A tour in the past between the streets of the “sestieri” (districts)that host the workshops where craftsmen have been handing down ancient crafts for generations, the crafts that shaped the image of the city and helped making Venezia famous worldwide
Atour into the past to appreciate the work of the craftsmen who have shaped the image of one of the most beautiful cities in the world, or who have helped, through their creativity, to make it so famous; craftsmen who still hand down today the art of these ancient crafts that were of fundamental importance to the history of the Venetian Republic. The so-called minor arts reached, in fact, remarkable levels of elegance and refinement, mainly because Venezia could count on valuable raw materials that came from the East via the Silk Road. Nothing was more appropriate than gold to celebrate the glories of the Serenissima (the old Republic of Venice); we can get an idea of it by entering the Basilica di San Marco, where the thousands of square meters of mosaic are all sparkling. Gold was very popular and was used to celebrate the sacredness of churches but also to decorate fabric. The Venetian masters “Doradori” (gilders) applied it also to the ceremonial vessels, to the headboards of beds, to ceilings. But it was the eighteenth century that saw the heyday of this art in the splendid Venetian palaces that were enriched with gilded stuccoes, Rococo doors and furniture, decorative items like the so-called ‘Mori’, which held fruit bowls or bright torches, or gilded wooden decorations of the theatres. Entering the famous La Fenice theatre is enough to get an idea of this splendour.
The “Doradori” is one of the most ancient Arts and Crafts of the city, they were the artisans who used pure gold leaf, previously prepared in the Scuola dei Tira-battiloro, which today has very different purposes, in San Stae. A profession, that of the battiloro (literally, gold-beaters), brought here from Byzantium in 1300 and that in 1700 counted three hundred employees. To get an idea of how the work was done, you can visit (by reservation) the workshop Mario Berta Battiloro, in the Cannaregio district, in a historicallocation which is the palace where the famous painter TizianoVecellio was born and lived in. Here, since 1926, gold, silver and other precious metals, are transformed into very thin leaves, suitable for applications in many fields. «The laboratory was my grandfather’s, Mario Berta, who had taken it over from his cousins. Today, my mother Sabrina Berta and my father Marino Menegazzo, continue this job», says Eleonora, who has been working with the parents for 15 years. ‘We work our gold leaves with completely artisanal methods and they have been used for the restoration of important artworks, even abroad; to mention a few examples: the Crown of Our Lady of Lourdes, and on part of the restoration of the Sagrada Familia, in Barcelona, while in Venezia for the inner mosaics of the Basilica di San Marco as well as the Angel of its bell tower. And not only that, but also for the decoration of the gondolas», she proudly tells us. Behind the finished product there is a very complex process: «the sequence of activities that transforms raw materials into very thin sheets a few microns thick begins, in fact, with the melting phase which allows you to purify the gold before solidifying it in the shape of an ingot. Then, with the lamination, we obtain individual squares that will then be separated by special papers to then be subjected to the first Battitura (the first beating process). The semi-finished leaves, cut into four parts and repositioned one on top of another, are subjected to a second Battitura. Finally, there is the cutting and packaging phase in which skilled professionals handle with extreme precision the very thin leaves to give them their final shape and place them in their special cases».
The produced leaves of gold, silver, and various combinations of these metals with other less noble ones, made in various thicknesses, sizes, and colours, are used by mosaic artists, glassmakers, pearl workers, restorers, iconographers, calligraphers, painters, sculptors, and gilders, and making use of them, with different application techniques, embellishes the artworks with a touch of incomparable personality. Very few Doradoriare left: in Campo San Stefano in the San Marco district or by the Ruga Giuffa in Santa Maria Formosa. The Armenian families who imported cotton, linen, wool, and silk from the East once lived in this very area. And it is in these very streets that by venturing inside the workshops you can observe the work of these masters who, through a long process and very precise steps, bring true masterpieces into existence. The process starts with the preparation of the gypsum and, after adding red clay, egg whites, and isinglass, continues with the gilding and burnishing with agate stone which is able to polish the gold once it is dry. With pure gold leaf they used to decorate representative boats such as the Bucinto roof 1731. Not to mention the chests, headboards of beds, frames, and spectacular ceilings such as those of the Scuola di San Rocco, Palazzo Ducale, or those of the ancient Scuola di Carità.
Since the beginning of the fourteenth century, Venice became the most important centre for weaving silk and velvet, creating true masterpieces of extraordinary colours and types. The art of the “veluderi” gathered the velvet craftsmen, the registered confreres were required to enrol themselves at the “Provedadoria la seda” (also called “samiteri”), who had the seat near the church of San Zuane Grisostomo. Only in 1450 the samiteri were forbidden to produce velvets, which thus became an exclusive for the veluderi. In the sixteenth century, weaving velvet was one of the main activities of the Serenissima and employed thousands of people on more than six thousand looms. The Bevilacqua family produces fine fabrics in Venice since 1499; because of this, Unioncamere (the public body that unites and represents institutionally the Italian chamber system) appointed Tessitura Bevilacqua “Impresa Storica d’Italia” (historical enterprise of Italy). A visit to this place is a must, upon reservation, to enjoy the atmosphere the past. Led by the family of the same name, the weaving shop carries out one of the oldest traditions of Venice, respecting, just like in the past, all the phases of manual processing: from the reproduction on graph paper (they have 3,500 original ones) of the base drawing of each Brocade, Damascus, Lampas and Soprarizzo velvet, to the finished product. Since 1700 in the Castello district, in Fondamenta San Lorenzo, Tessitura Bevilacqua moved in the early twentieth century in what will be its unique and definitive seat, Santa Croce. Here, expert hands still work today on looms of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, transforming natural yarns in precious fabrics for high fashion, royal palaces, prestigious mansions and theatres all over the world. Some of these masterpieces can also be observed in the Chiesa della Madonna della Salute a Venezia, when, during the Festa della Salute (Festival of Health), 21 November, the columns are covered with beautiful handmade Soprarizzo velvet and also with gold threads by Tessitura Bevilacqua, but also in some Venetian venues and hotel rooms; for example the Metropole Hotel or the Ca’ Nigra, or at the Ristorante Quadri and at the Ca’Vendramin Calergi, Casinò di Venezia, and in the Stockholm City Hall. Without forgetting that the main export markets of this historic company are the United States, Russia, and the Middle East, which, together, as the company administrator Alberto Bevilacqua lets us know, «account for 70% of our total sales».
The art of the ‘fioleri’
When it comes to excellence made in Veneziaone cannot fail to mention the glass. The documentation of glassmaking activity has in fact already been witnessed since the year 982. In the XIII century, the art of the “fioleri” (from “fiole”, vials or bottles), together with mosaics and blown glass, became so important for the city economy that it was submitted to the Magistratura della Giustizia (Justice Judiciary) who protected its activities. It was in 1291, by order of the Gran Consiglio, that to protect the city from the danger of fires caused by the furnaces, all the glass business was moved to Murano. In Venice, only the “verixelli” remained, small furnaces, distant from houses. The fact that extremely refined products came out from the furnaces of Murano can also be proved by the paintings of great Venetian painters, but to have a more complete idea, we suggest a visit to the Palazzo Giustiniani, which houses the Museo d’Arte Vetraria (Museum of Glass Art) since 1861, where you can admire a wonderful collection of glass objects ranging from the second century BC to the present day. Among the most famous items, there is the Barovier cup, which takes its name from the artist who made it more than 500 years ago, which is still produced today with the same method and in the same furnace at Barovier&Toso, one of the most ancient family businesses in the world and still active in Murano. Though already in the fourteenth century the Venetian production is well underway, with at least twelve glassmakers blowing glass, it is with the decline of the Islamic production, starting in the mid-fifteenth century, that Venice takes the leadership in this art. The turning point was also determined by the invention of the crystalline glass by Angelo Barovier (1405-1460) from Murano, which boosted the production of transparent glass, decorated with polychrome enamels and gold, increasingly demanded by powerful customers including the Pope. In Murano, an island that has been famous for a thousand years for the production of artistic glass, we recommend a visit to the furnace (in Fondamenta Vetrai 26) of the Schiavon Art Team led by Massimiliano Schiavon for the fifth generation of master glassmakers which, since the early nineteenth century, have invented many processing techniques such as that of the wrought glass. In the large spaces used as laboratory but also as artworks exhibition areas, you can follow the stages of artisanal production: from the blowing and handwork, to the cooling in special ovens, to the “moleria”, where each piece has to be cut, beaten, sanded, and smoothed and is ready for display after being signed. Unique, handmade design items are exhibited in the gallery that you can visit within the same building. Passionate and creative artist, Massimiliano is also known abroad, and his production, in recent years, has been aimed at the creation of artistic vases, called “Pezzo d’Arte” (Piece of Art), certified, and signed one by one. Massimiliano continued to invent new collections and together with the Masters who are now working with him, continues to create unique products that do not fear competition, focusing on freehand work without any mould support, and on research.
La Scoletta dell’Arte dei Tiraoro
In Campo San Stae, on Canal Grande, La Scoletta dell’Arte dei Tiraoro e Battioro (“The Small Art School of the Tiraoro and Battioro”, which are goldworkers) (www.scolettabattioro.it) dating back to the eighteenth century, was the seat of the Corporazione. Erected next to the monumental church of Sant’ Eustachio, called San Stae church, it was under the protection of San Quirico, Santa Giustina, and Santa Lucia, and was built to be used to celebrate the sacred functions, but also for the teaching of these arts. The seat closed on the eve of the fall of the Venetian Republic. In 1807, with the Napoleonic edicts and the introduction of the cadastre, the Scoletta became state property and in 1878 it became private property. The historical building, which has two floors, is now a multifunctional space for exhibits, conferences, and parties. Its 100 meters of exhibition wall allow the preparation of major exhibitions. Furnished with antique furniture and paintings, it lends itself to the realization of receptions, parties, corporate presentations, chamber music concerts, but also to small meetings and conferences in the rooms that can accommodate 50/70 seated people.Schola dell’Arte dei Tiraoro e Battioro - Campo San Stae 1980 - Phone 0039 041 2750606
Where to sleep
For those who love art and the atmosphere of yesteryear, Ca’ Sagredo on Canal Grande, between the Ca’ D’Oro and Ponte di Rialto, is the right place to spend at least one night. The five-star luxury hotel, in a splendid Venetian palace of the XV century, former residence of the noble Sagredo family, was recognized Museum and National Monument. Its history-rich halls preserve artworks of great prestige, including paintings by prominent Venetian artists of the XVII and XVIII centuries: Sebastiano Ricci, Giambattista Tiepolo, Nicolò Bambini and Pietro Longhi, just to name a few. The elegantly furnished rooms have a wonderful view on Canal Grande, Campo Santa Sofia and the historical Mercato di Rialto. Ca’Sagredo Hotel (www.casagredohotel.com) is in Campo Santa Sofia 4198/99 Ca’ D’Oro, Venezia. Phone: 0039 0412413111. A real treat is the Hotel Ai Mori d’Oriente (www.morihotel.com), a four-star hotel for romantics and dreamers who will be able to spend a stay wrapped in evocative atmospheres with a Middle Eastern taste. Overlooking Canale della Sensa, the hotel is within the fifteenth century palace that was the seat of the Mori, the silk and spices Turkish tradesmen of the Serenissima times. And the furnishings of the rooms are inspired by that very period of time, giving the hotel the charm of a fascinating manor. Hotel Ai Mori is in Fondamenta Della Sensa, Cannaregio. Phone. 0039 041711001