The art of caleghèri, a craft that gave prestige to the Republic of San Marco

9 January 2023

Venice, 9 January 2023 - The legend has it that the evangelist Mark, after his trip to Cyrenaica, arrived in Alexandria where he was forced to look for a shoemaker because one of his sandals had broken. He went to the workshop of Aniano who got injured while repairing Mark’s shoes. Mark miraculously healed him and Aniano decided to convert himself and got baptized. Since then, Sant’Aniano has been considered as the patron saint of the Venetian shoemakers.  

The art of caleghèri - shoemakers - has been one of the most relevant craft activities for the Serenissima. Its presence was first documented in Venice in 1268 and bears the date of 17 November 1271, when the statute of the caleghèri - the Capitulare Callegariorum- was written. It contains additions due to the ruling decrees of the old justice – until 6 July 1313.  

The caleghèri gathered in a Brotherhood, which protected their art and craft. Shoemakers who made shoes, boots and other generic shoes, had strict rules regulating their activity. In fact, they could pack shoes exclusively with new leather, supplied by the Magistrate in the Beccarie. In addition to the caleghèri, in Venice worked the ballasts and slippers, who repaired the old footwear and only had to use second-hand leather, the çocholarii - manufacturers of clogs – patitari - who made shoes or wooden soles adapted then to the foot with leather strips – and the solarii - artisans who drew the soles of the shoes on pieces of leather and from these then cut them.  

Since 1446 the art had the school of devotion in a building purchased in Campo San Tomà, in the district of San Polo. The building was entirely renovated to make it more suitable for the needs of the art. The scoletta is now home to the public Library. As evidence of the existence of these important artisans, there are still reliefs representing shoes of the time on the lintel of the door, while above the main portal there is a bas-relief representing Saint Mark’s in the act of healing Sant’Antonio.  

In 1773 in Venice, there were 1172 caleghèri and ballasts – 338 masters, 653 workers and 181 apprentices – who worked in 340 workshops. It was therefore the art with the major members after the marangoni, the carpenters, and the tessitori de seta – weavers . In order to be admitted to the art, they had to be 18 years old male. Moreover, they have to have exercised a period of servitude, pass a test by making three pairs of shoes both for women and men, and eventually pay a common registration fee to the Brotherhood.  

Traditionally, the caleghèri every year gave a pair of prestigious clogs to the dogaressa. These clogs needed to have - at least at the time of the doge Lorenzo Priuli in office from 14 June 1556 to 17 August 1559 – the same value of 22 Venetian liras.  

During the Sensa fair, the Brotherhood exhibited its works in Piazza San Marco, in a specific point that was marked by white marble lists. Also, that of the caleghèri followed the fate of the other schools after the Napoleonic decree in 1807, even if at the end of 1700 the number of shoemakers operating in the city had slightly decreased, falling to 966. 

In Venice still today, there are several traces of this noble art, which over time has moved along the Riviera del Brenta thus influencing the growth of this area. Two shoemakers are present in the archway of the entrance portal of the Basilica of San Marco, one with a shoe and the other with a boot, while in Palazzo Ducale, there is a shoemaker with bib and apron and the instruments of work. And again, in the church of Santo Stefano, the altar of the Blessed Virgin Annunziata is decorated with four small shoe-shaped shields. Here, from the end of the fourteenth century, were found the German caleghèri, who had separated from the Venetian brothers. In Calle de le Boteghe, near San Samuele where the seat of the German caleghères was located, you can still see the bas-reliefs in Istrian stone reproducing men’s shoes used at the time, a clear evidence of a craftsmanship that was able to give shine with his work to the Republic of San Marco. 


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