Bianco Bianchi. It is marble or it is scagliola?

Bianco Bianchi. It is marble or it is scagliola?

Florence and its surrounding areas are famous for a thriving artisan community, whose members still maintain Renaissance traditions today. Though mass tourism and a changing economy have significantly impacted the industry’s workshops, there are still numerous examples of true craftsmanship in Florence. These artisans helped make Florence one

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Thu 24 Jan 2008 1:00 AM

Florence and its surrounding areas are famous for a thriving artisan community, whose members still maintain Renaissance traditions today. Though mass tourism and a changing economy have significantly impacted the industry’s workshops, there are still numerous examples of true craftsmanship in Florence. These artisans helped make Florence one of the best loved cities in the world—their craftsmanship is a testament to artistic survival in an increasingly globalized world.

 

 

Bianco Bianchi. It is marble or it is scagliola?

Scagliola (from the Italian scaglia, ‘chips’), is a technique for producing stucco columns, sculptures, and other architectural elements that resemble marble. Batches of pigmented plaster (ground alabaster or gypsum) are applied to molds, armatures or pre-plastered walls in a manner that accurately mimics natural stone, breccia and marble.

 

The original design is dusted onto a slab of scagliola or marble then traced with a hammer and chisel to create deep engravings. The colored pastes fill the engraved design, and after the material hardens, the artisan brushes the slab with water and pumices it smooth. The surface is usually scraped again in order to include more shades of color before buffing with beeswax. Scagliola’s shine, transparency and pearly brilliance has often inspired curious nicknames such as ‘crystal chalk’, ‘mirror stone’, ‘oil glass’ and ‘moonstone’.

 

Athough there is evidence of the use of scagliola in ancient Roman architecture (it gave the walls of the Circus Maximus a gleaming whiteness), this type of decoration became popular during the Italian Baroque period in the seventeenth century as it united various artistic techniques, including painting, carving and modelling.

 

The technique was perfected by Friar Enrico Hughford (1695–1771), a monk at the Monastery of Vallombrosa. Hughford then took the Florentine scagliola to new heights by decorating tables, columns and even floors in the most important European courts. From Versailles to the Pitti Palace, from Windsor Castle to the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, scagliola continues to enrich many princely residences still today.

 

 

A lost art revived

A government office worker by the name of Bianco Bianchi (1920-2006) put Florence back on the map of sultans, princes and art-lovers in search of something unique for their stately homes. Passionately enthusiastic, Bianchi loved painting and, at the end of the 1940s, dedicated 10 years of his free time to searching for just the right scagliola mixes.

 

His efforts were recognized by the son of writer Giuseppe Prezzolini and Bianchi soon became well-known, first in the United States and then in Italy. He left his job and devoted himself to the scagliola trade full-time, collecting antique pieces and producing new works of his own. Today, the Bianco Bianchi collection is one of the most important in the world.

 

His children, Alessandro and Elisabetta, inherited his passion and skill, and continue to produce masterpieces with the same traditional techniques in their workshop in Pontassieve. Their works are shown on the prestigious via Maggio in Florence.

 

The workshop continues to restore period-pieces and to produce unique items including tables, panels and decorative objects that end up in the most beautiful houses in the world. One of the most famous Bianchi designs has the scagliola made for Gianni Versace’s villa. In  the shape of the head of Medusa, the design in turn inspired Versace’s logo for his fashion house. Other notable Bianchi treasures are housed in Kensington Palace in London, the De Balkany residence in Paris, the Sultan of Brunei’s Palace and the Hotel Pierre in New York.

 

 

Workshop: via Lisbona, 4/E – 50065 Pontassieve (Florence)

Tel. 055/8314509

 

Showroom: Pietra di Luna, via Maggio, 4 R – 50125 Florence

Tel. 055/2658257

www.biancobianchi.com

 

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