< Back

Home : About Poster Art : Country Primers : Italian Vintage Posters

Italian Vintage Posters

Villa, E&A Mele - Ultime Novita
Villa, Aleardo.
 E&A Mele - Ultime Novita (Man w/ Cane), 1898

Hohenstein, Bitter Campari
Hohenstein, Adolfo.
Bitter Campari, 1899

Hohenstein, Fiammiferi Senza
Hohenstein, Adolfo.
 Fiammiferi Senza Fosforo (small), 1900 ca

Metlicovitz, Giulio Marchetti
Metlicovitz, Leopoldo.
Giulio Marchetti, 1907

Hohenstein, La Boheme de G. Puccini
Hohenstein, Adolfo.
La Boheme de G. Puccini,
c. 1896

DeKarolis, La Figlia di Iorio
De Karolis, Adolfo.
La Figlia di Iorio, c. 1906 

Hohenstein, Germania
Hohenstein, Adolfo.
Germania, 1902 

Ballerio, Esposition Internazionale
Ballerio, Osvaldo.
Esposition Internazionale di Automobili - Torino, 1908 

Dudovich, Crema Marsala
Dudovich, Marcello.
Crema Marsala - Canciani & Cremese, c. 1910

Laskoff, Noel de Pierrot
Laskoff, Franz.
Noel de Pierrot, 1914

Cappeillo, Bitter Campari
Cappiello, Leonetto.
Bitter Campari, 1921

Cappiello, Contratto
Cappiello, Leonetto.
Contratto, 1922

Codognato, Fiat 520
Codognato, Plinio.
 Fiat 520 Optima! 1928

Boccasile, Gattino
Boccasile, Gino.
Gattino, 1933

Patrone, Nord-Amerika Express
Patrone, Giovanni.
Nord - Amerika Express, 1934

Seneca, Il Coppa della Perugina
Seneca, Federico.
Il Coppa della Perugina, 1925

Nizzoli, Cordial Campari
Nizzoli, Marcello.
Cordial Campari, 1926

Riccobaldi, Fiat 508C
Riccobaldi, Giuseppe.
 Fiat 508C, 1937 ca.

Lazzaro, Crociera Aerea
Lazzaro, Umberto di.
Crociera Aerea del Decennale, 1933

Sepo, Motta Milano
 Sepo (Severo Pozzati).
Motta Milano, 1934

Boccasile, Untitled Venus
Boccasile, Gino.
Untitled, c. 1944

Huber, Italia URSS
Huber, Max.
Italia URSS, 1966


Artist Unknown, Riesen Dolciora
Artist Unknown.
 Riesen Dolciora, 1955

The Italian Poster Rediscovered

Rare and spectacular, vintage Italian posters from 1895 to 1940 are today increasingly appreciated and sought after by collectors.

Long undervalued and neglected, vintage Italian poster art is today enjoying a renaissance as collectors and scholars rediscover its remarkable style. Up until the last few years, rarity, Italian disinterest, and negative political associations prevented the Italian poster from being properly appreciated. After years of collecting, our Gallery presented "The Italian Poster Rediscovered", the first major gallery exhibit of Italian poster masterpieces in the U.S., which revealed the genius of the Italian poster.

Back to top

The Scarcity of Italian Posters

Even though there was large scale Italian production of posters, relatively little has been preserved. In Italy there was less of a poster mania than in France, where poster collecting was a phenomenon starting in the 1890s. There were fewer clubs, expositions, publications and galleries which promoted posters and poster collecting.

Equally important, a high percentage of poster overruns were destroyed. It is believed that thousands of posters were thrown away when the Fascist regime took power. Printing warehouses were swept clean of anything reflecting "bourgeois values". Then, when the Allies liberated Italy at the end of WWII, many Italian citizens destroyed any Fascist posters in their possession and the printing warehouses were once again emptied.

Tragically, the largest remaining cache of classic Italian posters was destroyed in the late '60s when the great turn-of-the-century printer Ricordi threw out its archives to free up warehouse space. In most instances it retained only one copy of each poster for its collection.

All of these factors contribute to the scarcity of Italian posters on the market today, strongly affecting market prices.

Back to top

Opera & the Rise of the Italian Poster

The rise of the Italian poster is intimately tied to the opera, the only national cultural institution in Italy at the turn of the century. Ricordi, the music publisher of Verdi and Puccini, decided in 1874 to create an in-house printing operation to promote its music. It began by installing the most advanced German lithographic presses and hiring a brilliant German Art Nouveau master, Adolfo Hohenstein, to train a staff of Italian artists.

Though born in Russia of German parents, Hohenstein (1854-1928) understood the Italian spirit so thoroughly that he is often called the "Father of the Italian Poster". Hohenstein's charming La Boheme of 1895 was his first great Italian opera poster. It revealed the artist's absorption of French poster art, particularly Cheret, in its playful and carefree depiction of Bohemian life in Paris. Yet in its classically rich color harmonies and use of strong diagonals to build dramatic impact, the poster showed traits which would increasingly distinguish Italian poster art from other national traditions.

Indeed, La Boheme was the first in a string of increasingly large, dramatic and masterful opera posters Hohenstein would create at Ricordi before returning to Germany in 1906. His towering 1896 poster for Puccini's Tosca (10 feet tall) perfectly echoed the melodrama, passion and spectacle of the Italian opera. This was followed by his exquisite poster for Mascagni's Iris (1898) and then the explosive Madama Butterfly (1904). These posters, in their scale and magnificence, became the foundation for an Italian poster tradition which began to rival that of France.

By 1895, Ricordi began to create posters for other clients such as Campari, the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera, and the Mele Department store of Naples. Comprising more than 180 large format posters over a 20 year period, Mele became Ricordi's biggest account and one of the most important poster series of all time.

View all Italian Posters of the Opulent Age through WWI

Back to top

The Young Masters at Ricordi

By the turn of the century, a brilliant stable of talents had emerged under the tutelage of Hohenstein at Ricordi. Artists such as Aleardo Villa (1865-1906), Marcello Dudovich, Leopoldo Metlicovitz, Aleardo Terzi (1870-1943), Achille Mauzan (1883-1952) and Giovanni Mataloni (1869-1944) brought Art Nouveau, known as Stile Liberty in Italy, to a world class level. Even Leonetto Cappiello, the young master who emigrated to Paris from Livorno, accepted commissions for Ricordi clients.

Leopoldo Metlicovitz (1868-1944) was Hohenstein's greatest pupil. An Italian of Serbian descent, Metlicovitz came to Ricordi as a lithographer's assistant in 1891, and within a year became its technical director. He went on to become Ricordi's most prolific artist and its artistic director after Hohenstein left the firm. Many of Metlicovitz' greatest posters were allegorical. His prize-winning design for the 1906 International Exposition, which marked the opening of a locomotive tunnel through the Alps, is a dramatic portrayal of Mercury riding the engine on its maiden voyage. His spectacular image of Mercury racing alongside a speeding automobile for his Mostra del Ciclo e dell Automobile (1907) is likewise a masterpiece of poster art.

Metlicovitz' greatest pupil was Marcello Dudovich (1878-1962), who joined Ricordi in 1897, left to work for the printer Edmondo Chappius in Bologna from 1899 to 1905, and returned to Ricordi in 1906. Dudovich rapidly developed the reputation as the leading poster artist in Italy, and did no less than 14 masterpieces for Mele. After his return to Ricordi, his style eliminated many Art Nouveau excesses for a more modern style. Between 1907 and 1914 he achieved a richness and monumentality scarcely achieved before or since in poster art.

A decisive influence in this transition from Art Nouveau to a simpler graphic style had been the arrival of Franz Laskoff at Ricordi in 1901. Laskoff (1869-1918) was born in Poland and had worked briefly in Paris before coming to Milan. His style was strongly influenced by England's Beggarstaff Brothers, who reduced Art Nouveau to its graphic essentials. The Beggarstaff's influence, along with that of the Japanese wood block print, is clear in his five masterpieces for Mele and his many works for Ricordi musical performances. Although Laskoff only stayed in Italy until 1904, his style had a decisive impact at Ricordi.

Leonetto Cappiello (1875-1942) became famous as a caricaturist while visiting Paris in 1898, and went on to produce more than 1,000 posters over a forty year career. Known as the "father of modern advertising", Cappiello was the first to realize that a simple metaphor for a product could make a poster more memorable than all the floral complexity then in vogue. Cappiello became the dominant poster artist in Paris until Cassandre's arrival two decades later, and had a decisive impact on poster design everywhere. His posters produced for Italian clients are amongst his best, perhaps because he felt some rivalry with his contemporaries working for Ricordi.

View all Italian Posters of the Opulent Age through WWI

Back to top

Italian Modernism after WWI

World War I destroyed the happy world of "bourgeois realism" which reached its pinnacle in the Ricordi Mele posters. In fact, Italy had been undergoing major social and political change even before the war. It was revealed full force in the arts in 1909, with F.T. Marinetti's ode to the modern world, Futurism. This avant-garde movement reveled in the power of the machine and the cacophony of the city. Its aggressively modernistic attitude represented a new generation bent on Italian nationalism, and social and artistic revolution.

Adopting Cubism as their starting point, the Italian Futurists invented devices such as "lines of force" to indicate the dynamism of high speed motion and the industrial age. Marinetti himself printed his manifestoes on pages filled with wild combinations of typefaces arranged haphazardly, to destroy any sense of tradition. Equally novel solutions were developed in the graphic arts by leading Futurists Fortunato Depero, Nicolay Diulgheroff, and Lucio Venna.

Futurism proved too aggressive for most of Italian society and its consumer advertising. Indeed, it ultimately proved too radical for Mussolini and the Fascists, who shared its ardent nationalism and disdain for the stagnation of Italian society. The Futurists' repeated attacks on Italian tradition contradicted Mussolini's desire for a populist image which recalled the glory of ancient Rome.

A more conservative course was taken by a group of artists called Novecento (the Italian Twentieth Century Movement). Formed in 1922, this group was a reaction to the Futurists, and looked back to the simplicity of pre-war values and Italian tradition. Most famous among Novecento artists were the prestigious painter Mario Sironi and Marcello Nizzoli. The leading poster artists Dudovich, Boccasile, and Riccobaldi all were sympathetic to the ideals of the Novecento.

By the mid '20s a third alternative arose - Art Deco. This was an international style which combined Machine Age symbolism, Cubism, and exotic design from ancient Egypt, Crete and Greece. What resulted was a simplified, geometric style which romanticized and transformed everyday reality. In Italy, this style was uniquely influenced by Futurism and Fascism. The Futurist preoccupation with speed, power and dynamism was readily expressed in the new style. Equally well served was the Fascist desire to develop an image of monumental perfection that was both classic and modern.

View all Italian Posters of the Fascist Era

Back to top

The Triumph of Italian Design between the Wars

In this atmosphere there was a remarkable outpouring of highly original and diverse graphic design. Cappiello and Dudovich were both at the height of their powers, the latter making an easy transition to a powerful Art Deco style. He created more than 100 designs for Italy's leading department store Rinascente from the '20s through the '40s.

In many ways the work of Federico Seneca (1891-1976) was the perfect synthesis of these diverse tendencies. As the advertising director for Perugina-Buitoni from 1919 to 1929, he created stylized, tubular figures which revealed the influence of Leger and Depero and the whimsical memorability of Cappiello. Equally strong was the work of Severo Pozzati, or Sepo (1895-1983), who worked primarily in Paris and created masterpieces for Noveltex shirts and Motta bakery.

The two towering corporate clients of the inter-war years were Fiat and Campari. By the 20s, Fiat was the largest car company in Europe, and it became the first to open an advertising department. Its artists Riccobaldi, Codognato, Metlicovitz, Dudovich, Sironi, and de Chirico were the best Italy had to offer.

Campari continued its remarkable tradition of advertising posters through the '50s. Its roster of poster artists was staggering: Hohenstein, Cappiello, Metlicovitz, Dudovich, Mauzan, Sacchetti, Laskoff, Nizzoli, Sinopico, Depero and Munari all produced important images for the leading consumer franchise.

The other major client, of course, was the state, which commissioned posters for exhibitions, conferences, parades and other propaganda. Outstanding were the streamlined aviation posters of Umberto di Lazzaro and Luigi Martinati to celebrate Italo Balbo's 1933 crossing of the Atlantic.

In 1933, new directions in Italian avant-garde design were marked by the opening of the Studio Boggeri in Milan. It's most famous artist was Xanti Schawinsky, who brought his Bauhaus training to use in strong posters for Princeps and Illy Coffee. A sophisticated graphic language was also cultivated at Olivetti, with Marcello Nizzoli joining in 1938. With these developments, Italy was poised to be a leader in the international design movement after the war.

As the '30s progressed, Mussolini began to clamp down on the artistic diversity in Italy, much the same way as Hitler and Stalin had in Germany and the Soviet Union. As the war approached, he demanded more discipline and control over the population. By 1940, the grand, playful, kinetic and diverse world of Italian Art Deco was over.

View all Italian Posters of the Fascist Era

Back to top

World War II

Italian war posters of WWII are amongst the most powerful, vitriolic and racist ever created. Perhaps due to the nation's ambivalence about its alliance with Germany, artists were called on to stir the population with rabid images. One of the most notable was Gino Boccasile's image of a Black American GI, resembling a gorilla, clutching the Venus de Milo which he is marked with a price of $2.

View all Italian Posters of the Fascist Era

Back to top

The Post-War Economic Miracle

After a period of intense hardship after WWII, Italy made a stunning recovery in the late '50s and early '60s. The Italian genius for style in every field from automobiles to fashion design became recognized worldwide. In poster art, spectacular images were now created for the vibrant Italian film industry. Masters of the Italian film poster included Anselmo Ballester, Alfredo Capitani, Luigi Martinati and Ercole Brini. Many of the posters they created were for American films of the '30s and early '40s which had been banned during the Mussolini years.

The leading advertising poster artists of these years displayed a wide diversity of styles. In Milan, Giovanni Pintori carried the Olivetti design aesthetic into the electronic age with a brilliant series of posters throughout the '50s. Meanwhile, the Avant-Garde tradition of the city's Studio Boggeri was carried on by Erberto Carboni in his photomontage and constructivist compositions for Barilla, Ecco and Shell.

Other regions were active as well. Mario Puppo, working primarily for the B&G printing house in Genoa, created wonderful travel posters and cultural posters in an animated 1950s Style close to Savignac and Leupin in their playfulness. And perhaps most groundbreaking was Turin's Armando Testa, who created surprising visual combinations  for Punt e Mes, Carpano, Pirelli, and the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.

View all Italian Postwar Posters

Back to top