I’m happy to finally have another interview to share with you in this series that showcases Venetian artisans. Monica Cesarato’s Live in Venice Week from 2021 drew me to learn more about traditional arts, and last summer I met a number of them, including Isabella at Arzanart.
Isabella, who has a degree in Cultural Heritage from Ca’ Foscari University, describes Arzanart’s background like this: “Arzanart is me, Isabella, and Federico, my partner. Together we decided to start this project, linked by the love for ancient books and art. I am originally from Tropea, a town on the Tyrrhenian coast of southern Italy. The first time I visited Venice, now more than twenty years ago, I fell in love with it and decided to put down roots. Here I met Federico, a true Venetian, who has become my life partner. Together we live on the Lido of Venice, in a house overlooking the Venice lagoon and from which you can see Piazza San Marco and splendid sunsets.”
Isabella also studied Restoration of Books and Paper Materials in Florence for three years, so she has rich experience in the arts, preservation, and the underpinnings of Venetian history. In their workshop she fashions the notebooks, photo albums, jewels and “everything that my imagination suggests,” she says. Federico focuses on making the cards and developing new colors plus experimenting with new ideas and forms. He also offers workshops where visitors (like you!) can try paper marbling themselves.
Laura Morelli, who has written a book about Venetian craftsmanship, offers this definition of paper marbling: “Venetian marbled paper (carta marmorizzata) is made by swirling pigments into a large, shallow pan of water, then laying the paper gently and briefly on the surface of the water to transfer the pattern. Because the designs sometimes mimic the natural veining in stone or marble, the word “marbled” or “marbleized” came to be used.”
When entered Arzanart, Isabella was working at her large table in the middle of the shop, which doubles as workshop and boutique. I was surrounded by racks of colorful paper, notebooks, paper-covered pens, cards, mobiles of origami-folded animals, gift wrap–all swirling with the colors and shapes formed by Isabella and Federico. Isabella was patient with my conversational Italian, and our conversation was punctuated by other shoppers entering to make their purchases. These pauses gave me time to dawdle over the many items to look at, and I eventually picked out some cards and earrings. In fact, Isabella was making more of these paper earrings that day, and I had many colors to choose from. She apologized for the work table with the projects in process, but I preferred it this way. It can’t get more authentic than this!
Please get to know more about Arzanart in this interview, in English (translation help by Luisella Romeo) followed by the original Italian.
When Venice lives most fully as itself, what does it look like?
Normally Venice, being a tourist city, appears very chaotic. The center is small so that during peak periods it seems to suffer and be unable to contain all visitors. Then there is the Venice of the immediate periphery. This part, at any time of the year, is quieter and shows its slow and silent rhythms.
How do you or your work bring life to Venice? What gift do you bring?
Our work certainly brings life and color to the city. We create with our hands. It is precisely the crafts that allow the city to continue to live and pass on its traditions.
How does your work preserve Venice’s culture or history?
The marbled paper arrived in Venice in 1600, thanks to exchanges with the Turks. In seventeenth-century Venice, where publishing was at its maximum development, this technique took hold and developed. The papers created at the time were used to cover the books and embellish them. And it is precisely using the same processes of that time that we create our marbled paper.
What are one or two aspects of Venice’s culture that are your favorites?
What we prefer about Venice and what makes it unique is the absence of cars and the slowness of its rhythms. In a hectic and chaotic world, despite the huge influx of people, Venice with its narrow calli and campielli allows people to meet, stop and talk. It also seems to live in another dimension. You can breathe everything that Venice was and represented by simply walking around the city and observing the buildings.
Which Venetians (living now or in the past) inspire you?
In reality we are not inspired by anyone in particular. It is the city itself, with its colors, its reflections, its sunsets that every day offer us ideas to create our maps.
What is your favorite place in Venice to be alone? To share with others? That no one should miss?
Well, everyone should have the opportunity to discover the Venetian lagoon dotted with many islands, not only the most famous ones, such as Murano and Burano, but also those little known to the general public.
If you could ask visitors to Venice to do one or two things to be better visitors, what would you ask for?
Take some time. Venice needs more than one / two days to be visited and understood. Another piece of advice we would like to give is to get lost in the calli, reaching the peripheral part of the city, to those neighborhoods where true Venetians live.
And now the original Italian interview:
- Nella normalità Venezia, essendo una città turistica, appare molto caotica. Il centro è piccolo per cui nei periodi di massimo afflusso sembra soffrire ed essere incapace di contenere tutti i visitatori. Vi è poi l Venezia dell’immediata periferia. Questa parte, in qualunque periodo dell’anno è più tranquilla e mostra i suoi ritmi lenti e silenziosi.
- Il nostro lavoro porta sicuramente vita e colore alla città. Noi creiamo con le mani. Sono proprio i lavori artigianali che consentono alla città di continuare a vivere e tramandare le sue tradizioni.
- La carta marmorizzata è arrivata a Venezia nel 1600, grazie agli scambi con i Turchi. Nella Venezia del ‘600, dove l’editoria è al suo massimo sviluppo, questa tecnica prende piede e si sviluppa. Le carte create all’epoca venivano usate per rivestire i libri ed impreziosirli. Ed è proprio usando gli stessi procedimenti di allora che noi creiamo la nostra carta marmorizzata.
- Ciò che preferiamo di Venezia e che la rende unica nel suo genere è l’assenza di macchine e la lentezza dei suoi ritmi. In un mondo frenetico e caotico, nonostante l’enorme afflusso di persone, Venezia con le sue calli e i suoi campielli, permette alle persone di incontrarsi, fermarsi e parlare. Inoltre sembra di vivere in un’altra dimensione. Tutto ciò che Venezia è stata ed ha rappresentato lo si respira semplicemente girando per la città ed osservando i palazzi.
- In realtà non ci ispiriamo a nessuno in particolare. E’ la città stessa, con i suoi colori, i suoi riflessi, i suoi tramonti che ogni giorno ci offre spunti per creare le nostre carte.
- Bhè, tutti dovrebbero poter avere la possibilità di scoprire la laguna veneziana costellata di tante isole, non solo quelle più famose, come Murano e Burano, ma anche quelle poco note al grande pubblico.
- Dedicare del tempo. Venezia per essere visitata ed essere compresa ha bisogno di più di uno/ due giorni. Altro consiglio che ci sentiamo di dare è quello di perdersi tra le calli, arrivando fino alla parte periferica della città, a quei quartieri dove vivono i veri veneziani.