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Your journey to discover the ancient heart of Florentine

until Elisabetta and Alessandro’s father, Bianco, became

artisanship begins over a perfectly pressed cup of

fascinated with it in the ’50s.

espresso at Four Seasons Hotel Firenze. It’s a fitting place to start, as the Hotel speaks to a history of unsurpassed craftsmanship. It began its storied life in the 15th century as the Palazzo della Gherardesca before becoming, in turn, a papal residence, a convent and, in 2008, a luxury hotel. That most recent transformation, recounts General Manager Patrizio Cipollini, took seven years—and 42 craftsmen.“They worked furiously day and night to restore the interior to its former glory,” says Cipollini. He stands in

“Driven by passion and curiosity, he started to search for antique recipes for scagliola in old libraries, and then he attempted the craft at home,” says Alessandro. “Luckily he was very good at it.” Bianco’s meticulous and striking pieces quickly garnered a following, and his scagliola can now be found in some of the world’s most prestigious places—including the Kensington Royal Palace and Four Seasons Hotel Firenze.

the tranquil inner courtyard, where the morning Tuscan sun

The city’s Santa Croce area is the historical home of

illuminates 15th-century stone-carved allegorical reliefs

Italy’s first tanneries and leather workers. Nearby, in the

and 16th-century Mannerist frescos—works by artisans,

antique dormitory of the Santa Croce Church, today’s

such as Giovanni Stradano, who were in the exclusive

students can learn ancient leatherwork skills under

service of royalty and the elite. More than five centuries

master craftsmen at the Scuola del Cuoio, or Leather

later, some 6,000 modern-day Florentine artisans are

School. “Our in-house artisans create the one-of-a-kind

the spiritual heirs of those craftsmen. From Via Maggio to

bags and leather accessories we sell in our atelier,” says

Ponte Vecchio, they are the cultural heart of the city. And

Laura Gori, the school’s co-owner. “We teach leatherwork

now, a select few are opening their workshops for tours

to students from all over the world.”

and lessons available to guests of Four Seasons Hotel

As artisans sew and shape leather in the school’s open


workshop, Gori pulls a 100-year-old bronze tool from a

On the south side of the River Arno, Via Maggio—the

flame, preparing to personalize an exquisite leather bag

street where Florence’s nobles built their residences for

with gilded initials. “Gilding is a master craftsman skill, and

its proximity to the Medici palace—is home to a showroom

only the top leather-making artisans are able to work with

of one of the city’s most talented artisan families. Behind

gold,” she says, taking a sliver of papery 22-carat gold

the showroom window, sister and brother Elisabetta

foil and smoothing it over the leather with a sponge. She

and Alessandro Bianchi are bent over one of their latest

presses the hot tool into the foil and leather, and then pulls

works. They are masters of a technique called scagliola—

it away to reveal a client’s initials. “Watching our craftsmen

the art of using powdered selenite to inlay a design into

put together their hands, hearts, passions and brains to

marble tables and panels. Invented in Florence during the

make beautiful things,” says Gori, “it’s like walking in past

Renaissance, scagliola had mysteriously disappeared

centuries.” ... continued



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