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Enzo Mari

Puzzle inventory, in chronological order, with dates and number of pieces:

1. 16 (Sedici) Animali, 16 pieces, oak wood, 34 x 24 x 3 cm

Bird, Camel, Crocodile, Duck, Elephant, Fox, Giraffe, Hippopotamus, Kangaroo, Pig, Rhinoceros, Snake, Hedgehog, three unidentified.  

2. 16 Fish (Pesci) 16 pieces, oak wood, 34 x 24 x 3 cm

Octopus, Whale, Seal, thirteen fish.

16 Animali - Resin

Enzo Mari (27 April 1932–), a famed Italian designer, can be said to be a major figure in cluster puzzle history, albeit his role per se is overstated. He produced two themed (animals and sea) puzzles for the Italian design and plastic products manufacturer Danese Milano, in 1957 and 1963, with ‘16 Animali’, and ‘16 Pesci’ (Fish), the number reflecting the number of motifs/pieces. The puzzles are of a somewhat simplified, stylized nature, of relatively few pieces, with some introduced articulations and are without interior detail, save for an eye.  A variety of orientations are shown. The pieces serve as both a puzzle and plaything in their own right (and are pictured as such).

Mari has acquired a degree of fame in design circles and his work is widely discussed on the web and in books. Therefore, unlike most other entries in the genre, there is a relative abundance of detail on him to tell his story, but this qualified by a lack of exactness; much of the writings are poorly, if at all sourced, and also the puzzles have been through many editions, sizes and of material, which causes difficulties in unravelling. Therefore, documenting all this is not a straightforward task as may otherwise be thought. Therefore, the commentary below should be borne with this in mind. However,  I have tried to be my normal as exact self as is possible in the circumstances.

The puzzles were designed soon after he graduated from the Academia di Brera in Milan in 1956 when he opened a studio in Milan. Of Mari himself, he is a somewhat controversial figure, prone to outbursts. The story of their inspiration is told of a “crazy idea” had by Mari, who one day, in the late 1950s, had a (literal?) dream in which an elephant, a rhinoceros, a hippopotamus, a snake, a giraffe, a bear. However, another account also gives credit to Bruno Munari, albeit in what role is unclear. So far as I can tell, it is essentially Mari driven, and so I will give him the credit.

It would be interesting to hear what Mari himself has to say on these. Although he has written many books and been freely interviewed, so far as I can tell the puzzles are not particularly prominent, if mentioned at all. Where these do appear, the animals are in the context of a balancing game, rather than a puzzle (there appears to have been a dual purpose). Although I would indeed like to examine all his published books, there are too many for me to pursue this line of inquiry, for reasons of expense, convenience, and time; judged uneconomic in all aspects. In interviews, unlike specifics of his other design works, where he freely discusses the intricacies, on the puzzle I can find little; when he does mention these, this is only in passing. Of course, it would be good to hear of Mari’s thoughts on this as a dedicated piece. He was, but not now (2020) seemingly contactable, on Facebook, but two queries went unanswered. Obviously, he is now rather elderly, and complains of aches and pains, and so may simply have stopped answering queries, given that he closed his studio in 2014, and so in this instance a lack of response is understandable.

I say his role is overstated because of two factors: he only shows two puzzles and they are nothing special in terms of inherent quality; they are neither good nor bad, but mid-range, in simple terms. 

Although the tessellation principle is generally followed, there is, in general, a ‘rounding off’ in places and some animals can be seen to have forced definitions, such as the snake and the pig, and so lack the rigour of the stricter tessellation standards. However, this is relatively minor, albeit still noticeable to the discerning viewer. The animals are generally simplified, as well as on occasion stylised, for instance, the hippopotamus and giraffe. However, most are proportioned. The puzzles have been lauded in the design world, and are in the collections of the Stedelijk Museum (Netherlands) and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Of interest would be knowing if he was influenced by M. C. Escher, either directly or indirectly, with knowledge of his Plane Filling I and II, and his tessellation work in general. No mention is made of this aspect in any discussion. Of note is that Plane Filling I is of 1951, and so possibly he was inspired by this upon seeing this work (Plane Filling II is of 1957). However, this is pure speculation. Of that time, Escher was still relatively unknown, and essentially unpublished, and so I consider it unlikely that Mari knew of this previous work, and indeed, of the genre itself.

Of interest is the Italian patent, 79057 (or 79657, the stamp is a little unclear) obtained for 16 Animals. However, investigations are difficult; there only appears to be only a single page of the patent in the public domain. It would be interesting to see the whole document; is it available? I have looked, or tried to, for Italian patents, but without success. On the drawing itself, Mari is not mentioned, but rather Danese people instead, namely Jacqueline Vodoz.


Danese Milano

In short, Danese and Mari are intertwined with the puzzles. Bruno Danese founded the company, along with Jaqueline Vodoz, in 1957. Vodoz’s name appears on the patent picture. As alluded to above, with the different editions, sizes and material, there are difficulties in documenting. Be that as it may, the puzzles began in oak wood, 34 x 24 x 3 cm, and then in resin. The reason for this was one of economics; resin being cheaper, although the prices remain relatively high, whatever the medium! Their prices reflect the exclusivity and designer’s fame, with typical prices today of € 200-300. A limited number, 200, are still produced each year. The puzzles are featured in their catalogues (see links below), although detail is rather sparse. It is made clear that this is for children, from the ages of 2-10 years. It is stated elsewhere that Mari studied children’s games. However, more detail, in general, is not forthcoming from Danese as I would otherwise have thought.

Mari recently (2020) donated his papers to the city of Milan. In a piece by Cristina Moro, reference is made to 30 concept sketches, presumably in the archive. Does anyone know of these? Are these accessible? It is related that the archives are not to be opened up until *. However, at least some of the sketches appear to be in the public domain. It would be most informative and interesting to see these.

Open questions abound

Is Enzo Mari still available to interview? I would dearly like to do so.

Are the 30 concept sketches ‘available’?

Was he influenced, or was aware, of Escher at all?

In which books are the two puzzles discussed?

Can anyone document the different editions, sizes, and materials?


1932. Born in Novara, Italy.

1952. Enrols at Academia di Brera in Milan to study classics and literature. During this period he also works as a visual artist and researcher.

1956. Opens a design studio in Milan where he will execute projects for clients including Danese, Driade and Zanotta.

1957. Designs the first of his wooden puzzles for Danese, of 16 Animals.

1963. Paper edition: pull-out cellular paper, 34 x 24 x 0.5 cm (not seen) (16 Animals).

1969. First resin edition?

1972. Resin edition: expandable resin, 34 x 24 x 3 cm (16 Animals).

1974. Publishes Autoprogettazione (Self-Designs), a book of blueprints for DIY furniture that can be made with nothing more than blocks of timber, nails and a hammer.

1997. Alessi (another Italian company) also produced the 16 Animals, in anti-shock polystyrene.

2001. Publishes Progetto e passione (Project and passion).

2003. Since 2003, Danese has made a limited number each year of the original version: oak, in the original dimensions.

2014. Closes Milan Studio.


Sara Riva, of the Danese company, for picture permissions.

References (as according to medium, namely the web and print, with books and articles)


His website seems to be moribund!

Italian Ways (art, craft and design site)

Lots of pictures, including the patent.


No mention is of the two puzzles.

Danese Milano (basic information) (see pp. 326-336)

Domus (design site)

Mari’s 16 Animali puzzle reinterpreted by 16 authors.

Donation of his archive, February 2020.

On Mari in general, no mention of the puzzles.

Sbandiu (design site)

Gives some interesting background details not stated elsewhere.

Nova (design site)

Daddy Types (design site)

Daddy Types is published by Greg Allen.

Facebook fan page

Klatmagazine (design site)

Interview with journalist Francesca Esposito, of 7 February 2014, concentrating on his communism beliefs, philosophies, and design, with just a single mention of 16 Animals.

An interesting document, in Italian. Gives two concept sketches, p. 15.

Enzo Mari Facebook Fan Page


Colman, David. ‘The Wood Menagerie’. The New York Times, July 23, 2006

On industrial designer Yves Behar, with discussion on Mari’s 16 Animal puzzle, in his collection. 

Rawsthorn, Alice. ‘Enzo Mari: A rebel with an obsession for form’. The New York Times, October 2, 2008

No mention is made of the two puzzles.


Annicchiarico, Silvana (Editor). 100 Objects of Italian Design. Gangemi Editore; 2007. Limited view on Google Books. 

The text is incorrect in at least one place, giving a first production date of 1965, which is clearly wrong. Therefore, I am a little wary of other aspects here, specifically of a date for the resin puzzle.

Created 7 May 2020