Labyrinths: The Art of The Maze

by Connie Shen

Oh God, I Am So Lost

“The proliferation of halls and courtyards and galleries in endless palaces where Power resides; A tiny cochlea nestled in the deepest part of the ear;

A game played by children; A tangle of trails amidst hedges in gardens where pleasant and at times gallant strolls taken by ladies and their knights sometimes became the fretful pitter-patter of steps, at times quick, at other times confused, back and forth;

These are some of the forms taken on, for mankind, by the thing called labyrinth.” —Giovanni Mariotti from Labyrinths: The Art of the Maze

Franco Maria Ricci’s Labyrinths: The Art of the Maze (Rizzoli, 2013) is much like its subject matter—complex and variegated. The book, prefaced with a foreword by philosopher and semantics expert Umberto Eco and navigated by a history of the maze written by renowned essayist Giovanni Mariotti, is held together in the hands of its editor Ricci.

In the beginning, the labyrinth was, as Mariotti put it “in the minds of men—the place where the Monster lived.” It was hostile and unforgiving, a complex built to house a beast born from depraved love. With time, the Minotaur and his origin story became a tall tale, his likeness used to ornament gardens and walls. As fear for such a beast faded, the meaning of the word fixed to describe its intricate cage also changed. For the Romans the labyrinth became a symbol of the city, its design carved into elegant villa floors; in the Middle Ages it was associated with the redemption of the human soul and used to describe the way to Jerusalem taken by believers; from the Renaissance into the 18th century it became a shadowy place etched into gardens.

In living homage of his fascination for the maze, Ricci—also a respected art publisher, collector, and graphic designer of fifty-some years—is constructing a labyrinth made completely of bamboo varieties outside his home in Fontanellato, Italy. “I think the place I have created is a very beautiful one. I could say that it resembles my books. It reflects the same taste. It has received the same tender loving care,” Ricci explains.

The path to building Ricci’s labyrinth is much like the very idea of a labyrinth itself. “The way was tortuous and unpredictable, born from encounters, experience, emotions, and thoughts that, at a certain point, flowed together into one project.” Ricci credits the birth of the labyrinth project to discussions he had with Argentine thinker and poet Jorge Luis Borges about the strange paths men take in life. “The trajectories traced by his hesitant blind man’s steps reminded me of the uncertainties faced by those who, during their life’s journey, negotiate enigma and forks in the road.”

Labirinto della Masone or The Labyrinth of Masone opens in 2014 and will house Ricci’s art collection of roughly 500 works spanning from the 1500s into the 20th century, as well as an expansive library comprised of every work ever created or edited by Ricci himself. In its belly lies a 2,000- square meter piazza with salons built as venues for concerts, parties, exhibitions, and cultural events. Overlooking the piazza is a pyramid-shaped chapel, which serves as a reminder of the labyrinth as a symbol of faith.

In the original story of the Cretan Labyrinth, it was said the architect Daedalus had constructed a warren so complex that even he could barely escape it. It was only with the help of King Minos’ daughter Ariadne, who provided him with a clew—literally a ball of thread—that Theseus, the hero of the storied labyrinth, was able to slay the Minotaur and escape. And so, sweet daydreamers, our modern-day Hellenismos, take a cue from dear Theseus: Whether your labyrinth be a game played by children or a many-forked path paved with treachery, hold tightly to your clews and find your way out.