The Bottega of the Opera del Duomo Museum
Let us discover together the factory where chiseller-artists have been caring for the cathedral and its statues since 1296
We arrive early in the morning at the address of our appointment: Florence is still peaceful and quiet. A ray of sunshine bisects this wonderful place, where time seems to have decided to stop. We are on Via dello Studio, a stone's throw from Piazza del Duomo in Florence's oldest art workshop. We peer through the glass, foretasting what awaits us: our gaze rests on two twisted columns, on a statue that surprises with the softness of its drapery, on ancient tools in every way equal to those used in the Renaissance.
When Marcello Del Colle arrives, here for more than 30 years and at the head of a team of 10 people, the casket opens and the journey into a time suspended between past and present begins. This workshop is the current location of the Bottega dell'Opera del Duomo: the old location was in a room behind the apse of the Cathedral; later it was moved to the courtyard of the adjacent building, now home to the Museo dell'Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore.
In the eighteenth century the courtyard was left to move to the Piazza delle Pallottole. The final definitive move to its present location on Via dello Studio took place around the middle of the 19th century. Established to make the sculptural and architectural decoration of the Cathedral and bell tower today the workshop is dedicated to the maintenance and preservation of this priceless heritage.
We asked Marcello to tell us about the seamless history of this Bottega, where the 14th century becomes one with the 21st century and is summed up in hands that have worked and are working on these marbles, day in and day out without fatigue.
"It is a great honor to work for a place that has been producing since 1296. All the great masters who made the monumental complex of Santa Maria del Fiore unique have passed through here. Filippo Brunelleschi used to come to this workshop with his drawings to discuss with the master builder...I've been here a long time, but I think about it every morning and that makes me proud."
What does your work consist of today?
The restoration we do is 360°: we work on conservation with cutting-edge technological tools, intervening even on works of great value. An example of a recent restoration? Donatello's statues in the bell tower. Another important aspect of our work is integration: once a year we do an inspection with scaffolding and platforms of all the exterior marble in the entire complex. Over time, the marble degrades and undergoes a common phenomenon, which is sulfation: the marble of sculptures and columns takes on the consistency of salt. We replace them with identical elements made entirely by hand. Each of us, right now there are 10 of us - 8 veterans and 2 young apprentices - must know every single piece of the structure perfectly. To get to this level of knowledge takes at least 10 years in the Workshop.
What is it like to touch and recreate pieces that have centuries of history?
We who live in close contact with this immense artistic heritage have the privilege of seeing the details and minute details of some works that were created only for the love of their work because they were perhaps placed so high up that they were not visible to the public.It is this passion that we try to keep alive to this day.
What would you like to convey to the many tourists who come to these windows, enraptured by the beauty of this place?
The importance of the commitment of my boys and me, meanwhile in protecting a heritage of great historical and artistic value. But also in handing down generation after generation a savoir faire that requires commitment and effort but gives life to unique objects of great value.