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Silvano Campeggi

I have seen the rush of jousts

Silvano Campeggi

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texts by C. Acidini Luchinat, V. Beoni, E. Campeggi

publication year: 2003
hardback with jacket
240x310 mm; 96 pp.
50 colour illustrations

88-7461-015-7 Italian/English

Promoted by Arezzo City Council and the Province of Arezzo on the occasion of the exhibition held at Sala Sant’Ignazio (27 June-7 September 2003), this volume contains 50 pictures by Silvano Campeggi focusing on the Joust of the Saracen, the famous contest that some historians have traced back to Dante Alighieri’s times, quoting the following lines of the Inferno as evidence: «and on your land, o Aretines, I have seen, / rangers and raiding parties galloping, / the clash of tournaments, the rush of jousts» (22.4-6). The book includes an essay by the leading art historian Cristina Acidini Luchinat entitled Painting the Joust and a piece by Vittorio Beoni on the history and features (rituals, participants, rules) of the Joust proper and of the celebrations surrounding it. The artist’s detailed biographical note (summarized in the following paragraphs) was written by Elena Campeggi.

Silvano Campeggi was born in Florence, in Costa San Giorgio, from Aretine parents. His father, a printer and typesetter, had moved to Florence to work for the Bemporad publishing house: it was here that Campeggi became familiar with printing techniques, types and reams of papers – an experience that would prove useful in his future work. He attended art school at Porta Romana, where he was taught by the painter Ottone Rosai. After the war he was employed by the American Red Cross to do portraits of American soldiers before they returned home. For months he depicted thousands of young people, capturing on paper their faces and stories with deft, essential strokes. He then settled in Rome and began his poster-painting career. The first film he illustrated was Aquila nera with Rossano Brazzi e Gino Cervi, a box-office hit that brought immediate prominence. He was then asked by Metro-Goldwin-Mayer to illustrate Avventura with Clark Gable. For the whole of the following thirty-year period he signed his work with the pseudonym ‘Nano’. Known as the ‘film-star painter’, he produced some 3000 billboard posters for the major films of the post-war period. Besides working with MGM, he collaborated with Warner Bros, Universal, Dear Film, Rank, RKO, Columbia and Fox. 64 of the films for which he designed the poster won Academy Awards, including Gone With the Wind (MGM), Casablanca (WB), The Yearling (MGM), The Heiress (Paramount). In 1970 he won the prestigious “Spiga Cambellotti” prize.

In his work for the cinema, Campeggi succeeded in combining his skills as a portraitist, illustrator, painter and poster designer. “The poster”, he once said, “had to grab the imagination of the person looking at it: colour, sex, action – everything concentrated in the idea. Red was my colour. I used it for my backgrounds, from which the figures appeared as if by magic. Gigi, Julius Caesar, Judgment at Nuremberg, The Last Time I Saw Paris, Imitation of Life are all sketches with a powerful chromatic effect.” When the advent of television led to the decline of cinema ‘on the walls’, Campeggi was commissioned by the Carabinieri to produce five large-scale paintings of Risorgimento battles and a portrait of Salvo d’Acquisto, which the Italian Postal Service used on a commemorative stamp in 1975. Campeggi’s portraiture skills can be seen in the Albo d’oro dell’Arma dei Carabinieri (1979). From 1970 onwards he spent his summers at Pomonte, on the Island of Elba: in the hard, rocky and wind-swept landscapes the artist found inspiration for some of his most forceful, even ‘violent’ work, collected in a portfolio (“Sassi e ghiaie”, 1975). At the same time he managed to leave the people of Pomonte an exquisitely classical image of Santa Lucia. In 1986 he established, in conjunction with the Council administration of Marciana, a school specializing in artistic ceramics, where he would teach for five years.

In 1988 Egidio Mucci organized an exhibition at Palazzo Medici Riccardi together with the Tuscan Film Library, the Province of Florence and Florence City Council (“Il cinema nei manifesti di Silvano Campeggi. Nano 1945-1969”). The show was an enormous success, with over 23,000 visitors, and it transferred to Paris and various French universities. In 1989 the Tourist Board presented a portfolio by him at the Loggia Rucellai; entitled “Firenze scritta”, it was accompanied by a Piero Bigongiari poem and a note by Luigi Cavallo. In the following years he showed his work in many exhibitions and art events, and did portraits of prominent figures in the arts, politics and show-business worlds. In 1991 he became an honorary citizen of the Island of Elba. In 1995 he exhibited posters, sketches and portraits of actors in a solo show in New York – the exhibition then travelled to Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco. In 1996 he produced 35 pictures focusing on the Florentine Calcio Storico for the exhibition “Silvano Campeggi e il Calcio Fiorentino”, at the Palagio di Parte Guelfa in Florence. In 1998 he had a solo show at the Castello dei Conti Guidi in Poppi, which was accompanied by the publication of Sogni attaccati al muro: manifesti e dipinti di Silvano Campeggi Nano.

In 1999 Florence City Council made him ‘Magnifico Messere’ on the occasion of the annual Calcio Storico event. In 2000 the quarter of San Frediano in Florence dedicated an event and a show to him, “Nano torna in San Frediano. Omaggio al Maestro Silvano Campeggi”, which was held in local shops. In the same year he was awarded the “Fiorino d’Oro”, conferred on Florentines who have made an outstanding contribution to the city. In 2001 the administration of Bagno a Ripoli, where Campeggi lives, paid tribute to him with an exhibition and a catalogue, C’era una volta il Cinema. In August 2001 Campeggi mounted the show “È Palio. Pittura in diretta dalla Piazza” at Santa Maria della Scala in Siena – a magical historic parade in 60 paintings; the catalogue accompanying the exhibition included essays by Omar Calabrese, Antonio Paolucci, Bruno Santi, Nanni Guiso, Enrico Toti. Campeggi also did a mural for the Cinema Teatro Moderno in Lastra a Signa; he executed a portrait of the eminent journalist Luigi M. Personè for his hundredth birthday. At Bologna he showed his works in the exhibition “Chaplin Disegnato”. He also contributed to the exhibition “Amici miei”, a tribute to the film director Mario Monicelli. In 2003 the council administrations of Bagno a Ripoli and Florence organized an event to celebrate Nano’s eightieth birthday. In June he was in Taormina, where he had a show (“Pinocchio sono Io”) during the film festival.