Italian handcrafts: Verona Art Furniture
- WTI Magazine #117 Jul 20, 2019
The period furniture tradition in Verona dates back to 1400, with the first artistic woodworking and inlaying, such as the precious inlaid wood choir of Santa Maria in Organo (VR) by the Olivetan monk Fra Giovanni.
Another five centuries were to pass, however, before the organised production of period furniture began. The systemisation of the Verona furniture industry was due to the skills of Giuseppe Merlin, known as “Marangon”, a talented craftsman from Asparetto di Cerea, in the Verona plain.
Merlin, who was a carpenter in a mainly agricultural area and accustomed to repairing carts and tools, began repairing old wooden furniture in the stately homes of the area almost by chance. The craftsman’s ability soon became known, and his curiosity led him to study the antique furniture he worked on and to reproduce it with great skill, using the techniques and materials of former times.
His family-run restoration workshop soon grew in importance and become a woodworking business employing several apprentices. As well as contributing to the growth of the art of restoration and period furniture production, “Marangon” also established a special school to teach the trade to young people.
Towards the mid-1930s, Merlin began to decentralise production, which was outsourced to the craftsmen, after providing them with the materials needed to continue the work.
Thanks to this initiative, numerous workshops specialising in particular work processes were set up, working initially for the master craftsman, and then continuing as independent workshops. The support of the Scuola Popolare di Disegno, which began in Cerea in 1910, was also fundamental.
After the interval of World War II, the sector grew rapidly in the 1950s and particularly in the early 1960s, thanks to increasing demand for “first home” furniture from Italian families, to such an extent that the emblems of the small furniture factories were found in almost all the homes in the area.
The second expansion phase of the period furniture sector began in the early 1960s: thanks to the introduction of new machinery, which performed work previously done entirely by hand with speed and precision, the furniture craftsmen’s activity developed significantly and gained greater production incentive.
Today, period furniture is still the pride and joy of the “Bassa Veronese” area, where workshops continue to specialise in the production of individual pieces, which are then finished, assembled and distributed throughout the world by companies with a strong position in the market.
Veronese furniture is characterised by its shapes and classic style, with “classic” not referring to an attempt to imitate something antique, but rather to everything that features traditional forms and materials, with clean, elegant designs, but is also comfortable and functional.
Its uniqueness is due to its characteristic shapes, typical of other eras. The first craftsmen used techniques and materials from the past, inspired by the furniture in the homes of 18th-century Venetian families, thus associating their products with the culture of the local area.
The businesses now operating in the Venetian Plain wood/furniture sector still preserve this time-honoured “expertise”, as the exponents of areas where woodworking was a daily activity. This human heritage of trade skills, culture and traditions is a flourishing and exclusive expression of Italy’s fascinating, sophisticated and eclectic craft production.
Today, the Venetian Plain period furniture industry offers fine pieces in contemporary designs as well as a varied selection in more traditional styles.
Fratino, 17th-century, Maggiolini, Direttorio, Empire, Biedermeier, Louis Philippe, Victorian and Art Nouveau are just some of the styles produced in the local area, with a variety that is one of its greatest assets.
The local area
The highest concentration of Verona’s furniture companies is found in the southern portion of the province.
The initial strong demand for period furniture began in the post-war period, accompanied by a corresponding increase in the production offer. Thus, period furniture workshops also began to appear in the neighbouring provinces, extending the production area as far as the boundaries with Mantua, Rovigo, Padua and Vicenza.
The heart of Veronese period furniture production is located in the municipalities of Bovolone, Casaleone, Cerea, Concamarise, Gazzo, Isola della Scala, Isola Rizza, Legnago, Nogara, Oppeano, Salizzole, Sanguinetto and San Pietro di Morubio.
Ninety per cent of the furniture companies in the entire province of Verona are located in this area, known as “Bassa Veronese”. Most of these businesses are still family-run and continue to use purely traditional production methods.
Specialised knowledge and artistic and technical skills have also been made available throughout the territory through vocational schools. These began with the “Scuola Popolare di Disegno”, founded in Cerea in 1910 by the master craftsman Appio Spagnolo.
Similar schools were also opened in Sanguinetto and Bovolone, where a prestigious school of cabinet making existed until a few years ago. The goal of all these schools was to promote new craft activities, teaching young people a trade that would raise them out of the conditions of hardship caused by the poverty of the rural economy and the rampant phenomenon of emigration.
By Camera di Commercio di Verona with Unioncamere