Books On Books Collection – Jacques Vernière


Stéphane Mallarmé/ Translation, Maurizio Cucchi/ Wood engravings, Jacques Vernière
Slipcased, paper bound, sewn. H325 x W260 mm, 70 pages. Acquired from Carla Bellini, 14 November 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Edizioni Ampersand.

In the Books On Books Collection, there are livres d’artiste of Un Coup de Dés in French, English and German — even Arabic. Edizioni Ampersand brings an Italian edition into the fold. Alessandro Zanella founded Edizioni Ampersand in the early 1980s in Verona, and its second publication was UN COLPO DI DADI. Zanella had been intrigued by the revolutionary typographic layout of the poem and borrowed a first edition copy from Leo Lionni, the children’s book author and illustrator. Presumably for the future flexibility of his printing house, Zanella purchased a set of Caslon type rather than Bodoni in which to set the poem.

The 1914 edition of the poem has no title page laid out as a double-page spread. Why the title is split into four lines for the French and five for the Italian is not clear. The French layout gives a more expected left to right reading across the spread, whereas the Italian jumps back and forth (perhaps more in keeping with Mallarmé’s syntax later in the poem). Otherwise, as seen in the pairing of the “Comme si … comme si/ come se … come se” spreads, Zanella follows the 1914 edition’s layout.

The French printer/artist Jacques Vernière may have destined himself to contribute the artwork to UN COLPO DI DADI. He had introduced Zanella to American expatriate printer Richard-Gabriel Rummonds, proprietor of The Plain Wrapper Press, then also in Verona. Some years after working with Rummonds, Zanella struck out on his own and established Edizioni Ampersand. Whether by research or intuition, Zanella

Although not following Mallarmé’s choice of typeface, Zanella did follow Ambroise Vollard’s instinct that a livre d’artiste edition would sell better than a text-only edition. He also followed Mallarmé’s concern that Vollard should not let the prints and paper used for them detract from the visual impact of the text. Zanella separates Vernière’s wood engravings from the text, placing two after the French version and two after the Italian version of Mallarmé’s preface. Their evocation of the storm, shipwreck, waves and the abyss is unmistakable, as is the folio cover’s image of foam on the surface of waves.

Spread of French preface and image; spread of Italian preface and image.

Close-up of images after the prefaces.

Spread with second image in the French section; spread with second image in the Italian section.

Close-up of second images in the French and Italian sections, respectively.

The watermark in the handmade paper seems extraneous: Veronica’s Veil, the relic capturing Christ’s image, might have interested the otherwise non-religious author of Herodiade, but its bearing on this poem is unclear. A mermaid or siren would have been more suitable. But such a subtle discrepancy or missed opportunity does not sway the balance of text, image, ink and paper that Zanella has achieved here.

Logo of Edizioni Ampersand

Further Reading

Nicolini, Chiara. Summer 2012. “Lines in the Ampersand“, Illustration. Accessed 5 February 2022.

Shaw, Paul. “Alessandro Zanella: In Memoriam“, Special Collections, Marriott Library, University of Utah. Accessed 5 February 2022.

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