The production of metal objects is a well-rooted tradition in Emilia-Romagna. For centuries gold, silver and copper, but also iron and bronze have been expertly worked in the workshops of artisans and artists in various parts of the region.
The first stop on our itinerary to follow in the footsteps of this art form is a village in the province of Piacenza, Grazzano Visconti. Beginning in the second half of the nineteenth century, a number of craftsmen from Grazzano specialised in ironworking. They showed such skill, in fact, that they came to the attention of Count Giuseppe Visconti of Modrone, who requested them to collaborate in the construction of a picturesque village in a medieval style. Located around the ancient castle of Grazzano, over time, this village became the main attraction in the area.
Moving southwards, about forty kilometres from Reggio Emilia, we encounter Castelnovo né Monti. Here the artisan workshops owe their fame to a very particular technique: bellfounding, handed down from family to family since the sixteenth century. Thanks to the improvement in production techniques, the Castelnovo masters and, in particular, the Capanni family still cast bronze for bells that are today destined to be used in many churches and monasteries in northern Italy.
Staying in the province of Reggio Emilia, at Quattro Castella visitors can admire the production of a unique style of gold jewellery. Using embossing and engraving techniques, the artisans are inspired by the decorative motifs of the Matildic tradition, tied to the era of Matilda of Canossa (1046-1115).
Heading now to Modena, the establishment of the Guild of Goldsmiths of Modena dates back to a decree from 1444 by Lionello d’Este. Since then the city's goldsmith shops have not ceased to produce gold artefacts and jewellery, often with the addition of precious stones. The goldsmith’s profession is traditionally handed down from father to son and is one which today, just as in the Middle Ages, makes use of simple tools but requires great skill from its craftsmen. Copper is also worth mentioning as another important metal worked in the Modena area.
In Bologna, creating artistic works from metals such as gold, silver and copper has been carried out for about a millennium. The place names in the city are a testament to this fact. In the Middle Ages, the central Via degli Orefici [street of the Goldsmiths] was dotted with jewellery shops, dedicated to embossing, chasing, openwork and to many other processes to transform these precious metals. Wrought iron is also part of an ancient tradition in the city, which has produced works of art that can be seen in the city today, such as the fifteenth-century balcony of Palazzo Bevilacqua. A collection of reliefs can also be admired inside the Davia Bargellini Museum.
Finally, we arrive in Forlì, to discover an ancient workshop in the city centre that continues a profession that is very rare today, that of the “knife grinder”. Visiting this shop on Corso Mazzini is a true journey into the history of grinding and sharpening blades.