Silvano “Nano” Campeggi is often referred to as “Florence’s Greatest Living Artist”. Born a Florentine in 1923, he grew up under the tutelage of his father, a printer and typesetter, who exposed him to the world of graphics and design. More formally, he attended the Art School at Porta Romana, studying under accomplished painters of the time such as Ottone Rosai and Ardengo Soffici.
His first career break-though came with a WWII commission from the American Red Cross to paint the portraits of American soldiers before they returned home.On one hand he earned accolades for his sensitive and poignant renderings, on the other he became further inspired though his exposure to American music, film and their cultural milieu. Thus it was, after the war and his move to Rome, that Nano was approached by Metro Goldwyn Mayer and his first masterpiece for cinema was born: the riveting image of Clark Gable holding Vivian Leigh in passionate embrace while Atlanta burns in the background – the icon for “Gone With The Wind”.
In the following decades, Nano would produce over 3000 posters and graphic illustrations for such major filmmakers as MGM Studios, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Universal, Columbia Pictures, United Artists, RKO, and Fox. Sixty-four of the films he illustrated won Oscars, including Casablanca, Ben Hur, Singin’ in the Rain, An American in Paris, West Side Story, Exodus, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and Gigi.
In the 1950’s and 1960’s Nano became known as “The Artist to the Stars”. Today, his larger than life images of Hollywood’s greatest actresses are instantly recognizable cultural icons: the regal bearing of Grace Kelly; the smoky essence of Elizabeth Taylor; Lauren Bacall, green-eyed, sly and sultry in beret and cape; a perfectly coiffed Ava Gardner radiating power and control, Rita Hayworth towering from a low perspective as the unobtainable, unconquerable redhead; Sophia Loren displaying as much worldly, earth-mother warmth and wisdom as she does sheer beauty.
Hollywood’s male stars also fell captive to Nano’s discerning eye: Marlon Brando cockily astride his motorcycle as “The Wild One”; James Dean, bare-chested, exuding rawness, arrogance and testosterone; a dusty, trail-weary John Wayne sporting his signature neck kerchief and broad-rimmed cowboy hat; Humphrey Bogart in his trademark white dinner jacket (a masterpiece of dramatic shadow and attitude), and so many others.
Many of Nano’s subjects became close personal friends. Ava Gardner asked Campeggi to accompany her down the red carpet at one of her movie premiers. And Nano’s wife of many decades, Elena, tells the story of Elizabeth Taylor lending her maternity clothes after having just given birth herself.
Perhaps Nano’s greatest Hollywood relationship however was with Marilyn Monroe, whom he describes as “my icon… surely the most enchanting woman I have ever met… and my symbol of eternal beauty” He first painted Marilyn in the early 1950’s and throughout his career she has been a recurring theme.Even today Nano produces haunting fade-out images depicting his affectionate memory of the bond they once had. His most famous “Marilyn” no bust, no figure – just the eyes, nose and mouth of such smoldering passion one expects the paper to ignite.
Since the 1970’s, when the importance of film poster illustration began to give way to television and newspaper advertising, Nano left the US and Rome for a charming villa overlooking his beloved Florence, spending his summer months on the Island of Elba. Here he turned his attention to a broad range of Italian cultural projects, including a major sculptural and pictorial essay of the granite rocks of Elba. His passion for the equine (witness the 4 white chariot stallions and their unforgettable burst of raw energy in his Ben Hur poster) led to two famous series of works: one of 50 images celebrating the pageantry of Siena’s famous “Palio” horse race (2001); the other the equally rich and colorful “I Have Seen the Rush of Jousts” (2003). This latter work was also a series of 50 images commissioned by the City of Arezzo to celebrate the Jousting Tournaments of Saracen, the title taken from Dante’s Inferno (22.4-6).
Other Important commissions have included the painting of five large battle scenes from the Italian Risorgimento on behalf of the Carabinieri Police Force (early 1970’s); a portrait of Italian Resistance hero Salvo d’Acquisto which appeared as an Italian postage stamp (1975); a series of 35 images for the City of Florence depicting their traditional “Calcio Storico” soccer match (1997); and the creation of one of the Stations of the Cross for the rededication of the City of Assisi (2004). While any image from these projects easily stirs Italian passion and pride, perhaps the work most appreciated by his countrymen is the Portrait of Garabaldi, in which this national hero’s daredevil flamboyance is carefully balanced with an expression of determination and dignity – all rendered in the powerful minimalist style that is Campeggi’s genius.
Today, in his eighth decade, Silvano Campeggi is still very much a working artist. The year 2008 was the 150th anniversary for the birth of Italy’s beloved opera composer Giacomo Puccini. In commemoration Nano was commissioned to produce a special tribute: “The Girls of Puccini,” wherein Madame Butterfly, Mimi and Musetta from La Bohème, Tosca, the Ice Queen from Turandot, etc. received the same essence-capturing treatment as Ingrid Bergman, Marlene Dietrich, Brigitte Bardot, and Audrey Hepburn. In 2010 “The Girls of Puccini” exhibition will commence a world tour.
Also in 2008, Nano began work on a spectacular Napoleon series to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of the Emperor’s association with the Island of Elba (Napoleon was ultimately granted Elba by the Treaty of Fontainbleau (1814) as “a separate principality, which shall be possessed by him in all sovereignty and property” as his “place of residence”). The “Napoleon at Elba” series was recently exhibited at Elba’s capital city of Portoferraio and will soon commence a tour of France.
The most recent Campeggi exhibition commemorates one of the largest armed conflicts ever to take place in Italy – The Battle of Campaldino fought between the cities of Florence and Arezzo on June 11, 1289. It is a spectacular assembly of large and dramatic battle scenes combined with more intimate portraits of the knights and noblemen who led the cavalry and infantry – all liberally splashed with “I Colori Della Battaglia”
Recent Major Exhibitions:
“The Movies Through the Posters of Silvano Campeggi”– The Medici Riccardi Palace, Florence (1988, subsequently touring to Paris and New York)
“Bozzetti” (Final Sketches) – Palace of Expositions, Rome (1995, partially touring to New York and Chicago)
“Florentine Women Though the Ages” – Uffizi Gallery, Florence (2006)
“3000 Times – The Art of the Movie Poster” - Film Society of Lincoln Centre, New York (2007)
“Elba – Island of the Emperor” – Co-sponsored by The Region of Tuscany, The Province of Livorno and The Commune of Portoferriao, Portoferriao, Italy (2008)
“The Women of Puccini” – Co-sponsored by The Puccini Festival, The Commune of Viareggio and The Region of Tuscany, Rive del Lago, Italy (2009, scheduled for a world tour 2010)
“Campaldino – Battle Colors” – Major co-sponsors: The Bank of Etruria, The Region of Tuscany and the Province of Arezzo, Popi, Italy (2009)
Fiorino D’Oro (2000) – Italy’s most prestigious award for artistic achievement.