Lacquered wooden box with prints by Remondini.
Venice, 1720 ca.
w 32 cm x d 27cm x h 14,5 cm.
Founded in the mid-seventeenth century, the Remondini publishing firm produced prints and books on a massive scale for nearly two hundred years, marketing their paper commodities not only across Europe but also in the American colonies and parts of Asia. Based in Bassano, Italy (45 miles northwest of Venice), the firm targeted a large, popular audience. By offering a wide array of printed materials, ranging from religious pictures and texts, to genre scenes, to sweeping landscape views, the firm appealed to the interests—and budgets—of an emerging middle class audience.
Unlike firms that made high-quality prints for a small, wealthy audience, the Remondini utilized a business strategy of cheap production aimed at a large, middling audience. To reach this audience, the firm employed traveling salesmen—agents who sold prints directly to customers, and in the process, gained an understanding of the tastes and preferences of their clientele.
“Among the prints sold by the pedlars we also find decorated papers that would have been employed primarily to bind books but could also have been used to cover furniture, objects and boxes. The Remondini’s products range was among the broadest in Europe and included paper printed from wooden matrices as well as gilded paper manufactured using techniques of which they were masters.” (Milano 2013, p. 93)
This antique Venetian box is decorated with Lacca povera.
Lacca povera (also termed arte povera and lacca contrafatta) was developed as a means of imitating the appearance of costly, scarce and fashionable high value lacquer being imported into Europe from the far East. It is now rarer and possibly more valued in the west than the material it imitated. It is not surprising that it was in Venice that one of the first lacquer substitutes was developed. Venice was an important port through which the luxury products of the Silk Route reached Europe. In Lacca povera motifs and scenes were pasted on the primed wood using flower paste. They were then decorated with color and finally varnished. It is believed that the varnish used by the Venetians was made with sandarac. Both spirit and oil versions existed.
Sandarac oil varnish was the so-called “vernis liquida” of the Italian Renaissance-era.
Remondini’s prints collection is now displayed in a museum named after the firm itself in Bassano del Grappa, the hometown of the family and the firm.
Museo Remondini is hosted in Palazzo Sturm, which won the Icom prize as the best “glocal” museum in 2010, thanks to the exhibition dedicated to Remondini publishing firm.
The museum is one of the few dedicated to the history of the printing in Italy, and it is definitely the most interesting because of the link with the international trades of Remondini family between 1700 and 1800. It shows the whole range of production: books, decorated paper, folk engravings, games, optical views, wood engravings by the best authors of the time.
Milano, A. 2013, “‘Selling Prints for the Remondini’: Italian Pedlars Travelling through Europe during the Eighteenth Century,” in Not Dead Things: The Dissemination of Popular Print in England and Wales, Italy, and the Low Countries, 1500–1820, ed. by Roeland Harms, Joad Raymond, and Jeroen Salman (Leiden: Brill, 2013), pp. 75–96.