The Pellizzaro Branch

Virtually nothing was known about the family’s Italian connections until Danuta Ombach died in February 2001, leaving behind a wealth of documents that she had squirrelled away. Up to that point the only thing we knew for certain was that the Pellizzarros ate with a knife and fork, because someone (probably Danuta) once brought over from Poland a set of dinner knives and forks bearing the Pellizzaro monogram (see photo). The other thing we thought we knew about them was that they were a bunch of sleazy ne’er-do-wells who had fled Italy to escape gambling debts!

Among Danusia’s documents was found a handwritten transcript of the obituary for Paweł Pellizzaro that was published in Kurjer Warszawski on 7 February 1868. Here is the printed version:

(See below for a translation of the above.)

Obituary of Paweł Pellizzaro [from Kurjer Warszawski, 17 February 1868]
Yesterday we reported the death in our city at the age of 83 of Paweł Pellizzaro, former merchant and citizen of Warsaw, and member of the Literary Confraternity. At one time, he and his brother Antoni (who died in 1860) ran Warsaw’s oldest and largest art prints business. Having arrived in our city in 1806 from Trento in the Austrian Tyrol, they never left it again except in pursuit of their business. Their depot was located in the Kohler building in Krakowskie Przedmieście, where it is to be found even today. We mentioned earlier that the Pellizzaro brothers were our country’s oldest established dealers in art prints. And indeed it is so, because a half-century earlier traders in art prints from Italy, Germany and elsewhere were coming to Warsaw, but their business was confined exclusively to selling from door to door. Occasionally they would find unoccupied walls, stretch ropes across them and display prints on them, which for the most part did not represent the most desirable works of art. Only in later times did traders sometimes come along, bringing with them better quality prints, and they usually would for some time display their wares in the entrance courts of buildings such as, for example, those of Fietta, Tambolini, and others. Some years ago, in Grodzicki House, there was also an art prints shop owned by Mr Metlow, but this did not last very long. After the Pellizzaro brothers had established themselves in Warsaw, within a dozen or so years an outstandingly well-stocked art prints shop was opened by Mr Dal Trozzo (alive to this day). Mr Dal Trozzo expanded the business to include writing materials (now run by Arnold); in the end he decided to concentrate on that exclusively, and wound up the art prints side. In latter years, a large art prints store has been established by Mr Dazziaro in the Palace of Stanisław Potocki, the Church of St Joseph; this business was later run by Mr  Nervo (and later by Mr Schmidt) at the home of Mrs. Neybaurowa on Senatorska Street, and finally Mr Tessaro, on Krakowskie Przedmieście, whose shop exists to this day, although the prints store in Bujno House on Senatorska Street has now closed down. The history of the art prints trade, not just in Warsaw but in Poland as a whole, is closely bound with the Pellizzaro name. They were known to everyone, and valued by all as solid citizens. Paweł Pellizzaro was a true Warsaw character, and as such he was both liked and respected. We were all familiar with this tall, elderly gentleman with characteristic features. We also remember his portrait of some years ago at the Fine Arts Exhibition, in which his likeness was captured so well by the brush – if we are not mistaken – of the late Bonawentura Dąbrowski.

Credit is due to the librarians at Warsaw University, who dug out and e-mailed the relevant copy of Kurjer Warszawski that contained the obituary. The University does, in fact, hold archive copies of a large number of long-gone Polish publications – both local and national – and it is entirely possible that the Pellizzaros may have featured in other editions of the Kurjer and other newspapers. However, as it is all on microfilm or microfiche, these resources are not easily searchable; yes, they are accessible over the Internet, but it’s a cumbersome process. It is possible to pay library staff to scour chosen issues of newspapers and periodicals, but of course, that could prove expensive.

Also among Danuta’s documents was found a print of the portrait mentioned in the obituary, plus another rather poor-quality print of a portrait which a note on the reverse said was hanging in Warsaw’s Zachęta National Gallery of Art. The kind people at Warsaw University volunteered to check that out, and duly came back with the information that that portrait had been transferred to the National Museum in Warsaw, where the Dąbrowski painting is located, though apparently neither portrait is presently gracing the walls of that museum.

One final point before moving on. It has to be remembered that the Pellizzaros originally came from Italy. So their names, at least in the early days would have been Paolo and Antonio, rather than Paweł and Antoni. It may only be later that they switched to the Polish versions of their names. Also, as regards their surname, various spellings have been found to exist (e.g. Pellizaro, Pelizaro).

The two portraits are shown below.

The portrait on the left is by Bonawentura Dąbrowski, the other one is by an unknown artist. The National Museum of Warsaw needs to be contacted with a view to obtaining further information and better copies of the photographs.

The documents above (again scavenged from Danuta’s flat after her death) both relate to some abstruse procedure to do with validating the coats of arms for use in Poland. The top pair are from Italy and, hopefully, Fabio Ognibeni (a Pellizzaro descendant in Italy, of whom more below) will be able to assist by contacting the Italian equivalent of the English “College of Arms”.

Making the connection, by George Dudziński

Having established that my great-grandfather (my paternal grandmother’s father, Józef/Giuseppe) was Italian, and that I am therefore 1/8th (or 12.5%, if you prefer) Italian, I was at a loss how to pursue the Pellizzaro line beyond their arrival in Poland. I decided to Google for Pellizzaro and the town in Italy they came from (according to Paweł/Paulo’s obituary) – namely Trento – and came up trumps! What I found was an article written by Fabio Ognibeni, a descendant of the Pellizzaros, who lives and works in the very town from which they all originated: in fact it turned out to be Pieve Tesino in the Trentino-Alto Adige region of South Tyrol, lying at an altitude of 843 m (about 2800 ft). (The original Italian of the article I found, together with my translation, are on the following page.)

Further Googling revealed that Fabio is owner of a company supplying local spruce as tonewood for musical instruments (see if you wish to know more). Apart from that he is very active locally and is eager to promote local history, enjoining others to follow his example. I therefore prepared a small package containing some information about the Polish Pellizzaros and their descendants and addressed it to him care of the village hall. Fairly quickly I received an acknowledgement e-mail (, with a promise of further information in due course. 

Pieve Tesino is a relatively small village in terms of its population (it was 679 at the end of 2010 – about the same as that of Slingsby), though it covers an area of 70 km2. Seemingly, the village made a name for itself selling goods from door to door, and the Pellizzaros must have been considered foremost among such traders, as the village has a street named after them.

Pieve Tesino Via Fratelli Pellizzaro (or “Pellizzaro Brothers Street”)

According to Fabio, there were/are two branches of the Pellizzaro family: the Carestia Pellizzaros (to which Fabio belongs) and the Beatin Pellizzaros (our lot), though both were in the business of publishing and selling fine art prints. However, while the Beatins settled in Warsaw, the Carestias found their way to Besançon in south-western France, near the Swiss border. Both, however, are engaged in the same trade – the sale of art prints.

Fabio has been instrumental in establishing the Museo Per Via, a museum devoted to the business for which Pieve Tesino has long been best known, namely the selling of goods door-to-door. In fact, look up the Italian words ambulantato (itinerant salesmanship, peddling, costermongery) and cassela (back-pack, satchel), you will find that they are almost exclusively associated with Pieve Tesino. And the trade was not just in art prints. It probably started with products like fire steels (for striking sparks to light a fire) and later included lenses and optical equipment, linens, lingerie, etc. There were also travelling knife-grinders.

I have yet to establish, with Fabio’s help (I hope), just how the two branches of the Pellizzaro family fit together and how far back the ‘trunk’ of the tree divided. That there was a common trunk is supported by the fact that the coat of arms that hangs in his home is clearly essentially the same as ours.

(From local newspaper TRENTINO of 30 March 2014)

PIEVE TESINO. Da qualche giorno accanto alla porta di una casa storica in Piazza Maggiore è comparsa una targa informativa dal titolo interessante: “Il Tesino e la sua Storia”. La tabella racconta in breve, sia in lingua italiana che in inglese, la storia di quella casa che fu della famiglia Pellizzaro. La novità sta nel fatto che l’iniziativa è privata, ovvero, non è stata l’amministrazione a decidere di mettere una targa sull’abitazione, che ha un certo valore culturale, ma tutto è partito proprio da Fabio Ognibeni che con il fratello Mario è il proprietario dell’immobile.«Certe iniziative sviluppate dal pubblico – spiega Fabio -richiedono burocrazia e tempi lunghi. Portando avanti l’iniziativa privatamente, invece, si può concludere il lavoro in pochi giorni. Ho deciso di realizzare questa targa perché credo che il Tesino abbia molto da offrire dal punto di vista storico. Non solo. Penso anche che non si debba passare le giornate a lamentarsi delle condizioni in cui si trova la nostra conca oggi, ma si debba agire. Ognuno nel suo piccolo deve fare la propria parte senza aspettare che sia sempre l’amministrazione o altri a fare i lavori». La tabella porta il titolo “Il Tesino”, proprio per significare che la storia della valle è una, e non deve perdersi nell’ombra di inutili campanilismi. Nel testo si acconta la storia della famiglia Pellizzaro che Fabio ha ricostruito con ricerche documentarie personali. «La mia famiglia ha alle spalle una storia importante per la valle. Il mio antenato, Pietro Pellizzaro fratello di Baldassare, fu il primo presidente della Pro loco di Pieve che è la più vecchia d’Italia. Pietro, Baldassare e altri abitanti della comunità, nel 1881 decisero di fondare la Società di abbellimento del colle San Sebastiano e di trasformare con fondi propri l’area che circondava la chiesa in un vero e proprio parco. Insomma, non aspettarono che fossero altri a fare il lavoro, ma avviarono il processo di abbellimento del paese. Una bella storia che dovrebbe servire da esempio per la nostra valle ancora oggi». Ma le vicende dei Pellizzaro non si fermano qui. La famiglia, come molti atri tesini, si era dedicata al commercio delle stampe in tutta Europa e successivamente si diede alla vendita di oggetti di occhialeria. «L’ultima Pellizzaro, la signora Celestina, era la mamma del professore Alberto Ognibeni, mio padre, che fu preside delle scuole medie di Castello ed era molto conosciuto anche in Valsugana».Di queste storie la valle è piena, e diverse sarebbero le case che avrebbero molto da raccontare. «Mi piacerebbe che la mia iniziativa fosse accolta con favore e imitata da altri, proseguendo in un cammino virtuoso che valorizzi gli edifici storici e i monumenti dei paesi del Tesino. Altre targhe, con la stessa grafica e colori potrebbero essere realizzate a breve, e a costi molto contenuti».

Plaque telling the history of the mansion

In Pieve Tesino, the man behind the idea is Fabio Ognibeni, a descendant of the Pellizzaros: “I did this off my own bat”30 March 2014PIEVE TESINO. A few days ago, by the door of a historic building in Piazza Maggiore, there appeared an information plaque interestingly entitled: “Tesino And Its History”. It tells briefly, in both Italian and English, the history of that house, which used to belong to the Pellizzaro family.What is new about this is that the initiative to put this plaque up was an entirely private one; in other words, it was not a decision by the local authority to put a plaque on the building, which is one of local cultural interest, but instead it was all down to Fabio Ognibeni who, along with his brother Mario, own the building.“Some publicly-sponsored initiatives become mired in bureaucracy. Doing it privately, explains Fabio, a lot can be achieved in a matter of days. I decided to put up this plaque because I believe Tesino has a great deal to offer from a historical point of view. But that is not all. I also think that instead of simply sitting back and lamenting the inaction of others, sometimes we need to take the bull by the horns ourselves. Each in his own small way needs to do what he can without waiting for the local authorities, or just ‘someone else’, to do what is needed”. The plaque bears the title “Tesino” precisely to signify that the history of the valley is a joint one and should not be overshadowed by pointless parochialism. The text of the plaque tells the history of the Pellizzaro family, which Fabio has personally reconstructed from documentary evidence. “My family has behind it a history that is of significance to the whole valley. My ancestor, Pietro Pellizzaro, brother of Baldassare, was chairman of the Pieve Tourist Association, the oldest in Italy. Pietro, Baldassare and other local inhabitants decided in 1881 to set up a Society for the ‘beautification’ of Mount San Sebastiano and to fund with their own money the transformation of the area around the church into a proper park. In other words, instead of waiting for others to do the work, they set about the task of tidying up their environment themselves. This is an inspirational example to people living in the valley today”. But that is not all that the Pellizzaros are known for. Like many other Tesino families, their family devoted their lives to dealing in fine prints throughout Europe, later also diversifying into eyewear. The last of the Pellizzaros – Celestina – was the mother of my father, Prof. Alberto Pellizzaro, who was headmaster of the middle school in Castello Tesino and was very well known even in Valsugana.”The Tesino valley is full of such stories, and every one of them is worth telling. “Let us hope that my initiative will be welcomed and that others will follow my example. The historical buildings and monuments of the Tesino region deserve to be recognized and remembered. Other plaques using the same layout and colours could be put up quite quickly and at very reasonable cost”.