Paper with a Past: Il Papiro

For over 40 years, Il Papiro has been specializing in centuries-old paper decorating techniques dating back to the 16th century. 

 Photos courtesy of  Il Papiro

Photos courtesy of Il Papiro

By Sofia Infante

Nestled in a quiet corner of Florence overlooking the Ponte Vecchio, resides a small paper company called Il Papiro. Originally founded in 1976 in Florence, Il Papiro specializes in centuries-old paper decorating techniques dating back to the 16th century. Not limited just to Florence, Il Papiro found throughout Italy in Rome, Venice, Pisa, Cortona, Siena, and Orvieto, - the small town in central Italy where a much-celebrated Eucharistic miracle took place in the 13th century. Outside of Europe, they have a store in Australia, England, and in the United States in Palm Beach, Florida.

 Hand-made Carnation stationary

Hand-made Carnation stationary

For over forty years, Il Papiro has produced all their products in their workshop in Florence, relying on almost forgotten artisan techniques to create marbleized paper in twelve different colors. The store offers a variety of items from photo albums and bookends to letter openers, all showcasing their signature marbled paper. At first glance, most of the patterns appear to be identical, but the process of marbleizing paper ensures that each design is entirely unique.

Although not much is known about the origins of marbleized paper, it appears to have originated sprung up either in Japan or Persia sometime in the 10th century and made its way into Western Europe through one of several points of communication between Europe and the Islamic world. The process of paper marbleizing likely entered Europe from Turkey, where the practice was referred to as “the art of the clouds,” alluding to the cloud like patterns on the paper.

Before gaining prominence in Italy, paper marbleizing took root in France where it became known as papier à cuv for the name of, due to the basin in which the paper is dipped. Nowadays, almost all marbleized paper comes from Florence, where artisans have retained and preserved the age-old tradition of hand paper decorating.

The practice of decorating paper by hand was well underway in monasteries across Europe where monks labored creating intricately decorated pages of religious texts. The process required great skill and precision, and most likely a significant amount of patience and concentration. Though these monks lived lives dedicated to God, even their seemingly nonspiritual tasks could be offered to God and thus sanctified.

The process of marbleizing paper involves preparing a water bath and adding the chosen paint colors, which are then arranged into a particular pattern using a comb. When the desired design is achieved, a sheet of paper is placed on top long enough for the pattern to transfer. Once the paper is imprinted, it is taken out and laid out to dry. The end result is a kaleidoscope pattern of colors resembling a smooth piece of marble. The possibilities of color patterns are endless: from a more somber mossy green to a softer palette of pinks.

 Bath for the marbleizing process

Bath for the marbleizing process

Nowadays, almost all marbleized paper comes from Florence, where artisans have also retained and preserved the age-old tradition of hand paper decorating, which was well underway in monasteries across Europe where monks labored to intricately decorate pages of religious text. Il Papiro features these in many of their monogrammed stationary and writing papers.

Whether you’re looking for a gift for a family member of a friend or simply want to treat yourself, Il Papiro’s beautiful offerings come from a rich and fascinating history that make letter writing (and receiving) a joy. 

Video Featuring the Marbleizing Process

Carrie Gress