UNESCO, with its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, recognizes the importance of encouraging artisans to continue to produce craft and to pass their skills onto others. Italian artists and artisans are among the most active and proud in sharing their knowledge. They know that keeping traditions alive is important for teaching the present and next generation about a shared past, and for safeguarding ancient trades that are slowly disappearing.
When we think of ancient paintings or fashionable shoes, chances are that in our minds we picture a work of art by Leonardo da Vinci or a pair of stiletto’s by Ferragamo. Italy is the unchallenged birthplace of many forms of art and crafts. Yet, difficult economic conditions and the affordable prices of mass production have forced or persuaded some Italian businesses to transfer their factories abroad or to give up the use of manual work in favor of machines. But many artists and artisans have remained in Italy, stubbornly and proudly defending their old ways of work.
Luckily, in a world that is ever-more globalized, many consumers and regular people are rediscovering authentic forms of crafts and appreciating their value. It feels great to own a leather bag that was handmade in Italy. But how cool is it to have a leather bag that you have created yourself in an Italian bottega (workshop) under the guidance of a local artisan? If you collect or simply love old books, wouldn’t you find it rewarding to be able to restore them, or to book-bind ancient paper sheets with the original techniques?
Even in the domain of art, there is a growing movement for educated tourism, in other words for travel that goes beyond the explanation of tour guides or visiting a site just to take a selfie. After all, Italian art and architecture have long been the central focus of world history. Museums, art collections and historical venues have attracted tourists for centuries. But nowadays there seems to be a sense of renewed interest, urgency and desire to understand and appreciate the treasures of the past. Maybe this is partly due to recent problems such as the buildings that collapsed in the archaeologic site of Pompeii, the $30 million renovation project of the Colosseum, and the tragic destruction of the Palmyra site in Syria. All of a sudden, we realize that majestic buildings might not be there forever, and we stop taking things for granted.
Hopefully, the collaboration between the public and private sectors, along with the input of organizations such as UNESCO and of common people who are genuinely interested in the preservation of ancient arts and crafts, will help Italy and countries around the world to preserve their tangible and intangible treasures in the centuries to come.
Working towards this direction is our agency, Studiainitalia, specialized in cultural travel and creative tourism in the Bel Paese. Are you intrigued or inspired by the idea of learning with artisans and artists in Italy? Studiainitalia offers a variety of Art Courses, such as Painting, Sculpture, Xylography and Art History; Handcraft Courses like Shoemaking, Leatherwork, Bookbinding and Pottery; and Restoration Courses for Paintings, Furniture and Books – among many others. All courses are practical and take place in a bottega, where the master artisan follows the student(s) throughout two or more weeks. For travelers who want to make the most out of their Italian cultural experience, Studiainitalia can also combine the art and crafts courses with a language course. Browse through our course list or contact us now for more information!