“The years since the war have seen a tremendous growth in the field of medicine. This has become the golden era of antibiotics and metabolic agents, the fulfilment of the dreams of Ehrlich and Pasteur. As the industry has grown, so have the demands made upon the pharmaceutical art designer and so have his opportunities. And as these have grown, so has the competition.”[from ‘Pharmaceutical Advertising Design’ in Graphis issue n° 47, 1953]
In 1940 Franco Dompé, having just graduated in pharmacology in Pavia, founded his own drugs production company – independent from the pharmaceutical lab tradition of his father and grandfather. Today’s ‘Dompé farmaceutici‘ is still based in Milan, via San Martino 12 (a few steps from Franco Grignani’s house) in an imposing building which, at the inauguration of the new factory in 1951, had very modern architectural lines.
Franco Dompé’s fortune is linked to a careful strategic choice: by investing in the research and development of new medicines, he built a solid knowledge that allowed the company to flourish at the end of the scheme of the absence of patent protection of drugs.
In 1947 Franco Grignani became the Artistic Director of ‘Bellezza d’Italia‘, the house organ of Dompé farmaceutici, for which he designed numerous advertisements until 1961, which propelled him onto the stage of international graphics.
Characterized since the beginning by the excellent photographic quality and by a graphic design of great value, Bellezza d’Italia was born as a bimonthly periodical printed by Alfieri & Lacroix, aiming at a selected public composed mainly of doctors and their families, to whom it had been given for free upon request since 1948. The editorial recipe consisted in avoiding topics related to medicine, focusing instead on escapism, providing a mixture of various subjects, from fashion (sometimes with the artistic contribution of Jeanne Grignani) and sport, to art and tourism, with specific attention to the presentation of the natural and artistic beauties of the Italian peninsula (hence the name ‘Bellezza d’Italia’, which literally means ‘Beauty of Italy’), with the aim of gaining the sympathy of the ‘medical class’ and then offering them, in advertising inserts, their pharmaceutical products, but in a non-invasive way:
“Bellezza d’Italia has never talked or will ever talk about the problems of high surgery, high medicine, epidemic, and diseases that are difficult or easy to cure, diagnostics, and other similar topics. Bellezza d’Italia wants to be an affectionate serene companion in the doctor’s hours of rest, a glimpse of the world […] that arrives at the doctor’s home every month.”[Bd’I no. 7, 1949]
Cesare Colombo, an important photographer who collaborated with Grignani, recalls his words in a publication that came out on the occasion of the inauguration of a new Dompé research centre in 1993:
with a smile, he [Grignani] can glance through copies of Bellezza d’Italia, allowing them to bring back memories of a now remote professional quandary. «We had to provide doctors with news, ideas and promotional material,» he recollects, «avoiding the repetition of themes which were already well worn by their demanding working day. This is why I included a series of eye-catching symbols in the colour advertisements: the agility of ballet to fight paralysing pain, butterflies in flight to combat heart ailments and the outlines of phials or syringes forming elegant motifs inspired by Art Nouveau.»[‘Dompé a L’Aquila’, 1993]
The texts had as contributors some of the greatest authors and journalists out there, such as Dino Buzzati, Indro Montanelli and Camilla Cederna, with “topics that were often entirely new departures from the triviality of the illustrated magazines of the day.” [ibid.]
The magazine was also an object of propaganda at specialized conferences, such as the ‘International Medical Days‘ (‘Giornate mediche internazionali’) in Verona:
Franco Grignani took care of the layout of the house organ from the very first issues, but from no. 3 of 1949 he began to make more elaborate covers, focusing on his ability to control graphic and photographic techniques. In no. 5, 1952, the abbreviation ‘Bd’I‘ appeared for the first time on the cover. Grignani also gave life to a rich repertoire of graphic solutions in the creation of numerous advertising pages for Dompé products such as Artrosil, Cardioritmon, Guaiacalcium, Tribenzoica, and Vi–Lactis.
In the layout, everything was subordinated to the photographic images, with very different cuts, which Grignani was able to skillfully arrange on the surface of the double-page. To give greater prominence to photography and take full advantage of its potential, in 1955 an important novelty was introduced with the album format (24.2 x 32.3 cm, “the only magazine in the world with horizontal layout“), also to differentiate the house organ from increasing imitations:
For Bellezza d’Italia, Franco Grignani won, in 1954, the Award for the colour advertising page. This was his first time participating in the National Advertising Award (‘Premio Nazionale della Pubblicità’), which was part of the fourth National Congress of Advertising in Venice [from ‘Rassegna Grafica’ issue n° 27, 1954, and ‘Schweizer Graphische Mitteilungen’ issue n ° 10, 1955]:
In 1958, in a sort of provisional balance, the management proudly stated that …
“in its eleven years of life, our magazine has been able to achieve such a high literary, photographic and technical level that it can be rightly considered among the first publications of international value.”
Idea, a magazine focused on graphic design and typography, published quarterly in Tokyo from 1953 until now, dedicated a specific 8-page article in issue n° 14 in 1955 (“The Dompé and Franco Grignani”), and the German magazine Gebrauchsgraphik in issue n° 3 in 1956 (6-page article) stated that the advertising for Bellezza d’Italia “exemplifies a new graphical expression and a particular striving after form and movement”.
As it happened with Alfieri & Lacroix since 1952, Dompé farmaceutici formed into a sort of illuminated client, open to experimentation with new inventive possibilities with a freedom that, for other ad campaigns, was much more limited. The relationship with the Dompé family was therefore characterized by such highest mutual esteem, that one Sunday morning Franco Dompé telephoned Franco Grignani to invite him to look out of the window and the Grignani family saw a brand-new Fiat 500 ‘Topolino’ parked as a gift in the deserted street under their house. This was to be their first family car …
In his work for Dompé, Grignani applied his whole aesthetic and conceptual arsenal: movement, lateral vision, experimental photography, reiteration, and synthesis. Through the photographic experimentation of the ads, he began to build his own unique visual language, often using photomontage in the text-image relationship. The continuous reuse of photographs taken from his personal archive and the creation of multiple versions for the same advertising page also showed Grignani’s typical theme of repetition, making the message effective by strengthening the overall image.
“This series contains advertisements for “Artrosil B”, an arthritis medication, but instead of highlighting the pain and suffering of this condition, Grignani put his experiments in motion and movement photography to work as a way to display what the reader’s life could look like without arthritis. It’s as if he’s showing a reader their future.”[Sitka Mazzan, student from North Carolina State University, 2022]
Some of Dompé’s advertisements were displayed in 2011 at the Herb Lubalin Study Center in New York for “Pharma“, an exhibition focusing on the evolution of pharmaceutical design in the mid-20th century.
Most issues of Bellezza d’Italia (over 70 publications) can be now browsed from the website of the Dompé Foundation.
more ads for Dompé in the Gallery…
[special acknowledgement to Matt Lamont, UK designer and collector of print, and to Madoka Nishi, editor in chief of Tokyo’s Idea, for helping me examine issue n° 14 of Idea, 1955]
[*] courtesy of Daniela Grignani
[a] from ‘Rassegna Grafica’ issue n° 27, 1954
 AIAP / CDPG Centro di Documentazione sul Progetto Grafico, courtesy of Lorenzo Grazzani
 Typeroom, courtesy of Loukas Karnis
 Artribune & Galleria Gruppo Credito Valtellinese
 Graphiste-webdesigner, courtesy of Jean-Guy Cheminade
[some infos from Comunicare l’impresa by Carlo Vinti]
Last Updated on 11/02/2023 by Emiliano