Ex libris made by great Italian and international artists on display in Crema

The Museo Civico di Crema e del Cremasco presents from October 21, 2023 to January 14, 2024 the exhibition "A Minimal Elegance. Ex libris and small graphics from the Ferruccio Proverbio Collection" to highlight the work of great artists who sometimes chose this field of expression.

From October 21, 2023 to January 14, 2024, the Museo Civico di Crema e del Cre masco in Crema presents the exhibition Una minima eleganza. Ex libris and Small Graphics from the Ferruccio Proverbio Collection, curated by Cristina Chiesura, Edoardo Fontana and Silvia Scaravaggi, produced by the Museo Civico di Crema e del Cremasco and hosted in the Pinacoteca spaces.

The exhibition starts from the most significant nucleus of the collection owned by Ferruccio Proverbio and also includes some important contributions from other private collections, to arrive at a selection of more than three hundred works with the intention of offering a cross-section of what theex libris is and everything that falls within the field of small graphics. The ex libris is an object that has always been used by bibliophiles, but also by ordinary readers, to indicate that the book on which it is affixed belongs to their library, and thus to their own sphere of interest, cultural and aesthetic. The choice, which became fashionable, to decorate it, in the form we now know certainly from the early years of printing, with heraldic coats of arms and then with increasingly varied figurations abstracted from the place to which it belongs, reached its peak in the last years of the nineteenth century and simultaneously the moment of maximum adherence to the projects of bibliophiles by the major active artists, who joined all the professionals of the ex libris, who continued to design and engrave in series for their patrons.

The exhibition aims to highlight precisely the work of major artists who chose this field of expression on an occasional basis: some of them produced very few sheets, such as Umberto Boccioni, others more rarely worked with some continuity, among them Max Klinger, Armand Rassenfosse, František Kobliha and Emil Orlik.

The selection from the Proverbio Collection starts with the Symbolist ex-libris of Franz von Stuck and engravings, borrowed from the figuration of the greatest German etcher of his time, Max Klinger. With him are the papers of the ironic and irreverent Michel Fingesten, the leading exponents of Belgian Symbolism, such as the dreamy Fernand Khnopff, the satanic Félicien Rops, the erotic Armand Rassenfosse and the lesser-known Walter Sauer, the esoteric folios of Charles Doudelet, Frank Brangwyn and Edmond Van Offel, and the expressionist Frans Masereel. The Viennese Secession is presented by Gustav Klimt, with the famous Ex libris der Vereinigung bildender Künstler Österreichs Secession, from the Garlaschi Collection in Milan, and by the co-founder of the Austrian movement Alfred Roller, Emil Orlik, the singular contribution of Franz Von Bayros and the graphics of Marianne Hitschmann-Steinberger. Symbolists are also the ex-libris of artists adhering to the Prague Secession, the Sursum movement, and more generally of all the personalities from Slavic Central Europe, such as the Czech xylographers František Kobliha and Josef Váchal, and the Magyar Attila Sassy. German Expressionism is represented by Franz Mark, Conrad Felixmüller, and Emil Maetzel; a special look is devoted to the visionary work of Frank Sepp, a Bavarian artist capable of producing ambiguous and Gothic images.

There is no shortage of Alphons Mucha’s graphics, Sigmund Lipinsky’s sought-after intaglios, Escher’s geometric distortions, Jean Cocteau’s eclecticism, and Henry Chapront’s experiments.

Theex libris in England, starting with Aubrey Vincent Beardsley’s drawings for Yellow Book, has found many excellent performers: among them, John Archibald Austen with images with a strong erotic impact, Eric Gill and his essential Deco or the Morrisian Walter Crane and the demonic images, published in The Golden Hind magazine, made in the bizarre style of Austin Osman Spare. An extraordinary ex libris by Thomas Sturge Moore for William Butler Yeats, those of Robert Anning Bell, and especially the woodcut produced by Charles Ricketts for Gleeson White, hark back to the English Aesthetic Movement of the late 19th century. A special focus is also devoted to Edward Gordon Craig, who, a director, set designer and theatrical actor, was also a woodblocker and draughtsman.

A small section is devoted instead toPortuguese ex libris: in Portugal, in fact, as well as in Italy, the Proverbio Collection is located. In addition to the sheets by well-known artists such as José de Almada Negreiros and Antonio Lima, a number of institutional ex libris find their place, including the one designed by Francesco Gamba for the Italian Library in Lisbon, and the ex libris Grupo dos Amigos de Lisboa by Almada Negreiros.

Italian artists, on the other hand, are represented by some of the greatest engravers from the early twentieth century to the present: thus, one will be able to see the Art Nouveau drawings and engravings by Alfredo Baruffi and Guido Balsamo Stella, the ex libris made with retouched heliogravure by Giulio Aristide Sartorio for Gabriele D’Annunzio, and woodcuts by Benvenuto Maria Disertori, Emma Dessau Goitein and the recently rediscovered Emilio Mantelli. A color ex libris by Alfonso Bosco and engravings by Raoul Dal Molin Ferenzona (both artists belong to Emanuele Bardazzi’s collection) along with Alberto Martini and Antonio Rubino (present with the first ex libris designed by him, whose patron was identified on the very occasion of this exhibition) document the more grotesque and horrific aspect of the Italian exlibristic movement, with compositions often featuring skulls, deformed creatures, and spectral presences.

Singular is the ex libris belonging to Vittorio Pica and designed by Alberto Martini found on the back of Hermenegildo Anglada Camarasa’s painting Osteria bretone from the Stramezzi Collection, housed in the Museo Civico di Crema e del Cremasco. Michelangiolesque, on the other hand, are the color woodcuts by Antonello Moroni and those in black by Adolfo De Carolis. In their wake are the prolific Giulio Cisari and Francesco Fortunato Gamba. Very rare are the engraved sheets by Duilio Cambellotti, Aldo Carpi, that of Massimo Campigli and the ex libris designed by Umberto Boccioni and from the Simone Bandirali collection in Crema, printed with a cliché for Vico Baer. More recent are Jacovitti’s ironic color prints, Guido Crepax’s ex libris, the altered perspectives of Tranquillo Marangoni from Giuliana and Furio De Denaro from Trieste, and the neo-symbolist Agostino Arrivabene.

The exhibition is dedicated to Michele Rapisarda, a recently deceased collector and engraver, who is present with a number of ex libris engraved by him or dedicated to him. Realized in collaboration with the Museum of Printing and Art Printing in Lodi “Andrea Schiavi,” which will host a small selection of ex libris dedicated in particular to contemporary artists in its premises during the exhibition period, the exhibition will be accompanied by a catalog published by the Museo Civico Crema with critical texts and catalog entries by Emanuele Bardazzi, Mauro Chiabrando, Cristina Chiesura, Edoardo Fontana, Laura Inzoli, Ferruccio Proverbio, and Silvia Scaravaggi.

Hours: Tuesday from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m.; Wednesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to noon and 2:30 to 5:30 p.m.; Saturday, Sunday and holidays from 10 a.m. to noon and 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.

Image: Max Klinger, Ex libris D. Bischoff, detail (1885; Ferruccio Proverbio Collection, Milan)

Ex libris made by great Italian and international artists on display in Crema
Ex libris made by great Italian and international artists on display in Crema

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