May 16, 2010

The Artisans of Venice-

-Glassmakers, porcelain manufacturers, weavers, goldsmiths, lace makers, and gondola builders continue traditions passed down over centuries. Each object created is a splinter, a piece of, fashioned to ensure that visitors never stop dreaming of the city.

Discussions of Venice’s earliest history usually emphasize the commercial genius of its citizens, their progress along the river, then the sea routes. But, to reduce Venice to banking and commerce, to imagine even for a moment that Venice produced nothing in its history but “merchants”, would be shortsighted. In fact, (for simplicities sake, from 1400 to 1800) the Republic of Venice survived thanks only to its artisans. At the time, the city teemed with tanners, blacksmiths, jewelers, weavers, armorers, glassmakers, porcelain manufacturers, wood-and ivory-carvers, organ builders, playing-card makers, and many, many others.

The art of bookmaking-of printing and papermaking-is one of the most respected of the many crafts in which Venetian artisans excel.

When one thinks of Venetian art, one conjures up the eighteenth century and the luminous, brilliant genius of the great stucco workers.

The Goldsmith displays his work in a showroom behind which houses the workshop. For them, so they like to say, time stopped with Benvenuto Cellini. But, was the great Florentine goldsmith of the Renaissance familiar with the soldering iron?

The Cannaregio neighborhood houses a foundry that has been making ornamental objects in bronze and brass since 1918.

Crea is unarguably Venice’s most famous and colorful gondola maker. He is the only one in Venice whose shipyard produces all the pieces that make up a gondola.

Murano is not only home to master glassmakers, but to etchers on glass-and mirror-makers as well. Everywhere the spirit of artistry arises from most ancient traditions. “Of all the arts, I know none more adventurous, uncertain, and therefore more noble than the arts that call on fire,” said Paul Valery. And of all the “fire arts”, the art of glassmaking seems to be tied to Venice both historically and symbolically. The “city of light” had to shine, and it shone thanks to its master-glassmakers. How does one transform such poor and lusterless materials-silica, limestone, and soda-into a glimmering surface? Here, in my opinion, is the entire history of Venice concisely.

Fabrics are still woven on eighteenth-century Jacquard looms and tapestry-makers create new and restore fine old hangings.

The dresses designed by Mario Fortuny crystallize in Venice our timeless nostalgia for days gone by.

At the Burano museum, one can admire the detail that made the lace of Venice famous. On the island’s main square rises the Scuola Merletti di Burano which is one of the last lace making schools in the world. The lace school requires two years of study and a graduation piece may take up to six hundred hours. Each piece of lace involves seven workers, from the designer to the finisher. I know no other beauty as secret, as unsettling as lace, which captures Venice to such a degree.

This artisan, like his father and grandfather before him, restores antique furniture and paintings.

Terrazzo alla veneziana, flooring made of marble chips embedded in a putty matrix, adorns practically all the palaces and great houses of Venice.

Were it not for the excellence of its artisans, Venice would be a dead star. Are these artisans representative of a vanishing species? I dare hope they are not…