Italy Observed in Photography and Literature

by Luigi Ballerini and Charles Traub New York: Rizzoli, 1991
As painters, sculptors, writers, and connoisseurs have always known, Italy is the place where art and life come together. The truth of such an observation can be seen in this beautifully designed new book. Through some of the most striking photographs taken by American and Italian photographers in the past 25 years, and a selection of witty, trenchant, sometimes truculent excerpts from letters, diaries, essays, short stories and novels by 74 American and Italian writers of the past three centuries; it provides a portrait of Italy that is sometimes ironic in tone but passionately committed to everything making that country the spiritual homeland of all who love art. As Herman Melville hurriedly scribbled in his diary, “Rather be in Venice on rainy day than in any other capital on fine one.”
Luigi Ballerini and Charles Traub take us out of the confines of Venice and spread all of Italy at our feet. They also take us from the world of fantasy to the world of perception. The authors present famous travelers’ observations of the country and its people. Nathaniel Hawthorne celebrates the ruins of the mighty Roman Empire, while Henry Wadsworth Longfellow waxes poetic about the Eternal City itself. Other literary snippets include Emerson’s complaints about Venice (he finds himself “always at sea” there), and Melville’s complimentary but clipped view (“Rather be in Venice on rainy day, than in other capital on fine one.” Sic) But the beauty of this book lies in its photographic interpretation of the country and its people. Over half a hundred international and Italian photographs present their individual views ranging from gritty realism to neo-pictorialist romanticism. It is a photographic potpourri that delights, page after page.
Rifo, The Sun. Sunday, May 21, 1989