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Jewellers’ workshops under the shadow of the Cathedral

The indissoluble bond between construction works at the Duomo and the city’s life

Volantini botteghe orafe - Archivio
8 May May 2019 1728 08 May 2019

Browsing through the documents of the Head of the Università e Paratici [universities and corporations] section of VenerandaFabbrica del Duomo’s Historical Archive, we find three small etchings, which an archival note states were found scattered elsewhere and placed in the folder dedicated to Jewellers.

As mentioned, the Archive collects evidence of the role played by VenerandaFabbrica as arbiter and interlocutor of the various protagonists of trade in the city through the centuries. Indeed, it often defended the interests of the various corporations (jewellers, porters, offellari* who established the art of pastry making in Milan, apothecaries, …)that animated the life of the dynamic capital city of Lombardy, and which became the sponsors of artistic initiatives through an ongoing dialogue.

The documents of these corporations include these etchings (AVFDMi, Historical Archive, folder 114, file 8) of the three signs of three different jewellers. In fact, in the past, not unlike what happens today, artisans indicated their workshops by displaying images and wordings to ensure visibility with the potential clientele. And, as confirmed by these specimens, in the course of time they also started printing these signs with their name and description of their activities in what seems to have been a genuine advertising initiative.

The three entchings preserved in this folder are dated 1794, 1816 and 1827, respectively. In the first two cases the date can be seen on some handwritten notes on the reverse side of the signs, notes that also reveal the reason why these ancient “handouts”have been preservedamong the documents of the Fabbrica. In fact, they were used as payment memos issued by the respective jewellers for some works performed for the Fabbrica. The third etching, which depicts an organ in an elegant setting, the mark of the jeweller MelchioreCattaneo, can,instead, be dated around 1827, the year when “The Milanese interpreter, or the general Guide for trade and addresses of Milan for the year 1827”presented, in thelong list of “Jewellers, Silversmiths, Costume Jewellers and Jewellers”, MelchiorreCattaneo,jeweller, in contrada de’ Pennacchiari “al segno dell’organo” [under the sign of the organ].

Once again the Archive witnesses the indissoluble bond between VenerandaFabbrica and the life of the city of Milan, also suggesting the image of what could be seen amidst the crowded streets of the city centre, under the shadow of the majestic Cathedral.

* “Offellari”: from the Latio ofella (wafer, focaccia bread), were the actual founders of the current Milanese art of pastry making.