Fabio Fabbi

The few works by Fabio Fabbi whose location are known include two oil paintings on cardboard, Moschea (Galleria Comunale d’Arte Moderna, Bologna) and a view of Bologna, Quattro Torri (owned by the Cassa di Risparmio di Bologna, see Varignana, 1972). The rest – most in private collections – are hard to find because of their approximate titles and repetitive subjects. The most important source for photographic documentation is the catalogue of the exhibition held in 1981 at the Galleria d’Arte Il 2 Di Quadri in Bologna containing several of Fabbi’s works.

At a show held in 1888 by the Circolo Degli Artisti in Florence, Fabbi exhibited the photographic Un terrazzo ad Alessandria (illustrated in Stivani-Borgogelli, 1981, fig. XI), along with Donna araba, Il vasaio, and Vecchio musulmano.

At the International Exhibition in Munich, he won prizes for his paintings La vendita di una schiava (ibid. fig. V) and I sette peccati mortali.

The six large Orientalist tempera paintings decorating the foyer of Villino Sorani in Florence and L’Egitto, a collection of original notes and drawings published by Alinari, Florence (De Gubernatis, 1889, p. 190) can be dated to the 1880s.

In 1896 Fabbi began working with the Florentine magazine Fiammetta and in 1897 he designed its poster.

He also worked on religious paintings in these years. In 1896, he exhibited Santone musulmano, Annunciazione, and Cristo deriso at the Esposizione dell’arte e dei fiori in Florence (see L’Illustrazione italiana, April 11, 1897, pp. 232, 238).

Fabbi maintained an active connection to the Emilia region, working with his brother Alberto on San Giovanni decollato, probably completed at the end of the 20th century, for the basilica of San Giovanni in Persiceto, as well as a Sacro Cuore featuring St. Anthony Abbot and Barnabite founder St. Anthony Maria Zaccaria (1902) for the church of San Antonio Abate in Bologna.

He was appointed Professor in Florence in 1893, Academician in Bologna in 1894, and Knight of the Crown of Italy in 1898.

In 1899 he presented two paintings (Mammina and Madonna alla spiga) at Vittorio Alinari’s first competition, whose theme was the “Madonna and Child.” In 1902 he took part in the second competition, this one about the “Life of the Madonna,” together with Giovanni Costetti, Alberto Martini, and Giorgio Kienerk. That same year, he completed three oil paintings on the thirteenth canto of Dante’s Paradiso for a new edition of the Divine Comedy illustrated by Italian artists. Fabbi also created the great painting Morte di Anita Garibaldi in the early 1900s (Biblioteca ed Archivio del Risorgimento, Florence).

In 1906 he presented models of medals made with the lost-wax technique at the Mostra Internazionale del Sempione in Milan. In 1911 his work was included in a Paris exhibition on modern Christian art that included works by the deceased artists Puvis de Chavannes, Carrière, and Denis. He also worked with other, mostly Tuscan artists to illustrate a trilogy by Luigi Rasi (Il libro dei monologhi, Il secondo libro dei monologhi, Milan 1888 and 1893, respectively, and Il libro degli aneddoti, Modena 1890) for the publisher Bemporad in Florence.

In 1900 he made cartoons for the Bolognese magazine Italia ride as well as the plates for Firenze sotterranea published by Jarro [edited by Giulio Piccini]. Fabbi expressed a subtle realism and humanity in the latter images by interpreting the text “with an eye at once photographic and transfigured” (Pallottino, 1988, p. 190). From 1898 to 1905 he created several postcards, including the series Divina Commedia, Finis seculi XIX, and Domine (see Arrasich, 1985).


Fabbi illustrated over a hundred books. Along with literary classics published by Nerbini in Florence (Casanova’s Memoirs, 1920; Boccaccio’s Decameron, 1932; Tasso’s Jerusalem Delivered, 1934; Homer’s Odyssey, trans. V. Monti, 1934), he loved adventure novels like those by Salgari “for which he delved into a special graceful, dreamlike Oriental atmosphere” (Faeti, 1972). He also conveyed a unique sense of narrative levity through his use of tempera and watercolor, diverse in technique and colors.

Among the children’s books he illustrated were the translations of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Men and Little Women (Florence, 1910-11 and 1916, respectively).

In 1936 he moved from Bologna to Casalecchio Di Reno (province of Bologna) where he died on September 24, 1945.

Fabbi’s brother Alberto was born in Bologna on September 20, 1858. His education coincided and closely intertwined with the work of his younger brother. After completing a painting course at Bologna’s fine art academy he moved to Florence around the same time as his brother, specializing in portraiture and Orientalist paintings. At the first and third editions of the Esposizione di belle arti della Società Francesco Francia (1896-1897) an entire room was dedicated to the Fabbi brothers’ Orientalist paintings. Belying considerable curiosity about the exotic, they were created at a time when the Symbolist sentiment was on the rise in Bologna’s artistic milieu. As a portrait painter (his images of Cardinal Svampa, Quirico Filopanti, Vicini, and Cineri dating to the 1880s and 1890s and his portraits of Emilio Filopanti and Carlo Musi from 1897 are in the Galleria Comunale d’Arte Moderna in Bologna) and an illustrator, Alberto Fabbi was still young when he joined a Bolognese group of satirical artists to create the gift-book Il Natale della lira (Bologna 1898), an interesting example of Art Nouveau graphic design whose format and layout were inspired by the Vienna Secession’s first exhibition catalogue. He also helped his brother on works with more challenging compositions. An undated photo album by R. Belluzzi (Alinari, Florence, now in the Museo del Risorgimento in Bologna) contains a reproduction of his Combattimento tra galli from the 1880s. He died in Bologna on May 21, 1906.

Sources and bibliography.: A De Gubernatis, Diz. degli artisti ital. viventi…, Florence 1889, pp. 189 s.; Esposizione Vittorio Alinari, Florence 1900, nn. 85, 89; Mostra dei pittori emiliani dell’800 by the Accademia clementina, Bologna 1955, p. 66; I. Cinti, Omaggio all’800 bolognese (cat.), Bologna 1957, p. 11; M. Giardelli, I macchiaioli e l’epoca loro, Milan 1958, pp. 164, 209, 258, 262, 310; Il manifesto ital. nel centenario del manifesto litografico (cat..), Milan 1965, p. 35, fig. 74; T. Fanti, in Galleria Caldarese, Catalogo mostra postuma, Bologna 1968; E. Contini, F. F. dall’Egitto con amore, in “Qui Bologna,” Oct. 31, 1968, n. 27; C. Ricci-G. Zucchini, Guida di Bologna, Bologna 1968, p. 212; F. Varignana, in “Le collezioni d’arte della Cassa di risparmio di Bologna. I dipinti,” edited by A. Emiliani, Bologna 1972, pp. 457 s.; A. Faeti, Guardare le figure, Turin 1972, pp. 162 ss., 388 s.; F. Cristofori, Bologna come rideva. I giornali satirici dal 1859 al 1924, Bologna 1973, to Ind.; E. Gottarelli, “Italia Ride,” il miracolo del liberty bolognese, Bologna 1974, p. 63; Opere del XX secolo nelle raccolte comunali darte, Bologna 1975, p. 75; Il liberty a Bologna e nell’Emilia-Romagna. Architettura, arti applicate e grafica, pittura e scultura, Bologna 1977, p. 287; C. Cresti, Florence 1896-1915. La stagione del liberty, Florence 1978, pp. 18, 320; M. Pasquali, A. Bastianini and Fabio Fabbi, in E nell’idolo suo si trasmutava. La Divina Commedia nuovamente illustrata da artisti italiani (cat.), Bologna 1979, pp. 97 s.; E. Gaibazzi, Catalogo ital. delle cartoline d’epoca, Bologna 1979, pp. n.n.; Alfonso Rubbiani: i veri e i falsi storici, edited by F. Solmi-M. Dezzi Bardeschi (catal.), Bologna 1981, pp. 97, 468, 471; P. Stivani-A. Borgogelli, F.F. (cat.), Bologna 1981; Pittura ital. dell’Ottocento. Le opere pittoriche vendute in Italia e all’estero, Milan 1984, p. 75; G. Fanelli-E. Godoli, La cartolina art nouveau, Florence 1985, p. 335; Artisti fra ‘800 e ‘900. Una raccolta bolognese, edited by F. Solmi-M. Pasquali, Bologna 1985, pp. 38 ss.; Almanacchi e strenne dell’Ottocento toscano (cat.), edited by R. Maini, Florence 1985, pp. 57 ss.; F. Arrasich, Catalogo delle cartoline ital., Supplem. a La Cartolina, 1985, n. 2, p. 56; P. Pallottino, Storia dell’illustrazione italiana [1988], Bologna 1991, ad Indicem; A. Faeti-P. Pallottino, L’illustrazione nel romanzo popolare. Original figures from the Rava collection (1907-1938), Turin 1988, p. 37, figs. 10-23; L’eterno femminino (cat. Galleria d’arte Eleuteri), Rome s.d. [but 1989], pp. 69 s.; G. Fanelli-E. Godoli, Diz. degli illustratori simbolisti e art nouveau, Rome 1990, I, p. 165; Il valore dei dipinti dell’Ottocento, Turin 1990, pp. 150 ss.; S. Paolo di Ravone 990-1990, Bologna 1990; I best seller del Ventennio. Il regime e il libro di massa, edited by G. De Donato-V. Gazzola Stacchini, Milan 1992; Il ventennio in copertina, edited by E. Detti, Rom 1991, pp. n. n.; M. Vannucci, Firenze Ottocento, Milan 1992, p. 263; U. Thieme-F. Becker, Künstlerlexikon, XI, pp. 146 s.; A. M. Comanducci, Diz. illustrato dei pittori e incisori ital. moderni (1800-1900), Milan 1945, I, p. 244; Dizionario enciclopedico Bolaffi dei pittori e degli incisori italiani…, Turin 1973, IV, p. 255.


Courtesy of the Fabio Fabbi Archive