In the early twentieth century, in Liguria there was a strong increase in the production of olive oil, a phenomenon due to the introduction of chemistry, which made it possible to make edible even those oils that were found to be unsuitable for food consumption.
Imperia, in this new reality, played a leading role, as within a few years, the most important plants for refining olive oil were concentrated.
To keep the qualities and organoleptic characteristics unchanged, it was decided to pack it in tinplate containers, a material which, thanks to its peculiarities, allowed an optimal conditioning of the product both for internal trade and for export.
The year 1861, which represented the achievement of the much desired unity for Italy, and which had cost great effort and sacrifice, also marked the beginning of a phenomenon that would inexorably change the fate of the nation and beyond: the emigration abroad. In the new states, communities were formed in which many businesses were run by countrymen; in the major cities newspapers were published in Italian, brotherhood and help societies were set up, all this greatly favored the constant landing of immigrants who, in addition to the concept of work, brought with them music and food.
Italian communities abroad tried to fill that sense of nostalgia by going in search of the culinary flavors that were immediately attributable to the distant homeland. In the new countries they found almost all the ingredients necessary for the preparation of our dishes, with the exception of olive oil. For this reason it began to be imported. But if the quality of the product was guaranteed by the importer – who was always of Italian origin – our compatriots abroad wanted a can that had to remember the land of origin.
To meet the demands of the international market, in Liguria they began to produce containers for the marketing of the oil produced throughout the national territory, with all those images that best represented our country.
That happy marriage between technological-industrial progress and artistic research began which led to excellent results, not only from a commercial point of view but also as a tool for transmitting the taste and new languages of art, allowing to reach an ever wider audience.
For products destined for Italian communities abroad, the designers worked on lithography as if it were precious paper, creating containers with nuanced and refined colors, not only for oil but also for tuna, trying to reproduce brands and symbols that could best alleviate the nostalgia of distant Italy.
Each container had titles and descriptions in two languages, that of origin and that of the new country, and, in an attempt to make them more similar, the translation into the origin language was approximate.
Certainly the female figure had a privileged role: it was alternately represented in the role of the woman-angel, as for example in the Madonna oil, in which the protagonist appeared wrapped in a soft peplum, according to the typical liberty representation, however, there was no lack of images typical of the Belle Epoque, characterized by thin vines and generous décolleté, showy sinuosity of the forms as in the case of Odalisca oil, or those that referred to the popular rural tradition such as in the Olio Tana, in which the woman appeared portrayed with the typical Sicilian folk costume. The series linked to the symbolic characters of our country is very rich: the Verdi Oil, Giuseppe Mazzini, D’Annunzio, Tasso and the Caruso and Giotto Oil, to name just a few. In addition, the brands that evoked the great plays, such as Norma, Romeo and Juliet oil, Tosca and Olio Aida. There was no shortage of cans that celebrate Italian popular traditions such as Ambriola oil, Sicilian girl, Rosalia, Romanella and those that evoke the historical events of our country in the early twentieth century such as Duce, Edda, Vittoria Tripolitana and Black facet.
Finally, a place of great importance was reserved for the representation and celebration of Italy. On the tin cans for oil, our country was almost always portrayed in the appearance of a young woman wrapped in a peplum like a classic figure, inspired by Nike or the Greek gods.