There’s no doubt that Italians are talented craftsmen and creative designers, their artistic and artisanal excellence is known all over the world. From Ettore Sottsass‘s quirky Memphis furniture to Gio Ponti‘s lustrous pieces, Italy has been a leader in innovative, beautiful, and high-quality design for decades. There’s a reason why iSaloni (Salone del Mobile.Milano), one of the best and most notorious art and furniture design showcases in the world, is based in Milan since 1961. Italian Craftsmanship always was internationally celebrated.
Brianza, for example, is considered the craftsmanship-design district, halfway between Milan and Lake Como. It is a mesmerizing place, in which over the past two centuries noble and affluent families built many villas. These constructions required the skillful hands of master artisans and experts which furnished the breathtaking houses. This is the motive why such a fine and precious know-how survived there, as a crucial part of the region’s legacy. Some traditional crafts knowledge can’t even be found anywhere else in Italy.
Since the 1950s, design entrepreneurs come to this area to collaborate with famous Italian and foreign artists, bringing to life of iconic furniture and lighting. All the best Italian-made products merge together traditional craftsmanship and technology in an extremely detailed and almost perfect way. Artisan expertise has an irreplaceable value which allows delicate finishing details and final touches in all manufactured pieces. Human hands are capable of sensitivity and emotion while maintaining almost industrial precision.
Each hand-crafted art piece is truly unique since it is not being mass-produced. Every small little detail embraces the authenticity of its material and maker, a perfection in each flaw is featured.
Thanks to the nonstop evolution of technology, there are a million ways to use chemicals, for example, to tan leather. However, the best leather in the world is made by Italian tanners who use millennia-old traditions of au natural liming and dying. The result is a material that’s sturdier than any other on the market, as we can see in genuinely Italian-crafted shoes, which all have also a beautiful hand-painted finish. Also, most fabric mills use water that’s saturated with salt and minerals, which leads to a fabric that’s covered in a thin, color-quashing layer. But Italian fabric mills are usually located in the North, an outstanding region in the south of Swiss Alp glaciers. Craftsmanship Italian mills use pure water to produce fabric, that’s why you won’t find a single thread covered in undesirable substances.
Some companies have been around longer than entire nations. In fact, Vitale Barberis Canonico, a family-run fabric mill in Biella, the main textile supplier for the tailor maestros at Zegn, is working for fifteen generations, since the 1600s.
Handcrafting any piece is a slow and detailed process, which requires a burning passion for arts and crafts. Artisans are almost wizards, dedicating their lives to the magic of building extraordinary art with their own hands. A hand-crafted project can take weeks, months, years to be finished.
In 2009, the Italian parliament passed a law prohibiting the use of the phrase “Made in Italy” on any product label unless the product is actually made in Italy, from start to finish. This was a strategy to protect the country’s precious reputation as a creator of the finest craftsmanship products.
From the columns of ancient Rome to Michelangelo’s David, style is carved into the stone of Italian life. There’s even a term for it: “La belle figura”, which literally means “the beautiful figure”, yet represents a lifestyle admired and followed, a trend, at all times and in all ways.
From Leonardo da Vinci to Poltrona Frau armchairs, from Armani and Prada to Tiramisu cake. Italians have several beautiful specific products of the highest level made by small producers, artists and artisans everywhere in the country. Pursuing a family tradition, innovating, creating, finding new styles and raising quality is in the Italian blood, characteristics which will lead the country to a bright future.
Fascinating Murano Traditional Glassworks
One of the most relevant examples of Italian excellent crafts is the Venetian Glass, created for over 1500 years and with production focused in the island of Murano since the 13th century. Nowadays, Murano is known for its artistic glassworks, but it also has a long history of innovations in glassblowing and is Europe’s major glassmaking center. During the 15th century, Murano glassmakers created cristallo, and almost transparent glass considered the finest glass in the world. They also developed a white glass called lattimo which resembled porcelain. Later, Murano also became Europe’s finest mirror’s production center.
Venice was controlled by the Eastern Roman Empire, but eventually became an independent city-state which flourished as a craftsmanship trading center and seaport. The city’s alliances with the Middle East created opportunities for the glassmakers to learn with more advanced countries as Syria and Egypt. Venetian glassmaking factories existed since the 8th century, but they started to be controlled by Murano at the beginning of 1291.
Glass factories often caught fire, so removing them from the city and locating them in an island avoided major fire disasters for the populations. It is known that Venetian glassmakers protect secret recipes and methods for making glass, which is still treasured in Murano.
The island popularity peaked in the 15th and 16th centuries. Venice’s dominance in trade along the Mediterranean Sea created a wealthy merchant class that was a strong connoisseur of the arts. The demand for glassworks increased. The spread of glassmaking talent among Europe eventually lessened the importance of Venice and its Murano glassmakers, especially since Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat in 1797. However, Murano glassmaking began to recover in the 1920s and today the island is home to numerous glass factories and a few individual artists’ studios. Murano’s Museo del Vetro (Glass Museum) in the Palazzo Giustinian showcases the history of glassmaking as well as glass masterpieces from Egyptian times to the present day.
Remarkable Italian Master Artisans
Among many incredible Italian master artisans, we can refer Piero Fornasetti, a painter, sculptor, interior decorator and engraver who lived most of his life in Milan. He attended the Brera Art Academy from 1930-32 and created more than 11.000 art pieces, many featuring the face of a woman, Lina Cavalieri, as a motif. Fornasetti found her face in a 19th-century magazine. Other usual characteristics of his work include the heavy use of black and white, the sun and time. His style evokes Greek and Roman architecture, by which he was heavily influenced. Nowadays, it is frequent to see Fornasetti’s style in fashion and accessories such as scarves, ties, lamps, furniture, china plates, and tables.
Talented contemporary Italian master artisans include, for example, Simone Cenedese (glass sculptor), Massimo Lunardon(lampworker), Cesare Toffolo (lampworker), Simone Crestani (glassworker), Lucio Bubacco (lampworker) and Giovanni Corvaja(goldsmith).
Simone Cenedese, one of the best Italian master artisans dedicated to glass sculpture, started working in a glass furnace created by his grandfather when he was still a boy. Through his work, Simone got involved in the family tradition of glasswork and gathered the key elements required for developing this art and creating designs. Artistic ability, creativity and the mastering of refined and exclusive techniques as well as the use of a wide chromatic range of pure and brilliant glass have developed into new ideas, creations, and projects.
Massimo Lunardon began his artistic career as a glassworker and lampworking artist in 1988. He gained experience in glasswork and glassmaking workshops and from numerous collaborations with studios, artists, designers, and architects. Interacting with different materials and people fueled his desire to experiment and push the traits of glass to their limit and beyond. Massimo’s ability to find the infinite possibilities of glass resulted in companies and private collectors from diverse sectors calling him to create original works.
Cesare Toffolo is one of the best Italian master artisans focused on glass sculpture and lampworking. Born in Murano in 1961, he grew up amongst a family immersed in glassmaking traditions. His grandfather, Giacomo, was a master glassworker who worked for Venini. Giacomo taught Cesare’s father, Florino, numerous techniques of glassworking, and Florino also joined the Venini glassworks at the age of 17. Florino then started to experiment and work with lampworking, gaining the respect of traditional glassworkers on Murano. It was then Florino’s turn to pass his knowledge to his son, Cesare.
The Italian master artisan Simone Crestani specialized in glassworking is known as one of the best craftsmen in Europe. He started working with glass at the prodigious age of 15. After a ten-year apprenticeship in “Lunardon’s factory”, he opened his own studio: “Atelier Crestani”.
Lucio Bubacco is an Italian master artisan specialized in arts and crafts, glass sculpture and lampworking art. He was born on the famous island of Murano in 1957. As a boy growing up on this island renowned for its glasswork, Lucio would play with glass, making small animals, beads and other typical lampworked objects. At the prodigious age of 15, he became a qualified glassworker and started to sell his lampwork creations.
Giovanni Corvaja is a craftsman and researcher with a deep passion for metal and an immense love for goldsmiths. He is one of the talented finalists in this year’s edition of Loewe Craftsmanship Prize. This incredible master artisan was born on 30 September 1971 and is an Italian jewelry artist renowned for his masterpieces of the finest quality. He began to work as a metalsmithing at the age of 13 at Pietro Selvatico High School of Art in Padua under the tuition of Francesco Pavan and Paolo Maurizio. In 1988, he was awarded the Diploma di Maestro d’Arte, and in 1990 the Maturità d’Arte Applicata.
Inspiring Italian Designers
During his career, four decades filled with projects in architecture, urban planning, interior, exhibition and industrial design, Gaetano Pesce, the architect and designer, conceived public and private masterpieces in the United States, Europe, Latin America and Asia. In all his work, he expresses his guiding principle: modernism is less a style than a method for interpreting the present and hinting at the future in which individuality is preserved and celebrated.
Born in La Spezia, Italy, in 1939, Pesce studied Architecture at the University of Venice between 1958 and 1963. He taught architecture at the Institut d’Architecture et d’Etudes Urbaines in Strasbourg, France, for 28 years, at the Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, at the Domus Academy in Milan, at the Polytechnic of Hong Kong, at the Architectural School of Sao Paulo and at the Cooper Union in New York City, where he made his home since 1980, after living in Venice, London, Helsinki and Paris.
Pesce’s work is featured in over 30 permanent collections in the most important museums in the world, such as MoMa of New York and San Francisco, Metropolitan Museum in New York, Vitra Museum in Germany, Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Pompidou Center and Musee des Arts Décoratifs of Louvre in Paris, he also exhibits his art in galleries worldwide.
His award-winning designs include the prestigious Chrysler Award for Innovation and Design in 1993, the Architektur and Wohnen Designer of the Year in 2006 and the Lawrence J. Israel Prize from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York in 2009. Pesce’s experience is global, his innovations are always groundbreaking. Boundaries between art, design and industry seem irrelevant to him, as art is most certainly not something created and put on a pedestal: art is a product, it is our creative response to the needs of the time we live in.
Patricia Urquiola (1961) was born in Oviedo (Spain) and currently lives in Milan. She studied architecture at the Polytechnic of Madrid where she graduated in 1989. From 1990 until 1992 she was an assistant professor in the courses given by Achille Castiglioni and Eugenio Bettinelli, both at the Polytechnic of Milan and E.N.S.C.I. in Paris. Between 1990 and 1996 she worked for the development office of new products of “De Padova” and signed with Vico Magistretti the products: “Flower”, “Loom sofa”, “Chaise” and “Chaise Longue”.
Between 1992 and 1996 Urquiola opened a studio with two friends, Renzio and Ramerino, working with architecture, interiors, restaurants, among others. In the next 4 years she was the manager of the Lissoni Associati Group and in 2001 she opened her own studio in Milan, focused on product design and architecture. Patricia won many design awards, such as Antares-Flos, Artelano, Boffi, Cappellini, Cassina, Kartell. In addition to attending events, conferences and lectures she designed for B & B, Bosa, De Vecchi, Fasem, Kartell, Liv’it, MDF Italy, Molteni & C., Moroso and Tronconi.
Her products were selected for the 2001 Design Exhibition in Italy and for the Annual International Design Catalog of 1999 and 2001. In 2001 she was a jury of the 19th CDIM Design Competition and lectured at the Domus Academy. She currently conducts her professional career at her own studio in Milan in the fields of design, exhibitions, art direction and architecture.
Renowned Italian Art Galleries
Since the end of the Nineties, Nilufar knows how to find its own unique place, so it became a reference point to everyone devoted to historical design, crafts and to people who love to follow the trends and understand the evolution of contemporary design.
Above all, Nilufar inhabits that fine line between artistic knowledge, poetry and visionary ideas, all of the characteristic of contemporary art. Nina Yashar is the gallery’s founder and works with her sister Nilu plus a team of five people. Nilufar was present in several editions of Pavillon des Arts et du Design in Paris and is always in the spotlight at Design Miami/Basel. This art gallery also has its own little manifesto, composed of three words: Discovering, Crossing, Creating.
Gallery Rossana Orlandi opened in 2002 in a former tie Factory in the Magenta neighbor. The gallery has been supporting along the years new designers and is becoming one of the most revered promoters of avant-garde design and lifestyle. Its activity started with a focus on the rising dutch design with designers such as Piet Hein Eek, Maarten Baas and Nacho Carbonell. However, the research has moved widely around the world creating a catalog which reflects the most innovative arts and crafts from Europe to Asia and America.