T his auction on Italian Futurism 1909-1918 at Sotheby’s in Paris is more unique than rare. In fact, this is the first - and most likely only - one, to include a comprehensive collection of “parole in libertà” (words in freedom). This sees drawings, collages and typographical proofs, accompanied with apostillas and original documents, dating from the early period of the Futurist movement. Merely glancing through the images and rich bibliography accompanying the works gives a vivid idea of the sheer quality and cultural and historical importance of every single piece.
When Umberto Boccioni arrived in Milan in the autumn of 1907, he found a city undergoing deep transformation. “I want to paint what’s new, the fruit of our industrial times. I am nauseated by old walls, old buildings, old reminiscent motifs. I want to keep an eye on modern life,” Boccioni wrote in his diary on 14 March 1907 (1). These words point to the path that would bring him closer to the ideas later expressed by Filippo Tommaso Marinetti in his famous Manifesto del Futurismo published in the Parisian newspaper Le Figaro on 20 February 1909, thus marking the birth of the new movement: Futurism.
Even before the crucial date of 1909, Poesia – a monthly magazine founded and directed by Marinetti, published in Milan from 1905 to 1909, and based in Marinetti’s own spacious flat in Via Senato 2 – featured the verses of internationally renowned poets and emerging Italian and French poets. The magazine would become a hotbed for those academics most open to newness. A survey on free verse, promoted by Poesia (I, 9, 1905), marked the break from post-Symbolism and opened the doors to Futurism.
“I want to paint what’s new, the fruit of our industrial times. I am nauseated by old walls, old buildings, old reminiscent motifs. I want to keep an eye on modern life”
Free verse emerged between the 19th and 20th centuries as part of a broader revolution in the language of art, which not only applied to literature, but also painting, sculpture and music. In vogue in France, especially among the Symbolist poets whose main theorist was Gustave Kahn, free verse was embraced by American poet Walt Whitman, and was advocated in Italy by Gian Pietro Lucini and Marinetti himself, who published La Conquête des Étoiles in 1902.
New forms of transport, communication and information, F. T. Marinetti states, have a strong influence on the psyche, producing significant phenomena such as the acceleration of life, interest in the new, the unexpected, danger and love of speed. 'Words in freedom' were, from his point of view, the most suitable modern and dynamic linguistic medium to effectively translate this new sensibility.
In the preface to the anthology I poeti futuristi (1912) - the first anthology of Futurist poets - Marinetti explained, “Only Futurist free verse, a perpetual dynamism of thought, an uninterrupted flow of images and sounds, can express the ephemeral, unstable, and symphonic universe that is forging itself in us and with us. Futurist free verse is the dynamism of our elastic consciousness fully realised.” (2) In addition to the free verse of the above authors, Marinetti’s Battaglia Peso + Odore, one of the first free-verse poems, was also published in this volume. This anthology effectively ended the phase of Futurist literary experimentation with free verse, and introduced a more revolutionary phase characterised by words in freedom. These parole in libertà were the quickest and most modern means with which to bring about radical change in all fields of human knowledge, even in literature, called for by Marinetti in The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism.
In the preface to the book I nuovi poeti futuristi, 1925, Marinetti underscored that of the 15 poets, eight could be described as paroliberi, adding, “Words in freedom orchestrate colours, noises, sounds, they mix the materials of languages and dialects, arithmetic and geometric formulas, musical signs, old, deformed or new words, the cries of animals, of wild beasts and motors. The words in freedom clearly divide the history of human thought and poetry in two, from Homer to the last lyrical breath of the earth” - because the tavole parolibere, or free-word pictures - “no longer contain the narrative succession, but the simultaneous poly-expression of the world”. “The poet’s imagination must connect distant things together without strings, by means of essential words in freedom. By ‘wireless imagination’ I mean the absolute freedom of investigation or analogy, expressed with disconnected words without syntactic strings and without punctuation,” Marinetti wrote in L’immaginazione senza fili e le parole in libertà. (Lacerba, 15 June 1913).
Marinetti dedicated three manifestos to literature. The first was Manifesto tecnico della letteratura futurista (1912), in which he outlines the basic principles of paroliberismo in eleven points. In Distruzione della sintassi. Immaginazione senza fili. Parole in libertà. Manifesto futurista (1913), Marinetti introduces the concepts of simultaneity in literature (a concept borrowed from Futurist painters) and of typographic revolution. In the third manifesto, Lo splendore geometrico e meccanico e la sensibilità numerica (1914), Marinetti highlighted the new ideal of Futurist beauty, represented by great works created by science and technology. To make language faster and more dynamic, he suggested innovations such as “the verb in infinitive”, which “is the very motion of the new lyricism, having the fluency of a train wheel, or an aeroplane propeller”.
Marinetti applied the theories expressed in these three manifestos in his work Zang Tumb Tuuum. Adrianopoli ottobre 1912. Parole in libertà, published in March 1914. This is considered as the first volume entirely written in various textual bodies and typefaces, the use of multiple onomatopoeia, mathematical signs, “designed analogies”, and “synoptic tables of lyrical values”. Marinetti would continue his research on words in freedom by producing the volumes 8 anime in una bomba. Romanzo esplosivo (1919) and Les mots en liberté futuristes (1919). In addition to the works mentioned above, Marinetti’s challenge to modernise the typographic system was also reflected in Futurist volumes such as Francesco Cangiullo's Piedigrotta (1916), a description set in words in freedom, with colourful dialectal expressions, of the famous festival in Naples. In the graphic composition of the pages, Cangiullo makes use of different types and typographical forms in a swirling of words, that swell and explode in fireworks reflecting the feast of Piedigrotta, in a perfect visual analogy.
Cangiullo was among the first to embrace Marinetti’s theories on words in freedom. In an issue of Lacerba, dated 15 October 1913, he published Scoppio fabbrica pirotecnica, featuring the words parole in libertà. This first early Cangiullian experimentation, paginated on a column, still follows classical compositional linearity, contained within the limits of the typographic cage, even though some parolibero characteristics are already present such as the “verb in infinitive”, or the “free expressive” spelling. This could be distorting, reshaping, cutting or lengthening words, reinforcing their centres or ends, or increasing or decreasing the number of vowels and consonants. Furthermore, there was an abolition of punctuation and use of mathematical signs, and other devices.
On 15 November of the same year, Marinetti published Dopo il verso libero le parole in libertà in Lacerba. In the article, he provided further clarifications and added new points to his theories on words, previously expressed in manifestos. Marinetti’s article was followed by the publication of Boccioni’s words in freedom, SCARPETTA DA SOCIETA + ORINA and ADDIOoooo, by Cangiullo. But it was with FUMATORI II (Lacerba, 1 January 1914) and SERATA IN ONORE DI YVONNE (Lacerba, 15 June 1914), containing almost all the salient ingredients of the words in freedom set out by Marinetti, that Cangiullo reached the height of his role as innovator and important lyricist, alongside Marinetti (Apollinaire acknowledged this in a 1914 article on the origin of visual simultaneity in poetry).
Cangiullo ended his collaboration with the Florentine magazine with the issue of Lacerba on 1 July 1914, which published his lyric composition Foglie di platani. After the controversy between Papini and Boccioni in Lacerba (Il cerchio non si chiude with which Boccioni, in Lacerba of 1 March 1914, responded to Papini’s article in the same publication Il cerchio si chiude on 15 February 1914, the Lacerba article was published. In Il Futurismo e Lacerba by Papini and Soffici, the two authors outlined the history of the magazine, the connection with Futurism and the disagreements that arose between the Florentine group and the “Marinettiani”. The controversy widened, involving Carrà and Prezzolini, and ended with the famous article Futurismo e Marinettismo (Lacerba, 14 February 1915), signed by Palazzeschi, Papini and Soffici, in which a clear division was made between the Futurists and those who “follow the instructions and examples of F. T. Marinetti, and therefore must be more accurately called Marinettisti”. These were the last gasps of an artistic and literary discussion. Soon after, Lacerba increasingly moved into politics and interventionism, until the last issue of 22 May 1915, when, on the eve of Italy’s entry into the war, the Florentine magazine suspended publication.
In the autumn of 1915, Cangiullo began his collaboration with Neapolitan artistic-literary magazine founded and directed by poet Ferdinando Russo, Vela Latina, which was published between December 1913 to December 1918. A supporter of Futurism, Russo entrusted Cangiullo with the task of coordinating and printing two pages on Futurism in each issue of Vela Latina, starting in October 1915 (No. 41) and running until March 1916 (No. 8). In November 1915, he published excerpts from the parolibero poem Piedigrotta, which a year earlier, had been the subject of two Futurist evening gatherings (which anticipated the spirit and results of the Dadaist evenings at Cabaret Voltaire in 1916) in the Sprovieri galleries in Rome (29 March) and Naples (14 May, 1914).
'I work, I run, without ever resting, always thinking of the great unforgettable Cangiullo.'
On Piedigrotta, printed in Naples on 30 April 1916, Marinetti wrote to Cangiullo: “I arrived yesterday from Rome. Last night I was in Vercelli, where your Pancia del vaso di vetro was applauded. Yesterday and today, I was busy with Piedigrotta. I received the 1,000 copies, plus those with dedications. Everything. Tomorrow, shipment to the booksellers and to all the newspapers. Everything will be done properly, energetically. The day after tomorrow I will telegraph you about the evening in Naples [...] Everyone is enthusiastic about Piedigrotta. Buzzi will dedicate a column to your wonderful poem in the Avvenimenti. I work, I run, without ever resting, always thinking of the great unforgettable Cangiullo.” (3)
This Sotheby’s catalogue also features proofs for Piedigrotta, a parolibero book designed by Cangiullo in September and October 1913, published by Edizioni Futuriste di “Poesia” in 1916. These proofs include the famous cover of the book with variants and Cangiullo’s autographed annotations. In the final edition, in the bottom right-hand corner, instead of “Cover by CANGIULLO executed by the typographer Amoroso”, we find the new wording “Cover by CANGIULLO”, underlining the importance of his own parolibero invention.
On the cover, by arranging the letters in the title Piedigrotta in a semicircle, Cangiullo creates the image of the Gulf of Naples, while with other letters of the alphabet, he composes the sides and mouth of Vesuvius in mid-eruption. This last image has been immortalised by the artist several times with his characteristic signature in which the “C” of his surname expands into the shape of a gulf, with the word “Napoli” within the smoke erupting from Vesuvius, thus creating a nice calligram, something he often loved to make in his drawings and dedications to friends.
Other pages on words in freedom and proofs follow in this catalogue, sometimes with corrections of typos, or additions, including: Trombe, an exceptional, completely handwritten page with variations from page “g” in the book, of which the last six lines are not reproduced in the final draft, perhaps because they contain amusing but rather crude Neapolitan words, and Tarantella estensione tutta Italia (8, h), in which the third “o” of the phrase cono suono [cone sound] is repeated several times, each “o” getting bigger and bigger, to end with a large “NO” to form both the word suono - and the shape of a large cone that expands in space through the amplification of the structure-sound of the vowel “o”.
In the Futurist manifesto La declamazione dinamica e sinottica (11 March 1916), Marinetti described Piedigrotta and its author thus: “Overwhelming words-in-freedom sprung from the most original, exhilarating genius of Francesco Cangiullo, great free-wording Futurist, leading writer of Naples and foremost humourist of Italy.” On this subject, Bruno Corra wrote in his book Battaglie (1919), “Cangiullo has given some of the most comical theatrical syntheses, of a typical comedy because it derives from the absolute virginity of the gaze with which he observed life in its ridiculous aspects and in its incredible foils.”
Cangiullo is also present in the catalogue with other works: Ho molte parole in libertà in riserva di molti nuovi paroliberi, 1914, an ink on paper in which the charismatic Marinetti, followed by an enthusiastic crowd of Futurists praising the parolibere, stentoriously declaims the parole in libertà, of the “new” and “very new” paroliberi; Studenti in lettere. Università 1915 (collage and gouache on paper), where the letters of the alphabet are represented as students climbing the University’s majestic staircase that leads them to the Faculty of Letters.
In this amusing creation, based on a play on words, the letters of the alphabet are “charged or distorted”, as Marinetti writes. “Then [the letters] make an effort of further distortion to become materials of architecture and characters of a Futurist drama”. Like other works by Cangiullo, this one was shown in the two alfabeto a sorpresa exhibitions held by Bragaglia in Rome in 1918, at the Galleria Centrale d’Arte in Milan in 1919, and at the Winter Club in Turin in 1922. La Vedova allegra, dated around 1915, is an ink study for Cangiullo’s tavola parolibera. Le Coriste appeared in the leaflet-specimen Parole consonanti vocali numeri in libertà with parolibera by Marinetti, Govoni, Buzzi and Cangiullo) for the planned anthology I paroliberi futuristi, which, perhaps due to the imminent world war, was never published. The graphics of Le Coriste are reminiscent of drawings that Cangiullo would produce for his book Caffeconcerto, such as Parte 1ª N. 6 - ti dono il mio cuore.
In an undated letter to Cangiullo, but presumably from January 1913, Marinetti wrote to him regarding a new publication on the Futurist poets. “I would love to receive, within the next five or six months, so around the summer, four or five poems of yours that I would like in their entirety for their originality, their intensity and their expressive effectiveness, and that would basically be worthy of being included in the new volume of I poeti futuristi that I’ll be publishing in the autumn.” (4) As mentioned above, the volume was announced several times but was never published.
Of particular interest is drawing 4-5 Lettere umanizzate by Cangiullo in 1914, a preliminary study for his famous work Quattro carabinieri (oil and mixed media on paper), one of the first examples of “humanised letters”.
Pasqualino’s Chiaror di luna (circa 1917), appeared tenth in the list of works exhibited (as Chiaro di luna) at the Casa d’Arte Bragaglia in Rome during November 1918. It was then included in the exhibition Grande esposizione nazionale futurista at the Galleria Centrale d’Arte in Milan in 1919 (catalogue number 434), in the exhibition Esposizione futurista internazionale in the Salon of the Winter Club (Galleria Subalpina) held in Turin in 1922, (catalogue number 47), and another version of the same subject was published in L’Italia Futurista.
Saluti abbracci vittoria, circa 1916, a gouache on paper, is another work by the young Pasqualino, with Francesco’s autograph. This gouache was undoubtedly sent to Marinetti while on the front, where he had fought with the Battaglione Lombardo Volontari Ciclisti Automoblisti (V.C.A.) in the autumn of 1915, before joining the regular army. The graphic design of the wedge draws on the design of the leaflet Sintesi futurista della guerra, (20 September 1914), signed by Marinetti, Boccioni, Carrà, Russolo and Piatti. The idea of the wedge as a battle symbol is often used by Marinetti in his signature (especially in the two dedications), in which the letters FuTurisMarinetti form an acute angle that pierces a broken line into letters that spell out “passatismo”.
Pasqualino also created the profile of Marinetti made using the numbers 5 (the gaping mouth), and 3 (the ear) and letters of the alphabet M, C and V forming the neck, head and eye respectively. This is an example of the humanised letters echoing a well-known work, Marinetti ferito, by Pasqualino and his brother Francesco. Furthermore, Futurist Armando Mazza, in his parolibera composition entitled Seltz, published in Vela Latina on 19 February 1916, arranges the words “esplosione di un cono di luce”, in descending order, with “luce” and “esplosione” forming a cone shape.
As mentioned previously, Marinetti had planned to compile the works of many other paroliberi poets, in addition to his own parole il libertà, including Montagne + Vallate + Strade x Joffre, in a volume entitled I paroliberi futuristi. A list of these poets appears in the aforementioned advertising leaflet Parole consonanti vocali numeri in libertà. The numerous typographical tavole of Marinetti’s loose parolibere, hand-marked by the artist himself with numbers in blue pencil, as well as the many poets he had selected to include, suggest that I poeti futuristi would have been quite substantial. Some of these parolibere are present in this collection, which will be auctioned by Sotheby’s. While some of them have remained unpublished, others were used by the artist for some details, for the first page of the above-mentioned leaflet, and later selected by Marinetti for the cover ("CHAIRrrrrR") and the book Les mots en liberté futuristes, 1919.
Other tavole - in particular XXXxxx 2649005 (No. 8) and S’élancer x vantardise vent veut (versions 9 and 33), were partly used for the words in freedom Santa Unica tortured by Santa Velocità e da Santa Simultaneità, 1923, published in the Futurist magazine Noi, April 1923.
Marinetti’s best-known tavole includes Zang Tumb Tuuum (Bum bum bum – Bombardamento n. 72), featuring in this catalogue. A collage of typographical letters, glued onto paper forms in the form of a torpedo, its forms also recur in other plates by Marinetti such as Parole in libertà – Bombardamento sola igiene del mondo (Cassa di Risparmio Collection, Bologna), and those printed in “Les mots en liberté futuristes” (1914) in the chapters “Le soir, couchée dans son lit, Elle relisait la lettre de son artilleur au front” and “Une assemblée tumultueuse (sensibilité numérique)”.
The words “Zang Tumb Tumb” are part of the title that appears on the famous orange cover of Marinetti’s 1914 book, while on the title page we read “Zang tumb tuuum”, and in the Edizioni futuriste di “Poesia” list in the same book, the words are “Zang tumb tuum”. So we have three variations of the same title!
Also in Lâcher le volant et se faire les ongles (circa 1915), the tavola is structured in three columns of dense words, in which Marinetti uses collage and diagonally-positioned writings to give the page a sort of dynamism in which even the two circles, enclosing words, contribute to creating a sensation of movement. Many of Marinetti’s tavole are marked with a number drawn in blue pencil, like this last one (number 40 in the upper right-hand corner), which often covers a previous number. This demonstrates that Marinetti was organising the tavole parolibere in his own specific order. It was a work in progress for the volume I paroliberi futuristi.
In SI=NO, (1915, ink on paper). Marinetti uses in this tavola parolibera various-sized letters of the alphabet, in bolds and italics, numbers and mathematical symbols, verbs in the infinitive, graphic signs and unrelated words that do not follow any conventional order and alternates between horizontal and vertical positions. Together, this creates a graphic composition of great expressive force, which effectively eliminates any sensation of stillness, rest or pause.
Fortunato Depero created a gouache on paper formulated as a parolibera letter, in which he announced to Marinetti, “I have new tavole ready”. He defined this as the “first examples of complex constructions”, and that it would be “very necessary” to add one to the manifesto, which we understand as Ricostruzione futurista dell’universo by Balla and Depero, dated 11 March 1915.
Alongside the parolibere described above are: Paolo Buzzi’s composition, Un attimo della mia giornata a Palazzo Monforte (1916), in which the echo of cannons from the Carso, a revolver shot, the sound of footsteps in the mud and other sounds that Buzzi perceived from his office in Corso Monforte are described in onomatopoeic fashion (an approach appreciated by Marinetti); Luciano De Nardis (Livio Carloni), L’altra, (1917), based on the graphic structure of two letters of the alphabet which, when joined together, form a third letter, the shadow of which can also be seen in the upper part of the large “A” below, enclosed between two convergent lines. Mario Carli's La stazione di Mestre è un inferno (1916), has, amid the nightly clanging of the screeching military train moving forward, five tracks that branch off at the entrance to the station (the word “dove?” marks the point from which they separate) which are represented by chains of words. Meanwhile the word tunnel is cut horizontally in half, to create a corridor-like effect. The whole scene is pervaded by the atmosphere of existential uncertainty experienced by soldiers, in a setting dominated by a dense fog that is only just pierced by the light of a lantern.
During World War I, new young recruits joined the Futurist movement. Their themes vary, but because so many of them had been drafted into the military the conflict dominates their output. The list includes Acciaio (aka Ennio Valentinelli), Gino Cantarelli (the youngest of the paroliberi, he was 17 when he began to collaborate with “L’Italia Futurista”, with Direttissimo 1916, I, 1,), Jamar 14 (aka Piero Gigli), Angelo Rognoni, Marcello Manni (another young Futurist who in 1916 (I, 3) published the theatrical synthesis Arte in “L’Italia Futurista”) and Volt (aka Vincenzo Fani-Ciotti).
In addition to the literary manifestos mentioned above, the Futurists published many other manifestos over the years. At various junctures, they were translated into French, English, Spanish, even Japanese, demonstrating the movement’s international awareness and following.
From the first manifesto, marking the birth of Futurism (1909) until Marinetti’s death in 1944, the movement published countless manifestos on a wide range of topics. Futurist thought impacted every form of art and culture, from painting, sculpture, literature, architecture, music, fashion and photography to cinema, stage design, politics, theatre, cooking and advertising.
"Futurism gave a great fillip to all European literature. The movement which I, Eliot, Joyce and others started in London would not have existed but for Futurism.”
No other artistic movement in history had fundamentally impacted society so deeply, contributing to renewing culture and taking comprehensive interest in everything that is part of human knowledge.
Marinetti and his movement have been praised and recognised by numerous intellectuals and artists over the years, such as Paul Fort, Ivan Goll, Gustave Kahn, Benjamin Crémieux, Nicolas Beauduin and Ezra Pound. The latter acknowledged the importance of Marinetti’s work and the Futurist movement on the European literary avant-garde in a statement to the “Stampa” in Turin. He wrote, 'Your writer who interests me most today, and to whom I confess many debts of gratitude, is Marinetti and Futurism gave a great fillip to all European literature. The movement which I, Eliot, Joyce and others started in London would not have existed but for Futurism.”
1. Umberto Boccioni. Gli scritti editi e inediti, edited by Z. Birolli, Feltrinelli, 1971, p. 236.
2. I poeti futuristi, with a proclamation by F. T. Marinetti and a study on free verse by Paolo Buzzi, Edizioni Fututiste di “Poesia”, Milan 1912.
3. From a letter from F. T. Marinetti to F. Cangiullo, 20 April 1916, in Epistolario Cangiullo-Marinetti, edited by E. Pellegrini, Notebooks of the Primo Conti Foundation, Vallecchi Editore, Florence 1989, p. 107-108.
4. See Note 3, p. 61.
5. This statement by Ezra Pound is reported in various texts, including: La Fotografia Futurista. Manifesto, in Il Futurismo, X, 22, 11 January 1931; F.T. Marinetti and Fillia, La cucina futurista, Sonzogno, Milan, 1932, p. 261.