The “Tesini” lived in a valley across from Val Sugana, near Borgo, about 40 kilometers from Trento and 80 from Padua. The main locations, about 700 meters above sea level on a plateau surrounded by mountains, are Pieve Tesino (birthplace of Italian statesman Alcide De Gasperi), Castello Tesino and Cinto.
The little available land to farm spurred the original inhabitants to take up sheep farming that allowed exploiting the territory up to high altitudes in the warm season and, in the winter, to bring their herds (ancient chronicles speak of 90,000 sheep!) down to the plains.
They travelled for several months far from their hometown, leaving the women the task of managing the house, raising the children and farming the land. When, in the 16th century, the many limitations placed on grazing pastures caused a crisis in their activity of shepherds, their habit of traveling remained, and so they went from house to house and to markets, selling flintlocks for blunderbusses extracted in the valley belonging to the Gallo family from Castello Tesino. But nothing lasts forever, and this activity, too, after almost a century during which the Tesini had built a solid “sales network”, experienced a crisis caused by the progress in French machines that could produce at lower costs. And since only those who are capable of evolving can survive, the Tesini, too, changed product, going from selling flintlocks to printed materials and to books published by the Remondini.
GIOVANNI ANTONIO REMONDINI (1634 - 1711),
originally a shop-owner selling textiles, iron and other products, in 1650 began his printing and publishing activity in Bassano del Grappa, producing mostly religious images using prevalently wood (xylography) and copper (engraving) matrices. Simple images, not expensive, directed at people living in the countryside – the people that the Tesini knew very well from their pilgrimages through towns and markets.
The merging of interests between the Remondini, the publisher, and the Tesini - always attentive to opportunities for earning money - soon became concrete in a solid collaboration that will last almost two hundred years.
The successors of Giovanni Antonio Remondini, Giuseppe (1672 -1742) and Giambattista (1713-1773) continued the work of the founder, broadening the company’s activity. They instituted a school to train qualified printing technicians, purchased paper mills, created a foundry for printing characters, increasing the number of printing presses that halfway through the 18th century totaled 54 - 32 of which for copper printing. Over a thousand people were involved by the Bassano publisher in a production of prints that became increasingly varied and included, besides religious images, also wallpaper, maps, fans, playing cards and numerous books. A structure that, for size and production capacity, was considered one of the largest publishing houses in Europe in those years and continued to work until the end of the Venetian Republic.
A small portion of this enormous production of printed matter was absorbed by the local market and the rest could be sold only through an extended and capillary distribution network. And this was entrusted to the Tesini.
THE TESINI’S ENTREPRENEURSHIP WAS FORMIDABLE:
with a crate on their shoulders (40 kilos!!) filled with images by the Remondini, on consignment but guaranteed by the goods of the traveling salesman, they began traveling, no longer limiting themselves to the towns where they used to sell flintlocks, but moved farther: France, Spain, Belgium, England, Russia. Then to the Americas and to India. They left in the fall and returned in spring, organized in teams headed by the person having more experience or familiarity with the locations. They got acquainted with European markets. When a team arrived in a town, they divided the areas to visit, house by house, to propose their prints. They progressively widened their radius of action, crossing unfamiliar places, dealing with languages and customs very different from their own, winning the diffidence of potential buyers who found themselves facing a “modern” door-to-door salesman of the 17th-18th century.
BUT THE TESINI DID NOT ONLY PERFORM THE ROLE OF SALESMEN.
During their trips, they collected requests and indications based on their customers’ tastes: which were the most popular saints in a given territory and if in certain towns the representation of sacred figures followed particular rules or features (a younger Madonna or a St. Joseph with a slightly longer beard). They took notes on customers’ needs, brought them back to the Remondini publishers who produced, for those populations, “custom-made” images that they could sell more easily the next season. They had “invented” market research and prints on-demand!
The distance from Bassano – the place where the prints were produced – led the Tesini to organize themselves by creating stable deposits along their usual itineraries that with time became shops. Starting in the last decades of the 18th century, the experience acquired in choosing the products and the refinement of their sensitivity in the field of art and culture favored a progressive distancing from the Remondini’s popular products, which were replaced with refined prints coming from England and France or produced directly, capable of satisfying a clientele that was by now prevalently bourgeois and urban.
FROM THE FIRST DUTCH SHOPS AT THE END OF THE 18TH CENTURY
the initiative progressed to about fifty shops spread throughout Europe by the middle of the 19th century, often maintaining ties of mutual collaboration. The Fietta Badalai, shop-owners and publishers in France, between Metz and Strasbourg become “Fietta frères”; Pietro Tessaro in 1808 created a Maison d’Edition in Antwerp, active until 1906; Giovanni Buffa in Amsterdam, in 1790, founded a company for the production of portraits, albums dedicated to topography, geology, reproductions of works of art, among which the catalogue of the Rijksmuseum; Severino Pasqualini settled in Paris and became a lithography publisher from 1926 until WWII. Particularly interesting was the activity of the brothers Giuseppe and Giacomo Daziario who started out as traveling salesmen and were able to open large shops in Saint Petersburg on the Nevsky Prospect and in Paris, on Boulevard des Italiens, producing lithographies having a high artistic and documental value. The changes brought about the by two Wars, that in the first half of the 20th century upturned the fates of Europe, did not leave room for a traveling trade and the destruction they caused dissolved the activity of the Tesini. As testimony of their work, a small precious museum was recently opened (www.museopervia.it), in Pieve Tesino, right in the home of one of these sellers of images, Giovanni Buffa. Four floors exhibiting documents, printed matter, films, dioramas telling the history of these enterprising world travelers of images.