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How Cinelli Revolutionized the Art and Design of the Bicycle

A visual history of how Italian designer Cino Cinelli shaped the standards for modern cycling.

The history of the bicycle is peppered with curious and wide-spanning cultural resonance — from powering the emancipating (and subjugation) of women to reining in incredible design innovation to serving as a manifesto for the creative life, a a metaphor for computers, and an object of art. But hardly do the bike’s dignity and glory shine more brilliantly than in an exquisitely designed and engineered specimen, and few pioneers have done more to elevate bicycle design than Cino Cinelli.

The beautifully designed Cinelli: The Art and Design of the Bicycle (public library; UK) tells the story of how, since he first began making frames in Italy in the 1940s, Cinelli set the standards for both technical quality and aesthetic elegance in bicycle design, framing the ideal for the classic bike and shaping the evolution of professional cycling.

Even with its very identity, created by legendary designer Italo Lupi in 1979, Cinelli immediately did away with convention:

The aesthetics of the Italian racing bicycle in the 1970s were still defined by a code set in place in the years before World War II. Frames were painted in beautifully applied pure colors — blacks, reds, whites, blues, bronzes and silvers. The decorations and logos were the careful creations of the great artisans of the interwar period — heraldic symbols and traditional Italian iconography combined with great skill to render the final product harmonious.


The new Cinelli logo employed a Standard Bold typeface with modified spacing to register an iconic effect. The “winged C” itself was inspired by the clean graphic art of 1950s British motorcycle brands. The colors within the wings — an orange-red, mild green, and yellow — made absolutely no reference to any cycling tradition. Lupi recollects that they were inspired specifically by the particular enamel of British locomotives, but with hindsight they seem equally a product of the irreverent postmodern aesthetics of the late-1970s and early-1980s Milanese design.

The logo immediately and starkly distinguished Cinelli from the competition and became perhaps the most imitated bicycle logo of the modern period. It was sexy, funny, ironic, and design savvy — a completely heterogenous mix of the times, but also a reflection of a confident and excited Milanese cultural industry.

Sample Cinelli: The Art and Design of the Bicycle with this teaser from Rizzoli:


Pictures from Italy: A Whimsical Early Travelogue by Dickens, Newly Illustrated

A beautiful modern resurrection of the author’s lesser-known early work.

In the 1840s, young Charles Dickens traveled to Italy and France with his family, recording the experience in a lesser-known early work that was part travelogue, part imaginative fairy tale. Now, Indian independent publisher Tara Books — whose exquisite handmade gems and whimsical children’s picture-books you might recall — has brought Pictures from Italy (public library; UK) back to life in a beautiful new edition, illustrated by Italian artist Livia Signorini in eleven striking full-color gatefolds inspired by Dickens’s impressions, complemented by beautiful full-page black-and-white closeups.

And let us not remember Italy the less regardfully, because, in every fragment of her fallen Temples, and every stone of her deserted palaces and prisons, she helps to inculcate the lesson that the wheel of Time is rolling for an end, and that the world is, in all great essentials, better, gentler, more forbearing, and more hopeful, as it rolls!

Complement Pictures from Italy with Dickens’s heartening letter of advice to his youngest son.

Images courtesy Tara Books


Yan Nascimbene’s Stunning Illustrations of Italo Calvino Classics

Meditations on life in philosophical watercolors.

I was enormously saddened to learn that French-Italian illustrator Yan Nascimbene passed away last Friday at the age of 63. A graduate of New York’s School of Visual Arts, Nascimbene illustrated more than 50 books, 300 book covers, and countless editorial pieces for publications like The New Yorker, TIME, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, Scientific American, and The Atlantic. But his most memorable drawings — which, with their tender watercolors, bring to mind Maurice Sendak’s final farewell — stem from his profound love for the work of Italian novelist Italo Calvino.

It all began in the mid-1990s with Difficult Loves, a collection of 13 Calvino short stories about love and loneliness, which had been a longtime dream job for Nascimbene. After several years of pursuit spanning letters, emails, and faxes to and from six different people representing the Calvino estate, the project finally came to life in February of 2001 as Aventures, featuring 27 stunning illustrations by Nascimbene:

Besides the implicit connection the two creators shared in the geography of both of their childhoods, Nascimbene related to Calvino’s existential bent:

You can read his stories on two levels. He writes about love and loneliness and the difficulty that comes in trying to connect with others. His writing is light, clean and crisp, almost mathematical. And at the same time on another level Calvino is highly philosophical about life. He writes one little story about some mundane event or occurrence and builds up a whole analytical system of life around it.

Next came Palomar, Calvino’s final novel consisting of 27 short chapters arranged in a 3 × 3 × 3 pattern, which Nascimbene illustrated in 2003:

The final Nascimbene/Calvino installment, The Baron in the Trees, came in 2005 and is virtually impossible to find online, but your local library might have a copy. It is absolutely breathtaking:

Complement with Calvino on writing, the psychology of distraction and procrastination, the psychology of distraction and procrastination, and the paradox of America.


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