The Daily Heller: Italian Art Director Anita Klinz Designed Books as Art

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I was just in Rome for a week. It was glorious even though it rained almost every day. During the last 10 years that I’ve stayed in Rome, one of my great pleasures is bookstore browsing. A few minutes walk from my hotel behind the Pantheon is a block-long Librerie Feltrinelli filled with contemporary books (and increasingly, alas, more non-book items). Once they even had a robust graphic design section. On this visit, my first since the pandemic, graphic design was reduced to two shelves, shared with Banksy and books on tattoos. On one of the books was a pinkish, spine-out, thick-yet-unassuming paperback with the author’s name, Luca Pitoni, and only part of the title—Ostinata belleza—on the spine. I don’t speak or understand much Italian so I passed it by at first glance. (Google translated it as “Stubborn Beauty”.)

Bored with the selection but not ready to give up, I pulled this book down to read the rest of the title on the cover: Anita Klinz la prima art director Italiana (Anita Klinz Italy’s First Art Director).

Those words I understood. I looked inside and was floored by what I saw: It was a biography/monograph of a book designer whose name I had never heard, and book (and magazine) designs I had never seen (apparently neither had many of my Italian design friends). Her work on covers for art, history and fiction titles for the great publisher Il Saggiatore di Alberto Mondadori Editore was beyond the American sense of mid-modern. Damn! Those done in the late 1950s through the 1960s were, I have to say, beyond contemporary too. They were not period or trendy, they were just perfect. I assume that Klinz’s work had long ago influenced many of the wonderful current covers sold in Feltrinelli.

Milan has long been the center of book design in Italy, with almost entirely its own nuanced styling. And Klinz (1923–2013) was among the wellspring of talent from which it sprang. Now, remember, I do not have fluency in Italian, so cannot tell you more than I know. But I logically surmise that despite her talent and influence, as a woman she did not garner the historical recognition that she was due until Pitoni, with contributions by Mario Piazza and Leonardo Sonnoli, wrote her story, collected her work and produced this marvelous volume.

I was tempted not to buy it to avoid adding more weight to my luggage, but the temptation to have the reference inspired me to dig deeper into Klinz’s life and work (and finally start learning Italian before it’s too late).

Anita Klinz
(Above and Below) 1962-1967