How ancient Venetian craftsmanship endures: small, constant changes

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Subtle, but meaningful. These are the ways to describe the innovations pursued over the centuries by the glassblowers, bookbinders and shipbuilders of Venice, whose Old World attention to detail and the use of quality materials still resonates today. ‘hui.

In fact, the constant pursuit of innovation is a bit of a tradition in itself. So in 1574, workers at the Arsenale shipyard assembled in an hour a galley – complete with ropes, sails, oars, and weaponry – with a pre-assembly line process. that of Henry Ford of more than 300 years.

Why we wrote this

Are tradition and modernity still at odds? For the craftsmen of Venice, respecting the secular specifications of the guild is essential. But these glassblowers, bookbinders and shipbuilders are also constantly looking to improve their craftsmanship.

Venice, Italy

The glassmaking, bookbinding and gondola construction trades have changed little over the centuries in this city, which is celebrating its 1600 years this year. Craftsmen practice their skills to precise guild specifications that pre-date the Italian Renaissance.

“There are rules that govern color combinations and proportions,” explains Stefano Coluccio, explaining why he does not accept special orders for his mirrors.

Yet despite respecting tradition, the 1,000 or so artisans of Venice also find ways to innovate within the parameters of their trade. For example, while gondolas have been around since the 11th century, their design has evolved in subtle but significant ways. On a recent visit, carpenter Matteo Tamassia, whose gondolas can take a month or more to build, discussed an improvement to the gunwale with another boatbuilder who has passed by.

Why we wrote this

Are tradition and modernity still at odds? For the craftsmen of Venice, respecting the secular specifications of the guild is essential. But these glassblowers, bookbinders and shipbuilders are also constantly looking to improve their craftsmanship.

This spirit of invention manifested itself in the 16th century. The story goes that in 1574, Henry III of Valois, King of France and Poland, attended a dinner at the Arsenale shipyard, where he saw a galley assemble within an hour – with ropes, sails, oars and armament. The Arsenale’s efficient assembly line process predates Henry Ford’s by more than 300 years.

While the pandemic has dried up tourism, the artisans of Venice have continued to ply their trade. Carpenters continue to take orders for new gondolas. Bookbinders still produce the notebooks that made Venice famous during Gutenberg’s time. Mask makers are designing fabulous creations even as the Venice Carnival was canceled this year. Centuries of changing fortunes have fostered patience.

A common thread binds all these craftsmen: they continue to experiment, improve techniques and introduce novelties – invisible to the uninformed eye – to their old trades. These arts are not only ancient; they are timeless.

Master bookbinder Paolo Olbi cuts cardboard as he begins to work on a notebook. His handmade notebooks sell to select customers around the world.

Paolo Olbi (left) and illustrator Anna Scovacricchi experiment with a technique for stamping velvet covers at the Antica Stamperia Armena.

Mask maker Gualtiero Dall’Osto wears the Red Bull mask, one of his most distinctive creations.

Master craftsman Simone Giordani at Barovier & Toso creates the glass arm of a chandelier.

Carpenter Matteo Tamassia works on a gondola. Branded ships have plied the waters of Venice’s famous canals since the 11th century.

Massimiliano Ballarin examines a modern chandelier in the Barovier & Toso showroom. Founded in 1295, the glass company produces both contemporary and classic lighting.

Squero di San Trovaso, the shipyard of shipbuilder Lorenzo della Toffola, offers maintenance and repair services for gondolas and other boats.



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