At the age of 13, Renzo Scarpelli began his
apprenticeship in one of the most long-established workshops of commesso fiorentino (a mosaic technique
developed in the second half of the 15th century) in the historic centre of
The technique is the same as in the past, with only a few improvements in the working equipment.
Scarpelli Mosaici create "commesso fiorentino" works still relying on century-old techniques dating back to the Renaissance.
Renzo's wife Gabriella is endowed with a special talent in creating unique jewels. She is also in charge of sales, while two assistants introduce visitors to this ancient art, accompanying them among the workbenches. Their eldest daughter, Catia, has followed the family tradition after working for several years in other fields. This experience has allowed her to perfect her knowledge of foreign languages. Today she runs the business side of the company and cultivates relationships with the clients.
How do you approach the time-honoured technique of commesso fiorentino?
The technique has not changed over the centuries, while some materials we use have been improved. For example, we now use silicon carbide in the wire-cutting process, glue to fix the slate slabs onto the composition, and diamond-coated tools: all this ensures that our “stone paintings”, as they were called in Medicean times, will last forever.
How are your works made and who are your clients?
We employ techniques that back to the Renaissance. In the first phase we select the raw materials, which come from the same places as in the past. The blocks of rough stone are sliced into 2/3 mm-thin slates with a diamond saw blade. The artist is inspired by landscapes, scenes from daily life, portraits, still lives, or scenes from his or her own imagination. The master artisan’s skill lies in fact in creating "stone paintings" using the colour hues offered by nature in different materials.
The preparatory sketch is cut and pasted onto the stone according to the required tone. Each tiny piece of the mosaic is cut by hand with a bow saw made from a curved branch of chestnut or cherry wood and a piece of wire. The mosaic artist rubs the stone with scouring powder and water in order to cut the shapes as precisely as possible, and uses beeswax and rosin paste to bind them seamlessly to the slab of slate. In the final phase, the mosaic is polished by hand, in order for the colours of nature to shine in all their glory.
Most of our customers are abroad, notably in the USA. The workshop is located in the same premises as the gallery, so that they can watch the different steps of our process and understand the value of the product they are going to buy.
How do you reconcile your work with the new needs and trends of the market?
Our artistic craftsmanship is the expression of a tradition that is still very much alive in Florence, where art can be breathed in every corner. On the other hand, we are now offering a contemporary collection entirely created by Leonardo Scarpelli, who, over the years, has been mostly inspired by the requests of our clients. Thus his “stone paintings” are innovative even though we still use the same tools and techniques as four centuries ago.
Do you think that the younger generations could be interested in taking up this profession?
We receive many applications from young people who wish to learn the art of commesso fiorentino. Unfortunately, though, when they realise how long it takes to master the different stages of this activity, they step back. Moreover, we also find it difficult to bear the costs of introducing new apprentices without any external support.