One of my favorite things to do in a new place is to duck into a shop that promises work from local artisans. I like to explore the raw materials of the region, the subject matter, and the skills they employ. These things in combination often give special insights into the history and the values that have informed and developed the culture through time.
Venice has a long memory of skilled artistry. In times past, local talents created beautiful works unique to the city and its surroundings. Today, those traditions continue through a new generation with their own point of view. If you are curious and pay attention, you can discover some amazing local products tucked in the narrow passages and open squares. You can also learn about how they are made and used.
Among the trades of Venice historically were the glassmakers, lacemakers, ironworkers, shoemakers and goldsmiths. These traditions have endured and make Venice an exciting destination.
Burano Lace is created on the island of Burano (less than a square mile in size), just a few miles from Venice. This needle lace-making art began in the 1500s and is internationally recognized today as exquisite! You can visit a lace museum in Venice and still find handmade versions to purchase in the city. Be cautious though; plenty of imitations are machine made. The best way to know the difference is the price tag – authentic varieties will be expensive. A handmade Burano doily can cost as much as $1300!
Blacksmiths played a significant role in the architecture and boat building of Venice. There are beautiful wrought iron creations all throughout the city. It’s a fun exercise to walk and identify the many examples in St Mark’s Square and on the famous gondolas. The blacksmiths’ guild was one of the oldest guilds in Venetian history and their value was also celebrated in the practical tools they crafted. You can find places where there are demonstrations going on as well as products for sale.
Venetian glass making has been around since 982 and has been one of the most profitable enterprises for the Floating City. You’ll have to pay careful attention to the colorful glass you buy in Venice (again, low prices will indicate you are looking at fakes), but some authentic masters work here. You can explore a wide variety of artful approaches and techniques, even if you don’t have the funds to purchase anything to take home with you.
Who doesn’t love the practical art form known as shoes? Shoemakers have held a prominent role in Venice since 1278. If you look closely, you’ll see evidence of the importance of this guild through artwork embedded on historic buildings. There are even stories and legends that are passed down about why shoemaking is woven into the soul of Venice. If you are interested in the process of shoemaking, look for museums, galleries, and master artisans at work in their shops. Of course, you might want to take some handcrafted shoes to add to your closet at home.
Silver and Gold
Fine gold and silver jewelry crafted in Venice has been celebrated and collected all throughout Europe. Gold foil has also been produced in Venice to decorate gondolas that glide through the canals for generations! You can still visit a working lab to see a demonstration of this leafing process and how it’s used locally today for decorative art.
With so many wonderful and varied artistic treasures to explore, Niteo gives travelers time and opportunity to pursue the particular shops and demonstrations that inspire them personally while in Venice. Which one of these intrigues you the most?
If you would like to visit Venice, there’s limited availability on our Classic Italy Tour (May 11-20, 2023).
Classic Italy Tour