Rizzoli Bookstore Reopens in NYC

Sally Grant   New York

The old Rizzoli Bookstore on 57th St, NYC Photo credit: Rizzoli Bookstore

The old Rizzoli Bookstore on 57th St, NYC
© Rizzoli Bookstore

Book – and bookshop – lovers of the world rejoice! After closing the doors of its beloved 57th Street store last year, Rizzoli New York opened a new flagship in the NoMad district of Manhattan last Monday. While this location, in the nineteenth-century St. James Building at 1133 Broadway, may not be able to replace the now-lost historic charm of its predecessor, with its famed vaulted ceilings (the building has since been demolished to make way for a luxury development – who’d have thought it?), for an independent bookstore to re-open these days is an event to be celebrated.

I haven’t visited the bookshop as yet but Rizzoli reports that a number of fixtures from the old space have been incorporated into the store – including its elegant chandeliers and cherry-wood bookshelves – and photographs accompanying the announcement reveal a new detail that looks like a particularly captivating addition.

The Milan design firm Fornasetti and British wallpaper makers Cole & Son were commissioned to create wallpaper that has been placed between the top of the bookshelves and the eighteen-foot-high ceiling, enveloping the store’s three ground-floor rooms. Presumably in reference to the Italian parentage of Rizzoli New York (it is part of the RCS MediaGroup headquarted in Milan), the whimsical design includes such details as Italian cities drifting through the air.

Detail of Rizzoli Bookstore Wallpaper  Photo credit: Daniel Melamud

Detail of the Rizzoli Bookstore wallpaper © Daniel Melamud

What struck me from Daniel Melamud’s photograph of the wallpaper, however, were the inflatable balloons among the clouds as, coincidentally enough, I had been reading about the advent of hot-air ballooning during the eighteenth century just the other day.

In its entry on the subject, the Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment tells me that in his book The Invention of Liberty, Jean Starobinski chose Francesco Guardi’s painting Ascent of a Balloon over the Giudecca Canal in Venice as the symbol of the Enlightenment. A drawing related to this work was included in the Morgan Library’s 2013-14 exhibition, Eighteenth-Century Venetian Drawings, which I discussed in a previous ACIS post.

Francesco Guardi, Ascent of a Balloon, 1784.

Francesco Guardi, Ascent of a Balloon in Venice, oil on canvas, 1784. Image source: WikiArt

In the Encylopedia, Michel Delon writes that for Starobinski the subject matter of Guardi’s painting demonstrates “a victory of will and knowledge over the ponderousness of matter and tradition, but also a triumph of celebration and pleasure over serious-mindedness.”¹

Perhaps the designers at Fornasetti had Starobinski’s text in mind when designing the bookshop’s wallpaper – it was, after all, published in 1964 by Skira, which is now part of Rizzoli publishing. Whatever the case may be, the imagery of the free-flying balloons is suitably apt in conveying the soaring flights of imagination and discovery upon which books can take a reader. That there is one more physical location from which to start these journeys is another triumph.

For those who would like to know more about the bookstore’s new location, there is a good, and amusing, account in a Wall Street Journal article from last year.

¹ Michel Delon, “Ballooning,” in Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment, edited by Michel Delon (Abingdon: Routledge, 2013), 154.

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