Piero Tosi (1927-2019)


Today, I read the news that Piero Tosi had died at the high age of 92 years. With his passing, an epoch disappears, I’d say. Others will surely write about Tosi’s paramount importance for film costume design, and I would fully agree. But Tosi also had an important part in my own life. When I started my MA thesis research on Luchino Visconti and visual arts decades ago, in 1983, Caterina D’Amico, daughter of Visconti’s regular screenwriter Suso Cecchi D’Amico but also the organizer of many exhibitions and publications on Visconti, told me I absolutely needed to see Tosi, in addition to Umberto Tirelli, Mario Chiari, Mario Garbuglia, Vera Marzot, Giuseppe Rotunno, Caterina’s mother, and others. So, when in 1984 I came to Rome to do my research, I met him, at the famous Caffé Greco. The interview was very important to me, as it showed how important the talent and expertise of Visconti’s collaborators had been, and how closely knit they contributed to Visconti’s films, of which we can say they were true Gesamtkunstwerke. After I had finished my Ph.D. in 2000 and published the commercial edition in 2003, I went back to my Visconti research, intended to renew, expand and reframe it. So in 2004, I was back in Rome, back at the Royal Dutch Institute (my temporary home for so many years of research). Apart from spitting through the Fondo Visconti at the Istituto Gramsci, I renewed my interviews, including ones with Rotunno, Garbuglia, Vera Marzot (Tosi’s assistant for e.g. Il Gattopardo), and with Tosi himself. This time we met at his elegant little apartment in Via Monte Brianzo, not far from Piazza Navona and filled with painting. Apart from deepening our discussion on Visconti’s films and visual art,  we also talked about the importance of photography, of Visconti’s professional rigor, Tosi’s own training, the Italian divas and Duse, and the preparation of the Proust Project. Afterward, we sometimes had telephone conversations on details. I learned Tosi was a goldmine of recollections, even if I also learned they were not always true.


In 2006 I had the good fortune of having Piero Tosi and Caterina D’Amico as speakers at my symposium Visconti e le arti visive, held at the ballroom of Palazzo Visconti in Milan and co-organised with Federica Olivares. Tosi, who wasn’t a big traveler and simply refused flying, did a big effort to travel to Milan and attend the symposium, followed by a screening of Senso. He whispered me he was so excited to see Palazzo Visconti, as during the collaborations with Visconti he had never been there. He was also very happy with a booklet on the Italian divas, written by Angela Dalle Vache and produced by Olivares Edizioni. The morning after, in our hotel, we had a relaxing and humorous conversation, about his work, his background in Florence, but also about being a gay man in Rome back in the 1950s-1960s. From 2007, when I lived six months in Rome thanks to an award of the Dutch institute and worked on my book while also teaching a course on Rome in film, I met Tosi at times at the film academy of the Centro Sperimentale. Here he was teaching for decades, enjoying to be surrounded by bright young people and free of the stress of film production. One summer, we had an appointment after his teachings, but it was terribly hot. He still had taken the metro to Subaugusta to teach at the film academy, but he understandably had to shower first before talking. Afterward, we enjoyed the gelati I had brought.

The production of my book took many years, including rewrites, endless waiting for peer reviewers and editors, and finally changing publisher. In the meantime, on September 2017, I had in London a great conversation with costume designer Janty Yates, on occasion of the Alma-Tadema exhibition at the Leighton House in which I was involved and of her involvement in Ridley Scott’s epic Gladiator. Yates and I proved to have the same big admiration for Tosi’s work, so our talk went on for a long time. Also, by 2017 I knew that my book would be dedicated to Garbuglia, Rotunno, and Piero Tosi. On 20 March 2018, I had the first presentation of my book, of course in Rome and at the Royal Dutch Institute. Here Caterina D’Amico was officially handed the book, preceded by a round table with distinguished Roman scholars, and – despite stormy weather – with selected guests such as Mario Garbuglia’s daughter and family, Nicoletta Mannino (Visconti’s niece), Antonella Montesi (coordinator of the bibliovisconti project), Prof. Giovanni Spagnoletti, and others. The next day, I brought my book to Piero Tosi, accompanied by a giant bunch of tulips. Tosi by that time was getting blind and feeble, so we had a nice little chat and caffè. He was really impressed by the book but was sore his eyes were starting to abandon him. Typically Italian, he would call me by my last name: Caro Blom, he said when I left, come up and see me when you’re around in Rome if I am still there then. I haven’t been to Rome sinch March 2018, alas, so it was our last meeting. I also missed the exhibition on Tosi’s years at the Centro Sperimentale, Fall/Winter 2018 at the Palazzo Delle Esposizioni, but thanks to Caterina D’Amico I could enjoy the special issue of Bianco & Nero dedicated to Tosi.

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As an homage, after my last visit to Tosi on 21 March 2018, I went back to Caffé Greco, where it all began that 21 September 1984: “Signor Blom?” The circle was round.


~ by Ivo Blom on August 10, 2019.

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