Wunderpapier, curated by Vincenzo Gatti
The charm of the wonderful has always seduced the collector’s imagination: in particular, between mannerism and baroque, it was a boast for amateurs to allocate a room to the quirks and oddities that nature or the artifices of human intelligence could generate. Even today it can be said that in each of us, as long as still endowed with a propensity for curiosity, there is a secret mental room, where we can gather the objects of fantasized desire.
Paper, by its nature fragile and subject to the action of time and elements, but at the same time flexible and easy to handle, has been the ideal vehicle for the diffusion of ideas and images, an indispensable support for writing, printing, artistic expression. “Wonderful cards” (if by this we mean the enchantment and the surprise for the forms of ingenuity, without limits of categories and value, as happened in the heterogeneous collections of the historical “wunderkammers”) can be just the card games , the “devout” papers, the ex libris, the Japanese papers.
Initially linked to the book and bibliophilia, the ex libris have become a true art form: today it is not limited to defining a belonging, but encloses in the small format imposed by the peculiar characteristics of the genre, as creativity and imagination dictate to the executor, in relation to the recipient.
Paper and cardboard are the sheets of the Game of the Goose which, while maintaining the numbering and the typical spiral pattern of the “path” games, has undergone infinite variations, historical, political and custom over the years and cultures. Born, according to some, at the end of the 16th century in Florence, and introduced to the court of Philip II of Spain, the game has maintained in its tables a distinctly popular taste, cheerful, ironic, with bright coloring, generally lithographic in the ‘800 and’ 900, linked to the world of popular prints and the sheets of the “Imagerie d’Epinal”.
Moving for the naive, fresh devotion that expresses manual dedication, the devotional images of cut cards are the humble, but often enchanting contrast to the analogous sumptuous sacred representations of the ‘800 and ‘900 centuries: here the coral is replaced by the colored ribbon, the watermarks golden foil, mother of pearl tissue paper, wax decal. It is the world of the simplicity, of the silence of poor convents, of whispered prayer.
The world that originated the works on paper in Japan in the Edo period (1603-1867) is another world, another cultural and social environment. Typical product of the “bourgeois” aesthetic born from the social transformations that began in the seventeenth century, it was the concept of ukiyo or “floating world” that indicates how ephemeral, new and fascinating existence can offer, in every form and expression. Ukiyo-e are the printed images that represent this lifestyle, typical of the middle classes of that period: increasingly refined woodcuts and accentuated chromaticism, which reach the highest artistic levels between 1700 and 1800 (Utamaro, Hokusai and Hiroshige most prestigious authors). The female beauties are represented with a sensuality highlighted by the sinuous lines that shape the clothes, on the other hand the actors are portrayed with the extremely popular kabuki theater, and nature and landscape are depicted translating deep adhesion and ecstatic contemplation into graphic terms. Then there are the shunga (spring images), prints in which the most direct and exhibited eroticism does not renounce to the extreme formal decoration, with the attention to environmental detail, often wrapping the figures of lovers in the precious whirlwind of finely and extraordinarily decorated garments .
The printed sheet in Japan was the result of rigorous execution practice: the painter, the creator, the engraver, the printer and the publisher contributed to the final product. The drawing provided by the painter was glued on the reverse side of a cherry tablet, which was carved by the engraver, leaving the parts useful for printing in relief; the printer finished printing the various ink matrices (one for each color) rigorously in the register. Finally, the publisher was in charge of marketing.
Line and tone, taking advantage of the virtuosity of the performers, always dialogue to compose a fluent, sweet and vigorous language at the same time. When Japan has to open up to the world, the extraordinary formal peculiarities of its art, thanks to the prints, will be quickly known, and will strongly influence Western art, but the freshness of the inspiration will quickly touch almost as in the “sakura”, the ritual of cherry trees in bloom which are consumed every year.
The melancholy and contemplative awareness of the transience of things is deeply rooted in the Japanese tradition, and the ukiyo-e represents it well: it is found in modern literature (Mishima, Tanizaki …), in the films of the brilliant, multiform and picaresque Takeshi Kitano.