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press release

The Master's Touch: Essential elements of artisanal excellence

The Michelangelo Foundation for Creativity and Craftsmanship is publishing the first English edition of The Master’s Touch: Essential elements of artisanal excellence proposing a common language for spotting excellence in craftsmanship.

Geneva, 7 July 2017—As part of its quest to define and support excellence in the applied arts, The Michelangelo Foundation for Creativity and Craftsmanship is publishing the first English edition of The Master’s Touch: Essential elements of artisanal excellence. The work, authored by Alberto Cavalli, with Giuditta Comerci and Giovanna Marchello, which lays the groundwork for a common language to describe the distinguished work of master artisans everywhere. The Foundation hopes that the criteria for craft excellence identified in the book will be the start of a conversation around the definition of quality in craftsmanship.

Elke Dannenberg, master porcelain decorator from the Meissen Manufactory. © Tomas Bertelsen

The ground-breaking study, originally published as Il Valore del Mestiere, takes a close look at what determines excellence in craftsmanship and identifies the key qualities shared by some of Europe’s finest master artisans. Through systematic research and analysis of relevant terminology, legislation, public opinion and in-depth interviews with master artisans, the authors identified 11 specific criteria for excellence and developed a corresponding assessment tool that can be refined with use over time.

The recurring terms underpinning craft excellence are:
• authenticity
• craftsmanship
• innovation
• originality
• territory
• training
• competence
• creativity
• interpretation
• talent
• tradition

The criteria include qualities related to an artisan’s skills, qualities related to a particular region or territory, and qualities concerned with the product itself.

“Artisanal excellence is a human aspiration and achievement that is deeply valued but often difficult to measure,” explains Franco Cologni, the Foundation’s co-founder and an Italian entrepreneur and leading cultural authority. “The Master’s Touch gives us a brand new and welcome method for identifying the qualities that master artisans should possess.

Elena Dal Cortivo, violin-maker specialized in parchment rosettes. © Tomas Bertelsen Michelangelo Foundation

In turn, recognizing masters as such gives us a powerful means for raising their profile and securing their vital role in our economies and our cultures.”

Quality is a key ingredient of success in all fields and this book provides those interested in craftsmanship with a way to think objectively about quality in this realm. Once the criteria were identified, the authors tested their practical application through in-depth interviews with recognized masters in Italy. An epilogue in the English edition features additional interviews with master artisans in France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, which allowed for the further testing of the terms, proving them to be robust and meaningful across these six different cultures.

Alberto Cavalli, Executive Director of the Michelangelo Foundation and the book’s lead author, stresses that the aim of the work was to “create a set of criteria that could be used with confidence and ease across the many types of artistic crafts and across cultures by those who seek to safeguard and promote fine craftsmanship.”

Keith Levett, Livery tailor on Savile Row. © Tomas Bertelsen

The 22 European masters interviewed represent a broad range of high-quality craftsmanship, from ceramics and violin-making to fine tailoring and jewellery by way of metal sculpture and cabinetmaking. Asked to speak to the importance of the various criteria in their work, their testimony grounds the criteria in lived experience, affirming and enhancing their relevance.

“This book takes a significant step forward to come up with an objective and methodological approach to assessing excellence in the artistic crafts,” Barbara Geary Truan, Secretary-General of the Michelangelo Foundation says. “The reason this is so important is that it gives us a way to identify our master artisans and to hold them up as inspirational figures, especially to the next generation.”

She adds: “The hope of the authors, and of the Michelangelo Foundation, which has supported the English edition of the book, is that recognising and promoting the best individual artisans will give renewed impetus to the entire artistic crafts sector in Europe and beyond.”


The Master’s Touch: Essential elements of artisanal excellence by Alberto Cavalli with Giuditta Comerci and Giovanna Marchello
Foreword by Stefano Micelli
Translated by Alphaville
Published by Marsilio with the assistance of the Michelangelo Foundation
Paperback 416pp
Available in selected bookshops, through on-line retailers and on www.marsilioeditori.it

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