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The Gatekeepers of Renaissance Florence

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"Michelangelo?" "No, Draghi!" "Brunelleschi?" "No, Fratini!" "d'Este?" "No, Desii!" Sì, esatto: Firenze, the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, boasts an array of talented contemporary artists producing striking, innovative works of art. Sculptor Oliviero Draghi, Architect/Illustrator Giorgio Fratini, Jewelry Designer Marla Desii, Architects Eleonora Neri and Elena Tarsi share a chic, enchanting art gallery on Via del Campuccio in the charming Oltrarno section of Firenze. Preserving an age-old tradition of artisanship, the artists of Campucc10 are the modern day gatekeepers of Renaissance Firenze.

The neighborhood across the Arno River is called the Oltrarno. Hidden from the tourist centric cafés and crowded piazzas of the city's center, this bohemian, off the beaten path neighborhood is home to sculptors, bookbinders and metalworkers. Catch a glimpse at the corner cafés where Fiorentini mingle over café macchiati. Skirt around our feathered friend sauntering through the open café door, weaving his way through the legs of locals in search of a scrap of pane. La Basilica di Santo Spirito, an understated architectural masterpiece hidden amidst the medieval streets, awaits your gaze as you turn a corner. Stop, pause and indulge in the lulling gurgle of the central fountain. Stroll three blocks beyond the piazza and stumble upon Via del Campuccio; the treasure of Campucc10 is revealed!

Campucc10 is located at Via del Campuccio 10. The name of the studio combines the name of the street with the numerical address (pas si simple). Oliviero Draghi, one of the five artists sharing the studio, is professor of Sculpture and Drawing at my educational organization, CAPA Firenze. One sunny day, Draghi enthusiastically led our class to his studio. Huddled in the small studio space, we marveled at the exquisite works on display in the gallery; the art demanded critical appraise.

Two days later, I returned to the studio. In the moments before I spoke with Draghi, Fratini and Desii, I marveled at the art on display: Fantastical miniature brass soldiers by Draghi; austerely elegant jewelry by Desii; tastefully restyled antique furniture by Neri and captivating illustrations by Fratini. In what felt like a scene out of Giacomo Puccini's opera La Bohème, I sat with the three bohemian artists on colorful wooden folding chairs designed by Neri. We sipped water out of antique grappa glasses as Fratini extinguished an afternoon cigarette.

Oliviero Draghi, a professional sculpture and native of Firenze, is influenced by the mystical allure of nature; this is evident in his whimsical artwork. His metalwork consists of brilliant miniature brass soldiers. These soldiers strongly convey a sense of movement, much like the sculptures of the great Michelangelo Buonarroti. Also on display are small wall mounted plaster busts. Each bust is a young girl who directly addresses the viewer; she appears with various hairstyles and facial expressions evoking feelings of curiosity, playfulness and wonderment. Draghi models each sculpture after his daughter. He slightly alters each scuplture to produce idiosyncratic, three-dimensional representations of childish demeanor.

Trained as a silversmith, Marla Desii fashions silver, gold and bronze jewelry by hand in the rear of the studio. A native of Tuscany, Desii fuses the traditional process of jewelry making with a contemporary flair to produce a new form of artistic expression. Desii also employs leather and rubber to fashion earrings, bracelets and necklaces that mimic forms found in nature. Her standout collection, "Austerity," consists of rings fashioned of silver, gold and bronze in a distinctly austere, cold appearance. The collection's design mirrors the dismal and pessimistic attitude of Italia's Austerità. Desii's "Austerity" is not merely a collection of sleek and stylish ornamental jewelry; rather, it conveys a powerful message regarding the zeitgeist of modern day Italia.

Born in Prato, Giorgio Fratini studied architecture in Florence before pursuing a career in illustration. His arresting illustrations decorate the walls of Campucc10. Elongated figures echoing Modigliani's femmes and stark black and white "Life Drawings" reminiscent of the work of Ben Shahn constitute Fratini's work. Fratini's graphic novel Sonno Elefante, a fictional meditation on life in post dictatorial Lisbon, is displayed on one of Eleonora Neri's refurbished tables. Flipping through the impressive comic book, I grasped the breadth of Fratini's distinctive oeuvre.

Waving goodbye to the artists, I walked along the narrow sidewalk of Via del Campuccio. The neighborhood is a sanctuary for these gifted artists to express their passions. I peeked into an open shop where an elderly man hovered over his craft, and, in that moment, felt as if I was in the presence of the great Michelangelo Buonarroti himself. The masters of Quattrocento may be long gone; yet, the artists of Firenze keep the flame of Renaissance artistry aglow.

Check out the links to Campucc10 and the artists who call it home:

Campucc10's: http://campucc10.blogspot.it/
Oliviero Draghi: http://www.olivierodraghi.it/
Marla Desii: http://marladesii.wordpress.com/
Giorgio Fratini: http://www.giofratini.com/