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Venetian 'Gutenberg' hands down tradition

Gianni Basso fashions handmade prints using methods of past

02 May, 14:31
Venetian 'Gutenberg' hands down tradition

(ANSA) - Venice - Hugh Grant and Marisa Tomei are appearing together, albeit not in a new Hollywood film. The movie stars are just two of the elite clients whose business cards adorn the Venice shop window of master printer Gianni Basso, the man who fashions handmade prints using the methods and instruments of the Gutenberg era.

"I simply don't like modern electric printers," he tells ANSA. "They have no soul. To make prints by hands is poetry".

Perhaps such is the quality that attracted clients like the late Nobel laureate Joseph Brodsky and contemporary author Danielle Steele. Basso's presses and plates are pre-industrial, recalling the 16th century when Aldus Manutius copied numerous works from the Greek and Latin secular canon to type for the first time in history, turning Venice into one of Europe's great renaissance printing capitals.

When he was just 15, Basso studied his craft on the Venetian island of San Lazzaro, known for its printing heritage and the ancient library where Lord Byron studied Armenian in 1816.

Thirty years ago, Basso recuperated several presses from the island and elsewhere in Venice and brought them to their current location in the historic Calle del Fumo, or "Alley of Smoke," a reference to a string of workshops that still line the walkway. In today's era of mass information, Basso says his clients are interested in the personal, handmade touch he instills in his craft work, something he says is lacking in xerox copies and digital prints.

Despite a global recession, and the ever-increasing trend to mechanize and reduce cost, Basso says business is booming. "I don't even advertise. The quality of my work is what keeps people coming," he says as he pulls down a series of 35 incised plates from the first printed edition of Pinocchio. The exquisite renderings of Geppetto and Jiminy Cricket, dating to 1880, catch the eye of four visitors who promptly insist on purchasing a series of Pinocchio prints.

Basso's antique workshop on the north side of Venice is charmingly quaint at 30 square meters, barely large enough for his six printers, himself, and his 25-year-old son Stefano, who until two years ago was studying to become a marine biologist. "I liked coming into my father's shop more than the sea," he says as he organizes the inverse typeset on his workbench.

"Printing seems to be in my blood," he adds with a grin. "The poetry continues". Gianni and Stefano Basso are located at 5306 Calle del Fumo, Venice 30121, Italy.