I went to see Sara Bassi with the firm intention of interviewing her, and instead I ended up talking mostly to her father, Mansueto. Latins, who were very wise, used to say “nomen omen”, a destiny is in its name. Calm, patient, good. Here’s the ready made portrait of this man, who took his passion for books and rare objects and made it into a lifestyle which is both beautiful and…contagious. Sara, who grew up in this atmosphere, absorbed her father’s enthusiasm that represents in itself the bare bones of her professional choices. She definitely possesses a different character, but that is another story.
So the interview carries on with two voices, between the memories and the present time. Mansueto talks about a picture, a beautiful antique Madonna, which was donated to him by his father: often a person’s destiny is influenced by gestures like this, reigniting passions that we did not even recognise. To study the pictures he travelled to Verona and ended up entranced by a library full of antique texts. Resourceful Mansueto decided to start working with rare books and very quickly ended up organising the first exhibition in this sector: and not just the first in Mantua, the first in Italy. It was 1975 and there were 6 exhibitors. The book fair enjoyed growing success (Sara proudly recalls that there was a waiting list), up until the final edition in 2012. About 70 exhibitors coming from all over Europe convened at San Francesco convent to start with, and later at the Diocesano. It was a world of passionate enthusiasts, both sides of the desk, offering rarities which would excite buyers and sellers: it is true, in fact, that every antiquarian is a perfectionist collector. This was a world made of exciting discoveries, and sometimes of burning sacrifices. Always an occasion to exchange information, circulate knowledge, sharing great friendships. It was also a place of rage and resentment, but Mansueto smiles indulgently when talking about these.
Occasionally Sarah butts in revealing her talent for orderliness, out of which the Scriptorium catalogue was born, both on paper and online. This allows the whole world to get to know the details of the important 15,000 books collection which adorns this house. Books are everywhere, they are Sara’s daily partners. She studies and catalogues them with a very careful eye, aimed at the news of the librarian market worldwide. Father and daughter still buy books, estimating the value of collections or entire libraries.
Mansueto’s eyes light up when he recalls the time a noble family who put him up for 2 months (drinking French champagne every day at lunch), so he could catalogue their splendidly rich library. There was one item in particular that attracted him and that he never forgot. Years had gone by and he wasn’t hoping to acquire it. Instead… his passion for rarity, his competence and perseverance were finally rewarded. Mansueto with determination.
by Mara Pasetti