Last week I went with my jewelry students and artist Robert Griffith to visit the Scuola del Cuoio within the convent of Santa Croce church in Florence. We had a lovely tour by Presidente, Laura Gori which included a demonstration on gilding leather with 22k gold.
I took a few notes during the demo while an artisan showed us how it is done:
- The leather is “washed” with egg whites a day before or with milk the same day and then allowed to dry. This acts as “sizing” needed for adherence.
- The decorative gilding tools are heated over a low flame and quenched in water to check the temperature. The master craftsman knows if the temperature is correct by listening to the sound as the hot tool hits the water. It should not be too sizzling hot, nor too quietly cool.
- The gold leaf is picked up with a tool from its resting place on a leather working surface and by tapping the surface, the gold leaf is released without it breaking.
- The gold leaf is gently laid down with a special brush.
- The hot tools are hand-pressed into the gold leaf onto the leather at the desired location and remain sealed by the wash, heat, and pressure.
- The excess gold leaf is then rubbed off using cotton soaked with a small amount of olive oil. The excess gold is recuperated and sent back to the gold company, Giusto Manetti Battiloro.
On the website of the Scuola del Cuoio, you can read about the school’s interesting history:
Scuola del Cuoio was created after World War II through the collaborative efforts of the Franciscan friars of the Monastery of Santa Croce and the Gori and Casini families, Florentine leather artisans since the 1930s. Their mission was to give orphans of the war a means to learn a practical trade with which to earn a living.
Santa Croce, with its strategic position along the banks of the Arno river, since the 13th century had been historically the district where the industries that required great quantities of water were concentrated. The tanners of via delle Conce and via dei Conciatori, just a few steps from the garden entrance of the Monastery and Scuola del Cuoio, were an important part of the Santa Croce neighborhood with the dyers of Corso dei Tintori and even the soap makers of via dei Saponai. The tanned hides were used for centuries for the leather manufacturing of the city and at the Monastery itself to cover the great manuscripts. Post-war Scuola del Cuoio brought those traditions back to the Monastery…
There are also videos of craft demonstrations and information about taking workshops and courses at the school. The friars of the Monastery of Santa Croce and the Gori family share a common vision for Scuola del Cuoio: to revive the minor arts, drawing from the experience of the master craftsmen, and to uphold the great traditions of Florentine quality craftsmanship, also by providing a unique learning experience for visitors and students from all over the world.
Santa Croce is one of the most important churches in Italy. It welcomes thousands of visitors from all over the world. In the ancient dormitory of the Novitiates, donated by the Medici family to the Franciscan Friars in 1455, Scuola del Cuoio offers a memorable experience in the heart of Florence’s leather craftsmanship, by sharing with its guests the atmosphere of a Renaissance workshop and the utter attention to details and quality of its unique creations. Inside its magnificent location, frescoed by the school of Domenico Ghirlandaio, the master craftsmen of Scuola del Cuoio create a variety of products, blending tradition with contemporary taste. While the decorated jewelry cases and desk sets witness the Florentine art of engraving leather with gold, exquisite ostrich or crocodile bags are proof of the daily commitment to the highest artisanal quality. Everything rigorously “fatto a mano”.
Scuola del Cuoio is located behind the Sacristy of Santa Croce and can be entered through the Church. Customers and visitors may however use the entrance through the garden that surrounds the Apse, located in Via San Giuseppe 5R.