Art Tours of Florence and Tuscany

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The most unique thing we offer to tourists on a trip to Florence is a behind the scenes look at the artisans at work. Since renaissance times this has been a city of "bottegas", or small artisan workshops. The tradition continues today. On the south side of the Arno in the Artisans quarter we visit a restoration workshop and school. We enter through a large door on a backstreet. The workshop itself is arranged around an internal courtyard, hidden from the street. Sixteenth century altarpieces and candelabra sit on the work benches at different stages of restoration. Canvases to be cleaned and repaired line the walls. Pop music plays on the radio and the upbeat atmosphere created by the young owners here perhaps belies the fact that this is one of the finest restoration workshops in the world. Florence has had a lot of experience in the restoration field, including the aftermath of the 1966 flood. Antonio, one of the owners, tells us the story of how they brought him what was left of a painting after the bombing at the Uffizi of a few years ago. The painting was in shards and was delivered in a plastic bag. The completed restoration looks something like a jigsaw puzzle with a lot of pieces missing, a visual reminder of an act of terrorism.

Just a few streets over there is a workshop where they continue the traditional art of marble inlay. This was an art that reached its height under the Medici grand dukes. They would send these artistic creations as gifts to the crowned heads of Europe when they wanted to impress. Here in the storage room we get to examine all kinds of exquisite marbles in their raw, unpolished form. Orlando, one of the owners, wets them for us with a spray bottle and the colours emerge. Today they still bring in slabs from Carrara, the same place Michelangelo got his marble. In the workroom they are inlaying the surface of a large dining room table for an Arab prince in Paris. It is about 5 metres long and weighs several tons.

Onward, we find gilders and painters at work, hand decorating furniture with curling leaf designs inspired by the 15th century patterns in their neighbourhood church of Santo Spirito. In one cramped workshop, piled high with gilded frames and chairs to be restored, Beppe the wood carver will let us choose one of his delicately carved wall sconces, or he will restore one of the small Venetian carved candlesticks in need of repair. We can then discuss having it painted and gilded by Guiseppe, the gilder. The prices aren't bad and its definitely worth it if you will be staying for more than a few days. You get the pleasure of an object made by hand especially for you, what better souvenir?

Please note: Itineraries are subject to change depending on seasonal factors, and opening hours of artisan studios.

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For traditional florentine crafts courses please see Courses, Decoration Workshop and Gilding pages.

Please keep in mind that August is a traditional summer break in Italy. Most schools, artisan workshops, businesses, etc. are closed, therefore courses and the Artisan Quarter tour may not be available during that month. Check Italian public holidays before you plan your trip.

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