Italian illustrator Roberto Innocenti was born in 1940
and is known for his highly detailed, painterly style
and his devotion to realistic representation in such
classic works as Cinderella, The Adventures of Pinocchio,
A Christmas Carol, and Nutcracker.
He is also the illustrator of an original Holocaust tale,
Rose Blanche, that has been highly publicized throughout
Europe and the United States. Innocenti's illustrations
are unmistakable, demonstrating a delicacy of palette
as well as a refinement of line, both of which are surprising
in light of the fact that Innocenti is completely
self-trained in art.
Born in a small town near Florence, Italy, just after
the outbreak of World War II, Innocenti left school at
age thirteen to help support his family by working in
a steel foundry. By age eighteen he had moved to
Rome and found work in an animation studio,
a move that would influence his future career.
He began to learn the trade of illustration and soon
moved back to Florence. There he illustrated posters
for movies and the theater in addition to designing
books. In 1970 Innocenti met American artist John Alcorn,
who convinced him to try his hand at book illustration.
. . . .
Innocenti's early work for a North American audience
appeared in Golden Books with text by Seymour Reit.
The "All Kinds" series looks at transport from three
perspectives: planes, ships, and trains.
Each picture book gives a short history of the vehicle
in question, accompanied by pictures of a variety of types.
All Kinds of Ships, for example, introduces children to
the history of sailing, from the early boats hollowed out
of logs to the large supertankers that sail on the water today.
One of Innocenti's early major works was illustrating
the classic tale Cinderella by Charles Perrault.
Instead of setting the tale of rags to riches in some
remote fairy-tale kingdom, Innocenti decided to plant
it firmly in the twentieth century, locating Cinderella
in an English village during the Roaring Twenties.
He chose this time and place so that he would not
be influenced by all the illustrations of the story that
had come before, and also as he has explained, in order
to make Cinderella live more as a universal archetype
not limited by her time. Patty Campbell noted in
the New York Times Book Review that Cinderella is
"a witty flapper era" rendition that "has been widely admired."
Cinderella was but the first of several classic tales
that Innocenti has illustrated, yet his next book would
be far from the realm of fairy tales.
. .. .
Rose Blanche, coauthored by Innocenti and
Christophe Gallaz, is set in World War II, and draws on
illustrator Innocenti's childhood. It tells of the horrors
of that time as seen through the eyes of a young girl
who is not yet old enough to fully understand
the events surrounding her. Rose Blanche is a
young German girl who, witnessing a strange scene
in her village one day, is thrust face to face with the
reality of the Holocaust. The heroine's name is also
that of the youthful German resistance group which
tried to sabotage the Nazi war effort, often losing their
lives in the conflict. Rose Blanche, seeing the mayor of
her town handing over a small boy to the soldiers,
follows the tracks of the truck that has taken the boy away.
Deep in the woods she discovers a barbed-wire compound.
Inside are small children in striped uniforms bearing
a yellow star. Rose Blanche feels sympathy for these
children and brings them scraps of food she steals,
only to be shot by a soldier just as the war is ending.
She, like the resistance group of the same name,
has given her life for principle, becoming "a symbol
of goodness in a dark world," according to
Quill and Quire reviewer Susan Perren.
. . . . . . .