Life, Work and Miracles of an Italian Calligrapher of the 21st Century

Roberto Giurano was especially gifted for calligraphy but lost interest in it when he was fifteen. At eighteen he left his native Puglia, in southern Italy, travelled north to the region of Friuli, fell in love with its mountains and forest, and the waitress he met in the first restaurant. Three months later he married in the presence of thirteen guests at the Romanic church of Muris built in the 10th century, on a hill that offers fantastic views of the province of Udine. She has been his wife for eighteen years, has given him two sons, and encouraged him to return to his first love: Calligraphy. And so he did, without pausing for a moment about the alleged uselessness of it all in an era of screens, and big and small keyboards. Not only that. He devoted himself to this project with heart, mind and considerable resources. In 2012, he founded the Scriptorium Foroiuliense in San Daniele del Friuli, where they have already initiated in the arts of calligraphy, miniature and paper-making more than four hundred and fifty students from all over the world. Your correspondent found him preparing the ink for official documents to be signed by the president of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella. We reviewed the amazing calligraphic work by students, made with goose feathers aged for at least two years, and saw how cruel, and expensive, it was prior to the movable types and the advent of modern paper to make a book. It would involve skinning calves, preferably unborn, as their skin would be softer. Entire herds would be sacrificed for the making of a volume. Books could be as costly as the castles of their owners, involving the work of an army of miniaturists and calligraphers employed in their making. In the Middle Ages, most calligraphers would be monks who began as y0ung as ten, for a working life that would last until they were eighteen, when they would be suffering from poor eyesight or even blindness, which would darken the last of their lives that would be expended by the time they were around thirty. Until the 1700s even the best calligraphers were magnificent copyists who were illiterate. Literacy was discouraged for all but the elites, and most certainly for calligraphers who copied treatises and secret documents they were not supposed to know. Copying errors in holy scriptures would be crossed out with golden ink, as nothing could be really wrong or ugly in the transcription of the language of God. The visit continued into the Castle of Ragogna. In its old dungeon, the Scriptorium prepares its papers in the according to the Fabriano technique of the 1300s, dissolving cotton in a liquid solution, in a process that involves filtering through a sieve, pressing and drying. Students at the Scriptorium are also taught the art of miniatures. Contrary to what is believed, it is not the art of small illustrations. “Miniature” comes from Middle Latin miniare, a cognate of minia, a pigment used to illuminate manuscripts. It can still be seen in the red or vermillion tonalities of seal wax mostly sold today for decorative use. It may be yet another reason why red is the color of passion. It has nothing to do with utilitarianism and everything to do with who we are. Steve Jobs’ first passion that led him to found Apple was calligraphy.