Piero Cattaneo is One of History's Best Children's Book Illustrators, But You've Never Heard of Him
Over the years, children’s book illustrations have ranged from clean and simplistic line drawings to artistic masterpieces with extraordinary depth and detail. The work of Italian artist, sculptor, painter, and illustrator Piero Cattaneo (1929 - 2003) falls into the latter category. His illustrations could rival many of the celebrated paintings by the world’s most famous artists that currently hang in our esteemed and recognizable institutions. And yet, you’ll be hard pressed to find people who actually know his name outside of his native country.
Born in Bergamo, Cattaneo was the youngest of five children. His artistic talent showed itself early on in life. But, as a teen, he enrolled at a technical school — where he excelled in “mechanics” and “technical drawing” — to please his father. Still, he practiced art by frequenting the studio of painter and sculptor Giovanni Bressanini (1918 - 1983). And, by 1947, began studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Carrara under the tutelage of painter and printmaker Achille Funi (1890 - 1972), who was both a mentor and an inspiration to the young artist.
By 1949, having achieved a certain level of professionalism, he accepted a job at the Italian Institute of Graphic Arts, where he began his profession as an illustrator. His work proved to be wildly popular and he achieved notable success, becoming one of the most important and esteemed children’s book illustrators in Italy. There, he is best known by his pseudonym, Picca/Pikka, which was derived from his name and Kikka, the nickname of his wife Francesca. Although he is regarded as a groundbreaking sculptor, his children’s book illustrations only enhance his appeal as a multitalented mixed-media artist.
There are many notable examples of Cattaneo’s work, most of which can be found online. But, his visuals for The Story of Cinderella and Other Tales (1990) by Peter Holeinone are, arguably, some of the most beautiful illustrations ever created for children's books. Painted in what appear to be watercolor, the artist has done an impeccable job at paying attention to detail, playing with shadows and highlights, and creating compositions that are so elegant, striking, and emotionally appealing, that the stories themselves become secondary. And people should know his name.
Each illustration below is from one of the stories in the book, except "Cinderella," as that is featured on the cover.
Note* All images are sourced from the writer's personal copy of the book. The illustrations and works featured above are the intellectual property and copyright of the original creators and the publishing company to which it belongs.