The Gilders

The young workers had to pass a period of apprenticeship, that lasted even for years, with a final exam before opening a shop of their own and having the expert title.
The corporations spread out to all artisan production fields creating a highly specialised working class capable of opposing any foreign rivalry.
The Dominant one, which obviously couldn’t count on its own agricultural production, had the necessity to bring to the maximum levels the production of manufactured articles in order to stand out in all the European markets.

The so-called Lesser Arts reached levels of considerable elegance and sophistication especially because Venice was able to count on much original and exclusive raw materials which used to arrive from the Orient through the long Silk Road crossed by merchants and caravan guides.

Each Art was in possession of an emblem, (some very precious ones are kept in Museum Correr): wooden table on top of which the relevant profession was painted with its characteristics and tools used to practice it.
There were no indications about the use of gold for celebrating magnificence of Serenissima. G
old on the other hand was very diffused in the rich Byzantium, it was a perfect mean to represent the sacredness of a place, an object, a material, and Venice experimented with it rather soon in its thousands of square metres of mosaics in the basilica of St Mark’s.

So, the Gilders were using a pure gold leaf (previously prepared in Scuola dei Tira-battioro - the Goldsmith’s Guild, which, even today, with many other functions, can be visited in that very baroque, delicious and elegant building that is found in San Stae) at the end of numerous workmanship phases, with mixtures of chalk, red clay, egg whites and isinglass followed by the burnishing phase with agate stone.

They used to apply their Art to various decorations: from display ships, amongst which the dogal Bucintoro, to large chests, headboards of beds and four-poster beds, cupboards for reliquaries, frames, and especially the ceilings from which remain very precious testimonies of gold associated to colours of the city which are the red and the blue.

Let’s think about the ceilings of the ancient Scuola di Carità (school of charity, today incorporated in the Accademia galleries) or Scuola di San Rocco or especially the exceptional decorations of the rooms of Doges’ Palace.

Works of the ‘gilders’ got diffused even more in detail in 18th century when Rococo doors and furniture were fashionable, lacquered and gilded, or the statues of famous ‘Moors’ with turbans holding fruit plates or luminous torches or in the wooden parts of theatres.

Venice had many ‘theatres’ amongst which the jewel of Fenice, erected in the second half of 18th century based on drawing by Giannantonio Selva.
Rich stucco-works, engravings, panels of the Theatre and Apollonian Halls aroused admiration of the world for their preciousness and magnificence. Even the dramatic blazes didn’t wipe out this splendour made immortal, like the life of the very Fenice, with accurate reconstructions.

Gilded decorations surprise us even today, they are beautiful, they are participating and protagonists of the spectacle itself because they constitute the most refined and special context to greet sublime art and music.
There are only few ‘gilders’ left: in Campo San Stefano and next to Ruga Giuffa in Santa Maria Formosa, and we enter their shops with great respect so to steal with our eyes some gleams of the most ancient Arts and Crafts of our city.


 By  Daniela Simionato-Putz
Cultural Association Un Amico a Venezia


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