Educated in Vicenza, at the suggestion of his art teacher he enrolled at the Accademia di Belle Arti de Brera in Milan where he studied under Francesco Hayez and Giuseppe Bertini. At the age of 20 he won a drawing contest which brought him to the attention of artistic circles. He worked at the Officine Grafiche Ricordi where he produced advertising posters.
Despite rarely moving from his studio in Milan, Beltrame webt on to report on events from around the globe. One of only two known trips of any length took him to Montenegro, where he produced sketches of the country’s picturesque costumes. These came to the attention of Eduardo Ximenes, the founder of L’Illustrazione Italiano, who hired Beltrame in 1896. He moved to Corriere della Sera two years later.
He was hired by Luigi Albertini to contribute his first cover for the Sunday magazine La Domenica del Corrierre on 8 January 1899—his first cover a representation of a snowstorm in Montenegro. Over the next 46 years—and seemingly without a single holiday—he produced 4,662 front and rear covers that became a graphic testimony of the history from the Russo-Japanese war to the coronation of kings, the sporting events and fashion of Italian society in the early 20th century. Most notably he illustrated events of the Great War and of the the Italian mountain troops, the Alpini.
This is the first sad truth about the profession of illustration: haste. At noon I would be in the office of the editor of the ‘Sunday’ without having the slightest idea of the events or news stories that I will draw. A number of different topics are put forward for the second cover: the burning of a large hotel in New Orleans, with fifty-seven deaths; a village in Patagonia destroyed by a tornado. Towards one, the fire prevails and I leave with a photograph of the hotel which dates back to the opening day and some clippings in which the facts are summarized.Despite the problems of inadequate reporting, Beltrame’s paintings were always rich in detail. They were delivered by Beltrame himself—he did not trust messengers—to via Solferino before eight o’clock.
There is no time to lose. I read the news of the fire, and I realize once more that the ideal reporter has yet to be born. Not one report ever says, for example: ‘Firefighters in their blue uniform, his peaked cap surrounded by a golden thread...’.
“Through the images he created, the largest and most unique events in the world were delivered to the most remote country houses, at the top of lonely valleys, in humble homes, providing an avalanche of news and knowledge to generations of Italians who otherwise were likely to have known almost nothing,” wrote Dino Buzzati of Albanese.
Beltrame’s colour images became the hallmark of the magazine, his artwork taking in a number of disciplines, including oils on canvas, on wood, watercolours, objects carved in wood, and drawing and sketches of various kinds. Unfortunately, the bombing of Milan during World War II damaged his studio and destroyed part of his valuable archive. He was forced to move and was living at the house of his nephew on via Flamma when he died on 19 February 1945. His disciple, Walter Molino, who had joined Domenica del Corriere in 1941, took over his role in early February 1945 and worked on the paper for thirty years.