Rudimentary or refined, high or low, closed or open, for men or women, shoes carry us around and represent the style of different eras. Starting in the thirteenth century, when many shops were already open in Venice and the calegheri already had their “Capitolare” (legal act) in 1260. They could make shoes, unlike their fellow zavateri who could only repair and recycle them, for those who could not afford new and refined footwear. And as there were many shops, there were different trades that contributed to this production: the becheri or the butchers who also procured leather, the scorzeri that produced soles and the conciacurame for the shoe uppers, the patitari that manufactured the typical clogs.
The clogs were part of the Venetian costume at the beginning, with a wooden tablet supported by two wooden crosspieces, and a leather or fabric band. They could be simple and poor but also elegant, embellished with bone or mother-of-pearl inlays, and they had a stylistic evolution while other models of footwear also gained popularity. The famous poulaine, tapered shoes with a long tip, also trampled the calli of Venice for a couple of centuries, until their decline in the late fifteenth century. But in the same century the most typical Venetian bizarre in the matter of shoes it was certainly that of the pianelle, or chopine, with a wedge that could be up to a few tens of centimeters on which great ladies and courtesans stood who walked the streets with great pride, sometimes falling ruinously to the ground. A nice pair of pianelle lie abandoned in the corner of Carpaccio’s painting “The Two Ladies”.
Since the sixteenth century shoes have increasingly changed in shape, become more elegant and richer, decorate the foot with painted and inlaid leathers, with silks, brocades, gems and buckles, for both women and men. It turn out the high heel, widely used also in the noble and royal sphere, which was then abandoned at the end of the eighteenth century with the French Revolution and the return of the heel to the ground. The skill of the calegheri was also in being able to satisfy the demands of fashion and in their creativity always capable of intercepting international taste, with satin booties and shoes with precious embroidery and precious buckles, scapini da lacchè with “thin leather heels”, boots for hunters and soldiers or for the couriers of the Republic. Vintage footwear and some ancient specimens are exhibited at the Correr Museum and especially in the fascinating collections of Palazzo Mocenigo.
Like other arts also calegheri and zavateri had their rules and mariegole (statute of rights and duties), for access to the trade, for the quality of the goods, for the running of the shops, each with its own sign. Their headquarters was in San Tomà, in the delightful building that still shows the stone reproduction of footwear on the facade, as can still be found in different corners of the city, to mark the ancient shops. These were particularly dense in the San Samuele area, the only foreigners admitted to Venice were the German artisans, who had their headquarters in Santo Stefano and populated the calle delle Botteghe, not far from a warehouse for the leather trade. The zavateri were mainly found in the most popular areas, in Santa Croce, Cannaregio, Castello, the calegheri preferred San Marco and Rialto. At the beginning of the eighteenth century in Venice there were 350 master builders, 680 workers and 80 apprentices, in 1773 a census counted 1172 members and 340 shops. The patron Saint was Anian, miraculously converted by Saint Mark to Alexandria in Egypt, who was just a shoemaker.