Finally I can write about artisans in the Oltrarno area in Florence. A couple of months ago I was on a tour with Context Italy to discover three great workshops in that area and was really surprised by the passion and quality I found.
What’s the Oltrarno
The Oltrarno area, or as we call it Oltrarno or Diladdarno, is one of my favorite ares in Florence city center. In my opinion it’s the most authentic where most of Florentine people live. Geographically is located on the other side of the Arno river, i.e. where Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens are.
The main borough is Santo Spirito that develops around the lovely Church of Santo Spirito. This is actually one of my favorite areas in Florence center, since it’s still authentic and plenty of Florentine people.
One peculiarity of the area are the many artisans workshops. Here three unique botteghe, as they are called in Italian, that I discovered thanks to Context Italy.
Giuliano, the goldsmith
The workshop of Giuliano is right in Piazza Santo Spirito, located behind and old door. He started working as an apprentice when he was 15 years old and took over this small company in the 90s when his master Carlo Cecchi died.
Giuliano is specialized in the antique technique used by Benvenuto Cellini of Cera persa, i.e. Lost wax casting. He makes a rubber mould from any model that uses to make a hollow wax sub-sequentially covered with A final fire-proof mould. The mould is then heats in a oven and the wax lost. After all wax is gone and the mould is dried, hot copper, brass, silver or gold is poured inside The casting mould and the work is done.
Almost anything can be made with this technique. The products made by Giuliano’s skillful hands have been appreciated by lots of famous fashion designers over the years. Famous fashion companies like Christian Dior and Chanel ordered unique artworks in limited pieces.
Nowadays he still works for big companies but he also realizes a large variety of products that he sells directly such as lovely jewelry. Actually he makes the smallest Michelangelo’s David you can find around, that is a nice charm for a bracelet to put together with a tiny Ponte Vecchio. In addition the prices are extremely cheap compared to resellers!
Ippogrifo Acquaforte workshop
Books started to be etched in 17th century and the first encyclopedia was illustrated with several acquaforte in 18th century. Actually the technique of etching has been the same for the past 400 years: first off a plate of copper should be waxed and the artist uses a needle to create the design. The plate is then dipped in a bath of acid that pulls out the engraving. Copper plate is inked all over and then carefully removed from the surface, so that ink remains only in etched lines.
The image is then pressed over a paper made of 100% cotton that has been washed in the morning and dried right after. Acquaforte needs about 2-3 days to dry well and then can be colored. According to tradition every etched copper plate should be used for 150 times and then dismissed. Every single acquaforte should therefore be numbered and signed by the artist and needs quite a few days to be finished, depending on its size.
Nowadays this old technique is quite rare and there are only few etchers all over Italy, actually just in Venice and Florence. In Oltrarno you can find the workshop of Gianni, the Ippogrifo in via Santo Spirito, opened in 1976 just few years after Gianni’s degree. Watching him working was extremely fascinating: the details of etched illustrations are incredible and you can understand easily understand how much time you need to create acquaforte. Being a good sketcher is not enough for this technique, since you need to be also a kind of alchemist.
Naa Studio, contemporary jewelry
In via dei Serragli there is the small workshop of Negar, a beautiful young woman of Persian origins, that opened her studio in 2012. She perfectly mixed the traditions of Florentine goldsmiths like Cellini and contemporary art in her creations. I love the rings she makes with Santo Spirito Church engraved!
She learned many different techniques thanks also to the support of Context Travel, that every year gives money to talented young artists to study and open their business. When I visited her studio she was working on a very special project: two unique wedding rings made from the hands’ imprints of the future bride and groom. What a lovely wedding gift!
I should say that I really like this company. It offers quite unique tours, mostly customized on your interests and above all really off-the-beaten path. I also like the fact that their guides are scholars and really know what they’re talking about and aren’t just repeating the same words over and over for work, but explaining it for passion. Last but not least what I like the most is that part of the money raised from the tours are used to support young students to study and pursue their dreams. For more details about Context Travel tours see here.
If you wanna some suggestions to discover Florence off-the-beaten path like a local see here!