L'Ippogrifo Stampe d'Arte

In the heart of Florence’s artsy San Frediano neighborhood we find an oasis just across the Arno from the hustle and bustle of the city center. It all starts with a sign, the curious symbol of a hippogrif (a mythical half horse, half eagle creature) that greets tourists and art aficionados. The sign belongs to a bottega known for its extraordinary etchings – Ippogrifo Stampe D’Arte.

Gianni Raffaelli and his wife Francesca have called this bottega home since 1999.


"Immaginare quello che può essere una cosa, penso che sia la cosa più bella da immaginare"

Francesca, after raising her children, tried her hand at engraving and painting and found great satisfaction in creating children’s themed prints.

Eventually, their son Duccio would also join the bottega, helping with management, framing, tours and even working on his own engravings. He shares: “imagining what something can become, I think that’s the most beautiful part.


"È sempre un'emozione vederlo"

As you open the door to the bottega a tiny bell rings and you are greeted by Gianni, working away at his desk, watercoloring one of his latest prints. Oggy, the family dachsund, greets you and you have the sensation of being invited into a living room more than a bottega. The feeling is that you have stumbled upon a rare find where time stands still. It’s easy to get lost looking through Ippogrifo’s hundreds of prints. 

Duccio tells us that at times, customers will spend half an hour watching Gianni work, watching someone create something with so much detail and patience attracts people’s attention. Duccio himself shares that even after seeing hundreds of prints, when his father finishes an etching "it is always emotional to see".


"Puoi guardare intorno, farti stimolare dagli altri artigiani"

Although there are important historical records of engravings (experimentations with various printing techniques) in the 1400s in Florence, the acquaforte technique evolved into what we know today in the 1600s.

With the birth of books with images, acquaforte took on an important role and would eventually evolve from a “lesser” art into a specialized craft.

As many other artisans, Gianni and his family find inspiration in their city; going to work in the morning, walking over the bridges, passing in front of shop windows and even other bottegas. "You can look around and take inspiration from other artisans".


Gianni’s own etching of the Battaglia di Anghiari is also a tribute to Florence. This "fiore all’ occhiello – the feather in his cap" (the piece he is most proud of) is inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci’s studies for a fresco in the Salone dei Cinquecento in Florence’s famous Palazzo Vecchio. 


"Perdi tanto tempo nelle operazioni"

The technique behind aquaforte etchings reveals a lengthy and complex process which requires a high level of expertise.

It all starts with a copper or zinc plate that is sanded and polished before being covered with a waxy acidresistant paint. The design is then etched into the plate using various instruments (which Gianni has always made himself). One etched plate or lastra produces only 150 prints before it is archived. Each of these prints is hand pressed, painted and stamped with the Ippogrifo seal. "The processes take up a lot of time".


Even the frames that they use are handcrafted (Duccio has become the expert framer). The process of sanding, stuccoing, applying layers of cementite, painting, adding colors and effects is all carried out to enhance the beauty of each individual print.


There are prints that depict Renaissance themes and others meticulous geometric studies; Ippogrifo has a vast subject repertoire. Besides their catalogue which contains forty years of experience, the variety of their prints is due in large part to meeting the tastes of their clients.

Duccio explains that every nationality has a certain taste, what is trending in Asia may not be trending in America. As trends are always changing, the family is constantly experimenting and talking about the next subject. “Si spende più tempo a parlare di cosa fare…” Sometimes, "they spend more time thinking about what to create next!"


"The attention to detail is always fascinating to see". An expert engraver can achieve remarkable highlights and tones. By re-etching portions of a plate and playing with acid immersion times he achieves results that a digital print can’t give you.

Once plates are cleaned, test prints are carried out and the final prints are not pressed until Gianni is satisfied. Even the paper the etchings are printed on plays an important role in the final product.

One thing is certain, whether an animal print or a Tuscan landscape, the attention to detail in these prints is remarkable.


"A noi ci aspetta questo – di fare di più"

In a neighborhood once bustling with many artisans, the Raffaelli family and their historic bottega are becoming a rarity. With the next generation of artisans like Duccio, there is hope for the future but with a mission to connect people with artisans in a way that past generations couldn’t. Florentine artisans are connected by un filo invisibilean invisible thread, Duccio explains. What once seemed like a museum to a young Duccio, has become a place of inspiration and ideas and an opportunity he can’t ignore. 

From sharing the history of acquaforte with tour groups to teaching the ancient technique, Ippogrifo is trying to keep traditions alive. Duccio and his father discuss new ideas at length, attempting to bridge the gap between generations. They have found a good balance, they are happy with where they areci accontentiamo di questo, but, Duccio knows what lies ahead- there is more to be done.