 1816 and purchased by Thomas Grenville for his rich collection of rare books, which are now part of the British Library.

Page from Britannia

Robert Hampden, Britannia; Lathmon, Villa Bromhamensis.

Constantly in competition with his fellow typographers (notably with the Didot brothers in France, known for the rigour of their editions), Bodoni liked to re-edit books published by others, trying to make them better. A case in point is the Oratio Dominica (a polyglot edition of the Lord’s Prayer), which Bodoni was invited to produce by Pope Pius VI when he stopped to see him in Parma. The Pope said that, during his recent visit to Paris for the coronation of Napoleon, in December 1804, he was gifted with a copy of the Oratio Dominica in 150 languages, by Jean-Joseph Marcel, director of the Imprimerie Nationale, and he challenged Bodoni to produce something finer and in more languages, to prove his skills.

In less than a year, Bodoni put together an acclaimed Oratio Dominica, in 155 languages, using 215 typescripts (including Phoenician, Tibetan, and Etruscan), some of which were missing from the French edition.

Pages from Oratio Dominica

Oratio Dominica in CLV. Linguas Versa Et Exoticis Characteribus Plerumque Expressa (Parma, 1806). Cup.652.m.4.

However, Bodoni’s masterpiece was certainly printed after his death, in 1813. Having produced his own types since 1771, in 1788 he published the first manual Manuale tipografico containing a hundred Roman type alphabets, 50 italics and 28 Greek alphabets. His alphabets were improved during the course of his career, and this project was accomplished by his widow, Margherita Dall’Aglio, with the posthumous publication of the final Manuale Tipografico in 1818.

The fruit of more than 40 years of work, this manual in two volumes was composed of 265 pages with roman types, capital letters, Greek and oriental types, borders, ornaments, numbers, and musical examples.

Bodoni’s Manuale Tipografico established high standards for typography. It offers an overview of the uniformity of design, neatness and good taste that made him famous and inspired generations of typographers up to the present day. But, this is a topic for my next blog…

Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections

Further Reading

Of the over 1400 ‘Edizioni Bodoniane’ (listed by H C Brook’s Compendiosa Bibliografia delle Edizioni Bodoniane) printed while Bodoni’s presses were active, in 1834, the BL collections has over 200, of which 38 are available digitally 

Giovanni Battista Bodoni, Manuale Tipografico, 1788. Facsimile a cura di Giovanni Mardersteig. (Verona, 1968). L.R.413.h.17.

Franco Maria Ricci, Bodoni, 1740-1813 (Parma, 2013) LF.31.b.11849

Andrea De Pasquale / Massimo Dradi, B Come Bodoni: i Caratteri di Bodoni a Brera e nella Grafica Contemporanea (Milan, 2013). YF.2014.a.22184

Hugh Cecil Brooks, Compendiosa Bibliografia di Edizioni Bodoniane (Floerence, 1927) 2704.bp.2.

01 November 2019

Franco Arminio: Poetry and Paesology

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The attempt to reanimate poetry requires great courage, especially considering the Italian literary landscape of the last 30-40 years, a time during which poetry’s trend transitioned from “a sea of subjectivity” in the 1970’s (as Maria Borio puts it in his 2018 study Poetiche e individui: la poesia italiana dal 1970 al 2000) to the never-ending postmodern turning towards itself.

Poetry needed Franco Arminio’s kiss of life.

This meant somehow going back to the glorious times of 20th-century poetry (Ungaretti, Quasimodo, Pasolini), taking the risk of sounding rhetorical, or even banal. Arminio is not afraid of taking that risk: his poems have recently reached a wide audience through his books and through social media.

Born and living in Bisaccia, a small town in the region of Campania, which borders with Basilicata and Puglia, where he works as a primary school teacher, Franco Arminio coined the word ‘Paesologia’, from ‘paese’ (meaning: countryside town or village) and calls himself ‘paesologo’. His tours and talks are recorded and scheduled in La Casa della Paesologia.

Franco Arminio Portrait

Franco Arminio with a slogan reading ‘do yourself a favour – read poetry’ (Reproduced by kind permission of Franco Arminio)

In his ‘Introduction to Paesology’ Arminio explains, “The paesologist isn’t a local erudite who knows the name of all the petty lords who have dominated a paese or who knows all the proverbs. It’s someone who studies the inner-working of the peculiar organisms that paesi are. The work of the paesologist takes place in situ. There are very few books about paesi, because most writers live in cities, and those who live in the paesi continue to think that life remains in cities.” (translation by Patrick Barron)

The poetry in Arminio’s writing, be it in prose or in verse, embeds his paesology and serves to frame with a certain sacredness even the lowliest moments that living in a remote village sometimes involves:

Wander around where nobody goes, be the tourists of mercy, be the travellers who not only seek beauty, harmony, sunshine, but also the loneliest and most disconsolate places – places waiting for someone to look at them, to recognize them before they become bereft of their history as well as their geography. (Franco Arminio, ‘On Places and Looking’. Translation by Serenella Iovino)

Franco Arminio Cartoline dai morti

Cover of Franco Arminio, Cartoline dai morti 2007-2017 (Milan, 2017) Awaiting shelfmark

The “inner-working of the peculiar organisms that paesi are” is expressed through his prose (Nevica e ho le prove, 2009; Cartoline dai morti, 2010) and poems (Cedi la strada agli alberi, 2017; Resteranno i canti (2018). Arminio’s work takes the reader through a journey inside the life of people living (and dying) in the small villages of southern Italy with their daily struggles, loneliness, hypochondria. Cartoline dai morti (‘Postcards from the dead’), as the title suggests, are cards written by dead people, and even though it recalls the model of Spoon River Anthology, the protagonists of the epitaphs are remote, rural people with no historical reference.

Nessuno mi aveva spiegato niente.
Ho dovuto fare tutto da solo: rimanere fermo e muto,
raffreddarmi, iniziare a decompormi.

Nobody explained anything to me.
I had to manage all by myself: staying still and silent,
getting cold, beginning to decompose (My translation)

Arminio strips his texts of any kind of trend, the trend which, by definition, is subject to, and demands a superseding: light, short, calming even when intense, distilled and powerful.

Mi sono sempre sentito affannato e fuori posto nella vita.
Adesso finalmente riposo tranquillo e in pace nella tomba vicino alla mia.

I have always felt filled with anxiety and out of place in life.
I can finally rest now in tranquillity and peace in the grave next to mine. (My translation)

Franco Arminio Resteranno i canti

Cover of Franco Arminio, Resteranno i canti (Florence, 2018) YF.2019.a.10782

In Resteranno i canti Arminio’s paesology touches upon the issue of emigration from the south and the sense of loss for those who remain.

Nessuno pensa più alla vita di tutti,                                            
figuriamoci a quella dei luoghi.                                                    
Se esco stasera                                                                                 
trovo ragazzi che non conosco                                                      
in un bar che una volta                                                                   
era un consorzio agrario.                                                               
Di fronte a casa mia c’era Enza                                                    
e nella curva il pasticciere                                                             
e zio Giovanni,                                                                                 
in fondo eravamo pochi anche allora                                          
ma sembravamo tanti

Nobody thinks about the life of everybody any longer,
let alone that of places.
If I go out this evening
I find boys I don’t know
in a bar which once
was an agricultural consortium.
In front of my house there was Enza
and in the curve the baker
and uncle Giovanni,
we were few even back then after all 
but it felt like we were many (My translation)                                                                     

Franco Arminio reading

Franco Arminio (centre) reading aloud to a group on a guided ‘paesological walk’. (Reproduced by kind permission of Franco Arminio)

Giuseppe Alizzi, Acquisitions South Support Manager

References/ Further reading

Maria Borio, Poetiche e individui: La poesia italian dal 1970 al 2000 (Venice, 2018) YF.2018.A.15763

Franco Arminio, ‘Introduction to Paesology’, in Gianni Celati, Towards the river’s mouth, introduction by Patrick Barron; edited and translated by Patrick Barron. (Lanham, 2019) ELD.DS.360506

Franco Arminio, ‘On Places and Looking: Italy’s Silent Epiphanies’ (Translated by Serenella Iovino) in Italy and Environmental Humanities: Landscapes, Natures, Ecologies. (London, 2018) YC. 2018.a.16407

Franco Arminio, Nevica e ho le prove: cronache dal paese della cicuta (Rome, 2009) YF.2010.a.19442.

Franco Arminio, Circo dell’ipocondria (Florence, 2006) Awaiting shelfmark