The Last Gold Beater in Venice

The Last Gold Beater in Venice

In Venice, an individual is surrounded by gold.

It garments the statue of the archangel Gabriel atop the bell tower on St. Mark’s Square and glistens within the mosaics on the facade of St. Mark’s Basilica, aptly nicknamed “the Golden Church.” It generally seems within the artisanal glass from the island of Murano, on gondola ornaments, the better-quality masks for Carnival and even on high of rice dishes and desserts in eating places throughout the town.

All of those examples use overwhelmed gold, skinny sheets of the valuable metallic, additionally known as gold leaf. And a lot of it comes from the workshop of Marino Menegazzo, extensively acknowledged because the final goldbeater — or battiloro, in Italian — to provide golden leaves utilizing conventional strategies in Venice and one among only a few remaining in Europe.

The artwork of gold ornamentation is believed to have been developed by the traditional Egyptians, then utilized by the Greeks for his or her chryselephantine statues — manufactured from gold, or chrysos, and ivory, or elephantine — resembling Zeus on the Temple of Olympia or Athena Parthenos on the Parthenon.

Historians say the method first was seen in Venice within the eleventh century and flourished through the republic’s 18th century heyday. But then the decline within the variety of expert artisans started.

“In the 1700s there was once about 300, however now it’s solely me,” Mr. Menegazzo stated throughout a video interview from his warrenlike workshop.

Mr. Menegazzo realized his craft within the Seventies from his father-in-law, Mario Berta, whose household had been within the business for generations.

The Mario Berta Battiloro workshop opened within the Nineteen Twenties; it now’s operated by Mr. Menegazzo; his spouse, Sabrina Berta, Mario Berta’s daughter; and their daughters, Eleonora and Sara.

Inside the dimly lit store, housed in what was as soon as the residence of the Sixteenth century painter Titian, Sara Menegazzo pointed to a wall the place a sq. of gold measuring 5 millimeters by 5 millimeters (two-tenths of an inch by two-tenths of an inch) had been mounted on a black background. It was made out of one gram (.035 ounces) of the valuable metallic.

“From one gram of gold, we get 50 sheets of gold,” Ms. Menegazzo stated.

How? It all begins with a 100-gram gold ingot, which the Menegazzo household buys from a provider within the close by metropolis of Vicenza. The ingot is melted and reformed into smaller ingots, every about six centimeters broad.

A smaller ingot then is run — the business makes use of the time period laminated — by a rolling mill to yield a three-meter-long gold sheet two centimeters broad and fewer than a millimeter thick, trying fairly a bit like an extended golden ribbon.

Using a typical pair of scissors, Ms. Menegazzo cuts the sheet into two-centimeter squares, every in regards to the dimension of a small postage stamp, the dimension that her father considers greatest for additional processing.

Ms. Menegazzo famous that the golden sheet she was dealing with through the video interview had a champagne colour — numerous colours may be produced if different metals, primarily copper, are combined into the gold earlier than the preliminary ingot is poured.

All the little squares then are organized neatly — a complete of 330 slid, one after the other, between leaves of glassine or crystal parchment paper already tied collectively on one aspect to create what is named a booklet. It is overwhelmed for about half-hour with a mechanized mallet that dates to 1926, after which Mr. Menegazzo beats it by hand for half-hour extra, utilizing a convex-head hammer weighing about eight kilograms (17.5 kilos).

During this beating, he strikes the booklet horizontally and in circles so the strain is even. “Through the strikes, the two-centimeter golden squares warmth up, soften and increase right into a spherical sheet with a diameter of about 10 centimeters,” Ms. Menegazzo stated.

Each of the round golden sheets then is faraway from the booklet with wood instruments — “as a result of you’ll be able to’t contact gold together with your fingers, in any other case it melts,” she stated — and transferred to a desk the place it’s lower into 4 elements, like a pie.

The wedges are layered into one other booklet manufactured from clear plastic sheets and overwhelmed once more by hand, first with a hammer weighing three kilograms after which with others as much as one weighing eight. These rounds final for anyplace from 50 minutes to 2 hours, relying on circumstances.

Finally the gold leaves, every now measuring eight centimeters sq. and far thinner than a human hair, are faraway from the booklet and stacked up completely utilizing a carrello, the Italian title for a particular instrument with two blades on a wood deal with. Then they’re positioned, 25 sheets at a time, into silk paper packets, able to be offered 54 to 85 euros ($59 to $92) per packet, relying on the gold’s market fee.

The solely exceptions are the pure gold sheets meant for cosmetics or for consumption; they require sterilization within the enterprise’s ultraviolet machine.

The Menegazzos, who declined to reveal the workshop’s annual income, say they make about 500,000 sheets of gold leaf a yr. Almost all of them go to purchasers, however some are utilized in merchandise offered on their web site, resembling gold facial kits, which begin at €74, and packets of edible gold, about €76.

They additionally supply hourlong excursions of the workshop, charging €52 for as many as 5 folks and €11 per particular person for teams of six to 12.

Gold is of course proof against corrosion and might final eternally, a part of the rationale it’s so common for architectural ornament and use on outside statues.

And the household prefers to concentrate on manufacturing for such inventive use. The Gabriel statue on St. Mark’s bell tower and the Madonna statue within the Duomo in Milan, for instance, are sheathed of their work.

For the 2018 Homo Faber occasion, an exhibition showcasing uncommon craftsmanship that’s held each two years in Venice, Mr. Menegazzo labored with the Dutch designer Kiki van Eijk to create the impression of daylight over desk objects by an oblong sheet of his pure gold leaf.

Alberto Cavalli, the performing curator of Homo Faber, which is staged by the Michelangelo Foundation, wrote that Mr. Menegazzo “completely embodies our definition of ‘rarity,’ noting that the atelier was the final remaining gold-leaf beater within the metropolis.

Mr. Menegazzo has typically collaborated with the Dutch sculptor Ans Joosten, who was launched to his work by her son, who studied in Venice. Last yr, for instance, she added a masks lined in his golden leaves to a statue commissioned by the Theaterhotel De Oranjerie in Roermond, the Netherlands.

“His gold seems like a second pores and skin on the marble and displays the sunshine, which, in my view, will not be doable with another comparable product,” Ms. Joosten stated in a telephone interview, including reward for its “texture, that has the gentleness of air.”

Ms. Joosten stated that when she met the Menegazzo household final yr in Venice, she was struck by Mr. Menegazzo’s remark that his gold had a soul. “I then understood that, we have been each extremely conscious of the human capability to create life along with pure earthly supplies,” she stated.

Sara Menegazzo stated that artists acknowledged the standard of the household’s overwhelmed gold. “It is silkier, and it seems to be much less metallic than the golden leaves produced by machines,” she stated.

But the decrease costs of machine-made golden leaves have taken a toll on the enterprise’s revenues and future prospects. In the Nineteen Nineties, it employed 14 folks, however now there are solely the 4 family members.

Mr. Menegazzo has had apprentices, however none have had the persistence to finish the four-year coaching.

“The final one who was with us had too many muscular tissues, an excessive amount of energy,” he stated, “however this job will not be about bodily energy, it’s in regards to the method and the persistence to adapt to the every day variations of gold, which is a full of life metallic affected by the climate.”

At 70, Mr. Menegazzo is past retirement age in Italy and isn’t certain how for much longer he’ll work. “Without authorities’s assist for younger apprentices on this craft and with out youth keen to study, it’s going to all most likely finish with me,” he stated.

But Venice has been trustworthy to its final battiloro. Some of his gold leaf, for instance, adorns a gin cocktail known as Elegance, served on the bar of the Aman Venice lodge.

Antonio Ferrara, the bar’s manager who is also a bar guide and who created the cocktail, stated the glinting element paid homage to the structure of the Sixteenth-century palazzo that the lodge occupies.

It is adorned with quite a few frescos with golden detailing, together with by the Seventeenth-century Venetian painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, and one such fresco is true above the Aman’s bar.

“I serve my cocktail over a mirror saucer that displays the fresco above the bar, and everyone seems to be enchanted,” Mr. Ferrara stated.



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