The first time I heard the words homo faber, I was sitting in art history class in high school. We were about to begin the chapter of the course on the Italian Renaissance. The teacher introduced us to this very concept in relation to a new, human-centric (as opposed to god-centric) zeitgeist that was threading its way through society at the time. For the first time, after centuries of blind religious belief, he said, there was faith in humans’ ability to be at the helm of their own destinies. Homo faber fortunae suae. Mankind forges its own fate. I was literally blown away.
Fast forward to the present. This whole scene came back to mind the moment I stepped into Venice’s Homo Faber, the biannual event organised by the Michelangelo Foundation to celebrate the best artisans and crafts. Now, forget the fact that the institution carries the name of a prominent Renaissance painter. Forget also that the event is held in Venice, a city that has seen a new Renaissance after three long years of hardship due to flooding and the pandemic. The mission of the entire undertaking is “crafting a more human future”: a line that very much reiterates that concept of “holding destiny in one’s own hands”. And that, in its own small way, is forever revolutionary.
“Beauty brings us together, and the world of crafts is a collective endeavour in forging that beauty,” said Alberto Cavalli, Executive Director of the Michelangelo Foundation during the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Fondazione Cini on San Giorgio Island. “Venice is the city of fine crafts par excellence. A cosmopolitan place that has acted as a door between the East and the West, and now, too, is the candidate for the world’s capital of sustainability. For all these reasons, it’s particularly apt that Homo Faber takes place in Venice: through crafts we can learn how to be thoughtful with our precious resources and breach this know-how into the future.”
Now in its second edition (after a forced break in 2020), the event will run from April 10th to May 1st, 2022 inside the rooms and gardens of the Fondazione Cini, as well as across the city of Venice with the In Città program.
This edition celebrates the cultural dialogue between Europe and Japan, a country of fine craftsmanship traditions that is also constantly striving to safeguard its important cultural heritage. Homo Faber showcases the “living treasures” of Europe and Japan, housing 15 exhibitions–including theatre, interior design, jewellery, and fashion–and over 400 objects–from porcelain to glass, flower compositions to paper. Homo Faber aims to celebrate and preserve excellence in craftsmanship, while also casting a light on the extraordinary dialogue between cultures, master artisans and rising stars, and designers and artisans.
Exhibition highlights include the Magnae Chartae room, in which all pieces are made of paper; the Blossoming Beauty room, in which work by prominent flower artists interacts with stunning Venini glass vases; and the Genealogies of Ornament, which includes the finest pieces from 15 luxury maisons. Alongside the exhibitions, there is a rich program of events and workshops, including tea ceremonies and ikebana classes (the Japanese art of flower arrangement).
And then, there’s the In Città part. Much of Venice’s fine craft heritage is already woven into the main exhibition in San Giorgio, but this year, visitors can also experience the city through an immersive program. Using the website to book in città experiences, visitors can create bespoke, self-guided tours of the best Venetian workshops to learn artisan stories and watch them at work (and also probably take home a few precious pieces).
There are close to 60 atelier visits and activities one can reserve, spanning glassmaking to handprinting, and fabrics to gondola-making. And though it was tough to narrow it down, these five workshops are well worth a visit.
Founded in 1968, Fallani is a historic atelier of artistic silk screen printing by Fiorenzo Fallani in Cannaregio. The workshop is now run by Fiorenzo’s son Gianpaolo Fallani, who offers training courses and hands-on experiences to anyone wanting to try the time-honoured craft of screen printing. At Fallani, visitors have the chance to learn about this incredibly creative technique, which allows the artwork to be reproducible while also making each copy unique. Visitors will see all the stages of the process, from the creation of the frames to the colour mixing, alongside the tricks and thought process behind this craft. They themselves can also print a one-colour graphic on paper and take it home as a souvenir.
Antica Tessitura Bevilacqua
Although founded in 1875, family textile business Tessitura Luigi Bevilacqua has roots that date back to the Renaissance. As the last weaving mill active in the historical heart of the city, Bevilacqua is set on keeping the Venetian artisanal tradition alive with original 18th century wooden looms. The family’s skilled weavers use these looms to recreate Bevilacqua’s signature 18th century fabrics. They are particularly famous for their soprarizzo velvet, a traditional Venetian fabric with two different types of pile–curly and cut. They also weave damasks, brocades, silks, satins and tapestries using vintage weaving techniques. Visiting Bevilacqua, visitors can watch the jacquard hand looms in action and glimpse into the elegant showroom overlooking the Grand Canal. All the fabrics used for Bevilacqua’s projects are displayed here, and little objects, such as notebooks and handbags, can be purchased as mementos of this unique experience.
Micromega is a revolutionary eyewear manufacturer founded by Roberto Carlon in 2000, the year he first secured an international patent for a weightless pair of glasses made with Japanese titanium wire. The son of an optician, Roberto grew up in his father’s historic shop before following his dreams to create his own eyewear–light, practical, hard wearing, and entirely customisable. The Micromega shop opened in 2003 in Calle delle Ostreghe, between Accademia and San Marco. The shop is close enough to the most prestigious hotels in Venice, but also far enough from the mainstream fashion boutiques–a precise choice and a statement on the difference between artisan and industrial. A place of wonder, the shop holds beautiful displays of creative frames of all shapes and fashions. Still, the treasure trove is the laboratory, set just a few steps down the road from the shop. There, fine craftsmanship merges with the use of the latest technologies, but the look and feel is that of an atelier. It has only four seats and pieces of wire, wood and bone are set on the square desk for Roberto’s daily creative experiments.
Founded in 1888, Orsoni is the last historic furnace in Venice that uses Byzantine techniques to produce glazes and gold leaf mosaics. The furnace still operates with fire to create glass in countless shades. Their name became known in 1889, when Angelo Orsoni displayed the results of his many alchemical experiments at the Paris Universal Exposition. The highlight was Orsoni’s Colour Library, a mesmerising panel where over 3,500 Venetian glaze hues are stored. Visiting Orsoni is an immersion into a multi-coloured world that has inspired artists for over a century: Orsoni’s smalti have been selected to decorate the world’s most famous monuments and landmarks, including Venice’s St. Mark’s Basilica, the Mecca Royal Clock Tower, London’s Westminster Cathedral and more. Visitors will have the chance to witness different phases of the manufacturing process, such as colour sampling, crafting and hand cutting, as well as a tour of Orsoni’s iconic Colour Library.