Traditional copper and brass working in Italy

Cesare and Iolanda Mazzetti, Bottega del Rame

Bottega del Rame, Montepulciano (Credit: Rinomata Rameria Mazzetti)

While searching for interesting sites that talk about copper history, I came across the intriguing website of the Bottega del Rame in the Montepulciano region in central Italy. The workshop is owned and run by Cesare and Iolanda Mazzetti who inherited the business from their ancestors and now continue a long family tradition in copper crafting. I was particularly drawn to reading about the Bottega because copper as art and craft is not particularly fashionable, nor well known outside ornamental rusticalia and perhaps the niche modern jewellery markets, many examples of which you can see in the Beautiful Copper Group on Flickr. Since the nineteenth century, the Bottega has produced copper objects by recycling old ones. Cesare’s grandfather was crafting copper while his grandmother went to the markets to sell it in Chianciano, Pienza, Petraio, and Torrita. They go on to say:

In 1903 my father was a young boy and my grandmother sent him to learn the “fine” work from a master coppersmith named “Ghiotto”. He learned with passion to craft jugs, pots, pans, tableware, artistic plates. My grandmother paid 10 soldos a week to the master coppersmith to teach him the “fine” work.

After Master Ghiotto died, Mazzetti bought over his tools and materials but his art was then made to have a sinister purpose, as during Mussolini’s Fascist regime, he was made to gather copper for its munitions programme as Italy’s own supplies of copper were scarce. Cesare’s own story is very interesting. Not only did he begin work in the smith’s at the age of four, but owing to the scarcity of copper in the 1930s, learnt his trade using tin, mainly tinning pots for local hotels. However, as copper pots lost favour to more robust and cheaper aluminium ones, the rameria (coppersmiths) diversified into tinning, electrics and plumbing. The connection between these trades and coppercraft continues even now as, for example, demonstrated by the copper and brass sculptures of ex-Austrian plumber Felix Rieser. However, the reputation of the Bottega as a centre for coppercraft was restored after the war ended and copper became easier to access again. Cesare worked as a plumber by day and with his father in the workshop at night, creating roof tiles for churches and banks, fountains, frames, finishings for villas, and fireplaces for restaurants.

As the work of the Bottega del Rame caught the attention of outsiders, it became clear to Cesare where his heart really lay:

“When you retire, who will continue?” My father answered: “I hope that my son Cesare will leave his company and come back to copper crafting, as I taught him.” This made me think how strong my love was for copper and for the beauty of creating, molding, chiseling. My wife and I promised my father that we would continue the family tradition.

And succeed he did. After Mazzetti Senior died in 1982, Cesare took over the workshop and opened a shop next to it for passing tourists and Italian patrons. Satisfied customers ever since has ensured its continuity up until today, but will there be anyone to take it over from here? They don’t say.

So if you find yourself in Tuscany and are travelling around, why not drop in and find out (and then let me know!) how the Mazzetti bottega is getting on. Beholding their handmade objects, clearly created with dedication and love, feels like one of those things that will soon be lost to the mists of time. However, there is a resurgence in appreciation of the studio-made object, and also a revival in the belief that copper is one of the best (if not the best) material to cook in, and therefore we wish the Bottega del Rame tanti auguri for their continued success.

6 thoughts on “Traditional copper and brass working in Italy

  1. I wrote the following to the Bottega Mazzetti shortly after posting this:

    Egregi S. e S.ra. Mazzetti,

    Sono una storica inglese (dall’Universita` di Swansea in Galles) e ho appena creato un nuovo sito web che si chiama ‘Copper Histories’ (Storici del Rame). Ho trovato il vostro bellissimo sito web via ‘Google’ per le mie ricerche. Leggevo la vostra storia con un’interesse intenso, sopratutto la storia della bottega e dell’arte creativa tradizionale.

    Ho scritto una recensione (tutto buono e ci cono molti link al vostro sito) della rameria per il sito storico e vorrei contattarvi per farvi sapere:

    Ho anche inserito una foto dalla bottega per illustrarla, con un link al sito dell’officina e una didascalia del copyright.

    Il sito delle storie del rame e` completamente non profit. Esiste solo per pubblicizzare la storia e l’arte del rame.

    Fra pochi giorni comincevo` un progetto sulla storia dell’industria del rame gallese dal XVII al XX secoli. Cognosco che c’era molti collegamenti tra Galle e Italia e si vorreste, posso inviarvi qualche informazione delle ricerche quando sono state disponibile.

    Con i miei piu` cordiali saluti e una scusa per il mio italiano,

    Tehmina Goskar.

    And received this kind reply from Cesare Mazzetti:

    Gentile signora Goskar

    La ringraziamo moltissimo per il gradito messaggio e mi scuso per il ritardo nella risposta, purtroppo ero assente.

    Il suo lavoro è bellissimo e ci affascina particolarmente, in quanto la lavorazione del rame ha un posto molto importante nella storia della nostra famiglia.

    La ringraziamo particolarmente per aver citato la nostra piccola attività ed il nostro sito internet.

    Se avrà occasione di visitare Montepulciano saremmo lieti di incontrarla per mostrare il nostro lavoro e parlare delle cose che interessano ambedue.

    Cordiali saluti

    Cesare Mazzetti

  2. Hello,
    I was in Tuscany the beginning of September 2011 and Cesare is still there sharing his craft and charming the ladies. This year he and his wife celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. I couldn’t leave without buying a beautiful piece – an engraved grape ice bucket.

  3. Hi, I have in my possission a ewer which has copper and brass, very old but the detailing is so incredibly beautiful, a lot of fine work went into it. It has made in Italy MM. Do you have any idea who could have made such a wonderful jug/ewer? Just really interested in it history, would it be a family made?

    Hope to hear a reply, and kind regars


    • Dear Michelle,

      Thank you for your comment. It sounds like you have a very interesting object. Without seeing it I couldn’t guess at when or where it might have been made. I will email you so you can send me a photo and any additional material you may have.

      For the benefit of others reading this, it is not easy to date metal objects such as this except in quite general terms. We would be able to tell whether it was machine or handmade and perhaps see if the decoration could give clues. But many motifs used in metalwork, particularly brass, are often reused and not a good indicator of a date.

      A jug or ewer is a very common form for a copper or brass vessel, some are purely ornamental, others, if they have been lined or the brass alloy is of a sufficiently good quality, could have been used to hold water, either as part of a dinner service, or perhaps for liturgical use. Such vessels are very important in Hindu rituals and ceremonies, for example. In Catholic churches silver tends to be favoured but an ‘everyday’ jug could easily have been made from copper or brass.

  4. Hello,
    My wife and I were in Italy last spring and found Cesare in his shop. He took an interest in us and my
    long hair and proceeded to give us the grand tour of his shop and made us a beautiful memento using his
    fathers tools. We were impressed. Later that week we went to his sales shop and purchased a small but nice “handmade copper spoon rack”. We found an American to make us some hooks and are looking for
    some copper utensils to hang on it and decided to contact him.. Saw your site and decided to comment.
    Regards Richard

    • Thank you for taking time to leave a comment about your experience at Cesare’s. Next time I am in Italy I will have to visit in person. My husband has long hair so I am excited to know this will create interest!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *