Venetian Guilds: some fun facts


Last Updated on November 23, 2023 by Laura Teso

I came up with the idea to write a post about Venetian Guilds after visiting the Correr Museum. The Museum displays many ancient guilds painted wooden signs. Each profession had in fact its own sign with the symbols of the specific art or craft. I found them fascinating and I thought to learn more about the Venetian guilds.

A little complaint (you can skip it )Unfortunately I can not publish a post about the entire Correr Museum because, 2 weeks after my visit, some rooms of the museum set-up have been modified. Consequently my post would not have been reliable. I tried to contact the Museum asking if it was possible for me to visit the museum again without paying the full price ticket, that is quite pricey cause it also includes Doge Palace, Archaeological Museum and Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana (I already visited them and already wrote about them in the blog). I received no answer whatsoever so no post for now, sorry. To think that I already have it half ready!! Grrrr! Ok, sorry for the outburst!

What are the guilds?

Le corporazioni delle arti e dei mestieri, arts and crafts corporations, were associations very popular starting from the XII century in many European cities (each city with different procedures, timings and peculiarities) to supervise and protect workers belonging to the same professional category.

These guilds controlled:

  • raw materials, tools, techniques and consequently the quality of the artefacts
  • equality among members to prevent actions of unfair competition
  • training new members through apprenticeships
  • jurisdiction over its members, normally divided into masters, apprentices and laborers.

In Venice there were once several “brotherhoods”. The most important and powerful were the religious ones, you may have heard their name, Scuole Grandi (Great Schools, like the famous School of San Rocco or San Giovanni Evangelista). Then there were the Minor Schools (associations of arts and crafts). In 1510 there were in Venice 210 different schools. Each of them had to be registered and to present to the Venetian Senate the statute, called Mariegola. Unlike other city corporations, Venetian guilds never had much political power. The members enrollment was normally open to all but an entrance fee, called benintrada, was required.

Some of the Venetian guilds

Calegheri: shoemakers who used new leather to create footwear (unlike the Zavateri, who used old leather for clogs and slippers).

Calegheri, Shoemakers - Venetian Guilds
Calegheri, Shoemakers – Venetian Guilds

Cartoleri: craftsmen who produced (painting them by hand) and sell playing cards.

Compravendi pesse: fish sellers. In order to join the guild, the applicants had to come from some specific Venice areas, be more than 50 years old and have been fishing for at least 20 years.

Cristaleri de vero: manufacturers and vendors of glassware, who gradually moved to Murano, because an island would have been less dangerous in case of fire.

Fritoleri: they prepared fried foods, sold in the furatole, some sort of diners of the era. They also prepared soups and for this reason they competed with the Luganegheri (those who prepared sausages and other kinds of food), who also prepared soups. The fritoleri were 70, one for each district of Venice. Their job and their workplace, a wooden shak called casello, was inherited.

Fritoleri-frittermakers, Venetian Guilds
Fritoleri-frittermakers, Venetian Guilds

Frutarioli: fruit sellers. If they sold citrus fruits their name was Naranzeri, if they sold vegetables and herbs Erbarioli. Frutarioli could also sell eggs, but never more than 300 at a time. Their goods were sold mainly on the banks of St. Mark’s and Rialto, but then transported by water along the canals of the whole city. Sometimes they also sold directly from the boats to the ladies who let down a basket through the window.

Libreri: bookbinders, printers and booksellers. I wonder if Arianna, who still prints using 1400’s techniques, can be considered a member of this guild… Do you remember her? No? Well, you have to read my post about Plum Plum Creations!

Libreri, Venetian Guilds
Libreri, Venetian Guilds

Mureri: masons. Their guild was one of the most ancient in town (before 1244).

Passamaneri, Venetian Guilds
Passamaneri, Venetian Guilds

Passamaneri: craftsmen who produced and sold gold and silk passementerie, ribbons and vergoleri (silk cords used to tie hair).

Osti e caneveri: the innkeepers and wine cellars responsibles. By law (1455) the inns in Venice could never exceed the number of 20.

Pestrineri: those who processed and sold milk and dairy products.

Pestrineri, Venetian Guilds
Pestrineri, Venetian Guilds

Pistori: those who cooked the bread, but could not sell it (the Forneri did that).

Pistori, Venetian Guilds
Pistori, Venetian Guilds
Spitieri and Aromatari: pharmacists and herbalists
Spitieri and Aromatari: pharmacists and herbalists

Spitieri and Aromatari: pharmacists and herbalists that prepared medicines of various kinds. Only the best of them could prepare the famous theriac, a compound made of 64 ingredients, used as antidote to poison. Among its ingredients there was snake venom. They extracted it from Euganean Hills vipers.

Terasseri: craftsmen who built floors. Since XV century they used a specific and unique technique called tarasso (hence their name), using a mixture of pebbles, marble shards and broken bricks. Thanks to this method the Venetian palaces flooring was elastic, so to adapt to the continuous movements due to the water.

Testori de seda: Craftsmen producing silk and gold fabrics, one of the most prestigious art in Venice.

Testori de seda, Venetian Guilds
Testori de seda, Venetian Guilds

I don’t know if anyone will find this post compelling but I’m happy, since I learned many interesting and funny things about Venetian Guilds

Venetian Guilds Sources

Sources for the post Venetian Guilds where you can find further information (in Italian):

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