Monday, January 30, 2012
A lot of you know me as a food writer. But I’ve also been writing about design, architecture and all manner of the handmade for most of my career. (I’ve even written six books on the subject, and a seventh is on the way).
So my interests are never narrow, and even if I’m traveling to cover the newest restaurant openings in town, my eyes are ever open to what’s beautiful.
For instance, last November, when I was in Florence to update Eat Florence, I went to visit Bartolozzi e Maioli. I didn’t just stumble upon it, while walking around the Oltrarno. I had actually been there over two decades previously. But my memory of the place was vague and dreamlike. I remembered piles and piles of beautiful objects, some hand-carved, others molded out of stucco. When I thought back on it over the years, I kept thinking that it couldn’t have been as magical as my memory lead me to believe.
Turns out my memory was actually pretty good.
Bartolozzi e Maioli is one of the most splendid of artisan shops in a town that is known for its artisinal splendor. And as many of Florence’s - and country’s - artisans give way to the pressures of modernization, Bartolozzi e Maioli stands as a monument to a type of every day beauty that defines what many of us consider to be the Italian aesthetic.
Bartolozzi e Maioli dates back to 1938, when the two men met and began a career that would lead them to restore such monuments as the Monastery at Montecassino,The Quirinale in Rome and the Kremlin in Moscow. Along the way they amassed a stupendous collection of carved wooden elements from dismantled churches throughout Italy. This reference collection - which allowed them to follow traditional methods when restoring monuments - remains scattered throughout the showrooms off the Via Maggio.
Walking through the rooms is a bit like walking through some incredibly lucky mad man’s treasure trove. Carved Madonnas share space with Moors and elephants. Monkey men hold up candle sticks; a tangle of fanciful chandeliers hang from the ceiling. It’s hard to tell what is truly old, and what is faithful reproduction.
In the darker back rooms the treasure continues, with religious statues and reliquaries stacked in between the workbenches that are still occupied by the last aging colleagues of Masters Bartolozzi and Maioli. Today a second generation oversees the business side of things, but the scary part of this set up is that there are no young apprentices eagerly learning the arts of carving, design, and restoration.
I’m glad I finally made it back here because I’m frightened that Bartolozzi e Maioli may be one of those fantastic places that will soon exist only in memory, giving way to a Italy that has no time for the hand made.
Bartolozzi & Maioli
Via dei Vellutini 5r