Fan Favorite Artwork Fact File

Who? Ludovica, IAS blog reader

What is one of your favorite artworks? A series of prints called Pictorial Alphabet, published by set designer Antonio Basoli in 1839.

… . and your favorite detail? Letter ‘L,’ obviously!

Why? Apart from being the initial of my name, this letter evokes one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the now-destroyed Lighthouse of Alexandria. It reveals a fanciful curiosity for the faraway in both space and time,  which i find really fascinating.

Basoli was also really clever in matching the shapes of letters and buildings: ‘T’ and ‘I’ are brilliant!

IASBlog Costanza Beltrami explains …

Born on 18 April 1774 in Castelguelfo, near Bologna, Basoli spent all is life in the city, working as professor of architecture and decorative design at the Accademia Clementina. He produced very successful set designs, yet chose to remain in his hometown rather than follow his fame to the star-studded theaters of Rome and Naples. A dedicated teacher, he published several handbooks for students, as well as portfolios of city views and interior decorations. He died in Bologna on 30 May 1848. 

Basoli’s Pictorial Alphabet prints refers back to a tradition of fanciful alphabets. To some extent, these little-studied compositions can be connected with the theories of Vitruvius, the 1stcentury BC Roman architect. Vitruvius wrote De architectura libri decem, the only architectural treatise to survive from the classical world. In this enormously influential book, he linked humanity’s first constructions with the development of language and civilization. More generally, pictorial alphabets can brilliantly demonstrate a designer’s skill, exercising an artist’s mind with the task of producing captivating, yet recognizable, letter forms. 

Among the first figured alphabets is a late fifteenth-century example, now in Bologna, whose letters are composed of Gothic pinnacles, tracery and crockets. Examples by Italian artists include the Roman alphabet against architectural backgrounds by the eighteenth-century engraver Pio Panfili. Moreover, the late sixteenth-century pope Sixtus V commissioned andrea Lilli and other painters to portray the inventors of various scripts and even single letters on the walls of the the Salone Sistino in the Vatican Library. 

References: Igino Benvenuto Supino, ‘BÀSOLI, Antonio,’ in Enciclopedia Italiana (1930),
Erika Boekeler, ‘Building Meaning: The First Architectural Alphabet’. In Push Me, Pull You: Art and Devotional Interaction in Late Medieval & Early Modern Europe, eds S. Blick & L. Gelfand; E.J. (Brill, 2011), pp. 149-195.

Now it’s your turn. What is your favorite artwork? And your favorite detail of it? Why? Send us your answers by clicking the “Submit” button, and we will feature your favorite in a post.

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