My unenthusiastic start to our day in Florence was quickly turned around by our warm welcome at the Piazza Pitti Palace and meeting the delightful uncle/niece pair at the pen and paper shop that has been in their family for 163 years. I was energized and excited to see what else Florence had to offer. We met with our guide, Vanessa, in front of our hotel at 4:00 for a walking tour of Florence and to see Michaelangelo’s David.
We were referred to Vanessa by several friends and we could tell right off the bat that they didn’t lead us astray. She was energetic and passionate about sharing the history of Florence with us. And, beyond that, she understood that we didn’t just want the typical tourist experience. We didn’t want to elbow our way through thick crowds just for a picture. We wanted to be shown her Florence, to learn, and to meet people.
She started out leading us through the narrow streets, off the main tourist routes, to meet an artisan she thought we would like.
History is so tangible when walking on these stone roads, walled in by buildings that are hundreds of years old. I’ve always had an active imagination and, even as an adult, stories in my head come to life when I’m in such a rich environment. I could envision a woman throwing open the shutters to let in light and fresh air or to hang linens out to dry. I imagined the streets bustling with trade, the clopping of horses, and people going about their day.
The street, like a slim canyon carved by time and daily activity, opened into a piazza. We entered the square just as the sun was lowering, creating long shadows and harsh contrasts. The trees, the open space, the covered tables occupied by groups and couples dining, all caught my attention. But that attention was quickly pulled to a group of students sitting on the stone, sketchbooks in their laps. The pencils were moving rapidly as their heads nodded up and down, looking at the subject and back down to their work, oblivious that there was a small audience. We appreciated them as they appreciated a church, basked in the direct sun, that housed a statue carved by Michaelangelo.
I wanted to sit down with my sketch pad and join them, but I savored a few moments of watching them and then continued to follow Vanessa across the piazza.
My mom and I decided we would come back to this piazza for dinner after our tour. It was quiet and seemed like a great place to enjoy our last meal in Europe.
Vanessa led us to a gate in one of the buildings lining the square. The gate led down a small passage that opened into a garden. She knocked on a glass door that was off to the right and called inside in Italian to see if the artist was in his studio and accepting visitors. A gentleman appeared and welcomed us in. He kissed Vanessa’s cheeks and they started a brief conversation. (This is the only picture I took of Vanessa! She was standing at the entrance of the studio.)
Touring the studio was a delight.
Ladies…oh, my fellow lovers of antiques and old things…look at this studio! The beams, the cabinets with all of the little drawers, the dormer windows, and the loft with the ladder-like stairs. The studio smelled old, but it wasn’t an unpleasant mustiness.
You could see there was an effort made at tidiness and order, but that work and ideas often disrupted and prevented that tidiness…just as creative work and ideas should.
Guiliano handed me a business card and Vanessa pointed out that the largest name on the card wasn’t his name, but the name of his maestro, the man who taught him the metal & silver trade when he was just 17. Even after 50 years of metalsmithing, he is still listed as the apprentice. That concept is so foreign to American culture. Our name is the prominent one at the top and we don’t even mention our mentors or the people who took us under their wing and built into who we are.
It is a gesture of honor and respect. It’s also beautiful imagery.
It made me think about my own professional journey and the people who showed me the ropes and shared their knowledge and experience with me. Which names would be prominent on my card?
Giuliano led us down a questionably small staircase into the basement where he presses metal into one of dozens of molds he’s carved during his career. Some of them are so intricate that they took over a month to carve.
He showed us that his source of inspiration was often antique pieces – scraps of paper from old books, patterns on fabric, etc. And he also gets inspiration from his wife, who makes suggestions of what women will want to wear. He makes jewelry, picture frames, pillboxes, ornaments, and a variety of other decorative pieces in gold and silver for some top fashion houses and department stores like Saks 5th Avenue, Harrods, and Christian Dior, among others.
But it’s much less expensive to buy from his studio! I fell in love with a cuff bracelet adorned with leaves and a bumblebee perched on top.
It was €32 (about $35-36), which I felt was a great price for such a beautiful handmade piece.
I also bought a goldplated sprig of mistletoe. I wasn’t sure how I was going to use it, but I thought it was such a sweet piece. And each one that he made was a little different! The sprig was €10.
It was the perfect way to start our walking tour of Florence. In the final post on my European trip, I’ll share about the rest of the walking tour and my experience seeing David…
If you want to see my day in Florence, you can watch it on my Instagram stories HERE. I know some of you don’t have Instagram, but I believe you can click on the link and watch the videos without signing up. The tour of Guiliano’s studio is about halfway through the Florence Stories.
PS – If you’re interested in booking Vanessa as a guide in Florence (she’s wonderful), you can reach her by e-mail…firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re traveling to Paris or Tuscany and want to know what I did, you can find all of the posts of my trip (with links to guides, lodging, food, and shopping) below…