Saturday, March 27, 2010

Rediscovering Cavalli

A few weeks ago I was contacted by a guy named Steve Roman in Minnesota who wanted to talk about cavalli.
I've been obsessing over gondolas and the places they operate for 17 years now and have come to realize that there's always something new to learn. Just when you think you've seen it all, you're proven wrong by something new...or something you hadn't yet noticed.

As Steve and I talked, it became obvious that he was a fan of gondolas, but more specifically, he'd become a true afficionado of the brass fixtures that mount midship on both sides of the boat.

We call them "cavalli" (which translates to "horses") because the traditional manifestation comes in the shape of a horse with the rear-quarters of a fish or other sea creature.

Two of Steve's cavalli.

If you've been cruising the internet looking for interesting cavalli auctions, chances are good that you've found yourself bidding against Steve Roman.
In his quest for more knowledge on cavalli, Steve came upon this video clip from the Fonderia Valese.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that I never really gave much thought to the actual process that goes into creating these beautiful works of art - and that's really what they are, "works of art".Not all gondolas have cavalli, but almost all Venice-built ones do, and even some built elsewhere are adorned with these beautiful brass sculptures.
Many gondoliers feel that a gondola without cavalli is "naked".Cavalli often take the horse, or "hippocampus" form, but some are cast as angels, sirens, and sea-creatures. They also come in different sizes and levels of detail. Small ones can weigh less than a pound, while the more impressive and showy ones can tip the scale at more than 30 pounds.
And while all cavalli are not created equal, they are also not all finished the same either - there are highly polished cavalli, nickel-plated ones, and of course the gold-plated ones.

Many thanks go to Steve Roman for bringing this one under-appreciated detail of the gondola into clearer focus.
To visit the website of Fonderia Valese, go to

1 comment:

Tamás said...

Is it like the Rolls-Royce bonnet angel, i.e. does the squero foundry make a new negative for each gondola's cavalli?

R-R crushes the casting block after each angel figure and has it re-carved, so there will never be two identical "spirits of extasy". (I think that's the official name of those oft-stolen hood figures.)