Rosanna Vianello
Article by Rosanna Vianello

Shoemaking industry: an ancient tradition still alive in Venice. Stories of artisans, saints and maecenas

In Venice there has always been a strong practice of craftsmanship. Some of the ancient arts are still alive thanks to important Venetians, who have mixed up tradition and innovation. The results are issues of very high quality, which are appreciated all over the world.

The presence of guilds was very important in Venice, during the past times. Thanks to them the lower classes could participate to the commercial and entrepreneurial system of the city.

Among the many guilds, a very important one was the shoemakers’, “calegheri” in the Venetian dialect.
This guild was founded in 1278. The main seat of such a guild was in Saint Toma’s square, in the Saint Paul’s district. Still nowadays, in such a square there is a building dating back to 1446. Above the main portal you can see a lunette with a bas relief made by Pietro Lombardo, an important architect and artist of the second half of 15th century. In this bas relief  Saint Mark and Saint Aniano are represented. Saint Mark, one of four Evangelists, is the patron saint of Venice. We are told that, after his journey in Cirenaica, he arrived up to Alexandria in Egypt. He needed a shoemaker to repair a broken string of his sandal. Saint Aniano was the right person for such a task! Unfortunately he injured himself while he was repairing the Saint’s sandal. Saint Mark cured Aniano miraculously. You can see such a story represented on this very ancient bas relief!


The bas relief on the main portal of the shoemakers' guild in Saint Toma's square
The bas relief on the main portal of the shoemakers’ guild in Saint Toma’s square

In Venice there is another place connected with them/shoemakers. It is a building that is still visible in Calle delle Botteghe in Saint Mark’s district. One part of such a building dates back to 14th century, and another one was donated to the German shoemakers’ guild by one of its members in 1482. This was a sort of a hospital for them. You can still see two bas reliefs representing shoes at its corner, and two high reliefs representing the Annunciation on the two sides of the original  main entrance.

These shoemakers had also an altar in the nearby Saint Stephen’s church, where they could celebrate masses for members of their own guild.


German shoemakers' guild, in Calle delle Botteghe in Venice
German shoemakers’ guild, in Calle delle Botteghe in Venice
detail in the corner of the German shoemakers' guild, in Calle delle Botteghe in Venice
detail in the corner of the German shoemakers’ guild, in Calle delle Botteghe in Venice

This guild was very important during the ancient times in Venice, because of its essential task of making shoes, but also in case of fire: since 1737 all shoemakers were obliged to help firemen with strings, leather and tools to repair the broken fire hoses.

This ancient tradition is still alive in Venice, thanks to great Venetians like Luigino Rossi, an important figure for the Italian fashion, all over the world.

Everybody knows that Italy is the leader in the shoes industry, and a large part of such an excellence started in the Venetian country, along the Brenta river, connecting Venice to Padua. Along such a river there are fantastic villas made by important architects like Palladio, for instance, for the Venetian nobles.

In one of them, the Foscarini Rossi villa, belonging to Luigino Rossi, there is a museum of the best models of shoes made by his factory, for the most important international brands like Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Ungaro, Fendi, Lacroix, Pucci, Calvin Klein and American designers like Donna Karen, or Marc by Marc Jacobs.

shoe designed by Christian Dior
shoe designed by Christian Dior

Since 2000 he started the partnership with the great French group LVHM (Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton ), that is a multinational holding specialised in luxurious products.

Moreover, thanks to his great passion for modern and contemporary art, Luigino Rossi is a collector and a maecenas. Quite recently he participated, as a supporter, to the inauguration of the new Palladian Wing at the Academy Galleries in Venice.

Craftsmanship, great attention to the detail, a strong passion for art are mixed up in an amazing way to create the innumerable facets of the Venetian way-of-life, thanks to the special site where Venice was founded. This unique alchemy can inspire everybody’s sensibility.

The Academy Galleries (inside courtyard)
The Academy Galleries (inside courtyard)

Rosanna Vianello