Paul Shaw


Alessandro Zanella 1955-2012
The celebrated Veronese letterpress printer Alessando Zanella died suddenly this summer at the young age of 56 years. He was born in the Veneto and attended he Liceo Scientifico Statale in Verona before being drafted into the army. Upon his discharge he applied to the School of the Book in Urbino but missed the deadline. Jacques Verniere, a French printer in Verona brought him to the American expatriate printer Richard-Gabriel Rummonds, proprietor of The Plain Wrapper Press in Verona, who took him on as an apprentice. In an era when letterpress printing was giving way to photocomposition and offset printing this was a unique opportunity to learn about printing on the iron hand press as well as to imbibe the tenets of good typography and book design. Zanella was a quick study, becoming Rummonds’ partner in 1978.

Rummonds left Italy in 1982 to establish the Book Arts program at the University of Alabama. Zanella decided to continue letterpress printing on his own, establishing Ampersand as his imprint. Over the next decade he designed and printed illustrated limited edition books, among them Sul teatro delle marionette by Heinrich von Kleist with four etchings by Neil Moore (1984) and Persephone by Yannis Ritsos with prints by Joe Tilson (1990). In 1994 Zanella printed Le Carte del cielo, the first in a series of eleven short narrative texts by Italian authors selected and edited by Sandro Bortone. The series was Monotype Bembo, one of Zanella’s two favorite typefaces (the other being Jan van Krimpen’s Spectrum from Enschede).

From the mid-1990s on Zanella began to introduce digital typefaces, printed from polymer plates, into his work. He also began to explore book structures, working in close collaboration with artists. One of the most important of these isVetrinetta accidentale by Mario Luzi with etchings by Walter Valentini (2005) commissioned by Cento Amici del Libro. In 2000 Zanella began to teach courses and workshops on printing with the iron hand press at his stamperia, often in collaboration with various universities and book arts organizations. His teaching played a major role in the spread of interest in typography and the book arts in Italy, especially among a younger generation, in the past decade.

A major exhibition of Zanella’s work, accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue, was held at the Biblioteca Vallicelliana in Rome in 2009.

I wish to heartily thank Lucio Passerini and Richard-Gabriel Rummonds for providing the information on Alessando Zanella’s life that is the basis for this obituary.

Obituary written by Paul Shaw.

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