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Actualités Associazione Librai Antiquari d'Italia

LIBRAI ANTIQUARI A VENEZIA - A rare book fair in Venice

From February 23rd to 25th, another edition of the ALAI Antiquarian Book Fair takes place in Venice.
Venice Book Fair 2023 4

Venice and the world of antiquarian books share a deep-rooted connection, dating back to the dawn of printing in the 15th century. During this era, Venice, known as the Serenissima, held a prominent position as the publishing hub of Europe, with a majority of the continent's books being printed within its lagoon-bound borders. These works were a collaborative effort, involving religious institutions, skilled artisans, diligent copyists, and talented illuminators. They toiled not only within the scriptoria of monasteries but also in direct collaboration with patrons from both the public and private spheres.

From February 23rd to 25th, a celebration of this rich heritage will unfold within the walls of Palazzo Pisani - Revedin, courtesy of the Librai Antiquari a Venezia (Antiquarian Booksellers of Venice) book fair. This gathering promises a treasure trove of valuable volumes, some of which are adorned with exquisite illustrations, echoing the splendor of their origins.

Under the auspices of ALAI, the Association of Antiquarian Booksellers of Italy, numerous Italian and international exhibitors will showcase the finest selections from their meticulously curated catalogues. Additionally, attendees will have the opportunity to explore "Il secolo d'oro delle carte decorate" (The Golden Century of Decorated Papers), an exhibition showcasing a beautiful selection of decorated papers from private collections. These papers, featuring intricate designs crafted through techniques such as xylography, gilding, silvering, marbling, and collage, offer a glimpse into the artistic and cultural milieu of the 18th century. During this period, decorated papers served a multitude of purposes, foremost among them being the adornment of book bindings. These bindings, reflecting the societal norms and tastes of their time, underwent stylistic transformations in tandem with shifts in fashion and aesthetics. Publishers, booksellers, bookbinders, and printers collectively responded to these changes, resulting in bindings that were not only functional but also cultural artifacts in their own right.

Gabriele Maspero, President of ALAI, the Italian Antiquarian Booksellers Association

An interview with ALAI President Gabriele Maspero was published in February 2024 on ABE Books, Italy

Venice, a city of culture and book history, is preparing to host the new edition of 'Librai Antiquari a Venezia'. After the success of the February 2023 edition, the Associazione Librai Antiquari d'Italia and the Antica Stamperia Armena are preparing to transform the Palazzo Pisani-Revedin into a stage for literary works of art. The president of the Associazione Librai Antiquari d'Italia (ALAI), Gabriele Maspero, reveals the details and passions surrounding this unique event.

What prompted the Associazione Librai Antiquari d'Italia and the Antica Stamperia Armena to organise the 'Antiquarian Booksellers in Venice' exhibition again?

In February 2023, we held the event with interesting results from the public and positive feedback, also from foreigners and institutions. The logistical difficulties of the lagoon made the setting up adventurous but the weekend fun. So the passion for rare books merged with the very special Venetian atmosphere. A winning format does not change.

What are the main expectations and objectives for the second edition of 'Librai Antiquari a Venezia'? Is there anything special or innovative that visitors can expect?

In the same premises as the fair, the ALAI is organising an exhibition of 18th century decorated papers, i.e. xylographed, gilded, marbled, glued. They come from private individuals and take us back to the Biblioteca Marciana, where an exhibition focusing on papers for covering books has just been held. It is a fresh, recent collection that is striking in its aesthetics and tells the story of the fashion for varied and extravagant covers.

What role does Palazzo Pisani-Revedin play in creating a unique atmosphere for the exhibition? How does the choice of Venice influence the overall experience?

We are on Campo Manin, very central and close to St. Mark's Basilica. The Antica Stamperia Armena offered ALAI members a number of guided tours to places of interest for book culture: San Lazzaro degli Armeni, Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Biblioteca Marciana, Ateneo Veneto. It is said that Venice is an open-air theatre, and the context greatly influences the emotions connected with bibliophilia.

Considering the European participation, how do you cultivate collaboration between antiquarian bookshops from different regions and traditions? Are there particular synergies that emerge from this diversity?

The exhibitors are all members of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (LILA-ILAB), a network that brings together associations from every country. There is therefore a very strong trans-national cultural and business community. Differences in the taste of booksellers also exist because of their territory of origin, but above all because of personal background. A true bookseller reflects this on his customers.

How does the fair help to promote book culture and the love of antique books among the broader public, not just experts and collectors?

Booksellers take part in fairs to sell their books. Today, however, there are countless commercial channels, and the first purpose of a fair is promotion. We should take up the exhibition concept of Tammaro De Marinis, who in his time organised retrospective exhibitions: in Leipzig in 1914, in Florence in 1922, in Paris in 1926. All to increase general interest in antiquarian Italian books. The catalogues of those historical exhibitions can still be purchased online.

What are some books, writers or works that you consider intrinsically linked to the city and that could inspire book lovers attending the fair?

What booksellers exhibit is often a surprise. If I think specifically of Venice, however, I always imagine the Aldine, publications by the well-known Renaissance typographer and intellectual Aldo Manuzio. The city is so rich in book history that it ranges from the Byzantine or Armenian tradition to the luminous 18th century with Giacomo Casanova, Goldoni's theatre, the prints of Visentini and Canaletto, and the music of Vivaldi. Something is sure to be seen.

Among the works on display at "Librai Antiquari a Venezia", is there a particular bibliographic treasure or an extraordinary book that you think will be of particular interest to visitors?

I have heard that someone will present an extraordinary copy of Orlando Furioso printed by Zatta, 4 volumes, 1772-1773. The work is valuable in itself, and has magnificent illustrative copper plates, but here an extraordinary copy will be exhibited with the text completely framed in very special intaglio frames, lacking in other copies.