The stone Giovanni is talking about is the famous block of marble that languished in the bottega dell’Opera until the summer of 1501. Described as “male abbozatum et sculptum” (badly roughed out and carved) it was the challenge of this stone that Michelangelo rose to, when he carved David. Of course, the stone isn’t there anymore, and in fact the bottega you are standing in front of only moved here in the nineteenth century – the original location is behind the cathedral, and now houses the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. But this workshop still functions, and the stonecutters here still carve by hand, making copies of the original sculptures and stonework, while the originals are increasingly all housed in the museum.
This is a nice place to get a sense of the manual, tactile and noisy nature of work in the city. Florence was an industrial centre – a bit like Manchester in the Industrial Revolution – its economy rested on industrial production as well as banking services, and the economic and industrial heart of the city was at its centre, not pushed out to the periphery as it tends to be today. Streets took the names of the prevalent activities, like via dei Calzaiuoli – where the shoe shops clustered, and indeed still do. But many of the streets, and their distinctive names – such as via Calimala (silk) – were lost with the massive urban renewal that followed the unification of Italy in the mid nineteenth century.
Giovanni speaks of a lastraiolo friend in the Opera. Unsurprisingly perhaps, we know that there were developed social networks among workers of all types – some even grouped as brigate, informally constituted groups of male workers that would meet, eat, talk and seek out entertainment after work. With industry, business and the homes of a number of the more ancient lineages filling the centre, the majority of workers lived outside the centre, like Giovanni who lived to the East in Sant’Ambrogio.
To cite this essay, we suggest:
Fabrizio Nevola, ‘Craft work’ published online 2013, in ‘Hidden Florence’, The University of Exeter, https://hiddenflorence.org/stories/7-craft-work-opera-workshop/
Richard A. Goldthwaite, The Building of Renaissance Florence: an Economic and Social History (Baltimore; London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980)
Guido Ruggiero, ‘Mean streets, Familiar Streets, or the Fat Woodcarver and the Masculine Spaces of Renaissance Florence,’ in Renaissance Florence: A Social History, eds. Roger J. Crum and John T. Paoletti (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 295-310