We almost skipped a visit to engraver Bottega Incisioni di Cesare Giovanelli. Our itinerary was completely booked. Now at our last scheduled appointment with tiny boutique gunmaker, Fratelli Poli Armi, while we were caught in the exuberance of Antonio Poli demonstrating their hand assembly and finishing, a phone call arrived for us. We were baffled. Who was calling us in Italy at Poli?
In a quick exchange with our interpreter, Giulia Zera, Mr. Poli said it was Cesare Giovanelli and he wanted to meet with us. Apparently, word of our visit quickly spread through Gardone Val Trompia. By now, we were approaching the end of our meeting with Mr. Poli. Mr. Giovanelli agreed to meet with us now. Since the legendary Mr. Giovanelli is the elder statesman of Brescia’s engraving community Mr. Poli graciously let us leave a bit early to accept the invitation. The drive would take about 20 minutes.
A narrow road that curved back onto itself over and over climbed the mountainside as Gardone Val Trompia, the mecca of Italian shotgun craft, receded below. Ms. Zera worked the stick shift on her Fiat, keeping up the revs. We passed ancient tiny villages on our ascent to the hilltop stone chateau of Bottega Incisioni di Cesare Giovanelli – a shrine to firearms engraving in the village of Magno di Inzino.
The hilltop chateau of Bottega Incisioni di Cesare Giovanelli.
Bottega Incisioni di Cesare Giovanelli was founded in 1955 by a young upstart, Cesare Giovanelli, who had embarked on his dream to become a great engraver in the kitchen of his modest home nearby. As a boy, Mr. Giovanelli had been fascinated with art and beauty and worked hard to transform his drawings into metal engravings as inspired by history and his natural surroundings.
Bottega Incisioni di Cesare Giovanelli was the last stop in our Brescia appointments with shotgun makers and engravers that included Perazzi, Beretta, F.A.I.R., Pedretti, Fracassi, Creative Art and Poli. Pedretti and Creative Art occupied sleek office spaces in contemporary buildings (Fracassi worked in a home studio). Now, parked in front of the chateau, a lavish terraced sculpture garden spreading down below, we realized that something extraordinary was located here: the largest engraving business in the world and the residence of Mr. Giovanelli.
Master Engraver Dario Cortini explains the engraving of Bottega Incisioni di Cesare Giovanelli.
Inside we were met by Dario Cortini, Master Engraver at Bottega Incisioni di Cesare Giovanelli. He was silver-haired and slender with a trim beard wearing a stylish blue vest. He led us up a few steps toward a brilliant mosaic pheasant (the blue nearly matching Mr. Cortini’s vest) into the engravers studio – bright and sleek of wood and tile and pastel green in the vernacular of modern Italian minimalism.
We arrived after hours, and most of the engravers had already left. Mr. Cortini started telling us about Bottega Incisioni di Cesare Giovanelli. He explained that they use different materials across several engraving methods including laser, hand, rolled and electrical discharge erosion and will often combine them depending on the project. They had developed technologies that, for example, allowed them to apply complex patterns on round-action shotguns. It takes about 50 people to keep the operation running smoothly to service nearly all of the top gunmakers.
“We combine the different technologies to achieve the best results, but eighty percent of our work is hand-finished regardless of the technology,” he said.
The engravers’ studio of Bottega Incisioni di Cesare Giovanelli.
Mr. Cortini wears another hat there. He’s head of the Bottega C. Giovanelli School of Engraving. The school is free and gives the company the ability to draw talent from its ranks. Mr. Cortini, who started working at Bottega Incisioni di Cesare Giovanelli when he was 14, said that people from all over the world attend the school. “Seventy percent of engravers in Italy have studied here,” he said.
The school’s curriculum is exacting. It starts with teaching students how to draw with engraving in mind. The entire first year is devoted to the evaluating the student’s potential and talent, and it’s not until year three that they begin engraving on a gun. “The school is an investment in our art,” Mr. Cortini noted.
One of the engravers at work at Bottega Incisioni di Cesare Giovanelli.
As he’s explaining the school to us we are joined by the elder statesman of Italian engraving, Master Engraver Cesare Giovanelli. Mr. Cortini has to leave for an appointment and then Mr. Giovanelli takes us to a lounge area off the studio.
Like many engravers in Gardone Val Trompia Mr. Giovanelli was raised in a family of gunmakers. His father labored as a barrel finisher at nearby Beretta. By age 12, Mr. Giovanelli started working with his father. It was around the same time he became fascinated with the art world.
Master Engraver Cesare Giovanelli in the lounge area of his company.
“I came from a poor family,” he said. “There was no art school here. At the time, there was no one to teach me engraving because they were all employed at the companies.”
His father, though, eventually fixed him up with a Beretta engraver who taught Mr. Giovanelli the craft after work in his house. Realizing Mr. Giovanelli’s potential, the instructor arranged for him to work as an apprentice engraver at Beretta.
“At 16 I was good enough to start on my own and to teach other people,” he said.
A Beretta 687 EELL Diamond Pigeon engraved by Bottega Incisioni di Cesare Giovanelli.
Bottega Incisioni di Cesare Giovanelli was founded in 1955 by the young Cesare Giovanelli. It was his dream to perpetuate the very ancient craft of metal engraving. By 1962 Mr. Giovanelli married his master’s daughter, who was also an engraver. They started a studio in their kitchen, where they also took on more students. The business gradually expanded to their garage, then a larger rented space, until in 1976 they moved to the tiny village of Magno and started construction in 1978.
“We took a hint from the people of the church to find a sunny spot for our building,” he explained. “We found a field and picked this place because of the light.”
A Perazzi from the studio of Bottega Incisioni di Cesare Giovanelli.
Mr. Giovanelli takes us outside, the village stretching up the neighboring hills. “This land was completely empty,” he said, his composure revealing itself more in the natural setting to a Buddha-like serenity. He points to the other end of the building where he lives – the joining of his personal and professional life an integrated “life-long quest for beauty.”
Master Engraver Cesare Giovanelli: “I’ve always been attracted to Americans.”
When it comes to engraving and art, he sees the purpose as a continuum that spans the past, present and future for everyone to enjoy regardless of their income.
His vision unfolds in the gardens and sculptures around the property. “I’ve always been attracted to Americans because of the Western movies, but I always rooted for the Indians because I liked their culture,” he said. “The Indians had a special relationship with the native and spirit worlds, of being stewards of the land and not owning it, and looking to the stars. I feel like I’ve always been a dreamer, and never lost that child’s sense of wonder.”
Irwin Greenstein is the publisher of Shotgun Life. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.