Umbria: Discovering quality wooden handicrafts

Wooden furniture

In Umbria woodworking has two parallel origins since people began to work wood both as a way of producing essential objects for everyday use and in order to create splendid wooden decorations, such as those in the Renaissance and baroque palazzos and churches. Nowadays, following the decline in both of these necessities, Umbrian woodcraft, despite not having developed at industrial level, is turning to tradition once more, in particular in terms of restoration techniques and in the reproduction of period furniture, such as tables, chairs, kitchen cupboards and dressing tables, which are often finely inlaid and gilded, and this has led to the establishment of workshops and specialist stores throughout the region, concentrated mainly in Citta’ di Castello, Todi, Gubbio, Assisi and Perugia.

Artistic woodworking has a long and rich tradition. From the 15th to the mid 17th century specialized craftsmen, whose names have often remained unknown and many of whom came from other regions, were responsible for the creation of wood works of rare perfection.

There are countless examples of this artistic fervor, many of which can still be seen today: the 16th-century choir in the Church of San Pietro in Perugia, the choir in Todi Cathedral, the seats and pulpit in the Exchange Guild (15th century), also in Perugia, the 15th-century small study of the Duke of Montefeltro, once in Gubbio, now at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, just to mention a few.

Olive wood bowls

Important proofs of this woodworks also remain in the furnishings sector, including the wedding chests decorated with marquetry, whose highly distinctive motifs persisted for many years in the region’s wood art. Important examples of these chests include the decorated specimen housed in the Picture Gallery in the Civic Museum in Gubbio and the late 16th-century one housed in the communal Picture Gallery in Citta’ di Castello.

The dresser is another of the wood pieces of furniture produced in the region in which it is possible to detect the skill and elegance of the artisans who built them. The same is true of the tables, rich in decorations, which were sometimes of considerable size, as can be seen in the case of the one housed in the Picture Gallery in Gubbio.

Umbrian wood art is the result of influences from the neighboring regions, in particular Marche and Tuscany. This makes attribution difficult when a piece of furniture is found outside its region of origin or away from the site for which it was originally made.

Artistic woodcraft, like other activities, experienced a phase of decline. Woodworking by carpenters, on the other hand, remained steady and these artisans were widespread throughout the region and were in great demand whenever household furniture or work tools were required.

Sangemini Umbria

In the mid 19th century, spurred on by the revival of historical styles and the love for the so-called minor arts, the crafts of marquetry and carving flourished once more. They were also applied to wood furniture, a field in which Federico Lancetti excelled.

At the same time artisan carpenters, incited by a huge market demand, used their skill to create period furniture. Citta’ di Castello became, and still is, the most important town for this type of wood production.

Recommended itineraries:
a) San Giustino, Citta’ di Castello, Montone, Umbertine, Gubbio, Nocera Umbra, Valtopina

b) Assisi, Spello, Bettona, Montefalco, Trevi – Collecchio

c) Tuoro sul Trasimeno, Castiglione del Lago, Panicale, Ficulle, Castel Viscardo, Orvieto, Todi, Avigliano Umbro, Sangemini
Courtesy of Umbria 2000