Assisi Artisans, Past and Present
Aspiring to write a few notes linking ancient Assisi artisan treasures to present artisan wonders, I decided that there would be no better place to start than right in the center of Assisi on the main piazza, Piazza del Comune. I’d start at the Zubboli bookshop (opened in 1870), Assisi’s “artisan centerpiece”….
…which faces the Roman temple to Minerva (1st B.C.):
The maiolica sign over the door as well as the signs at the base of the display windows were created by Deruta artisan (with an Assisi mother), Amerigo Lunghi in the early 20th-century.
You can spot maiolica artworks of Lunghi here and there in Assisi. A shrine to the Madonna is not far from the Zubboli bookshop:
Luigi Zubboli took over a pre-existing tipografia (print shop) in 1870. Luigi’s son Ernesto, too, was a printer as well as grandson, Luciano. Although Pino and I have lived in the Assisi countryside since 1975, I’ve always associated Zubboli’s with Maurizio. A topographer who had worked in many countries for over twenty years, Maurizio and his wife Vanna returned to Assisi in 1982 when Signor Luciano was very ill.
In a recent conversation, Maurizio (now retired – as of 2011) reminisced about his re-entry: “I was very tied to my father and my stepping in to take over the print shop meant very much to him.” I asked him if he had any regrets about returning to a tiny medieval hill town after his worldwide adventures. “Un po’,” he said, “for I missed the stimulation of knowing other countries and other cultures. I also realized I’d be tied to a fixed timetable.”
“Is that why you turned the print shop into a book and card shop and started creating your own designs?” I asked. “Precisamente,” Maurizio replied. Maurizio realized that he would have to invest in new high-tech equipment – and learn how to operate it – to continue the printing business. As a child, Maurizio always liked to draw and had coveted a love for art and history. Soon the Zubboli print shop became a book shop, showcasing hand-bound books – some with leather covers others with marbleized paper which Maurizio learned to make.
And note cards reproducing Maurizio’s watercolors and oil paintings:
The shop also started to sell cards featuring the medieval masterpieces in Assisi’s churches and museums with borders designed by Maurizio, often reminiscent of illuminated manuscripts.
Maurizio studied them and told me they truly sparked his imagination.
As did the grottesche images of Assisi’s 16th-century frescoed Volta Pinta (“Painted Vault”) next to his shop:
…and you can pick up that “Volta Pinta inspiration: in many of his card designs:
On the cards depicting artworks in the Assisi churches and museums, Maurizio Zubboli’s whimsical grottesche designs border the fresco masterpieces:
Living in Assisi, the illuminated manuscripts in the archives of the churches were also an inspiration for Maurizio. Like the one I saw recently in the Museo Capitolare di San Rufino (te museum of the Cathedral), adjacent to the 12th-century Cathedral of San Rufino:
The museum entry is to the right as you stand before the facade, with an image of San Rufino (a detail from a medieval altarpiece in the museum) there to greet you:
The 13th-c psalterio (liturgical book of hymns) once used by the San Rufino clergy, was recently on display in the museum:
The Museo del Tesoro (Museum of the Treasures) adjacent to the Basilica di San Francesco also displays other inspirational illuminated manuscripts such as the 13th-c epistolario:
The three whimsical animal figures at the top might certainly have been an inspiration for Maurizio notepaper:
Maurizio retired in 2011 and his nephews, Pietro and Marco, carry on the Zubboli artisanal tradition. Pietro has learned from his Zio Maurizio the art of marbleizing paper:
And that notepaper sometimes covers the handmade books which my brother-in-law, Gianfranco makes.
Gianfranco covers some of the books in leather and others have leather bindings and covers made with Pietro’s marbleized paper:
The books might also be covered with paper reproducing Assisi’s frescoed 16th-century Volta Pinta:
Some years ago, my brother-in-law Gianfranco took a three-year course centered on book-making and book restoration, specializing in work in parchment. He now binds all the books sold at Zubboli’s, working as an independent contractor, for he also restores and creates books for private clients.
When visiting him recently in the bottega where Pietro does the printing and he binds books, I asked Gianfranco what had headed him towards a career bound to books. “Passione familiare.” I told him I knew about the love of books in his family…but the choice to make them? The creation of books became his passione.
He binds the books by hand on a loom, sewing the handmade paper for the books eight sheets at a time. The making of the covers is the next step:
When you’re next in Assisi, drop in at the Zubboli bookshop on the main square..
And after viewing the hand-bound books, diaries, photo albums and then the stationery selections, ask to visit la bottega (the workshop) where Pietro does the printing and marbleizing and Gianfranco will be binding books.
Today’s artisans carry on ancient traditions.