Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Distinctive Designs of Armando Testa

Armando Testa (1917-1992) was an Italian graphic designer and advertising man noted especially for his unmistakable and witty posters. The image above and the following two were designs that he made as gifts for friends.

In the 1930s, Testa worked as a typesetter and became familiar with the print medium. While still a teenager, he won a poster design competition and the result is acknowledged as Italy's the first abstract poster. Testa was thereafter always drawn to poster design and outdoor advertising.

It should be mentioned here that the art form of the poster is more common to Italy than other countries, and that many posters are therefore often competing for attention in the same proximity. Armando Testa's designs continually stood above the rest, and in 1956, he formed Studio Armando Testa with Francisco De Barberis, a marketing man. The studio became one of Italy's largest agencies, establishing branches throughout Europe and partnering with Benton & Bowles of the United States.

Baratti & Milano chocolates
The 1960 Olympics, Rome
Citterino salami
Testa's designs tended to have a strong graphic element against a white background. For a series of liquor ads, Testa created King Carpano, below, who toasted famous characters from history.

Carpano vermouth
Pirelli tires
poster for a plastics exhibition
an entertainment magazine
The last two images show how one good idea can spawn another.
Perhaps the hand images were from the same photoshoot.

All of the images shown above were from the January/February 1976 issue
of Communication Arts Magazine.

by Testa, from The Encyclopedia of Sublime Things  |



  1. Hello Mark:
    We have a particular fondness for advertising posters, especially those of such enduring quality as the ones by Armando Testa which you show here. It is absolutely fascinating when one considers all the subliminal messages which are conveyed in addition to the overall advertising slogan.

    In Budapest, we have a particular interest in seeking out old film advertising posters. Some of them are truly artwoks and, indeed, in recent years have started to command eye-watering prices.

    We think that it is particularly clever how Armando Testa has made animate the various inanimate products. These are surely products of a very fertile imagination.

    1. Dear Jane and Lance:

      One has only to look at the work of Toulouse Lautrec and Alphonse Mucha to see that advertising can be in the range of fine art, but I think it's also collectible for representing the values of a given period.

      Your readers might be interested in seeing Hungarian advertising, old or new. Like the fascinating game you showed on your recent post, it would be quite revealing.

  2. I suppose it would be impossible to do an advert for salami that wasn't phallic.

    1. Dear Columnist,

      Sometimes a salami is just . . . a salami. But not necessarily as presented by someone named Testa! Though I didn't show it, Armando Testa also made a poster for his friends that was a take-off on his name.

  3. Dear Mark,

    Thankyou for introducing me to Armando Testa. He is someone entirely new to me.

    That's the thing I am discovering about the Blog world - I am constantly being introduced to new people and new information!

    My favourites are the Carpano advertisement and the Fig-mandolin. I could see that on my kitchen wall.

    Bye for now


    1. Dear Kirk,

      I'm glad you enjoyed looking at the work of Armando Testa!

      One thing I became conscious of — when still a young person — is that each new friend expands our universe and in the process, expands our own depth. I think blogging can be that way as well.

    2. And I am also (thanks to you) enjoying looking at the website:!

  4. Hello Mark, Such charm and wit in these illustrations. The candy-wrapper hat is a favorite, although I can see some people finding a sexist sub-text. The Pirelli ad is wonderfully clever (I used to buy Pirelli tires for a little sport-car I had). The pipe with tongue is a masterpiece of surreal art. I don;t know when the Citterino ad is from, but I'm sure that incredible hand graphic was meant to be retro-looking.

    All in all, so much to explore and have fun with in these images, all of which reveal Testa's humor and quality.
    --Road to Parnassus

    1. Hello, Parnassus,

      The candy wrapper hat is one of my favorites, too. While it can be viewed as sexist, it is certainly a product of its time (it was designed in 1960). The Citterino ad probably dates to the 1950s, though I can't be sure. For me, it calls to mind the Jolly Green Giant, who was introduced in 1928.

  5. Dear Mark, This is a fabulous post! How would we know of these fantastic artists if you didn't tell us about them.
    My favorites: the 1960 Olympics, Rome poster and the Carpano Vermouth poster.
    Armando Testa, I will remember his name.

    1. Dear Gina, No article on Armando Testa is complete without showing that Olympics poster, which is among his best rememebered designs.

  6. Dear Mark,
    I loved this post! What a treat to see all of these wonderful images from Armando Testa-- an absolute master of graphic design... and such an Italian sensibility, don't you think?! My favorites: Baratti & Milano chocolates (seemingly simple, and perfect), Carpano vermouth (stylish and funny) and the very evocative fig mandolin (gorgeous). What talent and imagination to pair the fig and mandolin-- aesthetically they are perfectly suited, and now when I hear mandolin music, I know I'll have a craving for figs...
    Thanks for this!
    Warm regards,

    1. Dear Erika,

      I imagine that Armando testa must have been a very playful personality, and that it might have been great fun to have known him.

      One small detail that I love in the Baratti candy poster is that the frame surrounding the lovely lady is a simplified, updated version of the frame that would have been used at the time of the original Victorian wrapper design.

  7. Dear Mark - if I did not know Armando Testa's name I would have guessed that this was the design work of an Italian male.
    I have had a look on the internet, and notice that a retrospective was held last June in Milan which included many never before shown objects including sculptures, chairs, wardrobes, hand-shaped clothes racks and lemon-shaped lamps. I found a picture of the lemon lights which are fun and remind me of Philippe Starck's designs too.
    Everyone has given their favourite illustrations from your very interesting post, and mine are the Olympic poster showing Romulus and Remus and the gorgeous fig mandolin.

    1. Dear Rosemary,

      I would have loved to visit the Armando testa retrospective in person, but I will look for it on the Web.

      I like your picks, but I have to admit that my own favorite image from this posting is the slobbering bulldog/vise. I've known one too many dogs like that, and I think it's brilliant!