This past week we had the great pleasure of visiting the workshop and laboratory of Giulio Giannini e Figlio, one of the oldest bookbinding and paper marbling studios in Florence. Right on Piazza Pitti, the store is hard to pass by without walking in. Brimming with journals, frames, and loose paper decorated in the traditional style of paper marbling, it takes a moment to acclimate to the many gorgeous patterns that surround you. You would never think that all these beautiful works of art were made just upstairs by Guido Giannini Jr. Guido makes unspeakably beautiful pieces of handmade paper and objects in the same traditional way that his family has for six generations. Their business survived through World Wars and a decline in the demand for hand bound leather books. In fact, it was the high cost of leather after World War I that inspired them to make more affordable items bound in the stunning marbled paper they produced. We went to see more of these gorgeous artworks and learn a little about the technique from the man himself.
To begin, you really only need a few items: A shallow tray, water, ink, and paper. Guido explained, however, that the trick to creating the incredible patterns found on marbled paper, is the addition of certain chemicals and viscous substances that keep the colors floating separately on the surface of the water and not bleeding together. This is a technique that Europeans actually learned from Turkey and it was hence given the name “Turkish” marbling.
To demonstrate just how it worked, Guido began with a simple example using just one brush and a splattering effect. By layering drops of colors onto the surface in a dispersed pattern and then introducing an absorbent material, such a paper, the pattern became imprinted on the surface of the paper just as it was seen on the surface of the water. The effect was similar to the appearance of rock or marble, hence the name given to the process. Next, Guido demonstrated the ways in which these simple drops could be manipulated to create other exciting patterns. He began by creating a similar splatter pattern as in the first demo. Then, using a kind of wire comb, he moved the tool through the tray once in a vertical direction, and once in a horizontal direction. The result is a stunning feather pattern. Then Guido showed us a technique that gave the artisan a bit more control over the final image. He began with two ripples of colors that, using the back of his brush, he then manipulated into flowers, complete with stems. These were only three examples of a wide variety of designs, techniques, not to speak of color combinations (as you can see in some of his earlier day’s work drying on the rack). It is a feast for the eyes and even more impressive when one realizes how long this art has been practiced, not only in Italy, but also all over the world. Learning the process made me even more appreciative of the products and how much care went into each one. And yes, maybe I broke down and bought something. Hard to resist.
Name: Giulio Giannini e Figlio
Address: Piazza Pitti, 37R 50125 Florence