Endangered Traditions

Closing a Gap in the Art Market

by Claire Serpi


When I first moved abroad, people often asked, “How is living in Italy different than in America?”

The first thing that came to mind was the culture around food. You order a coffee here and are served with a porcelain cup, a metal spoon. They have weight in your hand. The coffee is rich. You take a moment to pause and enjoy it. Italian culture is simply not compatible with paper Starbucks mugs and energy bar lunches. The longer I lived here, the more I noticed how this Slow Food mentality extended far beyond meals.

It was a respect for balance, for community, and above all, for tradition.

I came to Italy almost a decade ago to study Renaissance and Baroque art for a summer in college that turned into the rest of my life. What captured my imagination and sense of wonder weren’t just the masterpieces, the frescos of Caravaggio that I could visit on a casual walk through the center of Rome or the skeletons of grand architecture from the ancient Forum, it was the ubiquitous attention to artistic detail: flourishes in unexpected places, like doorknobs and water fountains, street lamps and window grates. These meticulous labors of passion, articulated with originality and skill, spoke to my heart.

As a scholar to the Guggenheim Museum in Venice, I read the autobiography of Peggy Guggenheim — another American who fell in love with Italy and its artists. Though considerably more capable from a financial standpoint and substantially more extravagant in her social life, she described a sense of duty to protect the arts of her own time which resonated deeply with me.

Peggy Guggenheim at Palazzo Vernier on the Grand Canal in Venice

Later, while privileged to work with the most exquisite contemporary art in the world at Sotheby’s and later Christie’s auction houses, I witnessed how much institutional support is given to talented contemporary artists today. Fairs, galleries, magazines, museums, academies, and auction houses all form a healthy ecosystem for fine artists to thrive.

This system, however, has a gap.
Tondo by Andrea della Robbia, Metropolitan Museum of Art
None of that infrastructure extends to the present-day masters of traditional arts: silversmiths, ceramicists, luthiers…

What’s worse, with increasing competition from large-scale retail companies and the current economic climate, many historic family studios that have survived for generations — some tracing back as far as the Renaissance — are dying out.

Italy’s cultural patrimony, the essence of Made in Italy, is in jeopardy.

In creating a network of over thirty workshops which represent the creme de la creme of skilled craftsmanship, I was amazed to discover that some didn’t even have email addresses, and the vast majority subsist on word-of-mouth alone. These same artisans receive prestigious commissions from the Vatican, restoration requests for the Trevi Fountain. My hope is to give them the spotlight they deserve, to introduce modern Stradivaris and Della Robbias to patrons and an international audience who want their artistic legacy to endure.

Stradivari Violin, Metropolitan Museum of Art

We’ve all encountered the feeling of exploration that happens in the “aura” of an original object of art. Museums wouldn’t exist without our intellectual desire to connect with others through ideas expressed tangibly and uniquely. The existential need for these encounters was a seminal argument by one of the most important scholars in the history of aesthetics, Walter Benjamin.

Consider your most cherished family heirloom. In all likelihood, it was made by hand.
Franchi Studio Copyright Nicolo Massa Bernucci for Manimenti

I believe I’m not alone in experiencing awe at the intricate detail work of a master craftsman. When I witnessed the creative alchemy of wood transforming into the sinuous, delicate body of a violin in the careful hands of a luthier in Rome, it was as breathtaking as observing the infinite cosmos on a dark night.

These objects transmit values like discipline and ambition; a sense of man’s triumph of over nature and time.

We collect and display masterpieces because they inspire and connect us with generations past. That is why I’m creating a company for enthusiasts and collectors interested not only in the creations of master artisans, but also the history and culture that inspire them.

Copyright Manimenti

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