written by:
October 13, 2010

While in Italy checking out the latest in tiles at Cersaie in Bologna, we took a day to train over to Venice and roam the waterways and were given the opportunity to visit the only foundry in the city: Domus Orsoni. Here's what we saw at the 122-year-old establishment and hub of mosaic magic.

The foundry at Domus Orsoni was opened in 1888 by Angelo Orsoni, and his great-grandson, Lucio, has carried on the family tradition and is now the honorary president. Here, he stands in front of a 24k gold leaf mosaic, and explains how his family foundry
The foundry at Domus Orsoni was opened in 1888 by Angelo Orsoni, and his great-grandson, Lucio, has carried on the family tradition and is now the honorary president. Here, he stands in front of a 24k gold leaf mosaic, and explains how his family foundry has made glass for the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and the Roman Pool at Hearst Castle in San Simeon.
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Smalti is a specialized glass used in many mosaics, made from a mixture of sand, soda, stabilizing compounds and mineral oxides, which add color. Here is a multi-hued pile of crucibles, or pots, where the ingredients are melted together to produce “pizzas
Smalti is a specialized glass used in many mosaics, made from a mixture of sand, soda, stabilizing compounds and mineral oxides, which add color. Here is a multi-hued pile of crucibles, or pots, where the ingredients are melted together to produce “pizzas”, or slabs.
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There are 2800 colors in the Orsoni color library—100 of them are standard, and the rest made exclusively for clients and specific projects—and the smalti lines the shelves and fills the bags from floor to ceiling.
There are 2800 colors in the Orsoni color library—100 of them are standard, and the rest made exclusively for clients and specific projects—and the smalti lines the shelves and fills the bags from floor to ceiling.
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When these large, "pizza" slabs are cut into smaller smalti tesserae, it's actually the interior edge—not the large surface—that becomes the exposed element. Generally, artists and designers to receive smalti in its smaller form. For large decorative surf
When these large, "pizza" slabs are cut into smaller smalti tesserae, it's actually the interior edge—not the large surface—that becomes the exposed element. Generally, artists and designers to receive smalti in its smaller form. For large decorative surfaces, these smalti piastrina—which have a smooth exterior surface—are used.
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Bags and bags of brightly-colored smalti fill up the floor space of the color library. Once they’re in this form, they’re ready to be shipped directly to artists, designers who either use those pieces intact, or in many instances cut them to size with a h
Bags and bags of brightly-colored smalti fill up the floor space of the color library. Once they’re in this form, they’re ready to be shipped directly to artists, designers who either use those pieces intact, or in many instances cut them to size with a hammer and hardie.
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In the foundry, a thin layer of gold leaf is laid out before it is placed on a conveyor belt and covered with molten, melted glass.
In the foundry, a thin layer of gold leaf is laid out before it is placed on a conveyor belt and covered with molten, melted glass.
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After a gold leaf layer is laid on the conveyor, this man drops a dollop of molten glass atop. Together, they are flattened out into a round slab called 'piastre di oro da spelare,' or "plates of gold with edges.'
After a gold leaf layer is laid on the conveyor, this man drops a dollop of molten glass atop. Together, they are flattened out into a round slab called 'piastre di oro da spelare,' or "plates of gold with edges.'
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Here, the piastre di oro da spelare are flipped over and laid out flat to cool.
Here, the piastre di oro da spelare are flipped over and laid out flat to cool.
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A jewel-toned pile of piastre di oro da spelare.
A jewel-toned pile of piastre di oro da spelare.
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A woman scores each fired slab, then taps off the rounded edges with a steel chisel called a martellina. The grooved grid of 16 3/4-inch-squares is then sent to be cut.
A woman scores each fired slab, then taps off the rounded edges with a steel chisel called a martellina. The grooved grid of 16 3/4-inch-squares is then sent to be cut.
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Each 3/4-inch-square tessera is cut by hand on a machine that was adapted by a traditional sewing machine.
Each 3/4-inch-square tessera is cut by hand on a machine that was adapted by a traditional sewing machine.
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Antonella Gallenda has been working with Lucio since she was 16 years old. She teaches mosaic classes at the foundry (three, five, and ten day courses accredited with IIDA, ASID, and IDEC) and works on commissions using tiles made at Orsoni.
Antonella Gallenda has been working with Lucio since she was 16 years old. She teaches mosaic classes at the foundry (three, five, and ten day courses accredited with IIDA, ASID, and IDEC) and works on commissions using tiles made at Orsoni.
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Opulence: This has it. Above the ground floor gallery and offices, Domus Orsoni is a full-service bed and breakfast. Each of the five bedrooms and bathrooms are decorated in Orsoni mosaics by Italian architects and artists, natch. Here’s a view of the flo
Opulence: This has it. Above the ground floor gallery and offices, Domus Orsoni is a full-service bed and breakfast. Each of the five bedrooms and bathrooms are decorated in Orsoni mosaics by Italian architects and artists, natch. Here’s a view of the floor to ceiling gold tiles that lined one of the bathrooms.
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Gondoliers taking a quick minute to relax, catch up, and read the paper.
Gondoliers taking a quick minute to relax, catch up, and read the paper.
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A canal-level view from the water taxi in a city not designed for the easily seasick.
A canal-level view from the water taxi in a city not designed for the easily seasick.
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In Italia, the horned cows say ‘MU!’ This strange—and strangely enthusiastic—beast was my favorite bit of street art in Venice, caught along one of the many (many many many) canals.
In Italia, the horned cows say ‘MU!’ This strange—and strangely enthusiastic—beast was my favorite bit of street art in Venice, caught along one of the many (many many many) canals.
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The foundry at Domus Orsoni was opened in 1888 by Angelo Orsoni, and his great-grandson, Lucio, has carried on the family tradition and is now the honorary president. Here, he stands in front of a 24k gold leaf mosaic, and explains how his family foundry
The foundry at Domus Orsoni was opened in 1888 by Angelo Orsoni, and his great-grandson, Lucio, has carried on the family tradition and is now the honorary president. Here, he stands in front of a 24k gold leaf mosaic, and explains how his family foundry has made glass for the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and the Roman Pool at Hearst Castle in San Simeon.

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