If you are visiting Venice and are interested in the arts and crafts that Venice has been producing for centuries, we have a few suggestions to help you steer away from mass-produced, industrial imitations and to acquaint yourself with authentic craftmanship.
Venetian glass is perhaps the most recognizable product, and you will come across hundreds of shops selling what you would assume is a genuine article. However, it is difficult to be certain that these objects are manufactured in Venice and not elsewhere. To be sure, here is our list of recommended Venetian glass artists:
Vittorio Costantini, a legendary master in the art of reproducing animals in glass. Vittorio works the technique of vetro a lume (lampwork glass) and he finds his inspiration in Nature. He has exhibited his work in Japan, Turkey, Israel, Corea, England, France, Austria and the USA, and his realistic bugs, butterflies, birds, fish and other sealife are truly without equal. His workshop (closed on Saturday afternoons and Sundays) is in Calle del Fumo, near Fondamente Nove, in northern Venice. Simply put, you will never look twice at a glass animal elsewhere once you have seen Vittorio´s incredible work.
If you want to avoid the large groups and the contrived hard-selling tours in Murano, pay a visit to the shop of Cesare Toffolo at Fondamenta dei Vetrai 37. This glass master, who has also taught and shown his work all over the world, makes jewels, traditional Venetian drinking glasses, and playful artistic objects surrounded or inhabited by tiny human figures.
Also in Murano is the workshop of renowned artist Lucio Bubacco, whose creations are inspired by Mythology, the Venetian Carnival or Religious themes and are articulated by transgressive and fantastic figures in exquisite detail, carefully balanced around traditional Venetian goblets. His studio is located in Fondamenta de Mula 148.
Another Venetian craft is that of the perle di vetro, and Marisa Convento is a reputable expert in this field. She strings authentic Venetian glass beads together to create stunning necklaces, bags and even slippers decorated with micro-beads. Her workshop, Venetian Dreams, is located in Calle della Mandola, close to the Palazzo Fortuny. It is frankly quite difficult to leave Venice without purchasing at least a pair of earrings in her beautiful shop.
Venice was once the centre of publishing and printing in Europe, and you might want to pay a visit to one of the very few genuine artisans left in this field who is struggling to survive on the face of competition from cheaper, mass-produced and, of course, lower quality stationary products. Paolo Olbi has been working on marbled paper and bookbinding since 1975 and is currently searching for a pupil to teach his craft secrets, fearing his art will disappear soon unless somebody takes over. He has a wonderful shop near S. Maria dei Miracoli, near Ca´Foscari Bridge. Visit Paolo for leather-bound diaries, notebooks, pens and pencils and other stationary items covered in paper printed with his original and exclusive Venetian-themed designs. His mastery is unparalleled, and Johnny Depp and Derek Jarman are amongst his clients.
For original prints showing particular views of Venice, head to Codex, on Fondamenta Ormesini, very close to the Ghetto. Graphic artist Nelson Kishi produces prints and drawings that painstakingly capture and reproduce the ambiance and atmosphere of Venice.
Venice was home to the first ghetto in Europe in 1516, and within the heart of this area you will find Arte Ebraica Shalom, a pioneering shop in Italy specialising in handcrafted Jewish objects and decorations: kippah, besamim, mezzuzzot or drinking glasses.
The traditional Venetian woollen cape, known as 'tabarro', can be purchased at the specialist shop owned by Monica Daniele, in Calle Scaleter 2235, between Campo dei Frari and Campo San Polo. You can also find hats designed by the talented owner to match your tabarro, also following historical patterns and reviving Venetian fashion from the past.
If you are looking for a good quality leather handbag or wallet, embossed with Venetian motifs, look no further than Il Gufo Artigiano, very close to the Rialto Bridge, on the way to the Fish Market (Ruga Degli Spezieri 299)
The art of traditional mask-making is best exemplified by La Bottega dei Mascareri, at the foot of the Rialto bridge, where the brothers Sergio and Massimo Boldrin maintain the standards of this Venetian art. Their carefully crafted masks have featured in numerous films, festivals and fashion shows.
Venetian textiles have decorated European villas and palaces for centuries, and you can still find some of these exquisite fabrics such as damasks, brocades, and sumptuous embossed velvets at Mario e Paola Bevilacqua, in Campo S.Maria del Giglio and also in Fondamenta Canonica, next to the Bridge of Sighs.
The art of bronze casting survives in Venice thanks to Fonderia Valese. Using the sand casting technique, this foundry has a showroom in Calle Fiubera, near San Mark´s Square. You can find reproductions of Venetian symbols and landmarks as well as doorknockers, paperweights and gondola fittings. Amongst its clients is the Hotel Gritti in Venice, the Fox Theatre in Atlanta and the Museum of Venetian art in Hokaido, Japan.
For those interested in jewelry, the workshop of goldsmiths Marco Venier and Davide Visentin, Laberintho, is worth visiting. Their creations encompass different styles and materials, from rings inspired by ancient civilizations to contemporary blown glass and mosaic pieces. Laberintho is located in San Polo 2236.
Once you have fallen in love with Venetian architecture, you might want to take a wooden jigsaw in the shape of your favourite church, palazzo or bridge. Carteria ai Frari, near the Franciscan church, stocks these handcrafted jigsaws as well as leather keyrings with the winged Lion of St. Mark, the symbol of the city, and an ideal gift for those with limited luggage space.
Across Madrid endorses these shops as an independent company, and there are no commissions whatsoever involved in our recommendations. We simply have been there and loved these artists' work!
© Almudena Cros, February 2015. Please print a copy of this article to use on your trip to Venice. It may also be quoted in editorial contexts only, citing source and author.
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Recommended in Venice: Artists and Artisans