The Making of the Gondola

Did you know that gondolas used to be painted with the colors of the families that owned them, before 1630? I was only after the plague that ravaged Venice in that year, that they started being painted black as a sign of mourning.

Did you know that a gondola is built using six different types of wood? Oak, elm, cherry, mahogany, fir, and larch are used for different parts of it, according to their mechanical characteristics.

Did you know that it takes about 400 man-hours of labor to build a gondola?

These are all things that I learned when I finally had the opportunity to visit one of the only two boatyards in Venice where gondolas are still build by hand, using the traditional methods.

This visit was a nice change from the routing of shooting Venice Carnival masks and I believe the guests of my workshop appreciated it very much. I’m definitely going to include this experience in future editions of the workshop.

All of this wouldn’t have been possible without the help of my good friend Silvano, my main source of insider info about all things Venetian. Thank you, my friend!

Measuring for cutting
Measuring for cutting
Cutting boards
Cutting boards
Cutting boards
Cutting boards
Tools of the trade
Tools of the trade
Detail of the decorations
Detail of the decorations
The coat of arms of the owner
The coat of arms of the owner
Painstakingly chiseling the decorations
Painstakingly chiseling the decorations
Painstakingly chiseling the decorations
Painstakingly chiseling the decorations
The chiseler's hands at work
The chiseler’s hands at work
Finishing the work with sandpaper
Finishing the work with sandpaper
Checking the tools
Checking the tools
The "forcole", where the oar pivots
The “forcole”, where the oar pivots
Semi-finished work
Semi-finished work
The interior of the boatyard
The interior of the boatyard
More gondolas in various stages of preparation
More gondolas in various stages of preparation
A work meeting
A work meeting
The master gondola maker
The master gondola maker
A traditional "squero" (boatyard) but not the same one
A traditional “squero” (boatyard) but not the same one
The Carnival of Venice 2020 Photo Tour
The Carnival of Venice 2020 Photography Tour

Comments 5

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      Good question. I didn’t ask, but if you ask, I’m sure he will say that he never got a chip of wood in his eyes in the 30+ years he’s been doing that job, so he won’t start wearing them now. Or something. 🙂

  1. Ugo, this is a fantastic photo essay. I love your b&w treatment of the subject matter. IMHO color would not have worked as well as b&w. I appreciate how you have captured the handiwork of these craftsmen. Probably they are a dying breed.

    1. Thank yo Ulrich. They might be a dying breed, but they told us how much a gondola sells for and how many hours it takes to make it. A simple math revealed that there’s good money to be made and the demand is there, not just in Venice. As long as the pay is good, I think there will be people willing to do this work.

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