Wordless Books

L’albero (The Tree)

Iela Mari

L’albero – English title The Tree – covers the seasonal cycle of an oak tree, and its images come a full circle, too. It opens with the bare-branched tree buried in winter snow and ends with it about to be submerged under new snow the following year.

Spring, spread from L’albero

Over the course of a year, as the seasons change, the tree gains new leaves, dangling flowers, full foliage, acorns and tumbling leaves.

Summer, spread from L’albero

This in itself is a beautiful progression. But there is more. In the earth beneath the tree we see a squirrel awaken from its hibernation; on the ground, wild flowers and grasses grow tall; in the canopy, birds build their nest; and in the air, baby birds learn to fly, eventually leaving their parents for adventures of their own.

Autumn, spread from L’albero

In the illustrations the tree is shown straight on, always in the same position, its trunk on the right-hand page of each spread. But while that basic placement remains consistent, the colours alter dramatically as each page is turned. We see the tree change from bleached-out white to a soft spring hue, from vivid summer green to mellow autumn orange and red.

Winter, spread from L’albero

Iela Mari (1931-2014) created several wordless books, including the beautiful and poetic Il Palloncino Rosso (1967), The Red Balloon, and Animali nel Prato (1978), Animals in the Grass. She was married to Enzo Mari (b. 1932), the Italian Modernist artist and furniture designer, and together they made other wordless books, such as L’uovo e la Gallina (1969), or The Egg and the Chicken, and Le Mela e la Farfalla (1969), The Apple and the Butterfly.