Aerial view of Labirinto della Masone
Photo  by Carlo Vannini

The Hestitant Paths of Franco Maria Ricci

Text by John White
and Franco Maria Ricci

Franco Maria Ricci is the founder of a magazine that he started in 1982, a magazine which garned high praise, including from Federico Fellini (who called it the "black pearl") and Jackie Kennedy (who called it "the most beautiful magazine in the world"). He has featured notable contributors including Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino and Umberto Eco.

In 2002, after twenty years, Franco sold the magazine to Marilena Ferrari's company Art'é, and began to construct a maze in Fontanellato, a short taxi ride from Parma. There, in the quietude of the Po Valley, rises an enigmatic pyramidal building amidst a maze of bamboo.

Why did you switch paths from being a geologist?

At first I wanted to be an archaelogist, to tell the truth. Then, I graduated to geology but later, you know, I ended up doing a totally different job.

I don’t regret my choices, even if sometimes they were risky or really ambitious, like the decision to reprint the Encyclopédie by D’Alembert and Diderot. I was lucky, because my taste for beauty always helped me make decisions.

Portrait of Franco Maria Ricci on his Jaguar in the 60s.
Photo by Ugo Mulas

Why a Labyrinth?

It was tortuous and unpredictable, originated from encounters, experiences, emotions, and thoughts which, at some point, flowed together into one project.

Caverns were probably the first labyrinthine structures human beings came into contact with, in a distant past.

The fact that at a certain point, much later, those laborious paths re-emerged, as if from a sort of oblivion, and began to attract my attention was first because of my readings, and then because of my meeting and befriending Jorge Luis Borges.

The paths the hesitant steps of this blind man drew in spaces that were easy and familiar, reminded me of the uncertainties of those who move amidst forks in the road and enigmas.

What was the purpose of the Labyrinth?

When the labyrinth project was born, it was a private matter. I wanted to leave something of myself to the land that had nourished and enriched my family; like the gentleman Vicino Orsini, who translated his solitary fantasies into the Park of Monsters in Bomarzo, or like Vespasiano Gonzaga, who died in Sabbioneta, in the heart of his unfinished dream made of stone.

As time passed, that initial idea was, for the most part, transformed. Now, I've come to think of my enterprise above all as a legacy—as a way of giving back to the Po Valley, which includes Parma, and to its countryside and nearby cities.

Where did the idea come to have a pyramid at the end? In a way, it seems like a temple.

For the pyramid, and for all the buildings, I turned to the great architects who lived during the French Revolution: Boullée, Ledoux, Lequeu, but also the Italian architect Antolini, who presented Napoleon with a visionary project for the Foro Bonaparte in Milan.

The pyramid is meant to be a chapel, even if it's not sacred yet. And there is a labyrinth on the floor, just like in the French medieval cathedral, as a symbol of faith and as a reminder of the tortuous path that every man has to walk through to reach Eternal Deliverance.

What do you think of the theme of mortality that is abundant in your collection?

I was still a young man when I first became attracted to these themes, constant in art. I was always wandering around art fairs, like the one in Maastricht or the one in Parma, and always looking for them in the catalogs of the main auction houses.

My purpose was to form a Wunderkammer, a place born to arouse wonder. Wonder that here is also a feeling of unease owing to the many symbolic representations linked to the fragility of life, the so-called Vanitas.

Books on a shelf at Labarinto della masone.
Photo by S. Lorenzo

Do you think it's important to read any specific books?

I think it's still important to read the fundamental classical texts: from Homerus to Borges, and Dante, Calvino, Joyce…

What books are on your bedside table lately? What’s it about?

The last ones I read were all about the city of Mantua and the Gonzaga dynasty, because the last volume I worked on is Mantua Classical Utopia (we're printing the English version too), with texts from some of the most important experts on Mantua’s art and architecture and photographs of the most beautiful places in the city.


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