In 1956, on the barriers in Piazza Duca d’Aosta in Milan, around the construction site of the Pirelli Tower, an enormous elephant rose up with the outline of a Pirelli tyre for industrial vehicles in place of its head and trunk. A colossus like the mythological Atlas, it was accompanied by the slogan “the giant that will go a long way”. This advertisement, which was designed in 1955 by Armando Testa for Pirelli and its new line of truck tyres, made a huge impact on the skyline of Milan, and was more effective than any poster or advertising page. Born in Turin in 1917, Armando Testa was a pupil of the abstract artist Ezio D’Errico at the Scuola Tipografica Vigliardi Paravia, and by the mid-1950s he was already at the helm of a small graphic arts company that was soon to become Studio Testa, a firm that would make history in the world of advertising. Among the various clients he worked with during that initial period, such as Martini & Rossi and Carpano, his collaboration with Pirelli was one that led to a particular degree of creativity: the idea of portraying a tyre as an animal is as simple and immediate as it is of great emotional impact.
Together with the gigantic Atlas, Armando Testa also turned another Pirelli tyre into an animal: the Stelvio, the winner of Formula 1 races and a champion of performance together with the Cinturato. While Atlas is a stoic elephant, Stelvio is a vigorous lion. A lion sinking its claws into the asphalt, with the tyre represented by a mane. In the 1950s, the collage technique introduced by the Dutch artist Bob Noorda and his master Ezio Bonini was making its way into advertising graphics: the image of the product, which was photographed to reflect the look of the tyre on sale appears against a background drawn in the traditional manner. In actual fact, it is not an original photograph but rather a skilful work of retouching that brings out the pattern of the tread, which in a photo of the type taken in those days would have appeared as a black mass with no detail. The original sketches for the two advertisements “It’ll go a long way” and “Claws the asphalt” are preserved in our Historical Archive. The one for the Stelvio lion has a distinctive feature: the animal is looking to the side. But the artist has written next to the drawing: “Careful! The lion’s head needs to be turned”. And the final poster does indeed show the lion looking straight ahead, rather than behind, as in the original sketch, highlighting the importance of safety while driving. Similarly, the original airbrush drawing of the Pirelli Atlas also bears a handwritten note that says “bring out the red a bit” to improve the colour scheme and composition. These notes constitute a precious testimony of an age that possibly really can be referred to as the “artistic renaissance” of the 1950s – of which Armando Testa was one of the greatest masters.