Italian handcrafts: Wrought iron of Sapinecchio
- WTI Magazine #113 Mar 15, 2019
The origins of the ancient art of wrought iron are interlinked with those of man, whose evolution was marked by his learning the secrets needed to use this metal. Despite being the most abundant element, historically, the spread of iron has been rather slow and difficult.
The iron age (1000 BC), which followed the stone age, was a huge step for man. Although metal weapons and tools have been known about for already a couple of millennia, the history of wrought iron came about many centuries later, when man realised that molten iron mass had to be reheated in order to then be forged and moulded for various needs.
As shown in many episodes of Hellenic mythology, the figure of the blacksmith – surrounded by a magical aura – soon took on great importance in civil organisation and society.
In around 1000 BC, the Umbrians descended on Italy and settled in Romagna, intermixing with the pre-existing Mediterranean population. In 900 BC, knowledge of iron manufacturing by this Indo-European people, originating from the Transdanubian steppes, led to the birth of the Villanovan Civilisation, which later extended across much of Central Italy.
In 700 BC, the iron mines located along the Tyrrhenian coast encouraged the first expansion of Etruscan civilisation that spanned from the Maremma inland to Romagna, where Rimini, Ravenna and Spina emerged as merchant towns and ports with a direct link to Greece, which was where the majority of arms and artefacts forged by the Etruscans were sent.
The link between Etruria and these was solidified by Via Sapinate which ran from the Savio valley (or “Sapis” meaning “salty”) ruled by the Umbrian tribes of the Sapinati (“Sapinates”), who settled especially in the capital Sapigno (“Sapinium”), Sarsina (“Sassina”) and Sapinicchio (“Sapiniculum” or “Piccola Sapigno”), which today has just one inhabitant who is a blacksmith sculptor.
After the barbaric invasions, it was not until the new millennium and cultural and economic rebirth of Europe, that we would once again see blacksmiths working in full swing. Convents became centres disseminating the art of wrought iron, which in turn became fully-fledged schools.
The work of a master blacksmith is characterised by a respect for tradition, technology now widely available, and creativity combined with ongoing research.
Sensitivity towards beauty is what guides the craftsman’s skilled and experienced hands in the creation of fine artistic ironwork, whose beauty is the result of its exclusivity: every piece is unique and unrepeatable.
The production is vast, ranging from furnishings, decorative items, accessories for interiors, through to exterior objects for the garden, all made on design aiming to recover and remain loyal to past traditions, while being able to evolve and interpret modern needs.
The protection of the culture and traditions of the past, particularly the art of iron, is demonstrated by the growing demand for the restoration of olden ironwork.
Production stages and tools
In antiquity, wrought iron was produced by reduction with hematite or limonite mineral in chestnut coal-fuelled draught furnaces with bellows. In certain circumstances, these are still used today. With regard to the raw material, by and large, industrially produced iron is currently used, being purchased with various finishes.
Upstream of the individual products, there is always a carefully designed project. To obtain the wrought iron, the material is heated with a coal-fuelled draught foundry, worked and forged with hot processing tools built by the blacksmith himself. It is then shaped with an anvil and hammer on a wooden base, in order not to leave any distinguishing features, and lastly it is assembled.
The Production Area
Sapinecchio is the name of an ancient farmhouse located in the hills of Romagna in inland Cesena, just a few miles from the sea and the mountains of the Tuscan-Romagnolo Apennines.
In 1926, Don Pietro Ravaioli used it as his home and, at his own expense and hard work, built a parish there. His passion for photography and, especially, for manufacturing wrought iron were what drove this priest who, in addition to passing down his method of ironwork, has left behind – we like to think – a positive energy that, still today, is a great source of inspiration. The small church, now deconsecrated, houses a permanent exhibition of sculptures, artefacts and objects in wrought iron and other forged metals.
A few years ago, lead by fate and strong determination, an artist decided to take possession of the site and make it his home and workplace. A large and well-equipped workshop was created, ideal for manufacturing wrought iron, for restoring and forging metals, as well as for other art forms.
Its superb location makes it the perfect place for a pleasant stay combined with a work and study experience. In “Sapinecchio”, a great deal of events have already been held: including the production of iron sculptures, forging exhibitions, reduction of iron ore, as well as design and manufacturing courses.
Camera di Commercio di Forlì-Cesena