Rialto 79: an interview with Dario and Matteo Belardinelli
At the foot of the Rialto Bridge, on the side of Campo San Giacometto, there is a small glass jewellery shop, with a beautiful window framed by a wooden structure from the 1930s, which carries that alluring patina of time that makes it really charming. It’s called Rialto 79, and it’s attached to the church of San Giacometto, which was founded back in the year 421 and is considered the most ancient in Venice.
Rialto 79 has kept the original look of the shop, similar to those on the bridge, and –to my eyes- very pretty and perfectly blending with the surrounding. Currently, the hands and minds behind Rialto 79 are the brothers Matteo and Dario Belardinelli. Venetian born, they both studied at art school and, although quite different both personality and look-wise, I could feel how close they are and the passion they put into what they do. They explained that the business was started by their father Armando back in 1986, when he collected and was donated by different Murano glass masters, a wide variety of both ancient and 'freshly-made' beads. His wife Luisa Borsetto helped by stringing the beads, and you can still meet her today as she keeps working and will surely conquer you with her elegant ways.
Matteo and Dario grew up in this environment and have been part of the Rialto scene since forever. Matteo, the elder, is focused especially on jewellery and bead making, whereas Dario has chosen to express himself through glass fusion and creates beautiful objects for the home-décor.
Here below our brief conversation:
1) Matteo, when did you start working glass beads?
Well, I don’t remember the precise year, but it was a very long time ago. I studied at an art institute and thanks to my family I had the opportunity to meet and work with several Murano glass masters, so I became familiar with the different techniques and styles. Over time, I have developed a preference for beads in blown glass, light and delicate, although all beads are fascinating. We tend to take them for granted, but each bead treasures a story and a journey through space and time, creating connections between the Mediterranean and Venice and between past and present. It is difficult not to feel overwhelmed by all this, but in the end my will to learn more and reinterpret wins, and everyday I press the pedal of the gas pump with my right foot, and use my hands to shape new pieces.
2) Do you sell exclusively your own beads?
No, we have always worked in collaboration with other Muranese artists and we want to continue this family tradition. It is a great way to exchange ideas and improve my skill, and it provides me with lots of inspiration. Venice, as a city, largely depends on human interaction, mutual support, and solidarity, and I can’t imagine myself giving it up, besides…it’s a great excuse to go to Murano every week! As already mentioned, we also give great importance to ancient beads, like the Rosetta pearl, which encloses a twelve-point star design and is obtained through a perforated cane. History has it that it was created by Marietta Barovier at the end of the 15th century and used in place of money to trade with Africa, the Indies, and the Americas. I am also fascinated by the fact that this bead was created by a woman, which may seem normal nowadays but was truly ahead of time for those years. Furnaces are still an environment governed mainly by men, but Marietta Barovier proves how important the role of women has always been for the city, and she can be considered the first female entrepreneur in the glass industry.
3) What inspires your work, Matteo?
Uh… everything! Life is inspiring in all its forms, and I have the fortune to live in a city that offers prompts at every corner. I find inspiration from the people that surround me, but also from art works I see in museums and around the city, or sometimes it is a current piece of news that triggers my imagination. I produce jewellery with many different women in mind, of all ages, nationalities, and culture, and my goal is to create pieces that result timeless and highlight the personality of the person wearing them, with the unique touch of a handmade jewel. Together with my brother, we like to apply mixed media, so we have different collections, some with inserts in papier-mache or different metals. Among the pearls in papier-mache, one that is obtaining a lot of success is with an old print of the globe map known as Erdapfel (German word meaning earth apple), which was designed in the late 15th century by Martin Behaim, thus in the same period as the Rosetta bead.
At the moment, I am also working on a collection of rings and earring dedicated to Kandinsky, whose work I would often admire in the nearby Ca’ Pesaro Museum.
4) What about you, Dario?
I am the youngest, so for me it is normal to deal with beads, glass, and also with the more boring paper work of a family business. I went to art school (Liceo Artistico, whereas Matteo went to Istituto d’Arte) and have been going to Murano all my life! I have always been intrigued by the chemistry intrinsic in the colours of glass, it almost seems as if each colour has its own personality and a unique way to interact with its brothers, some are more stable, reliable, while others can be really difficult to treat. Anyway, it is never the fault of glass when a mistake occurs, but rather of the person who hasn't been able to understand the thousand hues of its nature. Let's say that working with this matter is like a personal growth process through alchemy. When I work, I keep next to me a copy book where I note what happens at different temperatures and blending different colours.
5) I may seem repetitive, but what inspires you Dario?
Like my brother, life!!! My family, my daughter, nature, and – obviously – Venice. We see lots of artists, contemporary and from the past, from all over the world. Thanks to Biennale, the Musei Civici, and all the collateral events that take place in the city… we are provided with plenty of perspectives on world matters and artistic trends. I belong to a postmodern generation, so I feel attracted by the bright and lively colours of pop art as much as by the elegant minimalism of oriental art, or the work of the Murano glass masters we collaborate with. When I sell one of my pieces, I hope that it will add joy to the home of the person who chose it, bring back happy memories of their visit to Venice, and convey the timelessness of an object designed and created by hand.
6) What does living in Venice mean for you, Dario and Matteo?
M: I can’t imagine myself living anywhere else. I was born here, went to school here, continued the family business and have two daughters and one son. I believe it is an incredible place to be, we walk everywhere and there is an innate sense of community. Unfortunately I have witnessed how much it has changed and I must say I don’t agree with everything that happens, but despite this, it remains my city and, luckily, my job gives me the possibility to enjoy one of its best aspects.
D: Yes, it’s true. Being Venetian is a strange thing. One kind of fights it as a teenager, but then the natural slowness of the lagoon, the reflections of the water... it’s truly unique. To me, living in Venice is a life choice, and although at times it can be challenging, I find it has all I need.
I am very grateful for Matteo and Dario's time and our informal chat. For me, as a Venetian, it is always a delight to discover what their is behind a bead and imagine what might have been the route followed by an ancient pearl before arriving between my hands, or what triggered the imagination of current designers. I do hope you enjoyed the interview and will visit them when back in Venice
Bye for now and talk soon!
Address 1: Ruga dei Oresi 79, 30125 Venezia
Address 2: Ramo Terzo del Parangon 506, 30125 Venezia
The original shop is just next to the San Giacometto's Church, while the new workshop is at less than a minute walk, in Campo Rialto Novo (San Polo, 516)