One of the most authentic neighbourhood of the old Florence, as you can see on a map, is displayed among: the river Arno on the North side, Ponte San Niccolò on the east side, the Carmine church on the west, Palazzo Pitti on the south. This zone is crossed form Via Guicciardini, reconstructed in the sixthies of last century, after the second world war as many other buildings as this side of the river. Right in front of the Corridoio vasariano, at the end of Ponte Vecchio, there is a not entusiastic example of modern building wich evocs the arch of the Vasarian corridor.Looking at different styles in architecture, from the many medieval towers, to Reinassance buildings however also modern buildings, actually this road show the biggest contrasts of the old Florence.
On one corner you can see the movement of the aerial passageway built by Giorgio Vasari in the 16th century, all around the torre Mannelli. In order not to disturb the medieval corner tower wich defended the bridge. On the left there opens Piazza Santa Felicita, probably the oldest church of Florence after San Lorenzo (built at the end of the 4th century dedicated to the martyr S.Felicity, but the present church was erected in the 11th century)
Moving on from the most important Via Guicciardini you can turn in Via dello Sprone, a lane going to the Artisans Square (Piazza della Passera). This medieval square is the centre of the Artisan area, on this quadrivium (cross-road) are faced Trattoria dei 4 leoni and the Artisan coffe-bar. Here you can discover many pittoresque corners, many lesser known lanes and what about the history of many palaces and small churches ?
The heartland of artisans in Florence, is a labyrinth of workshops of master craftmen and small firms where manual skill, good taste and creativity give life to works wich are frequently unique.
An area of great interest for the wide range of workshops and for the production of different items made with traditional techniques from the Reinassance to now, such as: jewellery, the art of ceramics, the art of scagliola, engraving on metals, hand-made shoes, the lost wax casting, the Florentine style of bookbinding, wood carving, the Florentine chisel, Restoration of wood, metal working.
In order to appreciate the manual processing techniques used by the craftmen they offer exhibitions for tourists or independent visit as well. Moving on to the workshops I’d like to show you some pictures about:
the art of engraving, the masters of scagliola, the metal working.
The art of engraving
Etchings are called “acquafortis”this is the name traditionally given to nitric acid, well-known for its corrosive qualities produced on a metal plate engraved, so the artistic prints are known by the same name. The acquaforte product process begins with an initial series of operations, performed on the plate, normally made of copper:
2) the reversal design is then made using steel tipped instruments to remove the paint tracing the lines of desired image
3) once the design is complete, the bite is performed. The plate is immersed in a bath of acid. In the areas where the paint has been removed, the acid etches grooves in the underlying metal
4) after that the last wax acid resistant paint has been cleaned from the plate, a copperplate press is used to press the sheet of paper against it to produce the etching.
The etching phase is longer than the printing phase. In order, to obtain different tones, various planes and depths of the design, different bites times are used, dark tones require a longer period of immersion in the acid. In this way a limited number of prints can be made from the matrix. Sometimes, the prints are watercolored by hand. The artisan can expresseses himself more precisely if he controls the procedure in every part. The etching tecnique is very old, but became popular in the XIV century, the acquafortis was invented 1 century later by the italian artist Parmigianino
The art of scagliola
Scagliola comes from a mineral, Selenite also known with the nickname of Moonstone, a type of gypsum that in its natural state appears in the form of scales (from the italian word Scaglia) However, scagliola is also the art of making inlays decorative works from a special mix of ingredients: after the mineral is cooked and ground to a fine powder, it is mixed with pigments of coloured earth with animal glues. Initially scagliola was used to produce the effect of marble veining, then it developed into a sophisticated art in its own, right just like painting.
The process starts from :
1) the preparation of a coloured design that is chiselled with hammer and chisel to create deep engrevings on the slab, wich may be stone, scagliola o marble (in this case is slate)
2) The colored pastes (previously prepared) fill the engraved design, and after the material hardens, the artisan brushes the slab with water and pumice stone it smooth. The surface is often scraped (flattered) again in order to include more shades of color before buffing with beeswax to give a shine to the product.
3) For elaborate decorative motifs, as was already practised in the nineteeth century , subtle gradations of color are added in diluted scagliola applied by hand with a fine paintbrush.
The scagliola was used in the ancient Rome for the walls of Circus Maximus, but this type of decoration became popular during the Italian Baroque period in the seventeenth century (as a combination of different techniques, painting, carving and modelling.) The name scagliola may not be very familiar to you, yet you will have seen, in the Uffizi Museum and in other museums of the world as well as in Vallombrosa thank to the monk Enrico Hughford, who perfected the tecnique in the 17th century , always to mimic natural hard stone, and marble. He decoreted the most important European courts (from Verasailles to Palazzo Pitti, from Windsor Castle to the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg,) scagliola continues to enrich many preincely residences still today.
The art of metal working
The office worker, at the end of the forties, dedicated ten years of his freetime searching passionately for the right formula for his scagliola mixes. He soon became wellknown, first in the U.S.A. then in Italy where with the help of his children produces many unique items and architectural elements including tables, panels, columns, decorative objects that ends up in the most beautiful houses of the world. The works by B.B. can be admired in private home (prince Charlie d’Inghilterra, in London, the villas of Versace family, many Hotels such as the Hotel Brunelleschi a Firenze).
Situated in a beautifull Reinassance palace in Piazza S.Spirito there is a workshop specializes in the production of tastefull Florentine -style metal objects, including tablets, pill-boxes, picture-frames, original containers, accessories for desk, keecases. Everything, from the pressing and soldering through to the final decoration, is carried out by hand to designs produced by the firm itself.
1) the stamping on metal sheet, when the decorative motif of a design on demand or created by the artisan, is transferred on the metal sheet, (copper, brass, zinc) using a Rolling mill, that presses the metal with rolls
2 ) the cooking , than the artisan put different elements of the item in the hoven, they softens and they can be worked
3) construction of the object using a welding torch
4) and the final decoration usually made outside the workshop such as inamelling, gildering, or silver plating.
The different items are exported to U.S.A. , (famous stores such as Sax, Marcus, Camps) but also in Europe (Harrods, Fortuny & Mason) and Italy.
To sum up, the expert craftspeople are preserving traditional working methods and handing them down to future generations. I personally believe, that it would be necessary to protect the economy of this area, where everything is carried on patiently by hand, in a sort of magical atmosphere out of time, and out of the globalized world.
For those who are interested in learning more about the area’s arts and crafts, the Oltrarno is worth visiting for his extraordinary heritage of traditions that is not made only of great artistic masterpieces (see Artisan tour)