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Crickets, Toads and Fairy Tales

By Sarah Cahalan and John Shaffer

In 1906, author Luigi Bertelli (also known as “Vamba”) and a group of collaborators launched a high-end cultural magazine for children called Il Giornalino della Domenica (“the little Sunday journal”). Aiming to complement excellent writing with outstanding examples of Italian graphic art, they held a competition for cover designs. Not surprisingly, a panel of expert jurors selected submissions by well-known artists such as Aleardo Terzi and Umberto Brunelleschi as the winners.

But in the spirit of the new magazine, which sought to elevate and recognize the tastes of children, they also organized a public exhibition and allowed their readers to register their own preferences. This time, the winner was a Christmas-themed cover design by an artist younger in age and spirit: Ezio Anichini, who was 20 years old at the time. The image shows a Nativity scene from the point of view of the angels and shepherds.

Anichini’s continuing contributions to Il Giornalino della Domenica would later include a cover celebrating the Festa del Grillo — an annual event in Florence on the Feast of the Ascension. The grillo (cricket), a sign of spring, was the mascot of the magazine, and Anichini’s cover image was widely used in its branding. Its young subscribers, also called “crickets,” received pins based on the image.

Anichini also produced illustrations for the Italian edition of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens, the first of several children’s books for the Florence-based publishing house of R. Bemporad & Figlio. He also illustrated two collections of stories by Hans Christian Andersen.

His 1923 illustrations for Bimbi, Ascoltatemi … for Duchessa di Santa Elisabetta — a pen name for the poet Adriana Poli — embrace the fantastical elements of fairy tales, including a Night Sorceress and a toad who befriends a lost chick.

Among his last projects in the late 1940s was a set of 80 full-page illustrations for a new edition of the imaginative tales of Italian author Emma Perodi, some of which are fairy tales and some of which include miracle stories of the Virgin Mary.

Visit the Marian Library and A Vision of Art and Faith: The Litany of Loreto and the Work of Ezio Anichini (1886-1948) to see a display of these children’s books from the personal collection of John Shaffer — as well as the artist’s Dante work, Litany of Loreto series and much more.

— Sarah Cahalan is an associate professor in the University Libraries and the director of the Marian Library. John Shaffer is an author and independent researcher of the work of Ezio Anichini. Many of the items in the A Vision of Art and Faith exhibit are from his personal collection.

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