Fondazione Prada

And the art of gold leaf processing

by Lavinia Colonna Preti
Fondazione Prada — Lombardia Secrets

Discovering the former industrial complex renovated by Rem Koolhaas and the ancient technique that transforms gold into transparent sheets with multiple uses.

Engaged since 1993 in the promotion of contemporary art, the Prada Foundation inaugurated its new Milan HQ in 2015 located in Largo Isarco, south of Milan: over 19,000 square meters created in the spaces that housed the historic SIS – Società Italiana Spiriti where the famous Cavallino Rosso brandy was produced.

The architectural project, the work of the OMA architecture studio, headed by the star architect Rem Koolhaas, included the restoration of pre-existing structures, as well as the construction of three new buildings, the Podium, the Cinema, and the Tower, the latter completed in 2018.

Today the complex houses, in addition to the exhibition spaces and offices, a cinema, an archive, a library, the Bar Luce, designed by the English director Wes Anderson and inspired by the Milanese cafes of the 1950s, a bar and a restaurant housed in the Tower.

Fondazione Prada — Lombardia Secrets
Fondazione Prada — Lombardia Secrets

The symbol of the Foundation is undoubtedly the Haunted House, famous for being completely covered with 200,000 24-carat gold leaves that create a scenographic impact in contrast with the other surfaces made of concrete, glass and aluminum. The cladding is the work of Giusto Manetti Battiloro, a historic Florentine company whose origins date back to the distant 1600s.

Gold leaf processing is one of the oldest and also one of the most fascinating arts precisely because it is linked to the most desired metal in the world: gold. Symbol of immortality (because it does not corrode), power, and wealth since the dawn of human civilization, it still constitutes and covers the most important monuments of our culture today.
Suffice it to mention some of the references from Giusto Manetti who over the years has been involved in the creation or restoration of some of the most important buildings in the world: from the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence to the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, from the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow to the Fenice in Venice, from the Mirror Gallery of the Palace of Versailles to Buckingham Palace, from the Amerigo Vespucci, the most beautiful ship in the world, to the Orient Express, the most beautiful train in the world.

Fondazione Prada — Lombardia Secrets
Fondazione Prada — Lombardia Secrets

The applications of gold leaf foil also extend to fashion, food, and beauty. How can we forget the magnificent 24 kt gold leaf dresses from the Dolce & Gabbana Haute Couture show presented at Villa Bardini in Florence in September 2020? Or the famous “Risotto, saffron and gold” created by Gualtiero Marchesi, which has become one of the most iconic dishes in the world?

The gold leaf production process is very complex as it requires 5 processing steps for over 10 hours of work. It begins with the melting during which pure gold, which is a very soft metal, is melted with copper, silver, and other metals in order to give it greater hardness and consistency. Carats are, in fact, the unit of measurement that defines the purity of the gold alloy: 24 kt, therefore, means 99.99% pure gold. The second phase involves lamination, a process that is divided into two steps: the roughing where the ingot passes between the rolling cylinders, becoming a strip of a few tenths of a millimeter, and the finishing lamination where the thickness is further reduced thanks to more cold rolling cycles alternating with annealing cycles.

Fondazione Prada — Lombardia Secrets

We then proceed with the beating where the small squares of gold are subjected to mechanical hammers until sheets of a few tenths of a micron are obtained. Even today, the finishing is done by hand, through the use of special hammers, to iron the sheets, making the surface completely smooth. From here we proceed to the cutting and packaging.

Fascinated by this goldsmith’s art? It is possible to visit the workshop of the last craftsman who carries out this process entirely by hand. His name is Mario Berta Battiloro and his atelier of wonders is located in Venice in what was the house of the great painter Titian. An excuse for a weekend in the lagoon city and to also visit the Venetian headquarters of the Prada Foundation located at Ca’ Corner della Regina, an eighteenth-century building overlooking the Grand Canal.

Useful Info

Fondazione Prada
Largo Isarco 2
20139 Milano
Tel.  +39 02 56662611

Mario Berta Battiloro
Cannaregio 5182
30121 Venezia

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