Florence is famous for a lot of things. Michelangelo’s Davide. The Uffizi Museum. The Ponte Vecchio. But one of my favourite spots is tucked away down a little back street near Piazza Della Signoria.
The place in question is a stationers, but we’re not talking WHSmith or Staples here. Il Papiro, founded by a couple of locals in 1976, celebrates artisan techniques and traditional Florentine designs selling everything from leather bound books, to hand printed cards and writing paper. It is a veritable treasure trove. And home to an alchemist.
Ricardo is his name. We met whilst I was on a brief stop-off on my way to Siena. I remember a quietly friendly chap who greeted everyone with a huge smile whether they just popped in to say hello or to pick up supplies. He had that knack of making young and old feel instantly at home.
I’d only popped in for a birthday card but within minutes had an array of hand-printed beauties in my grasp and absolutely no possibility of choosing between them. Ricardo offered to help as I drifted round the shop, drooling over the embossed notelets and writing paper. Then something exquisite caught my eye. A rainbow of colour. A rack of handmade marbled paper.
There’s some debate over where marbling originated but earliest references date back to “floating ink” paper in Japan and “flowing-sand” paper in China in the 9th century. Later Islamic writers in 15th century Central Asia also refer to floating ink methods. And from there the technique entered Europe via Turkey and Italy as early bookbinders used marbled paper to line the inside covers of books or even as a cover in its own right.
Back in Florence Ricardo is only too happy to demonstrate his wizardry, rendering viewers spellbound. He taps ink droplets onto the viscous glue-like base to produce a freehand marble effect as the colours spread and merge. The result of this first stage is a beautiful mottling of the inks, surrounded by wandering veins of colour almost as if you’d sliced through a block of variegated marble.
Feathers, swirls and curls are then teased out with a flurry of flicks. And finally the paper is lowered onto the surface to capture the pattern. Alchemy complete, the treasure emerges. No two pages are the same but each is a beauty.
So if you, like me, love your stationery hand-crafted and timelessly elegant, Il Papiro is the place to indulge yourself. Make sure you ask Ricardo or one of the team for a demonstration next time you’re in Florence, I guarantee you’ll be amazed by his marbling magic!
Il Papiro, Via dei Tavolini 3, Florence http://www.ilpapirofirenze.it/Default.aspx
Action shots courtesy of Mark at http://allthingsruffnerian.blogspot.co.uk