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The real story behind the six-legged dog

A new logo for a new company

Editorial Staff

26 March 2020

The story of the six-legged dog has been told in so many ways. Some say the dog first had four legs and Enrico Mattei gave it two more. Others are sure it represents the four wheels of a car, plus the two legs of its driver. Still others see fascinating similarities with the frightening and fascinating creatures of African art, or with the Etruscan chimaera. Whatever the truth of the matter, let's try to put in order what we know for sure. Before the birth of Eni in February 1953, Agip and its chairman, Enrico Mattei, were struggling to tap into a well-defended market for refined products. The "Seven Sisters" - the big American, British and Dutch petrol companies - had an overwhelming presence in Italy and the petrol market firmly in their claws. Getting a toehold among them would be no mean feat. It would involve getting the attention and trust of the Italian people.

The answer was a competition

Eni had deployed all its tanks in the field of communication. In spring 1952, it decided to launch a big competition, announced in the pages of the magazine Domus, then run by Giò Ponti. The point was to come up with a logo for Supercortemaggiore petrol and Agipgas, the company's top products, to deck advertising signs. More than 4,000 sketches were sent in to the competition (a huge level of participation prompted, no doubt, by the juicy prize at stake of 10 million lira) and judged by a jury made up of Giò Ponti, Mario Sironi, Mino Maccari, Antonio Baldini (president of the Rome Quadriennale art show), journalists Dante Ferrari and Silvio Negro, Renata Boldrini and Luigi Faleschini, head of Eni's research office.

"Frightening and fascinating creatures. The Etruscan chimaera. The Roman wolf."

From the mind of a sculptor

In September 1952, the jury was ready to announce its decisions. In the "Supercortemaggiore logo" category, Carlo Dradi and Fulvio Pardi were joint winners. The six-legged dog triumphed in the Super "Supercortemaggiore sign" category (under the title "3x3"). Outstanding figures in the world of Italian graphics, like Fortunato Depero, Armando Testa, Marcello Nizzoli, took part, but the winner with his six-legged dog was a designer from Milan, Giuseppe Guzzi. That's what the report on the competition says, anyway. Thanks to his lavish prize, Giuseppe Guzzi decided to move to Argentina and live there, without leaving a trace behind him. But the story doesn't end there. Because the hand behind the logo was not in fact Giuseppe Guzzi's. In 1983, the son of the sculptor Luigi Broggini, proved that his father had come up with it. The name Broggini already surfaces in a letter from back in 1952, telling Fortunato Depero that he had not won. The category "was won by the sculptor Luigi Broggini," who clearly didn't want his name attached to "commercial" designs.

Enrico Mattei's insight

That's the story the documents tell us. But there's one thing missing. How did the dog go from signs to becoming the company's logo? Here we shall have to put aside the archive's documents and hark once more to legend. They say that in the spring of 1953, Enrico Mattei and his head of advertising, Alberto Alì, were driving from Rome to San Donato Milanese. They had been forced by the heavy fog to take the Via Aurelia, a state road. They say the signs with the six-legged dog and the words "Supercortemaggiore, the powerful Italian petrol" cropped up so much that they prompted Mattei to declare: "That dog is really nice. Let's make it our logo!" No sooner said than done. In September 1953 the new logo was dropped off at the central office for patents in Rome, with this brief description: "The logo consists of a yellow rectangle with a red outline. In the centre, in black, is a six-legged animal resembling a dog, facing left but with its head looking behind it. Its mouth is open and a red flame is coming out." (reg. no. 113252).

"That dog is really nice. Let's make it our logo!"