Italian handcrafts: Perforated Steel
- WTI Magazine #125 Mar 16, 2020
The art of steelmaking in Molise can be traced back to the 15th century, when the primary purpose of this work was the production of weapons. At that time, Count Nicola di Monforte brought blacksmiths from abroad, particularly France, to produce arms for his military ambitions.
From the 16th century onwards, under the rule of Ferrante Gonzaga, the groundwork was laid for Campobasso to become an important and renowned city for the production of weapons.A significant event, which brought a radical change to this art, was the Edict of Charles III, Duke of Bourbon, in 1750, which prohibited the production of bladed weapons in the Kingdom of Naples, including Campobasso and Molise.
The local craftsmen therefore began to make objects for agricultural or domestic use, such as razors and knives.
The 19th century brought a major development with the adoption of the perforation technique, in which drills and files were used to engrave ornamental motifs.
The introduction of perforation dates back to the second half of the 18th century, when Charles Rinaldi, from a family of steel workers, began to use this technique, which virtually allowed the creation of “embroidered” steel.
The artisans of Campobasso distinguished themselves in various fairs and exhibitions, including those held in Naples on 30 May 1853 and in Florence in 1861, at which King Vittorio Emanuele II was present. It is said that during this event, a local artist-craftsman (Bartholomew Terzano) presented a hunting knife to the sovereign, who in turn commissioned him to make items to give to the Emperor Napoleon III.
The art of perforation was interrupted during World War II due to lack of raw material, which inevitably led to its decline.
A solution to this situation began to appear through the efforts of a local craftsman in the 1980s. He sought to teach the art of perforation and pass it on to future generations through extensive work in the organisation of regional training activities.
In this first half of the 21st century, the art of perforated steel is still alive in Campobasso, thanks to the work of three craftsmen who operate in their workshops with meticulous care and refined aesthetic taste to make objects that are true art treasures.
The initial production stage involves determining the dimensions of the desired object.
An outline is traced on a blank, which is then cut out and an original ornamental design is drawn on it, normally with a pencil, to create an unique and original artefact.
Unwanted portions are then removed by an operation called “centring incision”, which uses a chisel to produce “holes” to guide the drill bit for the perforations.
The steel from the pre-formed spirals used to be removed using a small rod mounted on a bow called a “crocetto”, but now this has been replaced by a simple hacksaw.
The next step, known as “riporto”, is the shaping of the exterior of the ornamentation. This involves the complete removal of excess steel around the outline of the object using files.
The product is finally tooled engraved using small chisels known as burins, with deeper or shallower incisions produced in various parts to make the artefact a work of true craftsmanship.
The final process is polishing, now more necessary than ever due to the use of stainless steel.
Campobasso is one of the centres in the Molise region where the art of perforated steel was developed and became known. The production of the regional capital was once famous throughout Europe, but now only a few craftsmen still continue to dedicate their lives to this special technique in their small workshops.
The origin of the city’s name almost certainly comes from “Vassus Campus” or “Campus Vassallorum”, i.e. the field of the vassals, who populated the lower area outside the castle walls. It was established during the Lombard period, although evidence can be found of a settlement dating back as early as the 7th century BC.
The reason for the development of steel work in Campobasso can be traced mainly to the geographical characteristics of the region, composed of mountainous areas that provided less scope for agriculture than other areas in Molise at that time.
By Camera di Commercio di Campobasso with Unioncamere