A rare metal book, Parole in Libertà..., produced in 1932 by Italian avant-garde artists Filippo Tommaso Marinetti (1876-1944) and Tullio D'Albisola (1899-1971) has been bought by the British Library
with help of independent charity The Art Fund
. Its acquisition comes 100 years after Marinetti provocatively called for the destruction of museums, libraries and academies in artistic movement Futurism's founding manifesto.
The Art Fund, which is funded by its 80,000 members and donations, gave the British Library £18,000 towards the £83,000 cost for Parole in Libertà. Friends of the British Library gave £5,000.
Parole in Libertà Futuriste Olfattive Tattili Termiche (Words in Futurist, Olfactory, Tactile, Thermal Freedom) is made from tin and consists of 27 lithographed pages filled with words, poetic phrases and brightly coloured graphic images. It captures the dynamism and energy of Futurism - launched by Marinetti in a manifesto published on the front page of French newspaper Le Figaro on 20 February 1909 - which urged artists to rid themselves of the past and embrace aggression, speed and technology.
Parole in Libertà... represents three elements of Futurism - firstly, the interest in the cutting-edge and industrial, expressed in its tin pages, wire and ball-bearing binding structure, and the use of lithography. Secondly, it expresses Marinetti's vision of 'Parole in Libertà' (Words in Freedom), where words can be poetised by visual manipulation. Thirdly, the book exploits the Futurist interest in the multi-sensory experience - appealing to the senses of smell (for example the lithographic inks), touch (the feel of the tin pages and its variable temperature) as well as hearing (the sound of the metal pages turning) and sight (the visual appeal of images but also of texts).
Because of its glorification of speed, machinery and war - described by Marinetti in 1909 as "the world's only hygiene" - Italian Futurism quickly became associated with Fascism. Marinetti himself was an early supporter of Mussolini, and Parole in Libertà... was created to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the Fascist regime in 1932. The book was factory-produced under entirely industrial conditions - exemplifying Mussolini's vision of a new, modern Italy.
David Barrie, Director of The Art Fund, said: "This metal book is an extraordinary invention, testifying to the revolutionary spirit of a movement that genuinely believed in the power of art to change the world. It also gives us an insight into the fascinating and complex relationship between Italy's creative elite and the forces of Fascism. The acquisition of Parole in Libertà... in the year that marks the centenary of Marinetti's Futurist Manifesto could not be more timely."
Stephen Bury, the British Library's Head of European and American Collections, said: "Parole in Libertà ... is an important addition to the British Library's collection of avant-garde printed materials, which consists of 10,000 items, 250 of which we showcased in our major exhibition last year, 'Breaking the Rules: The Printed Face of the European Avant-Garde'. We are very grateful to The Art Fund and the Friends of the British Library. Without their help we would not have been able to acquire this pivotal work of Italian Futurism, which we will make available for researchers in our Reading Rooms today and for future generations."
The British Library's edition of Parole in Libertà... is in excellent condition and is now on display in the Treasures gallery at the Library's St Pancras site. Less than 50 were ever completed, and the only other copy in public hands in Europe is held at the Central National Library of Florence. In the USA, the only copies are at the Getty and Yale.