Updated: May 3, 2021
I’m currently living in Florence on a constant lookout for off-the-beaten-path Italian experiences. But like, experiences experiences. The kind that you can’t wait to tell people about but when you do, you quickly realize it’s no use– they weren’t there and they can’t fully understand the level of raw beauty you’re trying to convey.
On a recent day trip to a village called Anghiari, I fell upon one of those experiences. It was really more like falling upon one of those people in one of those places. In this case, a wood-inlay artisan in a hilly village full of curves and distant views across the valley below and no tourists in sight.
Intarsia is the correct term for this artisan’s craft and it involves carefully cutting different colors and kinds of wood to create pieces that fit perfectly together to create an image, like painting with wood. It actually came to Italy via northern Africa in the 7th century. Many people flock to the studiolo in Urbino where a famous room is entirely covered with intarsia.
In this little hilltop town, I found a studiolo of my own and got to pass two hours just hanging out with the artist himself. I discovered that not only is he one of the last masters carrying on this traditional craft, but he’s also a singer, musician, painter, sculptor, and author in one! He even gave me his book and CD on my way out. What a true Renaissance man!
I was absolutely captivated by his work which is so different from my craft (painting)- so precise and mathematical. Most interesting of all was our discussion about whether traditional crafts should be carried on using only original methods. Is the end result any less beautiful if it was done using modern methods, including technology? He explained that there are purists in his field that want to cut each piece by hand but he sees machinery as just a way to continue on- the unavoidable evolution we must face and in fact, embrace. However, he hasn’t yet embraced to laser technology which can perfectly cut with a tap of a button. It's all about balance I suppose!
As his previous master used to say, “Quando avrai imparato ad adoperare gli utensili manuali, di conseguenza e con minore difficoltà, sarai capace di usare quelli a motore..” or roughly, “When you will have learned to use the tools by hand with ease, you will have the knowledge to use those by motor.”
What do you think- stick strictly to tradition or evolve? Let us know in the comments below!
Creative Edge Travel offers small group and custom trips to the lesser-known areas of Italy. Visit our Upcoming Trips page to see where we’re headed next!