Marbled Paper

DSC_0246 copyGiulio Giannini e Figlio

Piazza Pitti 37, Florence


The shop display windows testify to the simple beauty of handmade crafts specific to the tradition of Florence’s Oltrarno neighborhood; for over 150 years the Giannini family has left an impression—artistically and symbolically—on the Florentine artisan community. In 1856, Pietro Giannini, the owner of a modest stationary shop, even then located in Piazza Pitti, endeavored to expand his craft to include leather bookbinding, which would eventually lead to the firm’s trademark production of marble paper.

Marble papermaking is achieved by a 1,000-year-old Oriental technique brought to Europe by the Arabs. A member of the latest Giannini generation, Maria, explains the process: “Seaweed is the crucial ingredient. Boiled and filtered, it produces a gelatin broth, upon which I splatter water-based colors.” Thanks to the composition of the gelatin, each color floats on the surface, retaining its own form without blending.

“I use antique wooden and metal tools to spread or swirl the colors into their marble designs,” says Maria. She then carefully places a piece of paper into the basin containing enough glue to ensure proper absorption of the colors. When the pattern adheres to paper, the sheet is immediately removed and hung to dry.

“To create marbled paper is not difficult,” says Maria, “but it takes years of practice to master the art of making beautiful designs.” Free demonstrations are available by appointment.

Considering only one sheet can be made at a time, each end result is unique. The family’s small output of marbled paper is destined to be used in the decoration of picture frames, boxes, albums, journals, wrapping paper, pencils and other artistic stationary supplies, all bearing the Giannini family’s distinct touch and trademark. (terri iler)