We interview Catia Scarpelli of Scarpelli Mosaici: a craft laboratory that continues the ancient tradition of Commesso Fiorentino in Florence.
The Commesso Fiorentino, also know as Florentine Mosaic, is an ancient Florentine craft art that has been originated in the Medici period.
Artists stick together small pieces of painted stones to create objects that look like paintings. Nowadays, there are still some workshops that are carrying on this historical Florentine craftsmanship tradition.
The love for Florence and for its tradition is what has inspired Renzo Scarpelli to learn this craft. At the age of 13, he started working in one of the most historic Florentine workshops.
Finally, after many years of apprenticeship and artistic studies, he opened his own laboratory in the heart of Florence: Scarpelli Mosaici.
Since the 1970s, Scarpelli Mosaici’s artists have been working hard to create high-quality handcrafted products for customers coming from all over the world. The entire production process, from the selection of raw materials to the finishing of the products, is carried out manually by the artisans in the laboratory.
The high quality of products and the sophisticated production techniques make Scarpelli‘s product the excellence of Tuscan and Italian craftsmanship.
Today, the family tradition is continuing with Leonardo, Renzo‘son, after completing his studies in mosaic and pictorial decoration, has decided to join his father.
Also Catia, Renzo’s eldest daughter, after years of experience in other fields, has decided to work in the family business managing the business side of the company.
Questions for Catia Scarpelli
- Could you tell us your origins and how did you come up with the idea of starting this business? How is your organization structured today? What has allowed you to survive so long in the market?
- Could you briefly explain to us what the Commesso Fiorentino is? Which are its main characteristics? What bonds does it still have with tradition?
- As a typical family business, what role does tradition play in your production process? How do you approach a new project?
- Where does the production process take place? How much does the quality of the raw materials affect the final result?
- What kind of relationship do you have with technology? Do you always use the same tools or have changed anything over time? How?
- Could you explain to us what type of customers you serve and how do you approach new customers? What kind of relationship are you trying to establish with them?
- What role do Florence and Tuscany have for you?
- How important are manual skills and craftsmanship for you? What do you think Italian craftsmanship needs to reintroduce itself to the market?
- In your opinion, what must a Made in Italy product have to be successful abroad? What is Italian craftsmanship lacking when it comes to setting up on other markets?
- What do you expect from the future and what are your main projects?
#1. Could you tell us your origins and how did you come up with the idea of starting this business? How is your organization structured today? What has allowed you to survive so long in the market?
The Commesso Fiorentino is an ancient art that dates back to the Florentine Renaissance and Renzo Scarpelli started at the age of 13, when, as a habit, young people wanted to learn a new profession. He started as a shop boy in a workshop where many important works were carried out.
Here, thanks to his curiosity and his artistic talent, he learned the secrets of the job until he opened his first shop in Florence.
Today, our business consists of 9 people working in a single location in the center of Florence.
What has allowed us to survive in the market is without a doubt the fact that we have never decreased the quality of our works, not even in difficult economic situations like this one, actually, we have always aimed at the quality of our unique products that are made for a high-level market.
#2.Could you briefly explain to us what the Commesso Fiorentino is? Which are its main characteristics? What bonds does it still have with tradition?
The Commesso Fiorentino is an art that originated in Florence during the period of Medici, the most important creations are the Medici Chapels, but people can admire desks and paintings both in Palazzo Vecchio and in Uffizi Gallery and obviously also at the museum of Opificio Delle Pietre Dure and also in a lot of museums around the world.
Actually, it is a particular mosaic technique that looks like a beautiful painting. Most of the time, the artist personally chooses the materials in the national territory and imports some stones from abroad, creates the drawing, and selects the shades of color that are adapted to create his stone painting.
The different pieces of stones are hand-cut with an ancient small arch created by the same artist, and then the pieces of stones are perfectly glued with bee’s wax and greek pitch on the rear part in a way that it allows the commettiture (points of connections) to be not visible.
Finally, the composition is polished in order to show the beauty of the natural colors of the stones.
#3. As a typical family business, what role does tradition play in your production process? How do you approach a new project?
It’s a tradition of Florence and of our family that we have been keeping on doing just as the first generation did, but we hope that we will have the opportunity to keep it in our family.
Other than patience and a long time of learning, natural talent is needed like the ability to recognize and take advantage of natural veinings and shades of the stones and transform them into colored brushstrokes of an Eternal Painting or a Florentine mosaic. A characteristic and a natural gift that can not be taught to future generations.
We have also written a bilingual book of 416 pages because we strongly believe in tradition and in the need to preserve this art like a big treasure for centuries.
We are also always willing to collaborate with architects, designers, and clients who propose new projects because it is for us an important growth opportunity that could give us the inspiration to innovate.
#4. Where does the production process take place? How much does the quality of the raw materials affect the final result?
The whole production process takes place in our atelier in Via Ricasoli in Florence. We personally search for the raw materials in the mountains, valleys, and along the riverside and also near the sea all around Italy.
We also carefully select the materials that are imported from abroad for instance: Lapis lazuli, Malachite, and Jasper, going directly to the expositions or to the importers.
#5. What kind of relationship do you have with technology? Do you always use the same tools or have changed anything over time? How?
We have a marketing and communication unit, so technology helps us to reach places that are far from our gallery even though the technique is always seen, understood, inspires you, and then is sold.
As far as tools, many have remained the same over the centuries with the same small chestnut or cherry wood arch. The artist uses a vise to hold the stone piece that is cut perfectly and in a brief time with a metal wire silicon carbide with water.
In this case, technology doesn’t help us because the form of the stone’s blocks that must be sawed are always different because the shades of the stones are unique just as the hardness of the stones are all different, so a numerical control machine or a waterjet is not useful for us.
But it’s obvious that in comparison to the past, today we use diamond disks to cut the pebble into slices of 2 or 3 millimeters.
#6. Could you explain to us what type of customers you serve and how do you approach new customers? What kind of relationship are you trying to establish with them?
Our clients are foreigners and most of them are from the United States, a small percentage of our market is domestic. We have a bond with our clients that is not typical of regular shops.
Our customers often come regularly to visit us, see the whole process of elaboration of the work or, if they can not come physically to our atelier, we record the whole realization of every single product until it is finished.
So we have a clientele of collectors that trust our quality and our timing attention, and of a growing public that shows loyalty to our brand.
#7. What role do Florence and Tuscany have for you?
Florence is the cradle of our art and the place where tradition has been handed down until nowadays, the Commesso Fiorentino could not be realized elsewhere. Tuscany is a region with abundant materials and our main supply source.
#8. How important are manual skills and craftsmanship for you? What do you think Italian craftsmanship needs to reintroduce itself to the market?
Manual work is everything for us, however, it should be combined with a good amount of artistic and originality. What Italian craftsmanship needs to reintroduce itself to the market is a difficult question, but I think that at this moment there isn’t a lack of craftsmanship, quality, history nor tradition.
On the contrary, it might be the Italian customers who are not able to deeply appreciate the uniqueness of craftwork.
#9. In your opinion, what must a Made in Italy product have to be successful abroad? What is Italian craftsmanship lacking when it comes to setting up on other markets?
It must keep a high handmade quality of Italian creativity. I don’t know what is Italian craftsmanship lacking when it comes to setting up on other markets because we only work with foreign markets.
But it is sure that our craftsmanship can not compete with other countries’ artistic handicrafts, for this reason is absolutely necessary to keep very high quality.
#10. What do you expect from the future and what are your main projects?
For us it is very important that worldwide citizens start to travel again, in the meanwhile, we should try to get to them with different means that not long ago had very poor results in our industry.
We thank Catia for this interview: her insights are very useful to understand what Commesso Fiorentino is and how her family is carrying on this ancient Florentine craft.
Keep up to date with Scarpelli Mosaici‘s activities on:
- Scarpelli Mosaici’s website
- Scarpelli Mosaici on Facebook
- Scarpelli Mosaici on Instagram
- Catia Scarpelli on LinkedIn
Don’t forget to check our blog to find out more interviews with Tuscan artisans.