THE DIASPORA OF THE FABRIANESE PAPERMAKERS AN OPEN HISTORICAL INVESTIGATION

 

Giancarlo Castagnari

 

In memory of Jean Irigoin

'Un monde sans papier est un monde incroyable

 

By the word diaspora of the Fabrianese papermakers I mean that phenomenon of emigration started around the fourteenth century which we can identify with the exodus of craftsmen skilled in papermaking from the municipal territory of Fabriano, a flourishing manufacturing centre in the Apennines between the Marches and Umbria.  These ante litteram skilled workers or masters in an Art well-developed in the Alta Valle dell’Esino, forerun by the fame of their product, went – on their own initiative or summoned – to work for or set up paper mills in Italy and in other European countries. On this way they exported an ancient craft – papermaking – which had come from the East.  They also brought a new technology which in late 1200 transformed Arabic paper in European paper, forerunning a sort of ‘know how’ and thus contributing in making Fabriano the capital city of paper in the late Middle Ages.  The phenomenon of the diaspora, though historically already perceived in the latest two decades of the nineteenth century, has not been sufficiently studied to fully understand and analyzed its origin, causes, extent and space-time limits.

 

Before dealing with the subject in detail I would like to make a digression.  Among the different elements which contribute to give Fabriano the name of ‘town of paper’ there is the revival of the historical studies on paper in loco in the latest twenty years due to the organization of meetings and publication of the Storia della Carta series founded by the Pia Universita dei Cartai in 1986, with the decisive support of Cartiere Miliani that, on their own turn, following the line of an old cultural tradition, published in 2003 a precious, refined volume L'Opera dei Fratelli Zonghi. Vera del Segno nella Storia della Carta.  At this very moment I would like to add that the historical culture at Fabriano combines with training courses for students who can get a certificate of qualified technicians by the Istituto Tecnico Industriale Statale ‘Aristide Merloni’ – with a specialization in papermaking – and a degree in industrial production engineering with a specialization in papermaking at Università Politecnica delle Marche, wished by Unifabriano.  Both the schools are a craddle of technicians where any Italian paper industry has been drawing from.  Unfortunately the plans in both the courses do not provide for the study of the history of Italian paper.  In this town also two important institutions are working: the Museo della Carta e della Filigrana, founded in 1984 on initiative of Cartiere Miliani and the City Council, the Historical Archives of the same Cartiere Miliani where documents going back to 1782 are preserved, one of the most important, oldest company Archives in Italy.  Now I close my digression.

 

As local studies and researches are concerned I am obliged to refer to Aurelio Zonghi, the historian of Fabriano who, among the first scholars, found out the diaspora phenomenon, giving a notable contribution to the work by Briquet, who was his friend and estimator.  In his short monograph of 1881 Le Marche Principali delle Carte Fabrianesi (p. 11) he speaks of ancient paper mills founded or run by Fabrianese men and flourishing paper trade of which memories are still preserved in merchants’ registers of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries in the Archivio Storico Comunale in Fabriano.  Mostly interesting and valuable are the ones belonging to the merchant company of Ambrogio di Bonaventura and his more famous son, Ludovico, whom someone identifies portrayed in a painting by Gentile da Fabriano showing the Madonna with the Baby between St. Nicholas from Bari and St Catherine of Alexandria, painted in 1395; according to someone, for St. Catherine’s church in Castelvecchio, and for St. Nicholas’ according to others.  In 1911 Augusto Zonghi, Aurelio’s brother and his valuable collaborator in reorganizing the ancient papers of Fabriano, in his essay I Segni della Carta la loro Origine e la loro Importanza deals with the diaspora again.  After recalling his brother had investigated the trend of paper trade and pointed out the very large quantity of paper Fabriano exported to other Italian towns and abroad in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries (pp. 22-23), he maintains that in 1300 the Fabrianese paper mills made paper at a fast rate, notwithstanding the ‘Fabrianese papermakers – I quote his words – attracted by gain had already settled paper factories in different centers in our peninsula, arising thus a fatal competition in detriment of our industry’ (pp. 26-27).

 

Following the common corporative policy of the medieval City Councils, Fabriano, to front the situation, took the due measures and in the 1436 Statute anyone was forbidden to build up paper mills within fifty miles from his own territory and teach the art secrets to anyone non-resident in the Commune.  This was the first late law by which the legislator tried to protect papermakers' guild against competition of other paper centres – since paper mills founded by Fabrianese men were already working – and shield local economy which, in a large part, founded its prosperity in paper manufacturing and trading, moreover without realizing their local paper production was getting to saturation.  In fact it showed the critical state of a mono-production quality system that up to that moment did not square thinks up with growing competition.  In 1470, at the request of papermakers themselves, the General Council declared a rebellion act with the confiscation of properties applied to any man ‘teaching’ papermaking art or actare aliquod aedificium ad costruendas carta bombicinas (p. 27).  The short hint to the municipal legislation in the fifteenth century shows the spread of the diaspora phenomenon, seen both as the emigration of skilled labor looking for new places far from their own country, anywhere there was a remarkable increase in paper demand especially due both to the rising of the new-born typographic art and employment of the Fabrianese techniques used by paper-makers in other Italian and European regions.

 

On this connection the municipal legislators’ measure, dated 1445, is exemplary.  The municipal authorities fearing that at the death of Pietro di Stefano, a mould-maker, – the only craftsman in the whole Marca able to build forms or moulds to make sheets – his craft would come to an end, asked him to teach his hard art either to his son or a reliable trainee.  The elderly master agreed and promised also to build and mend only the moulds used by local manufacturers.  Augusto Zonghi does maintain already in the fifteenth century competition of paper mills out of Fabriano would be ‘very strong, as the product made elsewhere – says he – perhaps was not inferior to the Fabrianese paper since it was made by the same workers who had practiced in their home workshops, where they had learnt the manufacturing process and had got to get used to those tools perfected by age-old experience’ (p. 27).  On the other hand the large diffusion of Fabriano watermarked papers in the late Middle Ages – the fact is recorded even by Briquet in his Dictionary – had risen the fame of the papermakers making them who, for their professionalism, were welcomed whenever they went to work elsewhere.  In 1936 Giambattista Miliani, an entrepreneur and humanist of high historical culture, states ‘First papermaking art was taken by the Fabrianese masters to towns near Fabriano, later taught and spread almost everywhere in Italy and from there to different countries in Europe’.  Shortly after, in 1938, Andrea Gasparinetti, one of the most illustrious and authoritative historians of paper, in his excellent essay Carte, Cartiere e Cartai Fabrianesi and after that in other writings deals with the same subject and points out the main centers where the Fabrianese contributed to found paper mills since the fourteenth century onwards.  He quotes Bologna, Padua, Battipaglia, Treviso, Pinerolo, Foligno, Said, Colle Val d’Elsa, Sampierdarena, Voltri, Sant’Elia Fiumerapido.  He comes, at last, to draw interesting conclusions.  He agrees with Henri Alibaux, the French historian, in saying that ‘mainly from Italy and not from Spain papermaking Art went to France, possibly with the Popes' stay in Avignon (1309-1378)’.  In this connection he refers to the frenchification of Italian words used in this industry.

 

Gasparinetti uses Renker’s study to confirm that in 1390 Francesco and Marco de Marchia, Italian papermakers probably coming from the Marches, worked early in the first paper mill in Nuremberg owned by Ulmann Stromer.  He refers also to the Galliciani brothers who founded in Basel the first Swiss paper mill of whom he will speak again in an article entitled Le Vecchie Cartiere di Basilea, published in the «Industria della Carta» review in 1959 (y. 13, No. 3, March).  On her turn Anna Basanoff in her Itinerario della Carta dall'Oriente all'Occidente of 1977 thinks, though 'the origin of the early French paper mills may be due to Spanish influence, the Italians were able to give a decisive stimulus to paper manufacturing in France’ introducing here the secrets of their technology (p. 47).  In 1981 Gerhard Piccard maintains that up to the nineteenth century substantial changes did not take place in European paper industry compared with the techniques introduced by the Fabrianese in the latest decades of the thirteenth century (cfr: G. Piccard, Cartiere e Gualchiere in Produttivitd e Tecnologie nei Secoli XII-XVII, Florence, 1981, pp. 223-226).  His statement is linked up with what Lucien Febvre and Henri Jean Martin assert on page 13 in their work La Nascita del Libro (Bari, 1988): ‘European paper industry rises in Italy and spreads across Europe especially from Italy’.  All these opinions take us back to Aurelio Zonghi who in his essay of 1884 Le Antiche Carte Fabrianesi alla Esposizione Generate di Torino, wrote: ‘If at present we cannot give Fabriano the glory to have worked the first linen paper, we cannot, of course, wipe out that to have produced a so large quantity of paper since the beginning of the fourteenth century and so on, to fill Italy and plentifully supply the other nations with it, in particular Switzerland and France’ (p. 23).

 

The historiographic references to the diaspora phenomenon in the latest decades also confirm that in the late Middle Ages there are elements to see the Fabrianese leadership due to the technology spread by paper masters coming from Fabriano: a kind of technology which gave Italian paper manufacture an exceptional dynamism so that it could play a leading part in the diffusion and manufacture of paper in Europe.  A relevant phenomenon that has to be studied more in depth in historiography.  The current studies are keeping alive and open the question on the history of paper which brings to rebuild the trend and dimension of the phenomenon and so to intensify the research to find out more documentary sources unedited.  This is the main reason why Cartiere Miliani - Fedrigoni Group have invited qualified historians of paper to the European Days dedicated to the theme: Paper in the era of the sign. The use of techniques and work by paper-makers from Fabriano in Italy and Europe, under the patronage of European Community, the Ministery of Foreign Trade, the Ministry of Heritage and Culture, the Marche Region, the Fabriano Municipality, the International Association of Paper Historians, and the Polytechnic University of the Marches.

 

In terms of historiography a theory is prevailing according to which the employment of skilled paper labor (we can say technicians and know-how) coming from Fabriano in Italy and Europe has followed to the spread and use of paper produced by new techniques (use of stampers with multiple hammers, sheets sized with animal gelatine, and with the sign or watermark with light effect) and to the discovery by purchasers and consumers that on the market there was a product of a better quality than Arabic paper.  On this way Fabriano became the symbol of the early European paper and the centre of reference for western paper.  Through this historical recollection we have been able to identify the main Italian and European areas which benefited from the techniques and skill of the Fabrianese papermakers.  On reading the abstracts of the essays written for the Two Days’ meeting, I could realize the complex subject-matter and the trend in the authors to choose research itineraries opening new horizons to the investigation of the diaspora phenomenon and identifying the features of Fabriano’s technological and manufacturing influences inside a historical-economic context in Italy and Europe for the long age of the era of the ‘sign’ (the thirteenth-eighteenth centuries).  I believe I can state, since now, the European Days in Fabriano can be considered an important starting point for further research itineraries.  It is an international event forerunner of questions which will become ‘subjects to study’ within a general historical debate.  In other words, the historical question, topic of the meeting, will stay open and investigation will get on on the long wave of the great contribution given to the history of paper by a team of authoritative researchers.  As coordinator of the two Days, I invite the speakers who take part to this event to keep alive and working the relationships of collaboration to continue the study into the 'era of the sign' in the history of paper.  I hope to see you again, here, in Fabriano, at other future meetings promoted by Cartiere Miliani.

 

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Pubblicato originariamente in L’impiego delle tecniche e dell’opera dei cartai fabrianesi in Italia e in Europa, a cura di Giancarlo Castagnari.  © Cartiere Miliani Fabriano – Fedrigoni Group