L’Arte Nascosta

New York: the city that never sleeps, the gateway to opportunity where dreams are made and the streets are paved with gold. Those who are fortunate enough to call this place home are privy to a special kind of energy, enticing enough to be the envy of the entire world. So much so that while blinded by whirring taxis and innumerable lights shown across the night sky, we often forget to look beyond the confines of this little island. We forget that there exists a different kind of energy, tempered by comparison, but profoundly connected to the “old way”, and more than capable of filling a heart with joy all the same. It’s a special breed of energy that I discovered for the first time while studying in Florence, making my way to New York University’s campus but helplessly lost, as often is the case when I am compelled to navigate streets beyond Manhattan’s grid. I had taken a wrong turn just beyond the Duomo onto Via Ferdinando Zanetti and stumbled upon Paolo Penko’s goldsmith workshop. It was dimly lit except for a halo above Paolo’s workbench where he was hunched over a ring that he was engraving for an eager patron. The space felt strangely familiar to me. I approached Paolo and began inquiring about his profession.
He was happy to share stories about the years of research he had spent mastering his craft and traditional goldsmith techniques particular to the Florentine Renaissance, and the countless commissions he had received from notable patrons such as the Pope, and other dignitaries. His eyes glimmered as he spoke: pride imbued with passion. I could sense that the pace in Paolo’s shop was decidedly slower than what I was accustomed to coming from New York; I was enraptured. Whether it was Paolo himself, the way he adeptly manipulated gold and silver to make one masterpiece after another, or his “bottega” that seemed to be a porthole to a place and time, far away and long ago, I don’t know; but, his energy was certainly contagious. It was unique to someone who works with his hands and, when faced with a choice to make something the “easy way” or the “right way,” has chosen the “right way” every day for the past thirty years. He probably wasn’t aware of it at the time, but Paolo awoke in me a desire to seek out and discover more personalities that displayed his same traits: artisans whose lives tick at a slower pace. Craftsmen that are connected by a common pursuit of mastery, which, once achieved, earns them a place in the pantheon of talents that have made Italy the world capital of creativity as it is known today.
I call these traits, “L’Arte Nascosta,” or “The Hidden Art” in Italian. Although New York is filled with its own fair share of hidden treasures, I see “L’Arte Nascosta” as an invitation to set our Excel sheets and Key Performance Indicators aside in order to return to the basics: just our hands, some raw materials, sustainable organic work cycles, and the choice to make things “the right way” time and time again. After spending more than a year traveling around Italy, discovering “L’Arte Nascosta,” and meeting more artisans than I can count, I am more motivated than ever to connect their old world to ours. The way I see it, a calling to see beyond our distractions to embrace a wholesome kind of energy can only be an enrichment to the city of dreams that we are fortunate to enjoy. Salvatore Ambrosino is the founder of L’Arte Nascosta (, an online research project and soon-to-be web shop that researches and shares the stories of Italy’s artisans. Through artisanship, L’Arte Nascosta explores lifestyle and sprezzatura, the timeless concept of Italian elegance.

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