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 A Place Outside of Time

This month we are in Via Barbadori, a lesser-known lane two steps away from the Old Bridge, in the workshop Arte Decorativa of Simone Fiordelisi, one of the very few florentine artisans who still today master and carry on the ancient art of scagliola, the inlay decoration of marble tables and other objects with a mixture of marble powder, crystal gypsum and special glues.

When and why did you begin doing this job?
It was in 1996. I begun going to my father's Pietro workshop - right here, it was this workshop! He made inlaid marble tables since 1967.
At that time I was an arts student, I was very fond of art, and so I understood that scagliola is not only working with hammer and chisel: it is a real art. And this art seemed to me even more interesting than picture or sculpture ... a more particular art. I begun asking and learning, trying ... and ... well, here I am!

Which different arts should an artisan master in order to decorate in scagliola?
Oh, it depends, there is somebody who tries to decorate in scagliola without mastering any arts at all... No, seriously: first of all, you need to be very good at drawing. It is mandatory if you want to give shape to your ideas and to create the objects you are requested to; then you must know exactely how to manage colours: how to mix them, how to create the most beautiful shades ... And then the art of chiseling is very important. You also have to know how to polish marble, it enables you to give that special touch when the table is finished.
There are many things to know, each phase of the working requires different skills and different arts to be used.

Do you think you are more a tradition continuator or an innovator?
A continuator because this is a very ancient art, with more than 500 years of tradition ... But I also find innovation is very important. There is no future without changes and innovation. Motives and scenes on my tables are based upon present ideas of beauty and harmony: scagliola is a five-century old art, sure, but we do not think like people of the Reinassance anymore!
But not only figures and motives need innovation, working technique itself must change following today's needs: there is strong request for tables for exterior - for gardens, balconies - but traditional scagliola tables were made for interior only, so we need techniques and materials capable to resist to rain, sunlight and wind while preserving the typical brightness and beauty of scagliola.

Simone is now engraving paths on a big white marble table with hammer and a thin chisel: how long does it take for this phase of the working? And why do you only use hand tools instead of machines?
This is one of the most time consuming phases. For this table it takes about ten days.
Why do I not use machines? There are many reasons: practical reasons, in a so small workshop like this it would be impossible to work with big machines which produce lots of dust - I should work in a cloud of marble dust! But the main reason is that my decorations are made of unique motives, not of repeating parts, and therefore I could not make them using a computer driven pantograph. Sure, maybe I could use a drill, but after so many years of working by hand I became so precise and fast than there would be no difference if I used a drill!
Some artisans tell me «you are fool, why do not use a drill?»: I learned working this way from my father and I am used to it. Well, I told you I am a continuator...

Which objects or motives do you like the most?
Things that are well done, that I like and that other people like: sometimes people passing by stop at my workshop and say «hey, this table is beautiful». The greatest satisfaction for me is to transmit to others my message of beauty. If I manage to do this, then I really do well my job.
I am also happy when I see a table placed in the room or in the garden where it will stay, and I see there is harmony between the table and its place.

Your advice for a young man or woman who would like to learn this art?
You need patience, passion, precision. Passion lets you always go ahead and create new things, find new solutions; patience helps you to to be calm and to pay attention to each detail - and precision ... well, without it you are lost!

What do you foresee for the future of Florentine craftsmanship?
Florentine craftsmanship needs to be better understood by the City council which should do more for it as well as by people. Craftsmanship does not follow the latest trends, it lives in another time: when you enter here or in another workshop you find a place outside of time. Artisans follow a different rythm, a different way of conceiving time ... We can not always run and hurry, we need to find some time for art - quiet things, things to reflect upon.
Many tourists who come to Florence are searching for particular things: they are amazed when they find an artisan workshop in this city which seems full of shops & museums. They discover people who are both artisans and artists and can create beautiful, unique things putting into them their soul ... Well, I think Florentine craftsmanship will help us knowing better ourselves, it will make us better understand what we really want and that sometimes we have to stop running.

Visit Arte Decorativa's web page

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