Franco Maria Ricci: celebrating his heritage and his vision

Labirinto della Masone, in Fontanellato, Parma, opened in June 2015 as the world’s largest labyrinth, thanks to the vision of eclectic art collector and publisher Franco Maria Ricci. He created the bamboo labyrinth on his estate, as a tribute to his friend and collaborator, the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, who saw labyrinths as a metaphor for the human condition.

The labyrinth and estate, which includes the architecture of Pier Carlo Bontempi and also houses Ricci’s art collection – some 500 works spanning five centuries – and the library, play a central role in the legacy of the late publisher.

A self-taught graphic designer, Ricci was best known for the range of lavishly produced art books he began publishing in the 1960s – including a reprint of an 18th-century French encyclopedia, tomes on artists such as Tamara De Lempicka and Antonio Ligabue, and an exploration of the art of tarot – with contributions from great cultural figures of the time, from Italo Calvino to Gabriele d’Annunzio. He also launched an art magazine, titled RMF and focusing on the classics, in 1982.

Franco Maria Ricci

Ricci’s nephew, Edoardo Pepino, has overseen his uncle’s empire since 2020, striving to keep its tradition but to refresh it with new ideas and projects. Labirinto della Masone, headquarters of the Franco Maria Ricci Foundation and the publishing operation, hosts performances, exhibitions, a museum, restaurant and suites, while a redesign of the publishing brand is unveiled at the end of 2021, when Pepino should also relaunch RMF magazine.

Wallpaper * caught up with Pepino for a glimpse into the future of Franco Maria Ricci’s legacy.

Wallpaper *: How does it feel to be in charge of such an important project as the Labirinto della Masone and the publishing house?

Edoardo Pepino: There is a work by Bartolomeo Veneto, an extraordinary portrait from the 16th century, kept at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, UK, which depicts a man with a mysterious identity. He is elegantly dressed, a warrior, I suppose, with the sword he holds in both hands, the proud gaze, the privileged heir of a mission, or of the defense of a kingdom… who knows. There is an embroidered maze on his garment, which is the only clue to his business and the responsibility assigned to him.

Here, from time to time, I imagine myself to be this young stranger, champion of a tradition, or rather of a profession to be projected into the future, and guardian, with other talented young people, of a place of delicacies. halfway between dream and reality: the Labirinto della Masone. This is why I chose this portrait as the cover image for our exhibition on the theme of the labyrinth.

Labirinto della Masone, Fontanellato

W *: Tell us about the legacy of Franco Maria Ricci and how you carry it in your own way.

PE: The design of a new website is a necessary and creative intervention. Before, all communications relating to our editions were made via the Labirinto site for two reasons. First, give Labirinto first visibility as soon as it opens to the public [in 2015], being able to count on the name of a publisher known throughout the world. But also to [give context to] the editorial activity that actually takes place at the Labirinto della Masone, among the works of art in the collection of Franco Maria Ricci, in the center of the largest bamboo labyrinth in the world.

Now that the volume of this activity is increasing, it is important to create new channels dedicated exclusively to the publishing house, but in constant dialogue with its home sweet home, the Labirinto. We chose the curator Livia Satriano and the Pop-Eye Studio in Milan not only for their affinity with our aesthetic criteria and the refined tone of the communication, but also for the particular care and the deep interest they showed in our past. company and our graphic archives. I think the work will be excellent, a wonderful surprise for lovers of art, books, graphics.

Aloys Zötl’s Bestiary, a book of the Human signs series, published in 1972

W *: Speaking of Franco Maria Ricci’s cultural heritage, is there anything you would like to change, or something you would like to improve?

PE: Not exactly. Ricci’s cultural heritage lies in the classics. It is impossible, for example, to perfect Antonio Canova, Giambattista Bodoni, or correct Giovan Battista Piranesi. I think it’s the same for Franco Maria Ricci. This is not to say that there were not, during his long and prolific activity as a publisher, moments of weakness. [There are] books that I wouldn’t repeat today; this is part of the normal genesis of a publishing house that has survived time and trends, through different decades, during which Franco Maria Ricci has always known how to stand out.

Book covers from Franco Maria Ricci’s publishing house, from a series curated by Jorge Luis Borges

W *: You are working on a new magazine, which will be launched in the fall of 2021; can you tell us something about that?

PE: There is a lot of expectation on the new RMF magazine. Laura Casalis, who runs it both in form and in substance, will tell us more this summer. With Ricci, who was her life and work companion, she had shared the idea and the successes of the magazine since its first publication in 1982. Contributors include Giorgio Antei, Massimo Listri, Stefano Salis, Gabriele Reina and Vittorio Sgarbi, [and we are] inspired and supported by a large number of illustrious names in art and culture – including Pierre Rosenberg, Alvar González-Palacios, Patrik Mauriès, Oscar Tusquets Blanca, Héctor Abad Faciolince. New RMF will be the same but not the same.

Volume of The blue library series

W *: Can you tell us a personal anecdote, a memorable experience that you shared with your uncle?

PE: Ironic and sympathetic, the conversation with Ricci was almost always uplifting; this reflected on the quality of things, on the scruple of his work. He never woke up before 11 a.m., yet he was a hard worker, a workaholic. Attention to quality permeated everything he said. He often said to me: “The most important thing is to be able to recognize, it is whether a thing, whatever it is, is good or bad. For him, it was not just an aesthetic fact, linked to art and publishing, as it is not the case for me. It is a moral principle, a value. He taught me that it is easy to fall into the mundane, the sloppy. Instead, we need to take even the small details seriously, the habits we take for granted. I remember a few years ago in one of these conversations he and I stayed late at home. It was dinner time. So I made pasta with the little I had in the fridge. The first bite was enough and he said with a smile, “Look, even eating is serious business. And then he took me to a restaurant. §

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