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How MITA textiles dominated Italian mid-century design

mid century tapestry in green and blue of gondolas

Enrico Paulucci delle Roncole (1901–1999) Barche (Boats) tapestry, c. 1953

Another great insight into 20th century Italian Art at the Estorik explores the MITA textile designs that once adorned the walls of world art fairs, private homes, clubs and ocean liners

Founded in Genoa in 1926 MITA (Manifattura Italiana Tappeti Artistici) was a celebrated Italian textile firm that earned its reputation by collaborating with some of the country’s most talented artists and designers.

The names including Gio Ponti, Fortunato Depero, Arturo Martini, Emanuele Luzzati, Arnaldo Pomodoro, Giò Pomodoro and Ettore Sottsass Jr read like a whose who of mid-century Italian art and design, and over a period of 50 years, MITA commissions encompassed the avant-garde movements from Futurism to Abstract Expressionism.

At the Estorick they reflect the full diversity of this output through original designs, photographs and an impressive collection of rugs, carpets, tapestries, limited-edition art panels, printed fabrics and scarves.

All of these products were the result of major commissions that carried the banner of modernism from the 1920s to the 1970s.

lithographic print of a cockrel

Enrico Paulucci delle Roncole (1901–1999). Part of Auguri 1954 calendar 1953.

an abstract painting of block forms against a brown background

Bice Lazzari (1900–1981) Design for a rug, 1954.

a design for a textile on a board

Flavio Costantini (1926–2013) Rosoni (Roses) textile design 1962.

The man behind these innovations, the entrepreneur Mario Alberto Ponis, said he began the company “with the aim of using new mechanical inventions in the manufacture of classic hand-knotted carpets”, (the company’s name was an acronym for Manifattura Italiano Tappeti Artistici, or Italian Artistic Rug Manufacturer).

He soon began experimenting and merging new technologies with craft traditions in what many people see as a characteristically Italian approach to industry.

Enlisting the help of creative thinkers at the forefront of modernism, the company produced rug patterns and designs that captured the aesthetic spirit of Futurism, Rationalism and the Novecento movement. Many of these partnerships lasted for years and were represented in submissions to world’s fairs and the Triennales of Decorative and Modern Industrial Art in Milan.

As early as the 1920s Ponis worked with Futurists such as Fedele Azari and Fortunato Depero, whilst other key figures affiliated with the movement bought MITA products – most notably Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Giacomo Balla.

abstract sketch of coloured shapes against a cream background

Eugenio Carmi (1920–2016) Dubrovnik scarf design, 1956–59.

two geometric patterns with vase and wine glass motifs within them

Emanuele Rambaldi (1903-1968) Anfore (Amphorae) textile design 1948.

An advertising card with block script for MITA manufacturing

Design for an advertising card, MITA (Headquarters in Via Monte Moro, Genoa Nervi), c. 1929

The Italian architect and designer Gio Ponti was also a frequent visitor to the company’s headquarters in Nervi on the outskirts of Genoa, and promoted its activities through the pages of his famous and highly influential magazine Domus, in addition to collaborating with MITA as a designer in his own right.

Between the 1920s and 1930s other important relationships were established with the Genoese architect Mario Labo and his design company DIANA as well as with Arturo Martini, a renowned sculptor whose work was greatly admired by Ponis.

Out of this milieu came an evolving catalogue of textile designs that travelled around the world and were shown in influential art exhibitions and defined the interior design of major Italian ocean liners (which Gio Ponti considered “floating art galleries”), as well as bringing the avant-garde into everyday life.

After the Second World War, MITA greatly expanded its offerings beyond carpets and rugs to include tapestries, fabrics and other products.

mid century overlapping leaf design on card

Giocondo (Goghy) Faggioni (1912 –1990) Foglie o Autunno (Leaves or Autumn) textile design, 1953

photo of an interior with round table, chairs, bookcase and wall tapestry

Andrea Doria First Class Reading-Room with tapestry by M. Rachlis, 1953 colour brochure Paolo Piccione Archive

colourful print design with a townscape seen through trees

Enrico Paulucci delle Roncole (1901–1999). Alberi (Trees) fabric design, 1964

Continuing their policy of collaborating with the most inventive and experimental artists of the period – many of them associated with Domus – Ponis extended MITA’s visual vocabulary to include geometric abstraction and graphic illustration, which was vividly realized in limited-edition art panels printed on hemp or linen and signed by the artists.

MITA also began tackling ambitious projects for private homes, bars, clubs and restaurants, and its influence was cemented with the firm’s participation in Italy at Work: Her Renaissance in Design Today, a trendsetting exhibition that toured the U.S. in the early 1950s.

Their 50-year reign as the country’s top textiles firm culminated in large post-war commissions for the Italian ocean liners and shipping companies, including the tapestries, furnishings and panels in the first-class reading room of the ill-fated Andrea Doria, which sank in 1958.

The company’s swansong came in the 1960s and early 1970s with a move into laminated panels for ships, railway carriages and public buildings, which employed the decorative motifs familiar from the company’s fabric designs.

a design of white and coloured oblongs against a magenta background

Eugenio Carmi (1920–2016) Astrazione (Abstraction) fabric design, c. 1954

textile artwork showing ships at harbour

Michael Rachlis (1884–1953). Design for a tapestry in the Andrea Doria’s First Class Reading-Room 1952

Italian Threads: MITA Textile Design 1926-1976 is at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, London until January 17 2021.  For pre-booked tickets in timed slots see www.estorickcollection.com or phone 020 7704 9522.

All works – except Andrea Doria First Class Reading-Room – courtesy MITA Archive, M.A. Ponis, Nervi on loan to Wolfsoniana – Palazzo Ducale Fondazione per la Cultura, Genoa.

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The Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art opened in London in 1998. Its new home - a Grade II listed Georgian building - was restored with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund and contains six galleries, an art library, cafe and bookshop. The Collection is known internationally for its core…

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