Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Farewell to a friend

Franco Mazzucco, A silversmith with a heart of gold.

I wrote the piece above in loving memory of Franco Mazzucco, whom I had the pleasure of befriending on one of my extended trips to Venice. One of the last silversmiths in Italy to work in the traditional way, by hand, Franco's passing is a great loss to his craft, his family, friends, and admirers of his art.
As it turns out, the third time was a charm. My first two week-long visits to Venice had been so quintessentially dreamy and delightful that I planned a third escape to La Serenissima and made arrangements to languish in this lavish waterlogged paradise of decaying decadence for a full month. When you're in love (person or city, no matter), you devote as much quality time getting to know and enjoying your muse as you can possibly afford. Right? Being a long distance love affair with one of the priciest grande dames of them all, I was lucky to find accommodations allowing me to spend more than just a few days in Venice – let alone an entire month.

Hoping to find that intimate essence of Venice which eludes the day tripping, Grand Tour tourist, I fancied myself a traveler and intended to spend my month lost — and incrementally found — as the city revealed herself to me a little more each day. Not speaking a lick of Italian and having been told that Venetians are typically quite private, I assumed this would be a highly personal and something of a lonely journey. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Traveling alone and on a budget can be a challenge at times, especially when venturing to a famously expensive city like Venice. But after scouring the Internet for deals and recommendations from other travelers, I happened upon a real gem — the Ca' del Dose. A recently renovated room with a TV, private shower, toilet, and a bidet, cozily suited for one at only 50 Euros a night in low season, with breakfast included? Sold! Not only was it highly recommended and reasonably priced, the Ca' del Dose is ideally located in an authentically Venetian corner of the city where local life flourishes despite the daily tide of tourists.

Not long after I'd checked into the hotel, I discovered that the best feature of my happenstance home was not the price, the location, or even the private en suite bathroom and shower (a luxury much coveted by the vacationing population as often as is affordable). The loveliest aspect of the Ca' del Dose is without a doubt its delightful owners, Anna and Marco Lucchini. The couple took a particular interest in me; curious and protective of a lone female traveler. Each day they would check in to ask what my plans were, how my visit was going, share a recommendation, and always to offer help. Peppered with lots of smiles and laughter, we became fast friends. Before long I found myself accompanying Anna on her errands around the city, walking her home after work, and even sharing lunches and a dinner or three.

Flanked by the scents and sounds of Al Scalinetto to the right of my room and the "tink! tink! tink!" of the silversmith's workshop to the left, Ca' del Dose was a welcome reprieve of low-key authentic Venice after a morning or afternoon of fighting the throngs of tourists for a bit of peace in paradise. I always looked forward to "coming home" each day and having a chat with my new friends. Of the many neighborhood characters introduced to me by Anna, Franco Mazzucco quickly became one of my favorites. His was the workshop next door. Without the use of modern machinery, Franco welded and chiseled by hand the most detailed and delicate of works of art in silver that I had ever seen. Sometimes, when Anna wasn't available to act as translator, Franco and I would communicate in a broken babble of Italian and English; often involving an array of hand gestures colorful by even Italian standards and ending in shrugs and cheek-cramping laughter. More often still, I would just stop by to watch Franco work for a while and admire his shiny creations — platters, shell shaped dishes, goblets, bowls, boxes, crosses, mirrors, frames, figurines —  all created by hand for wealthy patrons and private collectors.

As my month rapidly melted into a series of cherished memories, I began to dread the end and wish I'd been able to lavish more time getting to know the city and a small group of people I was growing to adore and regard as extended family. The kind souls in this corner of the labyrinth had made my stay so warm and memorable, I would have done anything to demonstrate my appreciation. So when the opportunity presented itself, I jumped at the chance! Anna called a little meeting with Franco to explain that they had been unsuccessfully pursuing an American client of Franco's who had not paid him in full for a large piece that had taken Franco several months to complete. Anna had tried to contact the American via email and telephone on Franco's behalf, to no avail. And now that we were all friends, perhaps I might be more successful — being myself an American.

After months of international phone tag, faxes, and email, Franco was finally paid in full. A year later, I returned to Venice to relax and celebrate.

Not unlike my experience the previous year, my fourth trip and second full month in Venice was flawlessly delightful. When I arrived, Franco greeted me with a smile and a long-stem silver rose. He'd already mailed me two handmade silver picture frames as thanks for helping him collect from the American. I thanked him again for his many kind gifts and insisted that he allow me to take he and his wife, along with Anna and Marco, out to dinner to celebrate. This of course never came to pass because Franco instead arranged an incredible home-cooked meal at his house, prepared by his lovely wife Maria, for which he had spent a day in the mountains north of Venice picking fresh wild mushrooms. As if this weren't thanks enough, Franco saved the most generous gift of all for my farewell. 

One of the handmade items that I'd helped Franco get paid for was a large quadriga — a replica of the famous four bronze horses that grace Basilica San Marco. I'd seen pictures of the piece as part of the collections process. On one of my daily visits to Franco's workshop I asked him how much a small quadriga might cost to commission. He never got around to answering my question, but he did get around to making me the quadriga. Four silver horses prancing proudly atop a slab of rose-colored marble. I was speechless and asked what it cost, and could I pay him for it in installments, but he wouldn't hear of it. Franco explained that I travelled a lot and had spent much time in Venice — coming to know it as a second home — but that maybe now I would spend my month-long vacations creating similar roots and relationships in new cities. Look at the quadriga and remember. What a beautiful gift.

I knew in my heart that Franco was right. With a list of dream destinations long enough to fill two lifetimes' worth of yearly vacations, it was unlikely that I would be spending another solid month in Venice anytime soon. Not long after I'd settled back in at home and the New Year rolled around, I got the bad news. Franco had become ill and passed away. It had all happened so quickly and took everyone — family, friends, all — by surprise. The jovial, generous, well-loved family man and artist who had been so kind to me was gone. Not only had Venice lost a son, but a piece of her history and tradition as well. 

The last silversmith in Venice, Franco had learned his craft from his father. As the times and the economy had changed, fewer and fewer of Italy's young people were apprenticing and choosing a career in the traditional or old arts. Franco was the last of a handful of craftsmen throughout Italy who work silver in the old way, by hand rather than by machine. The work was hard and many long hours might go into the making of one small piece. Though the end results were unique, one-of-a-kind works of art, there simply wasn't the reliable demand for such priceless treasures necessary to make this career more appealing to a young artist than say that of a graphic designer. And so it is in this way that Italy, Europe, and the rest of the world continues to lose whole art forms. When given the choice between a passion and a paycheck, it is the paycheck that wins out — by necessity. It seems that the arts are hardest hit with this reality, as one can plainly see in a city with such a rich artistic past as Venice. Franco was the last silversmith, and how long will it be before the city loses her last handmade paper masters, bookbinders, or glassblowers? With more and more of these goods made on the cheap and imported from China, Venetians will tell you that the end looms ever nearer. It was Franco's hope and it is my hope that something might be done to preserve and encourage these dying arts to flourish in the city where they enjoyed such a celebrated and vital life.

My fondest memory of Franco is my last. On the second to last day of my trip, Franco asked me where I was planning on going. Had I been to the Chiesa dei Greci? No. I hadn't been to the Greek Orthodox Church. Was it nearby? Just around the corner from here. It is one of my favorite churches in Venice. Very interesting. Very beautiful. I know you and you will love it. It will move you to tears. And on this recommendation I spent both that very day and a portion of my last in this church. The first day it was full of tourists so I decided to return the next morning when it might be a bit quieter. I was very lucky and returned to find the church completely deserted, docent and all. Filled with art all in gold, I sat for over an hour in silent, watery-eyed awe. It was the sort of unexpectedly moving experience one most often finds abroad in a fabled place like Venice, and takes home to relish for a lifetime. Thanks to my silversmith with a heart of gold, it is for me but one of many. 

Practical Information:
Franco Mazzucco
Franco's works are available for viewing and purchase by appointment only. Contact Franco's wife, Maria, to schedule your visit: 0039.41.5229292. Please note that Maria does not speak English fluently. If you are uncomfortable speaking Italian, the kind folks at Ca' del Dose might be willing to help you make your arrangements with Maria.

Ca' del Dose
Calle del Dose, Castello, 3801 - 30122 Venice, Italy
+39.041.5209887 Phone
+39.041.5209887 Fax

Al Scalinetto
Calle del Dose, Castello, 3803 - 30122 Venice, Italy
Open for lunch and dinner, but hours vary. Check in with the restaurant and make a reservation if possible. Small establishment and popular with both locals and tourists, so sometimes difficult to get a table.
Questions? Ask away! Please use the comments feature to ask questions rather than contacting Marisa directly. That way everyone can learn a thing or two, too.


  1. hello, thank you for your article -- I have a few silver articles by Franco Mazzucco. May I ask, if it is still possible to purchase any silver objects by the artist. Kind Regards, Stan.

    1. Hi Stan. Unfortunately, no. There is no shop or outlet, to my knowledge, that sells the work of the late Franco Mazzucco. Most of his pieces are in churches or private collections.



Related Posts with Thumbnails