A heritage of culture and beauty

In Japan, tradition is as important as progress: one cannot exist without the other. Japan was the first country in the world to build an entire railway network dedicated to the Shinkansen, the famous “bullet trains” that whizz incessantly between bustling futuristic cities. In these cities, hundreds of department stores still dedicate entire floors to kimonos and traditional Japanese craft products. The Kabuki theatre and Sumo wrestling are still very popular in the cradle of modern technology. The origin of Manga is older and nobler than anything a passionate Western reader could imagine. In fact, the history of Japan is as committed to the development of advanced digital technology as it is to the conservation of Ukiyo-e, their traditional woodblock printing technique. 

In Japan, the old and the ancient also represent wisdom, not only tradition. In 1950, the Japanese government passed the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties: this law acknowledges the intangible value of living culture and compares it to that of monuments, sites and artefacts. This is how Japan first created the institution of ”Preservers of Important Intangible Cultural Properties”, more commonly known as Living National Treasures (Ningen Kokuho in Japanese). This institution regroups people with supreme expertise and special artistic skills and techniques (Waza in Japanese) in performing Japanese arts and crafts. The Living National Treasures are officially designated and protected by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology through its Agency for Cultural Affairs. The government also supports every member with an annual grant of two million yen. Up to a total of 116 Living National Treasures can be ordained by law: at this moment there are 114. The two categories, arts and crafts, are organised into a number of specific subcategories. Performing arts include Nohgaku (classical musical drama), Gagaku (ancient imperial court music and dances), Bunraku (puppet theatre), Kabuki (traditional musical drama performed only by male actors), Kumi Odori (a narrative dance), Engei (storytelling), Music and Dance. “Crafts” refers to Ceramics, Textiles, Urushi (Japanese natural lacquer work), Metalwork, Woodwork, Doll making, Papermaking.

Showcasing Artisan Talent

The finest Italian craftsmanship, with the exceptional manual skills of the different territories, has for the first time been represented in a new project promoted by the Gruppo Editoriale publishing house, in association with Fondazione Cologni dei Mestieri d’Arte and Osservatorio dei Mestieri d’Arte of Florence: Italia su misura.
This ambitious, innovative program gives space and visibility to numerous Italian artisans of excellence, who are praised and admired all over the world and who contribute to render Italy a destination for cultivated, and responsible tourists.
How? Via a website and printed guidebook that share the same meaningful, evocative title, Italia su misura (Tailor-made Italy).

Lifting the curtain on furnishings

Marco Belloni’s is a wonderful Italian success story. Especially in our present situation, his story makes it easier for us to feel proud of being born in a country that can express so much passion, talent and dedication, a professional attitude and a solid business sense coupled with the ability to make dreams come true. 

A gem of Brianza’s manufacturing district, Belloni was established in 1898 by Angelo, who was soon joined by his son Antonio. At the company headquarters in Barlassina we are greeted by Marco, the founder’s grandson, who began his apprenticeship in the family business at a very early age. He smiles as he tells us about the horse-drawn carts that he used to see when he was a boy, carrying to the station the furniture his grandfather and father made: he was immensely fascinated by the big crates heading for America, a legendary country in his young eyes. He was still only a teenager when he started working in the company, patiently assisting his father and the artisans, learning every secret, in the best tradition of the artisan workshops, by “stealing with his eyes.” At the same time he cultivated his artistic talent, attending evening classes on sculpture and drawing at Brera Fine Art Academy. He built a background of knowledge that would prove invaluable, acquiring important manual skills and grasping the history of art necessary for a deeper understanding of period furnishings. In 1973, following the death of his father, he took over the company which he continues to run today, at the age of 65, with a passionate and tenacious approach, supported by the fourth generation: his four sons, all of whom work in the family company, each with their own roles and skills. Together they defend the values of a tradition which they see as a family vocation and destiny, in spite of the many difficulties they are currently facing.

Restoring the new

Contemporary art has become “fashionable” in recent decades: an enthralling adventure, like a modern Grand Tour in a globalised world that is crowded, multifaceted and sometimes contradictory. The roles of museum directors, curators, gallerists, collectors, artists and auction house managers are less defined and often overlap, as professions blend and their boundaries become increasingly blurred.

The substantial difference between contemporary and classical art does not lie only in the multitude of materials used, but also in the fact that the former has paved the way to new forms of collecting, to new professional roles, to changing relationships, ethical approaches and conservation methods. Contemporary art is often created for contexts outside of the museum, with the purpose of encouraging reflection, challenging established certainties and compelling us to ponder the idea of impermanence. In contrast to ancient art, which was intended to be preserved and handed down through history.

This break with the past began with the avant-garde movements, when artists started to use new expressive forms to represent the reality and technology of the modern world. To accomplish this change, they turned to materials found in everyday life, using a wide variety of non-traditional media, often daringly assembled: plastic containers, light bulbs, cement and garbage bags, as well as more organic and natural materials (blood, manure, animal hides, etc.). Artists no longer choose materials for their durability, as was the case in the past, but rather focus on the concept that they want to convey, which is often expressed in the implosion of the artwork itself. The new meaning attributed to the concept of work of art, the experimentation with new materials and techniques and the introduction of a dynamic dimension that transforms the relationship to time have brought about the need for a novel approach to restoration. Leading to a new specialisation, in order to tackle the restoration (or, rather, conservation) of contemporary art with a versatile and open approach.

The Charming Habit

“As far as I can recollect, I have always had a fan…” says the 30 year old Parisian, Raphaëlle de Panafieu: when she was a child, her father always brought fans back from his frequent travels to Asia for her and both her sisters. One day she wanted to buy a fan with her own money, but she didn’t like the Asian and the Spanish ones sold on the seafront. They fulfilled indeed their requested basic function, but were too “Asian”, or too “Spanish” according to her taste: they weren’t fashionable.
Raphaëlle wanted something better. This is how her marvellous adventure begun.
In 2009, Raphaëlle started working for Ventilo – a high-end woman’s prêt-à-porter brand – as research manager for Department Stores in Asia, Northern America and the Middle East. 
Eloïse Gilles had previously worked for Louis Vuitton and was then dealing with luxury brands and their identity. 
Both were just thirty years old. Together, they decided to give the fan another chance. This was something very easy to decide, but much harder to implement, because fan making specialists had almost disappeared in Paris.

Passion behind the scenes

My parents would have preferred me to become an architect. But ever since I was a child, I have always enjoyed making big drawings and playing with puppets and costumes. So becoming a set designer came almost naturally. My career at La Scala began after a short experience as assistant costumier for the show Barbablù at the Piccolo Teatro of Milan. I was in my third year at the Accademia di Brera when my professor of scenography, the architect Tito Varisco who was also Director of Stage Engineering at the Teatro alla Scala, proposed me to gain working experience at the theatre’s scenery laboratory. That is how, in October 1972, I stepped through the little gate of the workshop in via Baldinucci 85. The first weeks were disappointing. I was assigned a repetitive and dull task, attaching large tulle leaves onto a backdrop. Far from fulflling my aspiration of painting large scenery, I began to wonder if I had made the wrong decision. What made me change my mind were the chief stage designers, who gave me increasingly important and gratifying duties. The first two years were tough, since I had to reconcile my attendance at the Accademia with my commitment at the workshop. But although I worked up to ten hours a day, the new experience was helping me focus my course of study. For the frst six years I trained in building techniques under La Scala’s chief set designers Gino Romei, Gianni Bellini, Ludovico Sommaruga and Giorgio Cristini, and external set designers like Arturo Benassi, Ettore Rondelli and Fulvio Lanza. In 1978 I received my frst assignment for the stage scenes of La storia di un soldato directed by Dario Fo, who also designed set and costumes. I was at once thrilled and terrifed of making a mistake, and for the frst few days I was having nightmares about the set falling apart. But everything went well and Maestro Fo himself complimented me on my work. During those years I made other experiences in private workshops, which enriched my professional background and allowed me to gain also organisational skills, elaborating timescales and calculating costs, spaces and so on. In 1987 I was appointed head scene painter and I produced the scenery for the ballet La Sylphide, entirely painted on tulle. I think that my contribution to scenography lies in my capability to interpret the artwork, suggesting textures and materials that often vary from one artist to another. An example was creating the curtain for the opera Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights directed by Bob Wilson; Bob congratulated me because I did not blindly copy his set design, but I interpreted his style, giving the effect of his pastel strokes. Indeed, after that experience he asked me to recreate some of his works on a large scale.

White gold

According to the Chinese, Kao-ling and pai-tun-tzu represent the “backbone” and the “meat” of porcelain. Today, they are commonly known as kaolin and feldspar. Combined with quartz, they form the alchemical compound, which is at the origin of the purity and hardness of the so-called “white gold” developed during the T’ang dynasty (618-907). 

After many unfruitful attempts, between 1708 and 1709, E. W. Von Tschirnhaus, physicist and chemist, and the alchemist J. F. Böttger achieved a miracle: they reproduced in Germany a porcelain almost identical to the Chinese one. The first European manufactory of hard-paste porcelain was established in Meissen in 1710, under the command of Augustus II the Strong, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony. He was also a great collector of precious Chinese porcelains. Augustus suffered from what he called the “maladie de porcelaine”: a porcelain obsession rather than a passion. Jealous of Tschirnhaus and Böttger’s discovery, the King prohibited the copying of their recipe and ordered that the Meissen porcelain factory be transferred to the castle of Albrechtsburg, an impregnable fortress near a kaolin mine. 

Shortly after, however, the secret was leaked and spread rapidly across Europe. Porcelain factories started popping up in Limoges and Sèvres, France as well as in Doccia, Italy. All of the factories were situated close to kaolin deposits. Kaolin is the sedimentary rock on which the purity of the finished product depends. In the Meissen manufactory, the creation of statues was entrusted to the sculptor Kirchner. Kändler overtook for him later on. Hundreds of life-size porcelain animals were produced for the “Japanese Palace” in Dresden. Under the guidance of Kändler, who became master modeller in 1733, the factory created new decorative motifs and china sets, as well as famous figurines inspired by the Orient, by the Italian “commedia dell’arte” and by everyday life.

Milan made to measure

As far back as 1750, the name Buccellati referred to a goldsmith’s shop just a stone’s throw away from the Duomo. Today, the elegant boutique in Via Montenapoleone, opened in 1919 by Mario Buccellati and now run by his son Gianmaria and grandson Andrea, represents the continuity of an ancient art that masterfully combines traditional tools and techniques and modern technologies. In 1876, the Villa family established a goldsmith’s business and in 1930 opened a jewellery shop in Via Manzoni. Since then, Villa has fascinated the Milanese and international public with its elegant and luxurious creations: an endless range of cufflinks, micromosaic brooches and rings, and the signature-piece sets of skilfully braided gold threads. Established in 1920, Ganci is one of the city’s oldest silverware manufacturers, a tradition of great craftsmanship that the Morandino family preserves with passion. From planishing to chisel work and engraving, they also produce made-to-order designs and reproductions from sample pieces. Even Roberto Miracoli and his son Renato continue a glorious family tradition, which began over a century ago, when grandfather Romeo established the business in 1912. This silverware workshop is renowned for the wonderfully detailed enamel silver animals it produces. Raffaella (Lella) Curiel descends from an uninterrupted line of successful women and runs a business that has gone from strength to strength since it was founded in the late 19th century. Today, dynamic Lella and her daughter Gigliola work side by side, sharing the same passion for haute couture and prêt-à-porter creations and for amazing craftsmanship, distinguishing features of their charming atelier. Heir to a tradition handed down from one generation to the next since the mid 1800s, Carlo Andreacchio creates impeccable men’s suits in the time-honoured Sartoria A. Caraceni. Carlo and his son Massimiliano, who represents the fifth generation, tailor 400 outstanding made-to-measure suits a year. Carlo, Mara and Lorena Traviganti run the Silver Tre workshop, where they perform the difficult art of sheet metal turning they learned from their father. They make spectacular objects in silver, brass, copper and steel, including 2-metre-tall Fabergé eggs and a life-size carriage drawn by a mechanical horse… Fornace Curti is probably the oldest workshop in Milan. As early as the fifteenth century it was making terracotta vases and capitals for the city under the Visconti family. Today this large atelier is still run by a member of the founding family: together with his wife Daria, Alberto Curti produces astonishing statues, vases, tiles and frames.

Space dances with me

Design continues to this day to be a young discipline! Proof of this lies in the fact that it has never created an area of research which is separated from production and consumption. As a young discipline, over the years it has often drawn on neighbouring fields of research for inspiration: the heavy industry in the post-war period, programmed art in the Sixties, architecture in the Fifties and Sixties, furnishings from the Thirties to the present day and, more recently, craftsmanship and applied art. Among those who have managed to transfer their experiences from one discipline to another, I have always felt Fabio Novembre deserves a mention of honour. Novembre has contributed to the world of design tapping from his experience in the context of “set furnishing”, a field in which he played starring roles on several occasions, early in his career. I can still recall the Bisazza showroom in Berlin and Barcelona, Florence’s UNA Vittoria Hotel, the Tardini store in New York, Café Atlantique in Milan and many installations that seemed to unfold in their surroundings with the same spirit and approach expressed by a great set designer.

The rule of example

The publication of the book La regola del talento. Mestieri d’arte e Scuole di eccellenza (The code of talent. Métiers d’Art and Schools of Excellence. Marsilio Editori, March 2014) is part of a high-profile cultural project announced by Cologni Foundation of the Métiers d’Art in conjunction with Deutsche Bank Italia Foundation, marking the latter’s first official philanthropic, social and educational initiative in Italy. Readers will be introduced to some of Italy’s finest schools, true guardians of knowledge and know-how, opening their doors to the public for the first time. With a history often centuries old, these institutes are entrusted with the extraordinary task of preserving and transmitting a unique heritage of skills and knowledge. To train and support the new generations of master craftsmen is to promote and protect Italy’s remarkable tradition in culture, beauty and savoir-faire: more crucial than ever for the country’s economic and productive system. 

The book is a tribute to all those who are engaged in this mission, often facing many difficulties. The 17 major schools described in the book were selected according to strict criteria: acknowledged leadership and tradition in their specific field, deep-rooted ties to the territory, recognition, high-level teaching standards, and the ability to combine tradition and innovation.