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Florence, Italy: Carlo & Stefania Martelli- Masters of Art Restoration and Gilding
16th Century Cornice from Local Palazzo (Candle Holder)
A compelling tale of reincarnation, alien life, and 16th c Lisbon
Carlo Martelli Overseeing Restoration of a Historical Painting
16th Century Cherub (detail)
It's perhaps one of the most important jobs in Europe, especially here in Italy. In case you didn't know, 60% of the world's most significant works of art are in Italy and half that number is in Florence alone (UNESCO). It's no wonder this country is a mecca for art restorers.
One of the most famous bottegas in the city belongs to Carlo Martelli and his cousin, Stefania. Their reputation is such that even the Galleria degli Uffizi, one of the world's most famous museums, employs their expertise.
Despite not having made an appointment to speak with him (I basically barged in nicely), Carlo graciously spoke to me and allowed me to take some photos. He explained that they restore paintings, furniture and fixtures in the studio and that they also gild in 24 karat gold using the antique method with water.
He then showed me an early 16th century cornice that was used as a candle holder in one of the local Renaissance palazzos in the city. It was in amazingly good condition, but needed a bit of restoration. 'This is the kind of things we work on in here,' he said. I was intrigued.
Carlo and Stefania offer classes, too. For those who want to do restoration as a career, there are formal classes and training available. What if you just want a quick class? Well, they offer brief, informative, hands-on classes for tourists and small groups. You will listen and work (yes, you can touch!). They will give you something old and wonderful to gild...not an important 16th century piece, of course, but something you will enjoy.
The challenge facing many master restorers is that now the Italian government is requiring accreditation. What's happening is that young people are getting the required piece of paper, but have none of the necessary experience to work on serious pieces of artwork. Carlo said, 'How can you tell someone who has been restoring artwork for forty years- someone who has restored Michelangelo's work- that now he needs a piece of paper to continue working?'
Good point. How do you do that? Many of the master restorers worked on the damaged artwork after the great flood of 1966. These are people with tremendous experience. Hopefully, the Italian government and the Art Restoration world will come to some equitable agreement.
If you are in the Oltrarno, this is definitely a bottega that you will want to stop and take a peek. Maybe even a gold leafing / gilding class. As always, thank you for reading.
C. & S. Martelli
Via Toscanella, 18r
TEL (011 39) 055 28 9415
C. De Melo
Author & Artist