European studies blog

85 posts categorized "Italy"

26 August 2022

Women in Translation Month 2022 (Part 1)

August is Women in Translation Month, a 2014 initiative aimed at celebrating and promoting women writers in translation, as well as their translators and publishers. As in previous years, we are highlighting a selection of books from across the European collections that we have recently enjoyed. We hope you enjoy them too.

Cover of Bianca Bellova's The Lake

Bianca Bellova, The Lake, translated by Alex Zucker (Cardigan: Parthian, 2022) ELD.DS.698424
Chosen by Olga Topol, Curator Czech, Slavonic and East European Collections

The Lake won the Czech Magnesia Litera Book of the Year Award and the EU Prize for Literature in 2017. It is a surreal coming of age story that questions the relationship between humans and nature. In a fictional world set somewhere in between a post-apocalyptic future and the post-USSR past, a boy is trying to uncover the mystery of his mother’s disappearance. It is a vivid tale about a devastated, cruel world in which a child is growing into a man while searching for his identity. Dark and beautiful.

Cover of Stefania Auci's The Florios of Sicily: a novel featuring a drawing of three people sitting by the sea

Stefania Auci, The Florios of Sicily: a novel, translated by Katherine Gregor (HarperCollins, 2020). Awaiting shelfmark
Chosen by Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections

Stefania Auci’s bestselling novel The Florios of Sicily tells the story of an entrepreneurial family that, starting from poverty in the early 19th century, built a fortune exporting Sicilian products such as Marsala wine and invented canned tuna as we know it. This is a well-documented saga, linking decades of Italian history to the Florio dynasty, which shook the feudal immobility and introduced industrialization in Sicily. Auci is particularly good at describing the places and underlining the role of women. We owe the English translation to Katherine Gregor who, impressively, is a literary translator from Italian, French and, on occasion, Russian.

Cover of Kiki Dimoula, The Brazen Plagiarist: Selected Poems

Kiki Dimoula, The Brazen Plagiarist: Selected Poems, translated by Cecile Inglessis Margellos and Rika Lesser (New Haven, Conn.; London: Yale University Press, 2012), YC.2013.a.11561
Chosen by Lydia Georgiadou, Curator Modern Greek Collections

The Brazen Plagiarist is the first English translation of a wide selection of poems from across Kiki Dimoula’s oeuvre bringing together some of her most captivating and poignant works. The highly-praised and multi-award winning Greek poet embarks on a journey to a ‘magnificent’ though ‘unknown to her’ language, ‘filled with apprehension’ but grateful to be ‘accompanied by an excellent letter of introduction – their translation’. Award-winning translators Cecile Inglessis Margellos and Rika Lesser, whom Dimoula herself considers ‘heroic’, indeed rise to the challenge of recreating the poet’s mysteriously uncanny yet inexplicably familiar writing.

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.

07 June 2022

Italian Collections in UK Libraries: Past, Present & Future

We are delighted to bring to you a day-long exploration of the amazing diversity of 600 years of collecting Italian books in the UK. The Study Day, organized by the Italian Studies Library Group (ISLG), will be in person at the British Library Knowledge Centre, (Eliot Room), on Friday 17th June 2022. Booking essential, on the BL website

Portraits of Italian writers

Portraits of Italian writers

The programme is as follows:

09:30: Registration
10:00: Welcome: Janet Zmroczek (Head of European and American Collections, The British Library)
10:05: Welcome: Andrea Del Corno' (Italian Specialist, The London Library, ISLG Chair)

Past
10:10: Abigail Brundin (Director, British School at Rome) and Dunstan Roberts (University of
Cambridge), ‘The Italian collections in National Trust and English Heritage Libraries’

10:40: Tudor Allen (Senior Archivist for Camden Council), ‘Sources for the Study of London's
Italian Quarter: Archives of the Mazzini-Garibaldi Club and the Italian Hospital’

11:00: Stephen Parkin (Curator Printed Heritage Collections, The British Library), ‘The Colt
Hoare collection of Italian topographical books in the British Library’

11:20: Discussion
11:30: Tea and coffee

Keynote Speaker
11:45: Giuliana Pieri (Professor of Italian and the Visual Arts, Head of the School of
Humanities, Royal Holloway University), ‘Beyond Words and Images: Re-thinking twentieth-century
Italian Books’

Present
12:15: Julianne Simpson (Rare Books and Maps Manager, John Rylands Library) and Stephen
Milner (Serena Professor of Italian Studies, University of Manchester) ‘Le Tre Corone: Italian
collections at the John Rylands Library – projects and promotion’

12:45: Tabitha Tuckett (Rare Books Librarian, UCL) ‘Italian rare books and archives in UCL
Special Collections’

13:05: Cristina Dondi (Professor of Early European Book Heritage, University of Oxford)
‘Mapping the early Italian book heritage around the UK: From distribution to dispersal‘

13:35: Discussion
13:45: Buffet lunch

Keynote speaker
14:45: Michele Casalini (CEO, Casalini Libri) ‘Collections aren't built in a day: Changes and
trends in Italian collecting’

Future
15:15: Round table chaired by Andrea Del Corno', with Prof Cristina Dondi, Andrea Mazzocchi
(Bernard Quaritch Rare Books and Manuscripts), Valentina Mirabella (Curator, Romance Collections,
The British Library), Prof Giuliana Pieri, and Maria Riccobono (Librarian, Italian Cultural Institute).

16:30: Katia Pizzi (Director, Italian Cultural Institute)

11 May 2022

The Art of Noises

“In antiquity, life was nothing but silence. Noise was really not born before the 19th century, with the advent of machinery. Today noise reigns supreme over human sensibility.” Luigi Russolo

Photograph showing Luigi Russolo and his collaborator Ugo Piatti with their intonarumori

Photograph showing Luigi Russolo and his collaborator Ugo Piatti with their intonarumori, from Luigi Russolo, L’arte dei rumori (Milan, 1916). X.629/13035.

Futurism was a multidisciplinary artistic and social movement. Futurists wanted to reinvent all art forms: painting, sculpture, literature, photography, architecture, book production, dance, even cuisine... Futurist ideals were very radical, both artistically and politically.

Italian futurists, led by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, had a huge impact on the avant-garde of the twentieth century and gave popularity to art manifestos. Of the many futurist manifestos, the 11 March 1913 one titled L’arte dei rumori. Manifesto futurista (The Art of Noises. Futurist Manifesto), by Luigi Russolo, had a very long-lasting influence.

Portrait of Luigi Russolo

Portrait of Luigi Russolo, L’arte dei rumori.

L’arte dei rumori is a manifesto of futurist music. It was subsequently published as a monograph in 1916 in Milan by Edizioni Futuriste di “Poesia”, Marinetti’s own publishing house and official publisher of Italian futurists since 1905. The monograph, also titled L’arte dei rumori, expands on the 1913 manifesto and includes pictures and musical scores.

This book is the first to introduce the notions of noise as sound and sound-art. Noise was a product of the industrial revolution and therefore, for Russolo, futuristic. Onomatopoeic and cacophonic ‘words in freedom’ were already linked to the concept of noise as poetry in the early productions of futurist literature, so noise as sound appears a natural evolution of Marinetti’s Parole in Libertà.

The author of this book, painter turned musician Luigi Russolo, categorizes various types of noises and also created 21 rudimentary experimental noise making machines able to reproduce some noises for the futurist orchestra: intonarumori, including ‘howlers’, ‘bursters’, 'cracklers', ‘hummers’. These Leonardesque magic boxes with levers and trumpets were used for a composition, which reproduces the noise of the urban industrial soundscape: Risveglio di una città (Awakening of a city).

Concerts with intonarumori were organized in 1913 in Modena, and in 1914 in Milan and London, with 10 shows in the Coliseum. Most of Russolo’s instruments were destroyed during WWII and there is only one surviving phonograph recording of the instruments playing together with an orchestra. The full score of Risveglio di una città is also missing, apart from the two pages of notation reproduced below. Nevertheless, attempts to rebuild Russolo’s instruments and reproduce his musical performances happened in the course of the last century.

Score for Risveglio di una città

Score for Risveglio di una città, from L’arte dei rumori.

Russolo’s efforts to emancipate noises and to broaden the definition of music were truly revolutionary, but futurist music was not well received by the audience. The public was not ready at the time. However, the use of synthesizers, the invention of noise music, concrete music, soundscape art, sound-art, electroacoustic and electronic music, are all linked to Russolo’s production of writings, music, and instruments. Musicians who were directly influenced by his work include Pierre Schaeffer, Edgard Varèse and John Cage.

Valentina Mirabella, Curator, Romance Collections

Further reading

Claudia Salaris, Marinetti Editore, (Bologna 1990) YF.2009.a.20485

Luigi Russolo, The Art of Noise (futurist manifesto, 1913), translated by Robert Filliou, Originally published in 1967 as a Great Bear Pamphlet by Something Else Press, 2004 

Barclay Brown, ‘The Noise Instruments of Luigi Russolo’ Perspectives of New Music, vol. 20, no. 1/2, 1981, pp. 31–48 PP.8000.mn 

If you are interested in finding out more about our Italian collections, join us at the upcoming event: Italian Collections in UK Libraries: Past, Present & Future, on Friday 17 June, in person at the British Library. Bookings are open on the BL website

 

27 April 2022

Reframing the Tin Book

In 1913, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944), founder and chief promoter of Italian Futurism, extended the Futurist revolution to the field of typography:

My revolution is aimed at the so-called typographical harmony of the page, which is contrary to the flux and reflux, the leaps and bursts of style that run through the page. On the same page, therefore, we will use three or four colours of ink, or even twenty different typefaces if necessary […]. With this typographical revolution and this multi-coloured variety in the letters I mean to redouble the expressive force of the words, Destruction of Syntax –Imagination without Strings – Words in Freedom (1913).

The so-called ‘Tin Book’ is one of the best examples of the radical rethinking that the Futurists applied to the arts and the book in particular.


 

3D model of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti/Tullio d’Albisola Parole In Libertà Futuriste Olfattive Tattili Termiche (Rome, 1932). HS.74/2143, Courtesy of Archivio Tullio d’Albissola

The British Library's copy of the Tin Book, digitised as part of the AHRC funded project Interdisciplinary Italy 1900-2020. Interart/Intermedia, was manufactured in Savona in 1932. A selection of word-in-freedom texts by Marinetti are accompanied, on the verso, by a ‘chromatic-poetic’ Futurist synthesis by Tullio d’Albisola (1899-1971), a second generation Futurist whose activities spanned ceramics, poetry, and design. The arrangement has been seen by critics as a potential flaw of the project: we cannot read simultaneously Marinetti’s words-in-freedom and d’Albisola’s visual chromatic-poetic response. Be that as it may, this object-book is no less revolutionary in the way it invites an expanded multi-sensorial reading, signalled by the proper title of the book: Parole in Libertà Futuriste Olfattive Tattili Termiche (‘Futurist Words in Freedom - Olfactory, Tactile, Thermal’).

Portrait of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti

Portrait of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti/Tullio d’Albisola Parole In Libertà Futuriste

The act of opening the book and turning the pages is first and foremost an acoustic experience. Italian artist and critic Mirella Bentivoglio performed a reading in 1982 at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. The performance piece was called Jouer la page. This is how she describes it: ‘air pressed between the pages at different times and distances from the microphone produced unexpected results. The tin book proved to be a regular instrument furnished with a sounding-box. The cylinder of the spine is an elementary flute through which the pages seem to materialize as sounds’.


 

3D model of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti/Tullio d’Albisola Parole In Libertà Futuriste

The Tin Book took an industrial material and turned it literally into poetry, fusing art and industry. The metallic sound evokes the ‘infinite variety of noises’ of modern life which Luigi Russolo (1885-1947) saw as part of the extraordinary diversity of sound (including music-sound and noise-sound) that would generate the new Art of Noises (The Art of Noises. A Futurist Manifesto, 11 March 1913).

The material and its sonic qualities de-familiarize the reader with the traditional sensorial experience of reading a paper (or digital) book. The association with industrial sounds, turns the book into a machine, and, on a more ordinary level, reminds the reader of the colourful packaging of tin boxes and glossy advertising metal plates that were part of interwar material and visual culture.

The smooth and rough surfaces of the pages have a visual equivalent in shiny and duller areas of the lithographed images, blurring the boundary between text, image, and object. The act of reading the Tin Book pushes meaning to the surface, allowing the reader to experience a multi-sensorial perception in which meaning is not principally held by the words in the book. The process recalls also the principles of the tavole tattili which Marinetti had composed in the later 1910s, especially during the war years. In the 1921 Manifesto of Tactilism, Marinetti introduced the new art of touch—tactilism—which was a means to reconnect with the sense of touch and use it as another important channel of communication and means to experience the world.

The introduction of concrete elements in poetry was a seismic shift in the concept of literature: the fundamental overlapping between word and image (and their connection to sound and touch) opened up new pathways to explore the boundaries between the arts, exposing the artificial separation between arts and media. The Futurist tin books, by playing with the sonic qualities of the book as object, took literature into the realms of sculpture, design and modern technology.

Giuliana Pieri, Professor of Italian and the Visual Arts and Executive Dean (School of Humanities), Royal Holloway University of London

Further reading

Futurist Manifestos, ed. by Umbro Apollonio (London, 2009).

Giovanni Lista, Le Livre Futuriste. De libération du mot au poème tactile (Modena, 1982).

Mirella Bentivoglio, ‘The Reinvention of the Book in Italy’, The Print Collector’s Newsletter, 24.3 (1993). 93-96. 6613.160000

'The Tin Book', European Studies Blog, 12 March 2014

If you are interested in finding out more about this topic, Prof Giuliana Pieri is among the speakers of the upcoming event: Italian Collections in UK Libraries: Past, Present & Future, on Friday 17 June, in person at the British Library. Bookings are open on the BL website.

17 February 2022

In Defence of Armchair Travellers

Stand up for bookworms. Sir Christopher Wren never went to Italy. But he did have a library.

When you see a gleaming white Wren building against a bright blue London sky, it’s easy to think that Sir Chris. was evoking his experience of a sun-drenched Rome. This is why I was surprised to learn from Campbell (p. 124) that he never went to Italy. He did visit Paris and Holland. The nearest he got to Rome was meeting Bernini in Paris.

Portrait of Sir Christopher Wren

Portrait of Sir Christopher Wren, 1713. John Smith after Sir Godfrey Kneller. Source: Wikimedia Commons

D. J. Watkin, introducing the sales catalogue of Wren’s books (1748), commented:

It is one of the wonders of architectural history that Wren could have conceived a classic architecture so huge and assured without ever having seen at first hand any of the monuments of ancient or modern Rome.

His library did however include ‘copies of Arberti, Serlio, Vitruvius, d’Alvier, Bellori, de Rossi, Desgogetz, Boissard and Bosio, as well as three editions of Palladio’.

Some Englishmen did of course go to Italy, and a number of them doubtless were absolute wastrels, but others fed their minds. A case in point is John Evelyn, who was in Italy in the 1640s, studied medicine in Padua and attended sermons and observed buildings and antiquities in Rome.

Wren’s books are in Cambridge, but a good number of Evelyn’s are in the British Library. Among them are:

Giulio Cesare Capaccio, La vera antichità di Pozzuolo (Rome, 1652) Eve.a.21

Johannes Baptista Casalius, De profanis et sacris veteribus ritibus (Rome, 1644-45) Eve.a.134
(which includes illustrations of antiquities)

François Perrier, Icones et segmenta illustrium e marmore tabularum quae Romae adhuc exstant (Paris, 1645 [1650?]) Ece.c.26

Antonio Zantani, Primorum xii Caesarum verissimae imagines ex antuquis numismatibus desumptae (Rome, 1614) Eve.a.108

There’s a lot to be said for experience, but even more for the assiduous conning of a good library.

Page from Giulio Cesare Capaccio, La vera antichità di Pozzuolo (Rome, 1652) Eve.a.21

Page from Giulio Cesare Capaccio, La vera antichità di Pozzuolo (Rome, 1652) Eve.a.21

Page from Giulio Cesare Capaccio, La vera antichità di Pozzuolo (Rome, 1652) Eve.a.21

Page from Giulio Cesare Capaccio, La vera antichità di Pozzuolo (Rome, 1652) Eve.a.21

Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Collections

References and additional reading:

James W. P. Campbell, Building St Paul’s (London, 2007) YK.2009.a.8760

Gordon Craig, ‘John Evelyn and the theatre in England, France and Italy. Dedicated to the memory of Charles Stuart II’, The Mask. An illustrated journal of the art of the theatre, X;3 (July 1924), 97-115; X:4 (Oct. 1924), 143-60

Michael Hunter, ‘The British Library and the Library of John Evelyn, with a Checklist of Evelyn Books in the British Library’s Holdings’, in John Evelyn in the British Library (London, 1995), pp. 82–102. 2719.e.3064

John L. Lievsay, The Englishman’s Italian Books 1550-1700 (Philadelphia, 1969) YA.2002.a.8788

Giles Mandelbrote, ‘John Evelyn and His Books’, in John Evelyn and His Milieu, ed. Frances Harris and Michael Hunter (London, 2003), pp. 71-94. YC.2004.a.315

D. J. Watkin, Sale catalogues of libraries of eminent persons, IV, Architects (London, 1972) W77/0506

15 December 2021

Dante and Esperanto

Is Esperanto an artificial language? Yes, but neither more nor less than any other language spoken by humans. All languages are the result of an agreement between the members of a community – dating back to very distant times and evolving slowly and continuously from generation to generation – to communicate with each other by means of the voice.

Woodcut of Dante by the Hungarian artist Dezső Fáy

Woodcut of Dante by the Hungarian artist Dezső Fáy in Dante Alighieri, Infero, translated by Kálmán Kalocsay (Budapest, 1933). YF.2008.a.36795

Dante Alighieri, the great Florentine poet and author of the Divine Comedy, was aware of this distant origin of languages, connected to the multiform creativity of our remote ancestors. He recounts all this through the words of Adam, in Paradise, canto XXVI, verses 130-132:

Opera naturale è ch’uom favella;
ma così o così, natura lascia
poi fare a voi secondo che v’abbella.

Among the English translations of the poem, one of the most appreciated is that of Allen Mandelbaum (1926-2011), an American professor of literature. This has the advantage of being accessible online with Dante’s original Italian text alongside. Here is the tercet on the origin of languages, in Mandelbaum’s translation:

That man should speak at all is nature’s act,
but how you speak—in this tongue or in that—
she leaves to you and to your preference.

And what about Esperanto? Well, Esperanto was also ‘invented’, but that occurred much more recently than for any other language: Esperanto was created by Ludwik Zamenhof, a Polish ophthalmologist), who proposed it in a book published in 1887, as a possible international and ‘neutral’ language. Esperanto is also the result of an agreement among all those who accepted Zamenhof’s proposal and started to communicate in that language. Today Esperanto speakers are scattered all over the world and also transmit the language from generation to generation. There are probably about one million speakers.

Portrait of Zamenhof

Portrait of Zamenhof. Source: Wikimedia Commons 

Esperanto literature is particularly rich and has three different translations of the Divine Comedy. The British Library holds all of them. It is recognized that the best Esperanto translation is the most recent one: the complete version in terza rima written by Enrico Dondi (1935-2011), an Italian psychiatrist, and published in 2006. Here you can see the tercet on the origin of languages, in Dondi’s translation:

Por hom’ estas natura la parolo,
sed lasas la natur’, ke l’ manieron
oni elektu laŭ la propra volo.

Cover of La dia komedio. Infero

Cover of La dia komedio. Infero. Translated by Enrico Dondi (Chapecó, 2006). ZF.9.a.6610

Dondi’s Esperanto is an elegant language that has been gradually refined thanks to a literary tradition that has matured over the course of more than a century. Therefore, in this blog post we will follow a chronological order to illustrate how the language has gradually measured itself with the great Italian poem. And we will do that by considering the very famous opening lines of the Comedy:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita.

Verses that Mandelbaum translates as:

When I had journeyed half of our life’s way,
I found myself within a shadowed forest,
for I had lost the path that does not stray.

We owe the very first translation of the Divine Comedy into Esperanto to Giovanni Peterlongo (1856-1941), an Italian lawyer and civil servant, who lived in Trento. The town was under Austrian administration until 1918 and is now part of Italy. In 1922, Peterlongo was elected mayor of Trento and he spoke in favour of the use of both German and Italian in Alto Adige.

Page from Peterlongo’s translation of the Divine Comedy (Canto VIII) with a reproduction of a drawing by Sandro Botticelli

Page from Peterlongo’s translation of the Divine Comedy (Canto VIII) with a reproduction of a drawing by Sandro Botticelli (Milan, 1979). YF.2010.b.1079

Peterlongo’s blank verse translation of the Comedy was completed in 1914, when Esperanto was still a very young language. The work was later revised by him and was published only in 1963, with a reproduction of Sandro Botticelli’s drawings. The British Library holds a second edition.

Here you can see the first tercet:

En mezo de l’ vojaĝ’ de nia vivo
en arbareg’ malluma mi troviĝis,
ĉar mi de l’ rekta vojo forvojiĝis.

Kálmán Kalocsay (1891-1976) was a Hungarian doctor, and worked at a major Budapest hospital, but also was an outstanding Esperantist poet, who considerably influenced Esperanto culture, through original poetry and translations of literary works.

Cover of Dante Alighieri, Infero, translated by Kálmán Kalocsay

Cover of Dante Alighieri, Infero, translated by Kálmán Kalocsay (Budapest, 1933). YF.2008.a.36795

Kalocsay had learned Esperanto in 1913, the same year in which the Hungarian poet Mihály Babits (1883-1941) had published in Budapest a splendid translation of Inferno into Hungarian, in terza rima. Kalocsay was impressed by Babits’s work and decided to follow his example by translating Dante’s Inferno into Esperanto, in the same original metre. The work was published in Budapest in 1933 and includes 14 woodcuts by the Hungarian artist Dezső Fáy.

Woodcut 'Alta Helpo' by Dezső Fáy

Woodcut 'Alta Helpo' by Dezső Fáy in Kálmán Kalocsay’s translation of Inferno

Here is the freshness of Kálmán Kalocsay’s terza rima in the first tercet of his Esperanto Inferno:

Je l’ vojomez’ de nia vivo tera
mi trovis min en arbareg’ obskura,
ĉar perdiĝinta estis vojo vera.

Thus we arrive at the 21st century, when Dante studies in Esperanto culture find their most important figure in Enrico Dondi, who masterfully translated all of Dante’s poetical works into Esperanto, in the same metre as the originals. The entire Divine Comedy, whose terza rima flows with an unparalleled lightness, appeared in 2006, preceded in 2000 by an edition of Purgatory. The Vita Nuova (New Life) appeared in 2003, and in 2007 the youthful work Il Fiore (The Flower).

Finally, here is the first tercet of Enrico Dondi's Inferno:

En mezo de la voj’ de vivo nia
mi trovis min en arbareg’ obskura,
de l’ rekta voj’ estinte fordevia.

Giuliano Turone, Editor of Dante Poliglotta 

References and further reading

Dante Alighieri, La dia komedio, el la itala tradukis Enrico Dondi (Chapecó, 2006). ZF.9.a.6610

Dante Alighieri, La dia komedio, el la itala tradukis Giovanni Peterlongo (Milan, 1979). YF.2010.b.1079

Dante Alighieri, Infero, tradukis Kálmán Kalocsay (Budapest, 1933). YF.2008.a.36795

Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio, el la itala tradukis Enrico Dondi (Chapecó, 2000). YF.2010.b.116

Dante Alighieri, La floro, el la itala tradukis Enrico Dondi (Chapecó, 2007) YF.2008.a.12615

Dante Alighieri, Vivo nova, el la itala tradukis Enrico Dondi (Chapecó, 2009).YF.2009.a.26102.

Vittorio Russo, Danteskaj itineroj (Naples, 2001). YF.2009.a.37689.

08 December 2021

Book Donation by Roberto L. Bruni (1945-2020): a collection on Italian Studies

The British Library recently accepted a generous donation of books belonging to the late Dr Roberto Bruni (1945-2020). The books have been catalogued and are available in our reading rooms. Roberto Bruni was a keen reader of the British Library, and his personal collection of books compliments our holdings on Italian and Renaissance studies well. In this blog post, Roberto’s colleague and friend, Prof Diego Zancani, remembers his extraordinary contribution to Italian Studies in the UK.

Roberto Lorenzo Bruni was a Florentine through and through, literally born quite near the Brunelleschi dome in 1945. He grew up and went to school in Florence and lived there while studying Medieval and Modern Languages at Pisa University. In November 1966 in the aftermath of the disastrous flooding of the river Arno, he helped rescue elderly people in Florence, and later salvaging works of art and rare books, many of them held in the National Library situated by the river bank. In 1969, he was appointed as a Lector in Italian at the University of Reading. The Faculty of Letters of this university hosted the largest department of Italian Studies in the UK, directed by Luigi Meneghello, a philosopher by training and a writer who had taken part in the Italian Resistance, and who reached literary fame in Italy.

Title page of Mostra di incisioni di Stefano Della Bella

One of the books donated by Roberto Bruni. Mostra di incisioni di Stefano Della Bella (Florence, 1973) YF.2021.a.14250

In 1973-74 Roberto took up a teaching position at the University of Victoria, in Vancouver. After one year he returned to Britain as a Lecturer in Italian at the University of Exeter. There he founded and edited an innovative series of “Italian Texts”, publishing numerous editions of rare poems and studies, mainly concerning Renaissance linguistic and literary debates. Roberto’s interests then slowly moved from literature and philology to the History of the Book, and he became an expert researcher and cataloguer of early Italian editions in British libraries. He worked together with his colleague D. Wyn Evans to produce catalogues of early Italian books in Exeter libraries, and later the massive catalogue (of some 5700 items) of 17th-century books in Cambridge libraries.

Roberto was interested in early Italian manuscripts, and together we wrote a monograph on Antonio Cornazzano, an Italian humanist who worked at the court of Francesco Sforza, in Venice and in Ferrara. Later, we worked again together on the writings by the late 16th-century popular poet Giulio Cesare Croce existing in British libraries. He was also a contributor to scholarly journals, especially La Bibliofilia, and Studi Secenteschi. In the 1980s he started writing poetry in English and in Italian, and he developed this interest even more after he retired from Exeter university in 2005.

Cover of Roberto Bruni and D. Wyn Evans, Italian 17th-century books in Cambridge libraries: a short-title catalogue

Cover of Roberto Bruni and D. Wyn Evans, Italian 17th-century books in Cambridge libraries: a short-title catalogue (Florence, 1997) YA.2001.a.4311

He also wrote some short stories in English that were printed privately in Florence, where he used to spend a few months every year, working on early books in Florentine historical libraries, and writing his own texts.

His poetical works are unique and quite extraordinary: most of them are in terza rima, and the language is essentially Tuscan with a vocabulary based on 15th- and 16th-century texts.
He published them in 2019 under the name of Guzzabruno (a name made up using the maiden name of his mother, Guzzo, and Bruni), this alter ego lived at the court of Elisabeth I and of King James, and was a friend of the great lexicographer John Florio. These were followed by a shorter volume of Rime di Guzzabruno, cantimbanco fiorentino, published in March 2020.

Roberto died on 9 July 2020, and left a substantial number of books in his house in Exeter. His heirs wanted his collection to be shared among his friends, and important cultural institutions, in accordance with Roberto’s wishes.

Over 150 books were donated to the British Library and these include numerous volumes on Florentine literature, art and architecture, important studies on 16th- and 17th-century authors, as well as scholarly catalogues and studies of books existing in historical libraries.

Diego Zancani, Emeritus Professor in Medieval and Modern Languages, University of Oxford, Emeritus Fellow, Balliol College, Oxford

References/further reading

Roberto L. Bruni and D. Wyn Evans, A catalogue of Italian books, 1471-1600, in the libraries of Exeter University, Exeter Cathedral, and the Devon and Exeter Institution (Exeter, 1978) 2725.bb.1

Roberto Bruni and D. Wyn Evans, Italian 17th-century books in Cambridge libraries : a short-title catalogue (Florence, 1997) YA.2001.a.4311

Roberto L. Bruni, Antonio Cornazzano: la tradizione testuale (Florence, 1992) YA.1993.b.10660

Roberto L. Bruni, Giulio Cesare Croce dall'Emilia all'Inghilterra : cataloghi, biblioteche e testi (Biblioteca di bibliografia italiana; 124 ) (Florence, 1991) P.P.6476.en.[124]

Poesie di Guzzabruno, Poeta Fiorentino. Vissuto a Londra a’ tempi della Regina Elisabetta e di Re Giacomo. Con una vita scritta da John Florio Prelettore di Lingua Italiana della Regina Anna e Valletto della Camera. E co’ Commenti alle Poesie, dove si dà compiuta Notizia de’ Significati de’ Motti. Parte Prima. (Florence 2019) Privately Printed.

See review by Prof. Luisa Avellini in Schede umanistiche: rivista annuale dell'Archivio Umanistico Rinascimentale Bolognese, XXXIII/1 (2019), pp. 248-252. ZA.9.a.9582

Rime di Guzzabruno, cantimbanco fiorentino (Florence, 2020) Privately Printed

03 November 2021

Venice: Tales of a Sinking City – an online event

On 8 November 2021 the British Library is hosting a free online event looking at the role of Venice in the current environmental, cultural and social global crises.

For centuries at the helm of a trading empire, the city of Venice has amassed wealth and culture in every palace, church, canal. Its lagoon constitutes a harmonious example of man-made transformation of the environment, conquered from mud, yet liveable and sustainable. A unique place for the circulation of ideas, home to fine printing, art and literature, a bridge between East and West. Venice is both a muse and a maker.

Still of flooded Venice from Homo Urbanus Venetianus

Still from Bêka and Lemoine, Homo Urbanus Venetianus, 2019 copyright of Bêka and Lemoine

After the decline and fall of the Republic of Venice, the city seemed the last Romantic fantasy during the industrial revolution. Nowadays, the number of inhabitants is diminishing, whilst tourism has reached its peak. The city is becoming a resort and is at risk of forgetting its own history, uniqueness, identity. Without its people, Venice might end up looking like one of its hundreds of replicas around the world.

There is not one way to describe Venice, nor 55. 55 is the number of fictional cities described in Italo Calvino’s 1974 work, Le Citta’ invisibili (Invisible Cities; Turin, 1978; X.908/86292) by Venetian explorer Marco Polo to Kublai Khan, Emperor of Mongolia. After hearing about all of them, Kublai Khan said:

‘There is still one of which you never speak.’
Marco Polo bowed his head.
'Venice,’ the Khan said.
Marco smiled. ‘What else do you believe I have been talking to you about?’
The emperor did not turn a hair. ‘And yet I have never heard you mention that name.’
And Polo said: ‘Every time I describe a city I am saying something about Venice.’

Cover of Italo Calvino, Invisible cities, translated by William Weave

Italo Calvino, Invisible cities, translated by William Weave (London, 1974). X.989/29509

F.T. Marinetti and his futurist fellows did not like Venice. They repudiated it for its slavish devotion of the past. They suggest to “burn the gondolas” and fill the canals with the rubbish of the crumbling palaces. “May the dazzling reign of divine Electrical Light at last free Venice from her venal furnished room’s moonshine”, says a manifesto thrown in thousands of copies from the Clock Tower of St Mark’s Square, in 1910.

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Futurist Venice

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Futurist Venice (Milan, 1910). 1879.c.8.(24.)

Episodes of acqua alta, high water, have been recorded since the XIII century, but Marinetti would have never imagined that the rising sea levels would become a serious threat to the very existence of the city. The exceptional acqua alta in November 2019, when 85% of the city was covered by water, has been subject of a film by architects and film makers Bêka and Lemoine, Homo Urbanus Venetianus, observing the daily habits of tourists and venetians being disrupted by environmental contingencies. Is this an admonition for other cities?

The most imitated, the most celebrated, the most oneiric of all cities is menaced by water and global tourism.
Will Venice spark a creative response to its problems and find a sustainable way to survive, as it has done in the past?

As world leaders and experts are gathered in Glasgow to find a strategy against climate change, join our free online event on 8 November 2021 to look at how Venice embodies the emergencies we globally face and how literature and technologies can uncover these stories. Guests will be Bêka and Lemoine, Professor of Architecture and Spatial Design Sophia Psarra and Dr Giorgia Tolfo, writer and producer of the podcast The Fifth Siren (read Giorgia’s blog on the event on the Digital Scholarship Blog).

The event is supported by the Festival of Italian Literature in London (FILL) and the Italian Cultural Institute in London.

Valentina Mirabella, Curator Romance Collections

Additional reading and resources:

Piero Bevilacqua, Venezia e le acque: una metafora planetaria (Rome, 1998). YA.2002.a.20745

Sergio Pascolo, Venezia secolo ventuno : visioni e strategie per un rinascimento sostenibile (Conegliano, 2020). Awaiting shelfmark

Sophia Psarra, The Venice variations: tracing the architectural imagination (London, 2018). DRT ELD.DS.472744

Salvatore Settis, Se Venezia muore (Turin, 2014). YF.2016.a.2992

14 September 2021

700 years of Dante at the British Library

Today, 14 September 2021, we mark the 700th anniversary of the death of Italian poet Dante Alighieri. His main work, the Divine Comedy, is widely considered one of the most important works of literature. His vision still informs our idea of afterlife: how Hell, Purgatory and Paradise look like. His poetry still moves and inspires.

The British Library holds outstanding Dante collections, dating from the Middle Ages right up to the present day, which you can find out about in the following video made especially to celebrate this anniversary. The video has been made by European and American Collections in collaboration with Western Heritage Collections.


This video offers the rare opportunity to look at the circulation of one work of literature across seven centuries. Nothing survives in Dante’s own hand. The manuscripts of the Divine Comedy are, for this reason, even more important. The invention of printing shows how Dante was very popular in the 15th and 16th centuries in Italy, and his limited fortune during the Baroque and Enlightenment eras.

The Romantic era, the Risorgimento and the Italian unification sparked a new and increased interest in Dante as national poet. The Divine Comedy was acknowledged as the greatest work of poetry in Italian and became the subject of studies in Italian schools and universities. Translations started to become popular outside of Italy (we have editions of the Divine Comedy in about 40 different languages in our catalogue) and Dante studies became a subject in itself.

Plate by Amos Nattini depicting purgatory

Amos Nattini, Purgatorio, Canto XXVIII

Dante became popular in the mass media: for example, the first Italian feature length movie, commissioned in 1911 for the 50th anniversary of Italian unification, was inspired by the Divine Comedy and titled Inferno.

The political importance of the Divine Comedy is shown by the number of editions published in the 20th century, many directly sponsored by the Italian government.

Two of them are shown in the video. La Divina Commedia novamente illustrata da artisti italiani a cura di Vittorio Alinari (Firenze, 1902-3; 11420.k.11.) is the first. This lavish edition includes works of 59 young artists who had won a contest to produce new illustrations for the Divine Comedy. Two of them, Duilio Cambellotti and Alberto Martini, both in their early twenties at the time of the competition, distinguished themselves with a work of great graphical interest that shows their Symbolist style and anticipates the development of Art Nouveau.

Illustration by Duilio Cambellotti depicting Inferno

Duilio Cambellotti, Inferno, Canto X

The second work that I show is La Divina Commedia / illustrazioni di Dalì ([1963-64], awaiting shelfmark). On the occasion of this anniversary the British Library had the opportunity to acquire a precious edition of the Divine Comedy illustrated by the Spanish painter Salvador Dalì. This edition was commissioned on the 700th anniversary of Dante’s birth, in 1965. The painter took nine years to complete this work. In this collection of 100 watercolour woodcuts, Dalì adds elements of his iconic and unique imagination to Dante’s vision: desolate landscapes, crutches, spiders, figures with drawers.

Watercolour woodcut by Salvador Dalì depicting purgatory

Salvador Dalì, Purgatorio, Canto I

We couldn’t include them all in the video, but here are some other remarkable editions:

La Divina Commedia. Illustrazione su cento cartoline eseguita da artisti fiorentini, ideata e diretta dall’ingegnere Attilio Razzolini. (Milano, [1902, 03]). 11421.e.23. This is a collection of 100 postcards, one for each canto, in Gothic revival style. Each of them is decorated with miniatures by the illustrator.

La Divina Commedia, with plates by Amos E. Nattini. (Turin, [1923-41]). Cup.652.c.

La divina commedia. Introduzioni ai canti, di Natalino Sapegno. Disegni a colori di Antony de Witt. (Firenze, 1964). L.R.413.w.37.

Interested in learning more on Dante? Join us tonight for the online event Dante in the British Library: Hell, Purgatory and Heaven (Tuesday 14 September 2021, 19:30 - 20:30).

Valentina Mirabella, Curator, Romance Collections

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