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1946 – 1983

Since 1946 Maraja was, in the field of illustration, mostly this: the director of a show that penetrates the meaning of the stories to be performed and one that does so with a spatial attitude and a move that result from the models he acquired through his experience in cinema and theatre. After his early work, in 1947 he achieved success by illustrating The Adventures of Pinocchio on behalf of Caraccio publishers, Milan. In 1949 it is possible to notice a remarkable artistic outbreak, that actualized in a partnership with the Milanese publishing house Baldini&Castoldi. For B&C Maraja illustrated:

  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  • Little Lord Fauntleroy by F. Hodcson Burnet
  • Hans Brinker, or The Silver Skates by M. Mapes Dodge
  • The Secret Garden by F. H. Burnet
  • Captains Courageous by R. Kipling

The illustrations are characterized by a synthesis between a sort of documentary realism, employed as an educational device, and the creation of Salgari-style settings and situation that evoke magic and adventure that are nevertheless populated by characters that do not lack a comic hint.

At the beginning of the fifties, Maraja engages in the illustration of the first Italian school textbook in colour, entitled Il mio mondo (My world); the crucial moment of this decade though is undoubtedly 1952, when he joins Fabbri publisher’s team of illustrators in Milan. Dino Fabbri wholly honed his skills; his partnership with Maraja continued until the latter’s death and it is no exaggeration to say that his creativity helped boost the publishing industry.

In 1952 he following books were sent to print:

  • The Paul Street Boys by F. Molnar
  • The Prince and the Pauper by M. Twain
  • The Ugly Duckling by H.C. Andersen
  • Little Women by L.M. Alcott
  • Il padroncino di Kikì (Kikì’s Little Master) by G. Marzetti Noventa

There is however one work that stands out and can be considered as a synthesis of the preceding works: sixteen tempera panels illustrate Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol: here Maraja reveals an interpretive freedom full of a peculiar theatricality. In this way, the reader fascinatingly turns into a viewer able to experience the story through the flow of the panels as if they were scenes being performed on a stage.

1953 is the year of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Here Maraja proposes a new style by means of which his illustrations do not document real settings but come out of the text and make one dream. From Maraja’s pencil a fantastic and dreamlike world arises, one that stirs the children’s fantasy and pushes the grown-ups into a surreal world at whose the entrance is placed the question: Who are you?

From the same years it is worth noting the Peter Pan works, where illustration combines with poetic intuition thus creating amazing nights and aerodynamic flights of childhood fancy. Another important work from that period is, no doubt, the interpretation of the fairy tale Siao Li, in which Maraja engage with the representation of the Chinese world, of which he, as a Westerner, could not have but a fairy-like and imaginary idea. The result is once again outstanding. The silhouettes of the characters are smoothed by the use of water colours and the Far East is built through settings that evoke subtle and evanescent effects, as if the illustration laid on a silk backcloth. Fior di Pesco (Peach Flower) can be seen as the next episode.

Maraja gained popularity with the 1955 edition of Pinocchio, published by Fabbri and translated into many languages, including Arabic and Russian. The extraordinary quality of its illustrations make it a highly prized collector’s item. Collectors particularly appreciate the grotesque and benevolent humour of the characters, but also the colours and shapes from which they come alive and inevitably drive one towards the text.

Particulrarly relevant for Maraja’s artistic development are Mago verde e fata nera (Black Wizard and Green Fairy) and The Wizard of Oz, both from 1958. Its Rockwell-style comic realism that documents and amuses at the same time establishes Maraja as a master of technique.

From the 1960s onwards Fabbri brothers’ editorial policy is to put on the market high quality works which largely obtain thanks to Maraja’s genius.: in this period his creativity reaches peaks worth of being included in a general and international history of illustration.

In 1959 Maraja illustrates Through the Looking-Glass by L. Carroll. In it, one can notice a transition from the preceding 1953 version: Maraja shows here that he learned the lesson of the masters and that he reached, at 44, an absolutely personal interpretation enriched by a totally autonomous artistic intuition. This can also be seen with great clarity in the first French edition of Gulliver’s Travels (1960).

In Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days and in H. Melville’s Moby Dick, published by Fabbri in 1962 and 1963 ,respectively, Maraja surprises us with the preciseness of the settings, the richness of detail, the accurate analysis of the perspective and the liveliness of the characters.  The images highlight an extremely perfect technique and a very high attentiveness. The experience of the drawing and the black-and-white charm epitomize a peculiar magic.

The musical fairy tales (The Swan LakeThe Sleeping BeautyGiselleThe NutcrackerPetrushkaCoppelia), adapted by Shirley Goulden, were illustrated in 1964. Here the theatrical inspiration is strong, the perspectives are original, and the choice of colours is original and sophisticated: illustrations invade the page and theatrically compress the text, making the viewer experience the dynamism and harmony of the dance.

The following year Maraja illustrates Sinbad the Sailor, which was considered his masterpiece thanks to its use of technique and originality: even from the preparatory studies it is possible to note his autonomous interpretation of the ancient Persian legend.

In 1966 Maraja illustrates Alessandro Manzoni’s The Betrothed in its adaptation in verse by Piero Collina. Maraja creates 38 amazing black-and-white panels that resemble a long take in miniature and in which the characters are drawn with humour and lyric intensity pop out of the page in an extraordinarily grotesque style, leading Maraja and Collina to create a real work of art.

In his experience with classic of fairy tales Maraja interprets very well the world of Aesop, Phaedrus, the Grimm brothers and Andersen, particularly as far as Fabbri’s “spoken fairy tales” are concerned, reprinted many times up until the 2000s.

Between 1970 and 1983, the year of his death, Maraja engaged in various activities within the field of children’s literature: he worked for Dami publishers in Milan, for which he illustrated many books on Greek mythology and legends, while for Fabbri he illustrated with great taste the encyclopedia Conoscere (To Know). He also worked for the weekly Corriere dei piccoli (Courier of the Little Ones), for which he drew various panels on animals and nature. He commented books of fiction and primary school textbooks for such publishing houses as Fabbri and E.D.I. (Milan), Janus (Bergamo), Barbera Ofiria (Florence). His competence was highly prized by publishers Piero Dami, Accademia, Le Stelle, Garzanti, and Fabbri (Milan), D’Anna (Florence), Mondadori (Verona), Janus (Bergamo), Noseda (Como), and many others.

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