Ab insomni non custodita dracone

Written by  Carlo Bassi
Inside the poetry of Ferrara. Ferruccio De Lupis and the great publishing endeavour of 1921.
I think that it would be of significant moment, not only for those studying or particularly interested in Ferrara, to bring to the attention of critics and enthusiastic readers the texts dedicated to the city by Ferruccio De Lupis during a literary epoch dominated by D'Annunzio at the heart of political events to which De Lupis' literary research seems wholly extraneous but which were destined to have decisive and tragic consequences.

I have been prompted to these considerations by an "object" that belongs within the cycle dedicated to the poetry of Ferrara by De Lupis and on which my own attention has lingered since I had the good fortune to see it, touch it and turn its pages.

It is, of course, a book: a large in-folio volume designed, written and published by Ferruccio De Lupis, and his studio "La Cisterna", in1921, together with another renowned name from art publishing in those years, active in Milan: Alfieri & Lacroix.

It has a heraldic title in Latin, certainly a classical quotation: AB INSOMNI NON CUSTODITA DRACONE and, beneath the Este eagle, the word FERRARA. This translates as "Not guarded by the sleepless dragon".

The images and related poems in this volume (there are 146 pages on thick paper, arranged in twelve chapters), are mostly lithographs by Guido Marussig that linger over the monuments symbolising the city, with a commentary which itself generates high poetic tension written by De Lupis.

We have mentioned Guido Marussig and we should remember that his is an important and in some ways fundamental name in twentieth century art and painting, along with Carrà, Funi, and Sironi.

But De Lupis also contributes to this splendid production in his capacity as an illustrator: there are twenty four lithographs by Marussig, four by De Lupis, and three by Carlo Parmeggiani, a Ferrara artist in the Liberty style.

The style of the images of the monuments is significant - a photographic style, intentionally 'incorrect' from the pint of view of simply illustrating the monuments themselves, but able to bring strength and tension to the images. This is true of all the plates in the volume, and we must assume that it was the explicit wish of the director of the work, De Lupis himself, who was an able photographer and certainly no amateur.

The texts in the work are of fundamental relevance, because they belong to that vein of research initiated in Italy in the pages of D'Annunzio and which art critics have called "prosa d'arte".

They are texts which are for the most part quotable: passages of poetry transcribed into prose, acquiring in this process the same tension as the refined photographer's 'incorrect' images.

All this is lies within a binding of leather and embossed and chiselled copper with gold decorations by the famous binder Giovannoni.

The volume is dedicated to Emilio Arlotti, a major fascist figure in Ferrara who appears to be the secret driving force behind the publishing venture. He gave the precious volume to Luigi Razza, member of the Camera dei Fasci e dei Corporazioni. Ten years later Emilio Arlotti was to be shot during the night of fratricidal reprisals in November 1943.

The birth of this edition, in 1921, comes at a dramatic moment in the history of Ferrara and the country. The Ferrara of 1920 witnessed the clash between socialists and fascists at the Castello Estense which left four dead. It was 20 December; in 1922, there came the March on Rome and all that followed from it.