Wednesday, 3 March 2021

16 animali, Enzo Mari, 1972

Following on from my blog about Enzo Mari’s Pago Pago vase, I am very happy to be able to write this week about another of MoDiP’s recent Mari acquisitions: the 16 animali puzzle.

Image ref: MoDiP’s 16 animali.
Image credit:
Katherine Pell.

16 animali (also known as the Sedici Animali Puzzle) was originally conceived in 1956 when Mari was commissioned for research and development at La Rinascente (an Italian chain of high-end department stores). Answering the brief to design a children’s game, Mari’s research resulted in him becoming inspired by a Scandinavian toy he had found consisting of a wooden box made up of individual pieces, vaguely resembling animals. He felt that the game was boring because the shapes were too similar and so set about designing his own version with a greater variety of more realistic forms. 

Image ref: One of Mari’s early concept sketches for 16 animals.
Image credit:
Casciani, 1988, p. 117.

After more than thirty sketches and three prototypes, the design was finalised. The animals would all slot together and be made out of a single sheet of wood, cut in one continuous line and then hand finished. The toy would be a puzzle as well as providing sixteen individual characters to play with, each of a sufficient depth to make them both robust and stackable.

Image ref: The 16 individual characters.
Image credit:
Katherine Pell.

I have found no explanation as to why La Rinascente did not pursue their original brief any further, but the project was revisited when Mari began working with Danese in 1957. The company was founded that year by Bruno Danese and Jacqueline Vodoz and it is Vodoz’s name that appears on the 16 animali patent (Bailey, 2020).

Image ref: The patent.
Image credit:

A limited number of puzzles were produced each year but although the game was well received, the manufacturing process was complex, time-consuming and expensive; using highly-skilled craft techniques was proving neither productive nor competitive. Mari was committed to the idea of mass production but, at the same time, was determined not to compromise the beauty and efficiency of his original design.

After much development, in 1969 the decision was made to injection mould the puzzle in Baydur, a polyurethane expanded resin. This material offered the same look and feel as wood, whilst being cheaper, more durable and easier to manufacture. The swirling effect of the material as it was poured into the mould also created a pleasing, soft textured surface and 16 animali quickly went on to achieve commercial success.

Image ref: The swirling effect of the plastics material.
Image credit:
Katherine Pell.

Product catalogues show that the puzzle was released continuously by Danese until at least 1988 and, as MoDiP’s example is dated 1991, we can assume on into the early 1990s (Danese and Vodoz sold the company in 1991). There was then an interruption to supply until Alessi took over in 1997 but I have been unable to ascertain when this company stopped their production (I think I have seen an image of an Alessi puzzle dated to 1999 but the maker’s mark on the resin is notoriously very difficult to read). Danese then re-issued the wooden version three years after the company was sold again in 2000.

Summary of production:

1956    Mari first designs 16 animali for La Rinascente
1957    Danese take over the project and manufacture the puzzle in wood
1958    Danese release a smaller version in wood
1961    Mari designs a book featuring the animals to show their interlocking features
1963    Danese issue a pull-out cellular paper version of the puzzle
1969    16 animali is injection moulded in polyurethane
1972    Danese release the new plastics puzzle
1997    Alessi release the puzzle in expanded polystyrene
2003    Danese reissue a limited run of 200 puzzles each year in wood

Image ref:
Page from the 1961 story L'altalena/See-saw/ Balancoire/Die Wippe, the Alessi polystyrene version and the modern Danese reissue in wood.
Image credit:
Casciani, 1988, p.116, and

In 1973 Mari designed 16 pesci to accompany 16 animali, but that’s for another time…

Image ref: 16 pesci concept sketch and finished product in polyurethane.
Image credit:
Casciani, 1988, p. 117 and 119.

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer


Alessi, A. 1998. The Dream Factory. Germany: Könemann.

Bailey, D. 2020. Enzo Mari.

Casciani, S. 1988 Industrial art: objects, play and thought in Danese production. Milan: Arcadia Edition.