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Francesca Lombardi Photo Marco Russo

July 25, 2016

The Bottega of the Opera del Duomo Museum

Custodian of the Santa Maria del Fiore since 1296

It was early morning when we arrived at the place of our appointment. Florence was still and silent. A beam of sunlight severed this marvelous place, in two, where time seems to be suspended. We were in Via dello Studio, just a few steps away from Piazza del Duomo, in the oldest artisan workshop of Florence. Peering through the window pane, we were anticipating the pleasure of the encounter. Our glance paused on two spiral columns, on a statue with surprisingly soft draperies, on ancient instruments that were perfectly identical to those used during the Renaissance. With the arrival of Marcello Del Colle, for over 30 years at the head of the squad of 10 persons, the casket was opened and we began our excursion in a time frame suspended between the past and the present.

This place is the current location of the Bottega dell’Opera del Duomo. The ancient seat was situated in a space behind the cathedral apse. It was later moved to the courtyard of an adjacent building, today the home of the Museo dell’Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore. During the 1700’s, the workshop left the courtyard for another location, in Piazza delle Pallottole. The last and final move to the current location in Via dello Studio was made in the mid-19th century. Established to produce the sculptural and architectural decoration of the cathedral and its bell tower, today the workshop is dedicated to the maintenance and conservation of the priceless monumental complex. We asked Marcello to tell us the whole story about this Bottega, where the 14th century is united with the 21st and is represented by all the hands that have and continue to work on these marble artifacts, tirelessly day after day.

“It is a great honor to work for a place that has been productive since 1296. All the great maestri that made the monumental complex of Santa Maria del Fiore so unique have passed through this workshop. This is the Bottega where Filippo Brunelleschi came with his drawings to talk with the master mason. I have been here a long time, but I think of it every morning and it makes me proud.”

What does your work consist of today?
We do restoration work at 360°. We work on conservation with advanced technological instruments and intervene on works of exceptional value. An example of recent restoration? The statues of Donatello on the bell tower. Another important aspect of our work is integration. Once a year we do a complete check of all the external marble of the entire complex, with scaffolding and platforms. As it ages, marble deteriorates and undergoes a common phenomenon called sulphation. The marble of sculptures and columns is reduced to the consistency of salt. We substitute them with identical elements made entirely by hand. Each of us – right now we are 10, 8 veterans and 2 young apprentices – must be perfectly familiar with every single piece of the structure. To acquire this level of familiarity takes at least 10 years of work in the Bottega.

What is it like to touch and recreate pieces that have centuries of history?
Living in such close contact with this immense artistic heritage, we are privileged to see the details and meticulous precision of some works that were carried out solely to express the passion for a life’s work, for pieces that were perhaps positioned so high up as to be invisible to the public.
This is the passion that we aim to keep vital today.

What would you like to transmit to the many tourists who stop to gaze through your windows, enchanted by the beauty of this place?
First, the importance of the commitment of my boys and myself to protect the great historic and artistic value of our heritage. But also to transmit, generation after generation, the knowhow that demands commitment and fatigue but breathes life into unique objects of great value. 

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