The renaissance of fountain pens

Mechanical watches. Vinyl records. Fountain pens. All things that were invented at some time in the past, developed into thriving industries, and were then swept away by new technology. The arrival of cheap quartz watches in the 1970s was like the cataclysm that led to the end of the dinosaurs, and it caused about two-thirds of Swiss watchmaking brands to go out of business. But mechanical watchmaking survived, and developed into something different: luxury products. Something similar happened for pens.

Fountain pens swept away by the biro

After centuries of history, the ballpoint pen changed handwriting for ever. Before the biro, every child learnt how to write with a pen. After, it became an unfamiliar object, used by presidents and by ordinary people only when signing documents in a notary’s office – using the notary’s pen. Digital technology also had a massive effect. Just as our smartphones show us the time far more accurately than any mechanical watch, computers have lessened our reliance on handwriting. Journalists can take notes on their laptop, artists can make their sketches on an iPad. Handwriting has been relegated to shopping lists. And so it come as a surprise to find that sales of quality fountain pens are rising.

Morgan pen craftsmanship
Morgan pen craftsmanship

Rediscovering the pleasure of writing

For new enthusiasts, writing with a fountain pen is like a rediscovery, a sensorial experience. It’s a bit like wine-tasting. Learning about how to recognize the hundreds of nuances of fragrance opens up a world of unexpected fascination and from then on, our enjoyment of everyday scents – a cup of tea, newly-mown grass, the earthy tang of a ploughed field – becomes an appreciation of beauty. The ink used for a fountain pen has an unmistakable smell, but it’s the way that the letters are formed on the paper that makes it special. The pen glides over the paper, the friction reduced by the perfectly-crafted tip of the nib, and by the liquid ink. No pressure is required, and you appreciate the instrument’s perfect weight and balance.

The action is concentrated on a tiny speck of metal

A pen is a very personal possession. You can choose from different materials, such as resin, wood, celluloid, ebonite, and metal, with all sorts of decorative effects. The weight and size of the pen are questions of taste. The fundamental component is the nib, which is generally gold in a quality pen, but it can also be made of steel or titanium. All nibs are tipped with a hard alloy made using metals from the platinum group, often described as iridium but usually made from an alloy containing osmium, ruthenium or tungsten. Nibs differ in width and flexibility. Most have round tips, varying from Extra Fine to Broad, that create uniform lines. Italic nibs, or stub nibs, have wider tips that create wide vertical strokes and narrow horizontal strokes, giving a calligraphic character to handwriting. Most nibs are firm, while semi-flex or flex ribs splay with pressure and so can be used to vary line thickness at will.

A wide range of choices

There are many filling systems, with some pens fitted with high-capacity vacuum arrangements that draw in a large quantity of ink with a single stroke of the plunger, making them ideal for journalists and novelists. The other major choices are between Japanese pens, typically smaller and with nibs of superb quality, and Western products; and between series-production and artisanal pens. For some of the smaller penmakers, just about all their products are customized for each customer.

Some pen-making brands – Aurora

The story of Italian brand Aurora is a good example of how fortunes have changed over the decades in this particular sector. The company was founded in 1919 in Turin, and it was part of an industrial cluster that developed in the 1910s, with many businesses changing production from buttons – no longer profitable – to pens, made using the same materials. Dozens of companies specialized in fountain pens, most of them converting to ball-point and felt-tip pens in the 1950s. The cluster’s total production reached 8 million pens a day, but from the 1980s, most companies suffered competition from Asia and today only a few still remain. Aurora is one of them, which continues to do what it has always done: making pens of medium, high and superlative quality. Looking forward to its anniversary, the company has opened its museum Officina della Scrittura, which illustrates the history of writing in a space of over 2,500 square metres.
In the photo, the superb Aurora 936, a solid silver pen with flame guilloché engraving, made to celebrate the 80th anniversary and still in production, with solid gold nib.

Aurora 936
Aurora 936


Montegrappa was founded in the north Italian town of Bassano del Grappa in 1912, and over the years its pens have been used by writers including Paulo Coelho and Ernest Hemingway, and personalities such as Pope John Paul II, King Juan Carlos of Spain and many others. For a few years, from 2000 to 2009, Montegrappa became part of the Richemont group to which Montblanc also belongs, but it has now returned to independence, owned by the Aquila family. In addition to its regular and special edition pens, its Atelier provides a service that enables anyone to create a personalized pen, with an emblem or motif painted onto the disc on the cap, or engraved or painted onto the barrel and cap.

Montegrappa fountain pen
Montegrappa fountain pen


Montblanc was founded in Hamburg in 1906 specifically to manufacture pens, and the company’s name comes from the name of one of its first models, introduced in 1910. Today Montblanc has watchmaking plants in Switzerland and a leather workshop in Florence, but all its pens are still hand-crafted in Hamburg. Its most famous pen, the Meisterstück, has a nib hand-sculpted from gold, and each piece is tested before leaving the works. The nib grinder even listens to the sound each nib makes on the paper to ensure optimum smoothness. A recent special edition of the Meisterstück is dedicated to Le Petit Prince, with cap and barrel in night-blue resin creating a contrast with the platinum-coated fittings, and a sentence from the novel engraved into the crown.

Montblanc Petit Prince fountain pen
Montblanc Petit Prince fountain pen

Graf von Faber-Castell

Faber-Castell has a history that runs back to 1761, founded at Stein near Nuremberg by Kaspar Faber and still today a family-controlled business. Its products comprise pencils, office supplies and art products, and its finest pens are made under the brand name Graf von Faber-Castell. One of their latest products is a pen made in partnership with Bentley, with the elegance and meticulous detailing that hallmark the brand’s cars. One of the distinctive characteristics of Graf von Faber-Castell pens is the spring-loaded clip, and in this piece it is accompanied by platinum-finished coatings and a case in hand-sewn Italian calfskin.

Graf von Faber Castell for Bentley Sequin Blue Fountain Pen
Graf von Faber Castell for Bentley Sequin Blue Fountain Pen

Edison Pen Co.

The Edison Pen Company is on a different scale, founded by Brian Gray in 2007 in his garage in Huron, Ohio, and now a thriving business. All their pens are hand-crafted, no two are the same, and so there is ample opportunity for personalization.

Edison Pen Co. Pearl Limited Edition
Edison Pen Co. Pearl Limited Edition


Some of the finest fountain pens in the world come from Japan, and these products are exceptional for their fine, very smooth-writing nibs, and for the artistry of construction, with hand-turned barrels finished with multiple layers of Urushi lacquer. Nakaya was founded in the 1990s by Toshiya Nakata, whose family owned the large company Platinum Pen Co. He signed up pensioners who had retired from Platinum, and began a small-scale production of hand-crafted fountain pens. Today a Nakaya pen is a coveted item for pen collectors, with prices from around $650 to in excess of $10,000.

Nakaya fountain pen, Minamoto no Tametomo 3
Nakaya fountain pen, Minamoto no Tametomo 3

Ferruccio Mengaroni, the artist whose ego was a little too much

Ferruccio Mengaroni’s ideas were always big. Almost a century before the giant lipsticks and hamburgers of Pop artist Claes van Oldenburg, he was making larger-than-life objects using ceramics. There is a giant crab in the Castello Sforzesco Museum in Milan, and a large Medusa in the Pesaro Museum, that possibly represent the pinnacle of his career.

Ferruccio Mengaroni's ceramics works in Pesaro
Ferruccio Mengaroni’s ceramics works in Pesaro

Which had started many years before. A restless and prolematic child (born on 12 October 1875), his father had secured him an apprenticeship with the ceramist Molaroni, Pesaro, probably out of desperation. Young Ferruccio spent 12 years there – from when he was 12 to 24 – learning all that he could about clay, glazes and firing. He was also a great experimenter. He threw all sorts of materials into the kiln with his pieces, and, whether by design or chance, he discovered a way of creating pieces with a very antique-looking patina. Repro Renaissance pieces were all the rage at the turn of the century, but Ferruccio found that he could earn much more by passing off his pieces as genuine 16th century. There are probably still some of his majolica plates in various museums of the world; just one of the documented incidents concerns the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge that purchased such a piece in 1926, only to discover its real origin some years later.

Plates by Ferruccio Mengaroni
Plates by Ferruccio Mengaroni

But it seems that he made his forgeries only between about 1900 and 1910, possibly to help finance his new factory in Pesaro, making fine tableware. In 1915 he opened his ‘Studio delle Ceramiche Artistiche’ in Pesaro, with the trademark of a rampant griffin and the initials SDCA, and sometimes MM, standing for Mengaroni & Mancini (the latter was his friend with whom he set up his ceramics studio). He married and had children, and his family life was relatively happy until he discovered that his wife had had the children bapized, in great secrecy. She was Catholic, he was atheist. When he found out, things were never the same again, neither with his wife, nor his children.

Sugarbowl by Ferruccio Mengaroni
Sugarbowl by Ferruccio Mengaroni

The excellence of his factory’s ceramic products made him a famous figure in Pesaro, and brought him to the attention of the young crown prince Umberto. When a royal visit was planned to the city in 1923, Umberto wanted to visit Ferruccio at the factory. But Ferruccio had made no secret of the fact that he was an avowed anarchist, and court advisors tried to dissuade Umberto from any contact with the ceramist. Not surprisingly, because Umberto’s grandfather, king Umberto II, had been shot and killed by an anarchist in Monza (near Milan) in 1900. But in actual fact, the visit was a great success, and Ferruccio apparently got on quite well with Italy’s future, and final, king.

The marine crab at the Castello Sforzesco museum
The marine crab at the Castello Sforzesco museum

But what Ferruccio really wanted was not fame in society or as an industrialist, but the everlasting fame that can be given by art. He was convinced of his skill as a sculptor, and he used his prowess as a ceramist to create his gigantic animals and crustaceans. He applied his experience with glazes to give his surfaces a life-like diversity, vibrant with countless subtle variations in colour. Those who were unable to appreciate the abstract beauty of his pieces would, he thought, be convinced by their size.

The opportunity to exhibit at a national exhibition to be held in Monza fired his imagination, and he began working on a colossal ceramic sculpture, a Medusa, the warrior with hair made up of intertwined serpents. The theme was a classic in art, with illustrious precedents including Leonardo da Vinci (a youthful work, since lost, painted on a shield) and Caravaggio. Ferruccio decided that the central face would be a self-portrait, and spent long hours in his studio, pulling faces in a mirror, sketching rapidly in order to immortalize his own features in as repulsive a guise as possible. Undeterred even by the mirror falling to the floor and breaking into a thousand pieces, he completed and fired the piece, and had it packed into an enormous circular case made of timber.

Ferruccio Mengaroni and his Medusa
Ferruccio Mengaroni and his Medusa

He was waiting at Monza when it arrived, on 13 May 1925. He was convinced that his Medusa would be the piece that would win him his rightful place in the realm of art and artists, so that he would be revered and remembered forever after. He had forewarned the exhibition staff of the size and weight of the sculpture, and so they had prepared a ramp that would enable the circular case to be rolled up the steps leading to the hall in which it would be installed. Ferruccio watched tensely as the workman began to haul the case up, straining against the weight of well over a ton. When it had reached halfway, the sound of dry cracks from one side of the wooden ramp preluded impending disaster. The massive wooden plank gave way, and the case lurched to one side. The workmen pulling from above were caught off guard and the canvas webbing straps were snatched out of their grip as the case started to roll backwards. The men pushing from below dodged out of the way and fled like frightened rabbits. Only Mengaroni remained, leaping towards the case, his arms outstretched as he tried to halt its downward acceleration. The workmen watched aghast as the case toppled and rolled, lurching downwards towards the balustrade. A moment later, it had come to a relatively gentle stop, cushioned by the body of Ferruccio. He was killed instantly. The work inside survived intact.

So, in a way, Mengaroni achieved his ambitions for lasting fame. By his death, the Medusa with his own face lived on. The accident was widely reported all over the world. Some commentators were struck by the ‘sublime gesture,’ the artist who fearlessly stepped forwards to protect his own work. Others remarked on the symbolic aspects: the artist crushed by his own ego, and the fact that the artist’s image lived on thanks to the death of its creator.

The Medusa by Ferruccio Mengaroni at Musei Civici, Pesaro
The Medusa by Ferruccio Mengaroni at Musei Civici, Pesaro

But Mengaroni’s ambitions for lasting fame were not fulfilled. Today, he is a very obscure figure. Some ceramics collectors know of the story and look for pieces bearing the emblem of his factory, which had become ‘M.A.P. Maioliche Artistiche Pesaresi.’ Today, you can see his large marine crab at the Castello Sforzesco Museum in Milan, and the murderous Medusa at the Musei Civici in Pesaro, Piazza Toschi Mosca 29. It has been affixed to the wall in the courtyard. A suggestion: don’t stand right underneath it!

A close-up of the Medusa
A close-up of the Medusa

Artistic values

When restoring a prestige building, cultural content is valuable from every point of view.
An article written with Luciano Broglia, architect,

Luciano Broglia specializes in the renovation and refurbishment of historic buildings. This means buildings dating to before 1900, while not excluding later works, such as those by a renowned designer, or buildings that are a good expression of its period. We have to remember a significant statistic: over 60% of the world’s cultural heritage is in Italy. To be more specific, a report published by Pricewaterhouse Coopers in 2009 states that Italy has over 3,400 museums, about 2,100 archaeological areas, and 43 Unesco sites. The latter include, by way of example, 24 Palladian villas in the Veneto region, while in the province of Vicenza alone there are at least another 60 examples of monumental architecture, in the form of villas, palazzi, churches, abbeys and castles. And this is just one province!

So in Italy, it is quite feasible that when you purchase a house, you may find yourself as the owner of a significant piece of architecture. The question is, if you want to make some improvements, how do you ensure that these are not going to damage the artistic value, which could in turn adversely affect its economic value?

The system of state Superintendencies (Soprintendenze) that supervise and protect the artistic and architectural heritage provides some guarantees. Any buildings that are over fifty years old and belong to private or state organizations are automatically registered and monitored. Buildings owned by private citizens may or may not be registered with a Superintendency, and in the former case alone they are controlled – meaning that any renovation or refurbishment operation has to be approved by the Superintendency.

However, whatever the situation as regards Superintendencies, when working on a historical building, the important thing is to preserve its distinctive characteristics, those that express the period to which it belongs. In Italy, the general approach at the present time is to restore what exists, but not rebuild. If any changes or additions are made, they should be treated in such a way as to be able to distinguish the new work from the old. This is a different concept with respect to other countries, such as the United Kingdom, where very often new volumes are built having the same characteristics and appearance of an existing architectural fragment.

Working with Superintendencies may sound like something extremely bureaucratic, restrictive and difficult to handle, but in actual fact the people working in these offices are highly professional, and often have a real passion for their job which transcends their purely official functions. Architects speciaizing in restoration have to work with officials at the Superintendencies all the time, and they are well aware that what seems to be just paperwork can actually become an interesting form of cooperation, a way of developing useful ideas for the case in hand.

Of course, in the private sector there is a vast heritage of ‘minor’ architecture that is not subject to artistic restrictions, but that nonetheless includes prestige buildings, significant in terms of their purely artistic value and for the period in which they were built. In this area, owners are often faced with the decision of whether to modify or even eliminate certain characteristic features in order to make the building more practical, or whether to preserve and highlight them. In the latter case, it is likely that the building will increase in value, both in economic and cultural terms.

In restoration and refurbishment, architects may specify traditional materials, analogous to those used when the building was constructed, or more recent high-tech materials. In some cases, a compromise has to be made, in part due to the need to comply with legislation in areas such as the reduction of energy consumption.

In any case, it is always a good idea to utilize the services of an architect who is accustomed to handling this sort of situation, which can often get extremely complicated. The architect has to identify the terms of the problem, locate contractors who possess the craft skills required, and supervise the work, dealing with the ‘surprises’ that often arise when renovating historic buildings.

How do you find (considering Italy) an architect who has experience in this area? There are no specific registers, and recommendations are generally purely by word of mouth. An architect who works in this sector has, in addition to the normal design, project management and site management skills, other areas of knowledge, including restoration techniques, and a detailed knowledge of the history architecture, so that he or she is capable of identifying the building’s history and context, and successively advising on the type of restoration to be performed, whether philological or scientific.

Luciano Broglia’s final consideration returns to the wealth of the Italian cultural heritage. A purely economic approach to the renovation of architectural works will ultimately have negative consequences on the overall artistic heritage, because the true value of such works (to quote GIovanni Urbani, architect and director of the Central Institute of Restoration, Rome, from 1973 to 1983) lies in people’s sense of belonging to their local environment, and the degree of identity that the resident feels with the building in which he resides.

Luciano Broglia, architect,


Valori artistici​ ​ ​

Nel restauro dell’immobile di prestigio, il contenuto culturale è prezioso da ogni punto di vista.

Quando si parla di immobili di una certa epoca storica – consideriamo quelli risalenti a prima del 1900 (ma anche dopo per quegli edifici che per la fama del progettista o perché sono l’emblema di un’epoca, hanno comunque un valore notevole) – bisogna partire dalla considerazione che più del 60% del patrimonio culturale mondiale si trova in Italia. Tanto per dare un’idea, secondo un rapporto pubblicato da Pricewaterhouse Coopers nel 2009, l’Italia possiede oltre 3.400 musei, circa 2.100 aree e parchi archeologici, e 43 siti Unesco. Questi ultimi comprendono, per esempio, 24 ville palladiane nel Veneto, ma nella sola provincia di Vicenza ci sono almeno altri 60 esempi pregevoli di architettura monumentale, fra ville, palazzi, chiese, abbazie e castelli.

E’ facile quindi che, con l’acquisto di un immobile, ci si trovi a possedere un bene architettonico e artistico di una certa importanza. Come ci dobbiamo comportare per essere sicuri di non danneggiare questo patrimonio con le operazioni di ristrutturazione, preservandone peraltro il valore?

Il sistema delle Soprintendenze e la legislazione offrono già delle garanzie in merito. Per esempio, gli immobili che appartengono a enti, sia privati che statali, sono sottoposti a vincolo se hanno più di cinquant’anni di vita; gli edifici privati di notevole pregio dovrebbero invece essere iscritti a un registro della Soprintendenza e, solo in questo caso, essere soggetti a vincolo. (Per chiarezza, con la parola “vincolo” s’intende che qualsiasi intervento, sull’edificio vincolato, è sottoposto al parere degli organi competenti).

È evidente, comunque, che nella ristrutturazione di un edificio che possiede elementi di pregio artistici o architettonici è importante operare per conservare le caratteristiche e l’essenza della sua epoca. In Italia si tende a conservare e non a ricostruire (gli interventi di modifica o di reintegro debbono essere ben visibili rispetto al contesto preesistente); questo approccio ci distingue da altri paesi, come, per esempio, il Regno Unito, dove spesso si costruiscono nuovi volumi con le stesse caratteristiche di un frammento architettonico preesistente.

Il dover affrontare le Soprintendenze potrebbe sembrare qualcosa di restrittivo o di fastidioso; in realtà i funzionari di questi enti di controllo possiedono una grande professionalità, e molto spesso una profonda passione che va oltre il concetto burocratico del loro ruolo. Gli architetti specializzati nel restauro sanno che gestire i contatti con i Funzionari delle Soprintendenze può essere un faticoso confronto, ma anche una collaborazione ed uno sviluppo di idee.

Vi è poi, nel privato, tutto un patrimonio “minore” che pur non essendo sottoposto a restrizioni o vincoli esiste spesso all’interno di edifici comunque di pregio, sia per caratteristiche che per epoca; e qui entra in gioco la “sensibilità” dei proprietari dell’immobile che devono decidere se eliminare e snaturare questi elementi o se dar loro invece visibilità e nuova vita. Spesso il mantenere sapientemente questi elementi porta lo stato dell’immobile ad un valore più alto (solo ragionando in termini meramente economici), ma è anche un’operazione di recupero culturale che sarebbe sempre auspicabile.

Nelle opere di ristrutturazione e di restauro si lavora utilizzando sia materiali tradizionali, analoghi a quelli originali, sia invece materiali frutto delle più recenti tecnologie.

Ovviamente in talune situazioni è necessario mediare, e bisogna conciliare l’estetica ed il restauro con le più recenti normative (un esempio su tutti quelle sul contenimento dei consumi energetici).

È comunque consigliabile utilizzare i servizi di un architetto abituato a gestire queste situazioni, che spesso si presentano complesse nel miscelare tutte le problematiche connesse; che è in grado di identificare tutte le componenti, di reperire le imprese con maestranze esperte nel settore e di gestire il procedere dei lavori, spesso affrontando le “sorprese” che si presentato in una ristrutturazione su edifici storici.

È domanda lecita chiedere come si trovino architetti con esperienza nel campo specifico: in questo settore, come in molti altri, vige il passaparola. I professionisti che lavorano nel settore possiedono, oltre alle consuete capacità di gestione del progetto e del cantiere, le conoscenze specifiche in materia di restauro e un’approfondita familiarità con la storia dell’architettura, per poter individuare l’anima e la storia dell’edificio ed il suo contesto, e per orientare la scelta del tipo di restauro possibile, sia filologico, che scientifico.

Per concludere, in un contesto di così grande ricchezza del patrimonio culturale come quello italiano, una logica puramente economica applicata al recupero dei beni architettonici è destinata ad influire negativamente sul patrimonio artistico generale, perché i valori veri di tali beni si misurano (per citare l’arch. Giovanni Urbani, direttore dell’Istituto Centrale per il Restauro di Roma dal 1973 al 1983) in termini del senso di appartenenza delle persone al territorio e l’immedesimazione dell’abitante alla cosa abitata.

Luciano Broglia, architetto,

Art Milan

A Cathedral mystery

20121029-063521.jpg A Cathedral as enormous as Milan’s is bound to have a few mysteries hidden away somewhere. One of them can be found in the left-hand transept: a giant candlestick, known as the Candelabro Trivulzio. It is a triumph of fractal geometry: from a distance it seems just a bronze seven-armed candlestick, but as you move closer in, first of all you appreciate the size (it is 5 metres high), and then you see that the structure dissolves into a swirl of bronze leaves concealing dozens of strange figures, including animals, saints and angels. The base consists of four dragons, whose drooping heads form the feet of the candlestick, and whose powerful tails move upwards to create the basic structure. Strangely, each of the dragons is being attacked by a pair of animals. What does it all mean?

Certainly the candlestick fits in very well with the Cathedral. The fluted central column echoes the great columns of the nave, and the candlestick’s organic volutes replete with Biblical characters are the bronze equivalent of the Cathedral’s decoration and statues in marble. But in actual fact the candlestick predates the Cathedral, whose construction began in 1386, by about two hundred years. And the candlestick was not made in Milan, but (according to many scholars) in England!

Tracing the history of this piece of art is made more complicated by the fact that the earliest documentation is from 1550 and records Giovanni Battista Trivulzio’s gift of the candlestick to the Cathedral. It is certain that he had acquired it from somewhere in France: it is likely that it had been shipped from England to France in order to save it from the destruction of sacred images that took place during the Reformation.

20121029-063607.jpgTo give you an idea of the complexity of the subject matter portrayed in the candlestick, here is a description of a small part. As you approach the candlestick’s south side, you see a foot consisting of a dragon being attacked by two cowled monkeys wielding swords. Move to the left, and at the very bottom you see the head of a fantastical animal with a curving beak and spiralling horns. Above this, to the left, there is the figure of Noah in the Ark (which looks more like a church than a boat). One of his sons is looking out from the right-hand side. Noah holds his hands in the air, having just released a dove. Further up, on the left, you can see the dove returning, with a branch of olive, bringing the message to Noah that the deluge has come to an end. To the left of the Ark, there is a flashback to before the Flood, with two sheep on their way into the vessel.

To the right of Noah’s ark is Abraham, swinging a large sword and about to sacrifice his son Isaac, whom he is holding on the altar. Just above, an angel has grabbed the sword to save the boy, and just under the little altar is the unfortunate lamb who will become the sacrificial victim in Isaac’s stead.

Above these two Biblical scenes are a king and a queen. They represent Virtues vanquishing the Vices, which are seen as smaller figures below. Next up comes a group of star-signs, Cancer (the crab on the left) and Leo (a lion), with Virgo sitting above and between them.

20121029-063658.jpgIn the spiralling tail of the left-hand dragon, a female figure grasps a serpent: this group embodies one of the four Liberal Arts, dialectics. Opposite, in the right-hand dragon’s tail, a young man is pouring water from a jar: this represents one of the Rivers of Paradise. They correspond to the four great earthly rivers, the Tigris, Euphrates, Ganges and the Nile.

Now, leave the base and move up the central stem, past the first smooth node, to the central node. This is dedicated to Mary, who is seated on a throne, with Jesus on her lap. On the three remaining sides of this node, the three wise Kings can be seen on horseback, making their historic journey.

And all this is just a quarter of the candlestick: the other three sides are just as elaborately decorated. But, you may ask, what are those strange dragons all about? This is a question for which not even the scholars have an answer. It is impossible to compare the Candelabro Trivulzio with similar versions in England because, even though that country had a great tradition of giant seven-armed candlesticks, they were all destroyed in the 16th century, at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries.

20121029-063802.jpgHowever, to venture a hypothesis, we could say that the base of the candlestick represents the universe, with the rivers, the history of the world with the Old Testament stories, and the stars above as symbolised by the astrological signs. From this base springs the Church, built on the figure of Jesus, which radiates light and enlightenment as demonstrated by the seven lamps.

As to the form of the world itself, in 1200 it was still thought of as a flat disc supported by four elephants or other such animals.

Today, a scientist would ask “and what are the elephants standing on?”, but in those days, that sort of question would get you flogged or worse. And so perhaps this candlestick’s dragons signify the continuous struggle between good and evil that characterises man’s world.

Nonetheless, this dramatic imagery has not dissuaded thieves from removing some of the semi-precious stones that adorn the bronze. In various places you will see blank sockets, and the eyes of the dragon on the east side are now bereft of the two original gems. Showing that when it is a question of allaying the suffering of man, some people prefer more immediate remedies than those offered by spiritual enlightenment.