Erberto Carboni

Fate il pieno con olio Shell (1937)

Ecco la lattina topolino Shell (1938)

Alt! E via! Dynamin Super Shell (1939)

Olio Auto Shell invernale alt! E via! (1939)

Olio Auto Shell per l'estate (1939)


These five posters are part of a series of advertisements that designer Erberto Carboni produced for the oil company Shell and its Italian distributor Società Nafta Genova in the late 1930s. The posters advertise Shell fuel and motor oil, and taken as a set, they appear like different variations on the same theme. They all display a modern graphic style, eye-catching, playful and colourful, which following the most up-to-date theories in the field of advertisement and graphic design, gives human figures less and less predominance and in some cases casts the product itself as the absolute protagonist of the pictures.

Main Principles

  1. The Sacralisation of the New Man’s Total Politics through the Arts

  2. Shaping the New Man’s Reality by Fashioning National Myths

  3. Monumentalism: Visualising Subjectivity and Objectivity


Cars and motoring were among the myths promoted by the regime, centred on ideas of speed, technology, modernity, and new opportunities for travelling. The regime, together with some car companies, in particular Fiat, started promoting private motoring and car ownership, in the 1920s and 1930s, in an attempt to encourage a more widespread dissemination and use of cars. These dissemination campaigns still leveraged the fascination for speed, but also tried to propose a new idea of cars no longer connected to privilege and the thirst for adventure, but as a more domestic, familiar, comfortable, and accessible product. This shift in ideas connected to motoring were functional to the regime’s and Fiat’s attempts to turn the automobile into a mass consumer, or at least a more popular, product, and in so doing modernize the nation.

The sale of fuel and motor oil is, clearly, closely linked to these processes, as part of various industries, services and products which developed around the use of cars. These posters develop an image of motoring as a fun and ultimately modern activity, both thematically, and through the creation of a graphic style aligned with the most recent developments of newborn advertisement theories. The design is extremely simplified, with well-defined elements standing out against the plain background, painted in bright colours. Some of the advertisements, in particular those for motor oil, focus on the product, putting it at the centre of the composition, exploiting the conspicuous, modern and attractive look of the triangular, yellow oil tin.

Other posters focus on the act of driving, depicting it as elegant and fun, like in the first example, in which four people are represented travelling on a car, seen from above, in a very elegant depiction of driving and motoring, emphasized by the yellow background with diagonal white stripes. The slogan, also written diagonally, says ‘divertimento per voi ma lavoro per il vostro motore’ (‘fun for you but work for your engine’), and the name of the company, Shell, stands out in big red letters.

Other posters focus more on the exceptional pickup and speed afforded by Shell fuel, and at the same time on the modernity of cars. This is the case of the fourth poster, representing a car that is held up by animals in a rural context; the poster advertises a Shell fuel which promises to offer the best gear-change, pick up and acceleration performances. Some of these advertisements are populated by rationalized or puppet-like figures, which give them a playful nature. In general, they are catchy, striking and easily understandable, in line with the most modern ideas about advertisement and graphic design.


Bianchino, Gloria (ed.). 1998. Erberto Carboni: dal futurismo al Bauhaus. Milan: Mazzotta.

Mughini, Giampiero and Maurizio Scudiero. 1997. Il manifesto pubblicitario italiano. Da Dudovich a Depero (1890-1940). Milan: Nuova Arti Grafiche Ricordi.

Villari, Anna (ed.). 2008. L’arte della pubblicità: il manifesto italiano e le avanguardie 1920-1940. Cinisello Balsamo: Silvana Editoriale.

Laura Pennacchietti