Michelangelo Pistoletto was born on 25 June 1933 in Biella (Italy). His father, Ettore Olivero Pistoletto, of Gravere di Susa, had come to this city to make artworks, including a series of graffito designs on the art of wool-working in the Ermenegildo Zegna plant in Trivero. In Biella Michelangelo’s father met Livia Fila, who became his pupil and to whom he was married in March 1932. A year after Michelangelo’s birth the family moved to Turin, where his father opened an art restoration workshop while continuing his own career as a painter. When a bomb hit the workshop in 1943, the family moved to Susa, where they remained until the end of the war.
From the time he was a small child Michelangelo learned to draw from his father, and at the age of fourteen he began to work at his side. The artist points to the knowledge of the Western painting tradition he acquired in this way as fundamental to his education. At the age of eighteen his mother enrolled him in Armando Testa’s advertising school, one of the most prestigious and innovative in Italy.

“My father had become deaf at age eight as a consequence of meningitis; he began to look at the world more than to hear it…. In class, it might have been in third grade, he couldn’t hear what the teacher was saying and so he copied a fresco of the Madonna he saw through the window. This is how he began to draw, and from that time on the eye was privileged in our family. He studied restoration in order to make some money, but he always painted for his own purposes, not for any particular public, even if he did exhibit…. I began to work with him when I was fourteen. The hands-on experience of art history I gained by working moment by moment with old-master paintings, I think, was the best schooling one could get…. Hundreds of important paintings from all periods came through our workshop, some with enormous problems that had to be studied in depth before the best way of restoring them could be found…. My father always wanted me to paint, but I had decided I would never be a painter if that were what painting was about. My father made landscapes and still lives and wanted me to, too. I told him it wouldn’t happen, because I wasn’t interested in that sort of thing…. I was good at drawing and Armando Testa had asked me to join his advertising firm. After a year I decided to start my own business, at which I worked for several years, as I wanted to be independent, even though I went on helping my father. For a while I continued doing these two very different jobs, both of which were based on drawing, color, and images, though one was aimed completely at conservation and the other, at propulsion. I’m convinced that my mirror paintings are grounded in those experiences”
(Michelangelo Pistoletto, interview with Umberto Allemandi, in Bolaffi Arte, no. 57, Milan 1976).
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Michelangelo Pistoletto
at the age of three months, 1933

Michelangelo Pistoletto
with his father, 1942
Michelangelo Pistoletto
with his parents, 1944