Master Marino Menegazzo is the current owner of the Venetian historical craft workshop Mario Berta Battiloro. The workshop was founded in 1969, with the aim to continue the ancient family trade established in 1926.
Tell us your story.
I was born in Venice in 1954 and, for many years, I lived in the Angelo Raffaele district, in a palace that had been Doge Barbarigo's mansion.
At the end of the primary school, I moved to the Sacca Fisola Island, where I lived until I got married.
After I graduated in metalworking, I met my wife Sabrina and her father Mario Berta, who taught me the ancient craft of gold-beating, which I am carrying forward with great passion and love and hope to hand down to my successors.
Is there a person who influenced your life and your trade in a special way?
My wife, Sabrina Berta, is the person whose influence prompted me to choose this craft. My father-in-law became my teacher: he taught me the gold-beating technique, a typical Venetian craft, which had been handed down over the centuries. He taught me to talk to gold. Over time, I managed to modernise a few steps and create novel gold colours, to respond to the challenges today's world is daily creating to craftspeople.
What is the gold leaf? Which are its characteristics?
Every single gold leaf is an artwork, created in over eight hours of work, with great sacrifice, dedication, and passion. A gold leaf is characterised by different features, namely colour, silkiness, firmness, impalpable weight and malleability. All of these characteristics are unaltered if they are hammered by hand, and the gold atom is not modified.
How is that achieved?
Gold leaves are created through an eight-hour long productive process: first, the gold ingot is melted down and poured into a bracket to create a new ingot. The ingot is then laminated several times through a rolling mill, until it achieves two metre length; the sheets are then cut into small squares, stacked inside 350 pieces of parchment paper. This so-called packet is first hammered for 40 minutes until it is transformed into an 11 cm. diametre round leaf. Every single leaf is then cut into 4/4 and each quarter is introduced into slim see-through paper making up a 1700 leaves package, which is then hand-hammered for 50 minutes (for very thick parts and external gold-plating) or up to two hours for very thin material, such as mosaic. At the end of this process, every single leaf must be cut and packaged inside the hammered packet. Each leaf is removed from the packet, picked up with wooden pliers, placed onto a cushion, then blown on in the centre to flatten it down. The leaves are then cut into a perfect square with a carrello (a specific tool consisting of two blades on a wooden handle) and laid inside a silk-paper booklet.
Gold for cosmetic use, edible gold, and gold in artistic decorations. What are their differences, if any?
Each finished product is created with the same method, while packaging and the final sterilisation treatment are entirely different. Cosmetic and edible gold are wafer-thin, while artistic decorations feature five different kinds of thickness, from 24 kt (999,9°/00) and 17 diverse colours for different use.
Yours is an ancient craft: how do you combine tradition and innovation?
Tradition is instrumental in continuing and furthering the ancient gold-beating art and innovation will help keep the craft alive.
What was the strangest work you have ever created?
My most extravagant work was creating the “Shadows of gold” collection, the outcome of a collaboration with Dutch designer Kiki Van Eijk for the Doppia Firma project, in 2018. For this project, supported by Fondazione Cologni and Living Corriere della Sera, the designer was inspired by the reflection of sunlight on the Lagoon and by the beams filtering through the atelier windows, while the golden leaves, applied to marble, created a light and shadow play which conjured up a soft, evocative atmosphere.