Building Trades in Seventeenth-Century Bologna

Francesco Curti, Virtù et arti essercitate in Bologna (Trades Practiced in Bologna), Plate 6 (Building Trades), mid-17th century.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), M.69.7.1g / public domain
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This print – one of a group of twenty depicting various trades – provides an excellent overview of the different kinds of workers found at an early modern construction site. Here, the specific context is mid-seventeenth-century Bologna, and the artist Francesco Curti illustrates around a dozen specific jobs, most conveniently labeled.

Misuratore and architetto: detail of above image

The range runs from the foppish architect – identified as “architetto” on the sheet of paper he holds – through the masons (“muratori”), painter (“imbianchitore”), stonecutter (“tagliapietre”), and unskilled manual laborer (“manouale”) apparently mixing mortar. Other figures include donkey drivers (“asinari”), a sawyer (“segantino”), a kiln operator (“fornasaro“), a plaster maker (“gessaruolo”), and a carpenter (“falegname”). Many of these vocational designations varied regionally – for instance, the “tagliapietre” was elsewhere known as a “scalpellino” – but the jobs performed were similar all across Italy.

The man standing to the left of the architect is most likely a misuratore, a building surveyor who measures the completed work for calculating the materials used and thus the costs. He holds his attribute, the measuring rod, but is not explicitly labeled with his occupation. Nonetheless, his role was central to the successful practical and financial administration of the building site.

The image gives an unusual glimpse into an active cantiere in Seicento Italy, and can serve as a valuable illustrated glossary for countless construction documents of the period.

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Do note the related plate with artists – painter, sculptor, relief carver, and engraver – but also merchants, soldiers, artillery specialists, and a letter carrier!