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Home Su anthological Ettore Sottsass Elda Danese Franco Fanelli



Tapestries of the Scassa Weaving Mill
in Twentieth - Century Italian Art




In most histories of the art of tapestry weaving in Italy, reconstruction of the key episodes breaks off around the first half of the nineteenth century: this limit cannot only be explained by a need to define periods, but also by the widespread conviction that, at that time, tapestries had come to an end in their history as narrative and monumental works.
The dates and circumstances in which the last tapestry manufacturers closed down gives credence to this opinion: indeed, with the exception of the papal weaving mill in San Michele in Ripa which, after the Unification of Italy, continued faltering production until 1910, in accordance with the government's will, the other main manufacturers, in Naples and Turin, closed down in 1798 and1813 respectively. Cessation of activities at these and other tapestry manufacturers came at the end of a troubled existence. Even in earlier periods, despite the excellence of the countless works which had come out of the looms down the centuries, their survival had been uncertain and fragile, often dependent on the fortunes of the principals, and supported mainly by what Mercedes Viale Ferrero has referred to as "an obstinate passion''.
While tapestries were in a particularly critical situation in Italy in the nineteenth century they were not faring much better in other European countries either: "La tapisserie est un art perdu.
Ce n'est qu'une laborieuse imitation terne et noire de la peinture", wrote Edmond de Goncourt in 1874, in the "Journal". These words from Goncourt, a connoisseur and admirer of tapestries, express the opinion, shared by many critics, that excessive dependence on painting had led to the loss of the characteristics inherent in the art of woven fabrics, and this had proved the root cause of their decadence.
This phenomenon became particularly marked during the nineteenth century when, in order to capture the nuances and describe the finest details of oil painting, which by then had become the model to imitate, a considerable number of warp threads per square centimetre and an exorbitant range of tones were being used for the weft. The decadence was also explained by the need to update the models, in order to move away from the routine of making replicas of old master paintings or tapestries.
However, the fact that the closure of the Naples weaving mill coincided with the flight of King Ferdinand I of Bourbon shows how the destiny of tapestry making is also linked to that of a social class and its loss of power. Images of fabrics burnt at the stake by the French revolutionaries in order to recover the gold thread and, just as important, to destroy the banners of aristocracy, is a visual metaphor of the end of the function of a tapestry: to display the prestige of a ruling class.
Once this function had come to an end, some critics considered tapestries no longer had a reason to exist: Ilaria Toesca, for example, in her commentary on an exhibition of French tapestries held in 1953, wrote that the sole purpose of the modern “Arazzo nero" [Black Tapestry] by Pothier, which was displayed for the occasion, might be that of a "sumptuous winding sheet, a funeral oration for tapestry making"'.


Until the eighteenth century tapestries had provided glorious decoration for the interiors of churches and palaces. They had been a public display of the pomp and splendour of the aristocracy and the glory of Christianity but, more than anything, they had narrated the stories of heroes and saints with true magnificence. Later, with the Restoration, there was a wearied attempt to resume work, but it cannot be denied that, by the end of the nineteenth century, the tapestry was, in the words of Viale Ferrero, "almost entirely lacking in vigour", and that it would reawaken "only in the twentieth century, in a very different artistic climate, coinciding with quite new artistic ideas, and, it need hardly be said, quite the opposite of those of Italy under Humbert".
In this new artistic climate, far from the Academies, painters abandoned the old genres such as historical narrative, and turned to less illustrious subjects, closer to everyday life and more intimate. The role that painters were gaining brought greater freedom of expression and was bound by new limitations for a new public. This transformation appeared to distance the destiny of modern artists from that of woven fabrics. At the same time, the relationship between tapestry and painting appeared still more complex as, with the gradual abandon of mimetic representation of reality, many critics denied that works based on non-figurative originals could be "real tapestries". This came from their conviction that a wall cloth could be none other than a monumental work with a narrative content.
But the precision of definitions inevitably comes up against changes in style and technique, as well as against the cultural requirements of each age. For this reason, even though some of the factors encouraging the manufacture of tapestries in the past no longer existed, what had remained was "obstinate passion", that taste for the expressiveness afforded by the technique and the materials.
The works created during the century that has just come to an end, works designed by artists from different backgrounds and different lands, bear witness to this fact. It can be seen in high-warp works - the same technique used by Nicolas Bataille to create his Angers Apocalypse in the second half of the fourteenth century, made by the tapestry works in Asti for the Genovese architect Renzo Piano, for the retrospective of his works held in Bonn in 1997.
For a full understanding of the history of tapestries in twentieth-century Italy, in-depth research would have to be undertaken. The following pages introduce only a few ideas, fragments of a vast and varied scene, to give an impression of the mood of Italian culture in the twentieth century, and an idea of some of its artistic experiences.


Between the second half of the nineteenth century and the first few decades of the twentieth, there was a revival of interest in the Middle Ages among various artistic groups and movements in Europe. The figuration and representation of medieval craftsmen inspired both the French symbolists and the exponents of the Arts and Crafts movement, arousing a passion for tapestry art in Ranson, Bernard and Maillol, just as in Morris and Burne-Jones. Aristide Maillol, for example, observing the tapestries of the Dame à la Licorne in the Cluny Museum in Paris, had painted subjects for the creation of needlework panels, composing his figures with areas of plain colour, the same as those used in the paintings by Nabis.
In Italy, the modernist trends taken up as a national model, fuelled the desire of Nicola Marcelli to revive the fame of chef Medici tapestry weaving mills. In the first decade of the nineteenth century, he set up a weaving mill in Florence, where the themes of
the revisited "dolcestilnovo" - scenes from the Decameron by Boccaccio and the Vita Nova by Dante - were narrated by interwoven threads of silk and wool. However, as was the case elsewhere, this attempt was short-lived, and a few years later Marcelli had to close.


Even so, in Italy as in France, interest in tapestries took new directions in the twentieth century, partly through the needlework that many artists had carried out for them by more or less skilled weaving mills. In the twenties and the thirties, at the Monza Biennale (which, in 1927, became the Milan Triennale) and the Venice Biennale, panels embroidered with designs by Vittorio Zecchin and Marcello Nizzoli, Duilio Cambelotti and Francesco dal Pozzo were put on show. The works of these and other artists introduced a more private, middle-class dimension to a sector in which
the memory of the monumental and social aspect of tapestry had lingered on. This was a special, less institutional direction, far from the needs of narrative and much closer to the pleasure given by the materials and a desire for decoration. Neglecting the descriptive and compositional richness of the antique examples, tapestry became aligned with the new forms of reality, as modified by painting.
From this point of view, a decisive change of course came with Balla and Depero's proposal for the "Futurist reconstruction of
the universe" and from the activities of exponents of the Futurist movement in the Casa d Arte. Here again, examples of needlework and inlay work with coloured cloth were more common than work on the loom: the production of inlay work, for example, by Depero in the Casa d’Arte and by Corona in Palermo were remarkable. As with embroidered work, these cannot be classed as tapestries, but they are, together with other Futurist handicraft works, evidence of a willingness of these artists to explore many areas aiming transform the environment, taking art beyond the confines of the frame and into everyday life.
The Futurists intended to bring art not just into the lives of individuals but especially into collective living: in the programmes of the Casa d Arte, they condemned the excessive individualism which until that time had been a characteristic of artistic expression. They maintained that the only justification for the existence of art was its social value, asserting a need to return to decoration and to its "exchange between artist and profession". 


In the twenties, as the activities of the Casa d’Arte were coming to an end, only the Eroli tapestry weaving mill in Rome carried on the tradition of manufacturing woven panels in Italy. Pio and Silvio Eroli had inherited the weaving mill in Via del Babbuino, originally opened as a painting studio, from their father Erulo. Erulo himself had initiated the production of tapestries in this studio, helped by former female students from the Roman Institute of San Michele at Ripa, where he had previously been a teacher.
The Erolis worked in "a purely figurative manner, with little interest in experimenting", from the thirties to the forties, and were mainly involved in creating monumental and institutional works. It was they who undertook the laborious task of making the tapestries for the Minister of Corporations: seven panels, from a drawing by Ferruccio Ferrazzi, created for the building designed by the architects Piacentini and Vaccaro in the first half of the thirties.
In later years, the Eroli weaving mill produced works for public places and the institutions, such as the tapestry for the new railway station in Florence or the one for the station in Ostia, from a drawing by Ojetti. This production indicates that the institutions did have a certain regard for this form of art. In the thirties, it must be said, there was an interest in monumental art and muralism both in Italy and abroad. This expressed, in different ways, a certain tension in the way the social role of the artist was being reassessed: this aspiration, on the other hand, could also be used to give an official tone or a propaganda slant.
The tendency towards muralism, which involved many artists in Europe as well as in America, rarely took the form of tapestries: the powerful influence of past Italian art tended to encourage painters to work in the Mediterranean tradition of frescos and mosaic. In the case of mosaics, painters could work directly without the need for skilled craftsmen to interpret and make their works. This reinforced what Cagli has referred to as "the common desire to live a life of hard labour, rather than as a labourer''.
One of the reasons that spurred artists in this direction was the need to rebuild links with society to establish once again a role regarded as having been lost. These needs were repeated by Campigli, Carrà, Funi and Sironi, in the Manifesto of Mural Painting in 1933, and by Cagli, who in the same year published his article entitled "Muri ai Pittori" in Quadrante. As with other indications, these attitudes formed part of a general trend, which Sironi asserts started with Futurism and Cubism, towards an opposition to the "naturalist representation of the nineteenth century"' seen as the emblematic nucleus of easel painting.


In artistic circles, in various periods of the twentieth century, there was a desire to overcome the traditional separation between the "major arts", in some cases challenging the position of easel painting and opening up towards the decorative arts.
This ambition directly involved both artists and architects and it brought them into close contact and debate. One of the occasions when this subject was examined in depth was the Volta Conference, devoted to the "Relationship between architecture and the decorative arts", held in Rome in 1936. This was an opportunity for the leading lights in Italian and international art and architecture to meet: Ponti, Bontempelli, Prampolini, Sironi and, among the foreigners, Gropius and Le Corbusier, were all present.
But in Italy, more than anyone else, it was undoubtedly Gio Ponti who worked most to reassess the decorative arts. From the pages of Domus, he waged his long battle for greater recognition of their value and for the assertion of a modern Italian decorative style. His article on tapestries - published in Domus in 1936 as part of a series of articles on the various techniques employed in creating the decorative arts - was of great importance. Here, he stated the need for a revival and new production in the art of tapestry making. The Milanese architect saw in tapestries an interesting alternative to frescos for modern houses, which "are not always worthy of the gift of precious, irremovable works of art" and might thus take pride in "a decorative note of refined elegance".
The presence of Ponti was of fundamental importance in the Milan Triennale. The exhibitions set up by these institutions were a point of encounter for people and ideas, an opportunity for many painters, architects and craftsmen, such as Pulitzer and Ponti, Cernigoj, Rosso and Fondra, who went to exhibit, or work together in the halls of the building designed by Muzzio.
It was no mere chance that these artists collaborated, especially immediately after the Second World War, on preparing the interiors of the ocean-going vessels designed by Pulitzer and, later by Ponti and Zoncada. Ships thus appear to have been the training ground in which architects experimented with the idea of a "synthesis of the arts", that cooperation between painters, sculptors and architects which, in the fifties and sixties, was to take concrete form in projects for shops, public architecture and residential buildings in the big cities.


In that period, especially in Milan, the debate about integration between disciplines intensified, and the cooperation between artists and architects led to some original outcomes. Fontana, Melotti, Dova, Crippa, amongst others, worked with them on the buildings designed by architects such as Marco Zanuso, Melchiorre Bega and Roberto Menghi. In this context, it is worth mentioning the cooperation between Corrado Cagli and Zanuso, the author of a project for an apartment block for which the Marche‑born artist created the decoration of the aluminium cladding panels on the façade. In Italy a prominent role in drawing up the "synthesis of the arts" was played by M
AC (Movimento Arte Concreta), the movement of concrete art which made a significant contribution to the attempt to break down the borderlines between the arts and technologies. In 1955, MAC organized an exhibition in Milan, at the Galleria del Fiore, entitled "Esperimenti di sintesi delle arti", during which it announced its merger with the French group Espace, connected through the L'architecture d'aujourd'hui journal to both Bloc and Le Corbusier. This union ratified the radical departure from easel painting and the heightened momentum towards unity within the arts, as declared by jean Gorin in 1956 when, in an open letter entitled Synthesis of the arts is possible, he defined the members of the Espace group as "all those who wished to escape from easel painting".
Members of M
AC also included Amedeo Luccicchenti, the architect with whom Vincenzo Monaco was to design the interiors of the Leonardo da Vinci ocean-going liner in 1960. When setting up the Agriculture Exhibition in Rome, in 1953, together with Monaco and Adalberto Libera, he enlivened the space and character of the premises with the use of sculptures by Cascella and murals by Cagli, Corpora, and Scordia


One of the factors that led to a real revival of tapestry production in Italy was the series of exhibitions of French tapestries organized during the fifties. These events aroused the interest of critics, artists and institutions.
In 1953, an exhibition of French tapestries from the Middle Ages to the present day entitled “Arazzi francesi dal medioevo ai nostri giorni", was put on in Rome, Venice and Naples. As the organizers declared, one of the main intentions of the show was to demonstrate the continuity of the great French tradition, highlighting the importance of the revival carried out and fostered by
Lurçat and by the group of "peintres cartonniers".
As well as arousing interest, these exhibitions also raised questions about the demise of Italy's tapestry-making tradition and the disappearance of weaving mills and skills. The exhibitions revealed an absence of initiative in this sector in Italy when compared with the situation in France. This is why in 1953, the Ministry of Public Education decided to set up a school of tapestry making in the Eroli weaving mill in Rome. As from this date, the school held courses for about a decade, but it was forced to close at the end of this period.
In 1957, an exhibition of contemporary French tapestries was also held at the Permanente in Milan. That same year, the Milanese Galleria del Fiore, which was directed by Luciano Cassuto and had ties with the M
AC group, put on an exhibition at the Triennale with works woven from drawings by Aymone, Bordoni, Chighine, Dova, Magnelli, Prampolini, Reggiani, Soldati and Sottsass Jr. The tapestries were made by the school in Esino Lario, run by Don Rocca, the parish priest who had attempted to start up tapestry making activity in the little town near Como. Later on, the most challenging task undertaken by the Esino Lario school was a tapestry for the Leonardo da Vinci: this work, taken from a drawing by Casorati, was the only panel for the ship not made by the weaving mill of Ugo Scassa. The possibility of using tapestries on the ship was almost certainly suggested to the designers by the works that Gustavo Pulitzer had had made in previous years: after the first tapestry for the Count of Savoy woven in 1932 by Maria Hannich from a drawing by Campigli in around 1950, the architect entrusted three other works to MITA in Genova‑Nervi the company famous for its beautiful textiles printed with designs by local artists.



MITA had presented its production of knotted carpets to the Triennale exhibitions in the thirties, and in 1951 he displayed a tapestry by Bice Lazzari and, in 1954, one by Luzzati. On the same occasion, the Redan weaving mill of Pinerolo was also present with a tapestry designed by the architect Ettore Sottsass Jr. and, in the section dedicated to the association of small industries, ENAPI (Ente Nazionale Piccole Industrie), with a work designed by Francesco di Cocco. The Pinerolo weaving mill had already taken a small work woven from an oeuvre by Mino Rosso. But its main activity was the production of carpets: so much so that, in the mid‑fifties, the proprietor opened a shop in Turin for the sale of these products, entrusting Sottsass with the design of the furnishing.
In 1956, with the entry of two new partners, a member of the Turin-based M
AC, Filippo Scroppo, and a former student in a painting class, Ugo Scassa, the shop expanded its activity to include paintings and sculpture. Under the name of Prisma, the new gallery organized one-person shows with Enrico Baj, Sandro Cherchi, Lucio Fontana, Arnaldo Pomodoro, Asger Jorn, Erich Keller and others. These were important and, together with his previous experience, helped make Ugo Scassa a very particular tapestry maker. He kept up with the times and was fully part of his cultural environment but, at the same time, he was determined to continue using the "most exquisite technique of Cinquecento Italian weaving mills".
However, the activity of the gallery did not last long and, in the end, Scassa took over the textiles factory in Pinerolo and, shortly afterwards, set up Italia Disegno, the carpet and furnishing product production facility. This was the name with which the tapestries for the Leonardo da Vinci were signed. The history of Scassa's work in the field of tapestries thus began in the heyday of Italy's transatlantic liners: the launch in 1960 of the new flagship of the Italian fleet was followed shortly afterwards, in 1963, by the sister ships Raffaello and Michelangelo



The project for the Salone delle Feste, the first-class entertainment hall on the Leonardo da Vinci, which Monaco and Luccichenti had conceived with Millo Marchi, had provided for the inclusion of twelve tapestries. The drawings were made by contemporary artists centred around the Roman circles frequented by the architects. The art commission, nominated by the Società di Navigazione Italia and chaired by Argan, had the task of selecting the works and choosing the weaving mill to which the manufacture of the tapestries was to be entrusted. Ugo Scassa sent a sample tapestry-woven cloth and won the contract.
For the Leonardo da Vinci, Scassa manufactured six tapestries by Cagli, one by Bernini, three by Corpora, one by Capogrossi, two by Santomaso, and three by Turcato. This was an opportunity for him to begin an important career as a tapestry maker and the beginning of a successful cooperation with Corrado Cagli, that was to last until 1976, the year the artist died. The creation of the works of art for the liners involved the leading figures in the Italian art scene and mirrored the debate in the cultural scene of the day and, in particular, the controversy about abstract art, which in Italy was still alive at the time. The echoes of this debate, and references to the dispute about the "synthesis of the arts" can also be found in the introduction by Argan to the official presentation of the liner. In his preface, he states that the choice of non-figurative works was dictated by the consideration that their formal characteristics and their "high decorative quality" were well suited to the architecture and function of the interiors, adding to an interaction with the design of the spaces.
On the other hand, in the publication of the Società Italia, the tapestries were presented as works that provide "decorative evocation of marine motifs" or, as in the case of the works by Cagli, that conjure up "the sense of travel and adventure". The group of tapestries designed by Cagli for the Leonardo da Vinci do indeed contain figurative references: here too, his work can be interpreted (in the sense referred to by critics on a number of occasions) as a link between past experience and future aniconic studies.
The six cartoons he prepared specially for this occasion were the first this artist from the Marche had designed for tapestries. The subject, as is often the case in his works, was not abstract: traces of figures and places are roused by the juxtaposition of decorated fragments, with a control and a composition of signs obtained using automatic techniques which are a constant in his post-war works.
These compositions are representative of Cagli's work in that period; they show increasing attention to experimentation with different graphic techniques and materials. As in the series of "Tavolette", here too he uses the frottage technique employed by the surrealists, but the crowding of elements, which was already dense in that series, becomes contorted and multiplies in the drawings for the Leonardo da Vinci, creating compositions which are highly decorative in their use of colour and the arabesques of their patterns. The whorls and starry wheels are obtained by frottage, using pieces of lace (a reference to textiles within textile) that Cagli also used in those years for some pastel works ("Gli Uccelli" [Birds] in 1957 and "Flora" in 1959) and in others, such as the drawings for the theatre costumes for "Lady Macbeth" in t959. In the “Arlecchini" series shortly before, the painter had also deployed the entire range of his decorative lexicon; there he had retained a desire to create chiaroscuro effects and bring out the shapes from the background, by veiling or emphasizing the consistency of the textures by superimposing them; here in the tapestries, the entire area consists of a juxtaposition of differently decorated fragments. The resulting lack of depth values, the exuberance of the colour and the ornamental richness all evoke archaic forms of universal man.
In some woven panels, such as "I Pescatori" [Fishermen] or "Chimera", the graphic patchwork creates and suggests the figuration. In another two tapestries, the surface is divided into oversized geometrical tesserae which contain groups or figures: this method recalls some compositions by Sironi who; though with a sensitivity and motivation profoundly different from those of Cagli, was inspired by a similar interest in the archaic.
Some of the most representative names in Italian informal art were selected to design the tapestries for the Leonardo da Vinci: Capogrossi, Corpora, Turcato, Santomaso were artists whose works displayed, each with its own accent, an international language. While the transposition of a pictorial work to a tapestry-woven cloth emphasizes the decorative aspect, the manu facture of tapestries from cartoons of informal works accentuates this subtraction of meaning. The memory of the pictorial gesture and of its immanence is tamed in the patient reconstruction of the event or of the instant, through imitation of the accidental irregularities.
In the works of Turcato, in the first half of the fifties, to which the three tapestries bearing his signature can be related, the transposition into textile is better accommodated to the less fragmentary structure of the pictorial original, more than in the impasto and chromatic modulations in the works of Santomaso and Corpora. Nevertheless, the mixture and alternation of the variously coloured threads used by the tapestry maker have made it possible to achieve variations of timbre and of tone that possess the same richness of modulation as those of the original.
The transfer of the work by Capogrossi is less problematic due to the more clearly defined technique which does not appear as the result of vitalistic impetus and that is developed in the cartoon without undergoing "alterations which are not of a structural nature". His large tapestry modulates the elements, repeating them across the surface in an orderly fashion: coupled symmetrically, they form new units which are aligned throughout the entire area of the work. In the crowded plane, colour is not yet reduced to basic hues, as is the case in other pictorial works of those years




After the experience gained in the Leonardo da Vinci, the idea of using tapestries was taken up once more by the architects entrusted with the design of the other two Società Italia liners. The sister turbine-ships Raffaello and Michelangelo started their Genoa-New York crossings in 1965.
A second great tapestry by Capogrossi was manufactured by the Scassa Tapestry Weaving Mill for the Michelangelo, and was placed at the centre of the wall of the Sala di Soggiorno, the lounge in the first class section. Like the Salone delle Feste, it was designed by the architects Monaco, Luccichenti and Zoncada. The fittings of the first two architects, already mentioned for their work on the interiors of the Leonardo da Vinci, are characterized by their precision and restraint and the hanging of the works was fundamental for the final effect of the halls. On this occasion, for example, the colours used for the fittings were made to match the panel by Capogrossi. The large work took up almost an entire wall of the lounge and provided a sort of vanishing point for the adjacent Salone delle Feste.
This panel is larger than the one made four years previously for the Leonardo da Vinci. But the two works differ not only in size: while the repetition of the strokes has only a few variations in the 1959 work, the way the module is organized in 1963 is less orderly and rigid, and the system of organizing the pictorial space is articulated by overlapping, linking and orienting the abstract forms. The greater complexity of this surface and the relationship between figure and background corresponds to a simplification of the chromatic and tonal values: red for the module, white, black and grey for the background. The unifying element of the system of strokes is in fact the colour, an energetic and lively red that renders the reference to the primordium in basic terms.
For the Salone delle Feste in the first-class section, the Scassa Tapestry Weaving Mill also manufactured "Verdure", from a drawing by the studio of the architect Nino Zoncada. "Verdure" takes up a traditional subject of antique tapestries, in which the vegetal decoration becomes a powerful motif, identifying this work as of a particular genre. The interpretation given to this subject by the designer, by enlarging details taken from seventeenth-century compositions, revisits this genre with an out-of-scale decorative result. The architect originally planned to place five antique tapestries in the Salone, but he later adopted this solution enabling him to unify the decoration of the hall.
Six tapestries, two of them very large, by the architect and painter Roberto Aloi, were placed in the cabin class, between the Salone delle Feste and the Lounge-Bar. Although he took part in the informal movement with the abstract forms of these works (made in 1964 and related to some works by Birolli in the first half of the fifties), his use of colour and tonal transitions bring in an element of his former, brief experience among the Novecentisti. While the task of creating tapestries had been entrusted only partly to informal artists for the Leonardo da Vinci, for the Raffaello, the architects opted to choose an still greater number of exponents of Italian abstract art, most of them connected with the artistic circles of Rome. This choice was made by Attilio and Emilio La Padula, who were responsible for part of the furnishings for the first class. With Fabio Poggiolini, they designed the Salone delle Feste, the Great Bar, and the ship's Verandah.
A large series of tapestries was placed in the Atlantico Grand Bar. They consisted
of abstract panels all of the same size, and each one made by a different artist: Accardi, Conte, Ercolini, Giordano, Guenzi, Lazzari, Montanarini, Novelli, Pace, Parisi, Perilli, Piciotti, Picone, Rotella, Sadun, Sanfilippo, Scordia, Spoltore, Trotti, Turcato and Virduzzo. Many of them were associates or had taken part in the exhibitions of the Art Club, the artistic association which had played an important role in organizing and promoting Italian and international contemporary art. With the tapestry commission for the Raffaello, La Padula, the architect who had been a member of the steering committee of this institution ever since 1947, created a kind of summary of the abstract artists in the Art Club, supplementing it with a few other artists who were not part of this circuit but who had been following similar lines of study.
The selection made by the architects clearly shows their intention to constitute a nucleus of works that would be representative of abstract art in Italy even though the artists were of different extraction. Accardi, Perilli, Sanfilippo, Turcato were exponents of the Forma I group; Montanarini and Scordia had turned to abstract art after various endeavours and a debut that recalled the Roman school; others, like Novelli and Giordano, belonged to the various regional group of Concrete Art or, like Conte and Sadun, had espoused Spatial Art.
However, in most of the works there is a general tendency to focus on the mark, on the expressive potential of accumulation, and the juxtaposition of lemmas in a subdued lexicon. In this sense, the panels by Accardi and the formalists are paradigmatic of this study of marks, so well suited to the art of tapestry. This can be seen in the works of Capogrossi, to which these examples can be related. But, while in the works of this artist, space is invaded by elements that give it an independent definition through their repetition, the paint flows more fluidly across the canvasses of the formalists. Their strokes do not give the plane its structure but rest and accumulate upon it. Accardi's composition of forms filled with "italic writing" is effectively interpreted by the weaver with a detachment from the different tone of white in the background. This background colour is common to all the tapestries - a solution adopted by the designers to create unity between them and to fit them to the premises where they were hung. Where the gesture is broader, as in the case of the works by Guenzi or Montanarini, the inventiveness of the weaver reconstructs the accidental features and spontaneity of the movement. In these cases too, the weaving accentuates the depth of the strokes and of the taches of colour, marking the limits of the shapes and giving consistency and substance to the scoring. Both the composite juxtapositions of colour in Conte and the "engraving" of Giordano are returned in the form of a new material. An interpretation of the tapestry by Rotella is more complex, for here the artistic operation is created by sub, traction, not by application: the memory of décollage in the transposition to tapestry is thus preserved only through the concave form eaten away by the shapes which recall the frayed edges of a tear.
Most of the panels are based on a broad study, with a repetition of strokes which swing between calligraphy and decoration, but in the tapestry by Bice Lazzari, the relationship between mark and space are reduced to the essential, to a study in the actual creation of the stroke. Indeed, more than any of the others, Bice Lazzari's experience in pure painting was linked to applied art. For Lazzari, the "rediscovery of primary gesture" which, in the case of many abstract artists, "precedes any category of knowledge", is a premise - an experience on which language is based, a cognitive rather than physiological action.
Lastly, the group of abstract tapestries hung in the first-class areas included two works by Vedova located in the verandah bar. These two oeuvres by the Venetian artist belong to the period when his painting was freed from its former Futurist geometrical structure and drew close to abstract expressionism. However, they lost none of the dramatic power of the black and white of his previous canvasses, but displayed new energy and intensity in the strong impetus of the strokes. These are "the leading players of his painting" which "come and act as dramatis personae” in the space where Vedova moves. With the transposition into textile, their meaning is transformed even more clearly than in the other works already mentioned: again in the words of Menna, the mental space, which is destroyed and yet preserved in the memory of the physical space of the painting, acquires new value through the absence of a "hand-to-hand fight with the painting". The new, obtuse and dense material and its gradual accumulation express a type of vitality which is far removed from the dramatic and vital impetus of Vedova.





The tapestry commission for the liners was a meteor in the world of public commissions for tapestry makers, but this episode was the start of an activity which is still alive today. The Scassa weaving mills in Asti have since created about two hundred tapestry panels. The most conspicuous number consists of the tapestries taken from works by Corrado Cagli. After his work for the transatlantic liners, he never ceased to co-operate in the production of tapestries and, for a while, he even became the art director of the weaving mill.
Cagli is unique in Italy both in terms of the number of tapestries that were created from his works, and for the interest and attention he dedicated to this technique. His approach to tapestry work showed his proclivity for mural painting, which he never abandoned, and for experimentation with matter. Even so, the artist was never in any way a "peintre cartonnier", since he entrusted Ugo Scassa with the transposition of his works to textile, in a relationship of deep understanding and communication. The experience of
Lurçat and the other "peintres cartonniers" was very different, for it led to a drastic decrease in scope for the craftspersons: with the systematic use of numbered cartoons, in which each number corresponded to the colour of a thread already selected by the artist, the function of the weaver was reduced to a purely mechanical task. In the Scassa weaving mill, on the other hand, the cartoon was not drawn: the shapes of the artist's draft were drawn directly onto the warp, thus skipping the intermediate stage of enlarging the painting on the cartoon. Unlike the usual manner of working with high warp fabrics, the weavers worked directly on the right side of the tapestry, making a direct comparison between the artist's original work and the tapestry they were working on.
The reforms adopted by Lurçat also included the use of a very limited number of warp threads and the replacement of gradual changes of colour with the use of hachures and sharp contrasts in colour. These technical features had a considerable effect on the formal characteristics of the woven fabrics: by requiring substantial simplification of detail, they gave the tapestry an appearance that Lurçat referred to as "crude and virile", sharply accentuating the difference between the effects obtained in the painting and those of the weaving.
In contrast, and in line with the Italian tradition of tapestry making, Ugo Scassa has never eschewed a dialectical relationship with painting, while always preserving the identity and independence of expression of the means employed. He has always aimed to accentuate, rather than reduce, the expressive potential of the intertwined threads and chromatic relationships. In the cooperation between Scassa and Cagli, their work together and the mutual appreciation of each other's skills and experience helped them achieve a level of quality that enabled tapestries from Asti weaving mill to be displayed in the principal international exhibitions and in the collections of important institutions.
As well as the six tapestries for the Leonardo da Vinci, over fifty of Cagli's works, from different periods, were woven between 1960 and 1976. With the exception of the first six, all the others panels are transpositions of works painted previously and selected on the basis of their ability to take on a new form of expression with the new technique. For example, "La Caccia" [The Hunt], woven for the first time in 1967, was taken from a painting of 1935 that had been displayed the following year at the XX Biennale of Venice. The Quattrocento allusions, the noble character of the subject and its treatment, not without a slightly ironic touch, acquired new historical references in
the transposition, in the tradition of antique tapestry making. Transposing some works in the "Carte" series, which included "La Quena", “Agostino", "Danza Bassa", "Enigma del gallo" [Enigma of the Rooster], "Salomone re" [King Solomon], "Enigma di Febo" [Enigma of Phoebus], provided a challenge for the tapestry maker in the chiaroscuro and chromatic variations using coupled wefts of different colours. These textile panels are of particular interest for the way they overturn the relationship of assimilation between image and matter that is present in the "Carte". As in the informal works, the trompe l’oeil effect in the tapestry does not recall a reality outside the work itself, but rather the reality of the pictorial model, where the consistency of the matter it is made from - the crumpled paper that gives its name to the series , is transformed by Cagli into a revealing image that evokes a deep, timeless truth. The image appears to emerge directly from the support, while the use of sprayed colour to reveal the chiaroscuro of the folds helps cancel the illusion of the gesture, of the individual expression. By blowing the colour, however, Cagli uses a modern instrument to perform an age-old operation, thus also returning the archetype to the poiesis. And just as the act of blowing the colour was one of the first artistic acts performed by man, so too weaving is one of those highly symbolic activities linked to the life of humans and society.
The work of this Marche‑born artist makes continual reference to weaving, in his treatment of the graphic and pictorial surface, and in his references to the meaning of decoration for the earliest cultures. The technique used and the moment the work is created are thus also part of
the exploration into the archetype which is fundamental to the work and thought of the artist, for whom the moment of intellectual reflection is never removed from that of poiesis.


Like other painters such as Clerici, Guttuso and Avenali, Mirko had been given an interest in woven fabrics by Cagli, and his studies took a similar orientation. Characters from oriental mythology are a recurrent theme in the artist's plastic and pictorial production, and his tapestries - such as "Gildamesh" and "Guerrieri" [ Warriors] of 1961, in "Sacerdoti" [Priests] of 1962 and "Danzatrice giavanese"  [ Java Dancers] of 1974 - also contain this creative aspect of his imagination. The magic, narrative prompting in the works of Mirko take shape in these textiles, whose chromatic and material sumptuousness even exceeds that of the tempera-on,-paper paintings from which they are taken.
Again in the "Leone" [Lion] and "Chimera" tapestries by Fabrizio Clerici (the former made in 1961 the latter in 1962), the representation of two mythological animals expresses all their symbolic power. The figures in this case are free from the complex structures that often form the backdrop to Clerici's paintings and stand out against
the backdrop like two banners. In the "La Chimera" panel, curved slashes make the monster appear in the form of a skeleton; while in "Leone", the body dominates the canvas like a heraldic sun, picked out by a corroded splash of light which gains its shape from the background.
In three tapestries taken from works by Guttuso, "Bosco a Velate" [Wood at Velate], "Pergolato" [Pergola], and "Prato d'autunno" [Autumn Meadow],
the treatment of the subjects offers an opportunity to unfurl a rich decorative image over the entire area. In the case of "Bosco a Velate", the entire area of the tapestry is modulated by the foliage and the roof covering. The intense colours create few levels of depth, as the eye is deep within nature, close to the objects No landscapes appear in these tapestries, but only natural features which have become familiar through habit and necessity.
As has often been stressed, the urge towards muralism was a constant throughout Cagli's activities. A similar sensitivity also brought others to the art of tapestry: these include Marcello Avenali, a painter who provided Scassa with four subjects from which to make as many panels - "Crocefissione" [The Crucifixion] of 1963, "Piazza Navona", "Fontana dell'Acqua Paola al Gianicolo Pio" [The Acqua Paola Fountain at Gianicolo Pio] of 1965 and "Bolla del Banco di S. Spirito" [Bull of the Banco di S. Spirito ] of 1966. Another interest which acted as a stimulus to the creation of textile works, in Avenali and Cagli, was their passion for experimenting with techniques. In the Roman artist, this inclination also appeared in the various monumental works he was called upon to create: the fresco in the Pio XII chapel of the Church of Sant'Eugenio in Rome, the mosaic for the Apostolic Delegation in Washington, the "sculptural" stained-glass window in the Autostrada del Sole church designed by Michelucci.
For a long time, artists with different backgrounds shared the aspiration to have their works displayed in public places, relating them to the architecture, the space, the community. Umberto Mastroianni was one of these, as we can see from his own words, "The problem of monumental works has always fired my imagination. I've always felt indifferent to che intimist rather than creative , problem”.
He was also one of those who, adopting the trend towards abstraction, attempted to make a breakthrough in the cultural environment in Turin. The panel the Asti tapestry weaving mill made of his works over a period of almost twenty years from 1961 clearly show an affinity of surface with his works on cardboard, in which the texture of the support gives a material form to the painting. And matter, a fundamental aspect of Mastroianni's poetry, is substance in transformation, a transmutation fixed in the dashes of colour in the "Cavalcata" [The Ride] and "Corrida" tapestries, both made in 1966. Both the luminous threads and the dark are well suited to the blast of chiaroscuro that, in later years, were to light up in a blaze of gold, while in his later works, such as "Eurynome", the image is created out of interlocking shapes.
Mastroianni was introduced to the Turin circle by Luigi Spazzapan, an artist who has been described as "the personality who, in the artistic circles of Turin during the forties, was the emblematic point of reference for those who aspired to a freedom of research and an intolerance of 'established order”.
With Mastroianni, Sottsass Jr., Moreni, Navarro and Bargis, Spazzapan was part of the organizing committee in 1947 for the “Arte italiana d'oggi" exhibition, a highly contested event which attempted to revitalize the Turin artistic scene by bringing it into the flow of new currents and forces in Italy, that were particularly interpreted by the "Fronte nuovo delle arti". Ever since the Futurist movement was set up in the capital of Giulia, the Gorizia‑born artist, with a figurative background, started experimenting with the elimination of every natural element, with the influence of Informal art. Shortly before his death in 1958, Spazzapan had regularly frequented the Il Prisma gallery, where he got to know Ugo Scassa. Seven of his last works were used for the creation of woven panels. Here, while maintaining a compositional structure, the painter made free use of flowing paint, conglomerations of bright colour, and combinations of geometrical shapes. The work of many other painters, the expression of different languages and poetic visions, have been transformed into tapestries by the Asti weaving mill. Those described here belong mainly to the investigation into signs and materials, largely because the activities of the Scassa Tapestry Weaving Mill made their mark at the high point of these studies. It is important to note that the most lively interest in Italy for woven fabrics occurred precisely in this moment: in tapestries taken from paintings made in the fifties and sixties, there is an almost total absence of narrative and figuration, and the initial trend towards monumentalism is entirely abandoned. But it is precisely these characteristics which make the work so quintessentially a part of the culture of our age and in harmony with contemporary forms of architecture.
These tapestries are not copies of paintings, but interpretations. They reread them and create an image which is not the same as the model but is based upon it and can be compared with it. This is why in the tapestry of 1971, taken from a work by Cagli, the figure of the young Narcissus observing his reflection in the water is an emblematic expression of the relationship between painting and tapestry.