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The History

Gregorovius, in his book “Storia di Roma nel Medioevo”, writes: “ The goldsmith guild was been existing in Rome for long time, at first it was joint to saddlers and blacksmiths; the guild parted from them in 1509 and built, with the consent of Pope Giulio II, the church of S.Eligio in Via Giulia, planned by Raffaello.”
The honour, the history and the culture of the “Nobil Collegio degli Orafi e degli Argentieri di Roma” are clearly expressed by Gregorovius in those few lines that testify the power and the name the roman goldsmiths had.
Skill, culture and, above all, love for its own job are still alive among the members of the Nobil Collegio, thus contributing to keep the Guild attitudes and purposes present and alive.

The University of Goldsmith, Blacksmith and Saddler, the “VI Corporazione”, was located near the church of San Salvatore alle Coppelle built in 1196 during the Celestino’s III pontificate.
Only later in 1404 the three Art split each one giving rise to an autonomous fraternity, still keeping the same seat and the same patron saint: S. Eligio bishop of Nojon.
Thanks to a document dated April 5th 1430, found out by Professor Franco Lucio Schiavetto at the Archivio Segreto Vaticano, it can be deduced that the Goldsmith Guild already existed in that year, since the Consoli were committed to check the mintage of coins of the Papal Mint, located near the Church of Santi Apostoli.
At the beginning of the XVI century the goldsmiths, up to then fellows of the “artes mechanichae”, the crafts humblest caste, made their dream come true and established a completely independent fraternity reaching the top of the artists Olympus.
The political, economical and organizing effort necessary to realize the project was done by a group of forty two goldsmiths, some of them roman, some other among the Papal Court, as written in the proceedings of the Historical Archive of S.Eligio. They met on June 13th 1508 at the oratory of S.S. Pietro and Paolo to establish the University of Goldsmiths; a plenary assembly met the next June 23rd at the church of S.Lucia to set up an fix the rules of the new University. Since the church of S. Salvatore alle Coppelle, shared with the blacksmiths and the sellars, was no longer considered a suitable place, goldsmiths also decided, during the same meeting, to rent (or to buy?) a land on the bank of the Tiber, where the ancient church of S.Eusterio stood, in order to build a new church and to have a seat where meeting freely. On June 25th of the same year, the Goldsmiths submitted to His Holiness the new articles of the association and made the request for building the new church. On June 12th 1509, the Pope Giulio II della Rovere accepted the request issuing a “breve” that authorized the goldsmiths to build the church of S.Eligio in Via Giulia - “li diletti figlioli dell’Università delli Orefici in Roma di costruire ed edificare et di far fabbricare una chiesa, ovvero cappella, sotto detta invocazione di Sant’Eligio, in strada Giulia e in loco che per tale effetto si trovasse più comodo”.
After several ups and downs, Raffaello Sanzio was entrusted with the plan for the church: he marked the building with its genius and made of it a jewel worth being handed down to posterity.
On December 6th 1514, the Street Courts, in expectation of the rectification of the street joining Via Giulia to the Tiber, dispossessed the goldsmiths of the land where the church of S. Eusterio stood before it was pulled down; as a return, goldsmiths had an area facing the new street.
From the documents of the historical Archive of S. Eligio it turns out that work for the church started on 1516 and the Guild first met on 1552 inside the building, although it had no dome.
The establishment of the University and the dedication of the Church were both an important starting and ending point for the roman goldsmiths, who stood definitely out from the poor metals Guilds and qualified as artistic their own craft.
A Camerlengo and three Consoli were at the head of the Goldsmith University; their main task was to control the goldsmith market; in fact, at that time, it was absolutely forbidden practising the art of a goldsmith or opening up shop without the permission of the Guild, that issued a license called “Patente” after a scrutiny. The Patente was in duplicate, one copy was handed to the master and the other one was stored in the archive of the fraternity.
Nowadays, the Patenti are still kept at the historical Archive of the Goldsmith University where it is possible to find, among the others, the Patenti of the silversmith masters Valadier and Belli.
The growing social prestige and the economic power of the Goldsmith University is testified by some privileges the Guild enjoyed such as taking part to the magnificent procession, also called “delle Arti”, on the night of 15th August, in the Most Holy Saviour honour, according to the decree issued by the Roman Senate during the XVI century, that regulated the order of precedence at the procession giving the Aurifices a prominent place. Moreover, since October 21st 1611, Paolo V Borghese, with a “breve”, accorded to the University the authority of saving the life of a prisoner sentenced to death on June 25th, on the occasion of S. Eligio feast.
S. Eligio (590 – 665 a.C.) was a goldsmith and mint master who became bishop of Noyon and counselor of the Merovingian kings; he was assumed as patron of the goldsmiths because of his skills and integrity and because he founded some convents where the manual work and, more specifically, the techniques related to the goldsmith and silversmith arts were studied, applied with masterly skill and spread over the catholic world.
We know from his biography that, after learning the art at Limoges, the most important center for the art of goldsmith in south-western France since the roman times, he served at the court of the king of France with such integrity and ability that he became, not only the favourite workman (master), but also counselor and court ambassador. Most of his works are lost, today; we only can admire some coins and the important fragment of a big set cross, treasured at the Gabinet des Médailles in Paris. The painting by Pisanello in the church of Santa Caterina at Treviso and especially the picture “The goldsmith S. Eligio, visited in his shop by two fiances”, painted in 1449 by the flemish Petrus Christus (New York coll. Lehmann), helped to spread out the veneration for the Saint.
On June 28th 1628, thanks to the intercession of the French ambassador to the Holy See, a relic of the Saint arrived in Rome, after many years of negotiations between the Nobil Collegio and the bishop of Noyon, where the corpse still rests in the abbey; the relic was laid to rest where it is still cherished today, that’s to say a highly esteemed bust shrine, of baroque workmanship, realized by the master Giovanni Pallottola in embossed silver and retouched by chisel.
In 1655 the University changed its statute (one copy is kept at the Archivio Capitolino and another one at the Archivio di Stato) and in 1692 it was approved the statute of the University of young men, to whom the masters allowed the permanent use of the altar called “del Presepe” on the left transept of the church.
With the approval of the Pope Clemente XII Corsini, in 1738 – published on 1740 – the Collegio changed again the statute and, for the first time, the fraternity assumed finally the name of “Nobil Collegio of the goldsmiths and silversmiths of Rome” since, after 1650, it had unified the silversmiths, formerly belonging to the University of the “battiloro” (a copy of the statute is kept at the Library V. Emanuele, at the Angelica and at the Archivio Capitolino).
Just from the beginning, the Collegio play the rôle of mutual aid and assistance to young women distributing, every year on July 25th, a certain number of dowries. From the archives it results that in 1870, the year when Italy was unified, the University gave to poor girls five dowries of 25, 21 and 20 scutes and two dowries of 12.50 scutes.
During the Napoleonic period the Nobil Collegio was subject to the French laws, but subsequently unlikely all the other Arts and Crafts guilds, the Pope, Pio VII Chiaramonti, did not suppress it and on January 1820 it could publish again its statute.
The prosperity of the Nobil Collegio stopped on September 20th 1870, when the Statuto Albertino was applied to the young nation; this statute imposed the removal of privileges and prerogatives and, above all, the exclusion of artistic and working organizations from the public activities. In this way, the roman masters could not carry on their statute activities and during the last General Meeting on June 9th 1873 they decided to constitute themselves as “Consorzio of Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Capi d’Arte of Rome”, for which they obtained the recognition as Moral Corps with the Royal Decree on December 19th 1875.
The Consorzio was mainly involved in assistance, it kept on distributing benefits for sick or disabled members, ran bequests for the dowries which were always allotted regularly by collecting the necessary funds from the annuities of the real and personal estates and, mostly, from the voluntary money contributions of the members.
Parallel with the Consorzio, there was the so called “Cassa Mutua”, a welfare institution, but it had no links with the past. The social rôle played by the fraternity was gradually replaced by the public agencies for assistance and health.
Concerning the technical rôle played by the Consorzio inside the goldsmith field, it was replaced by the territorial agencies aimed to the economical development of the Italian Kingdom.
Anyway, the Consorzio carries on its life as keeper of the traditions, of the artistic treasures and of the Historical Archive as well, the only cultural landmark in the growth of the goldsmith activity.
On October 9th 1971 the “Consorzio of the Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Capi d’Arte of Rome” finally assumed the cultural rôle which has been playing for years and started a new cultural life thanks to a decree of the President of the Italian Republic that changed it in “Università e Nobil Collegio degli Orafi Gioiellieri Argentieri dell’Alma Città di Roma”.
The University still keeps its own archive which is one of the most interesting of the sector because of its specificity and completeness and because it came out safe and sound of the windings of History. Recently, at the end of eighties, the Superintendence of the Historical Archives of Lazio started to reorder the Archive and, at the end of the restorations in 1993,it moved the Archive to the present location belonging to the University, just near the church.
Since 1990 the Collegio organizes artistic and cultural events such as courses, conferences, concerts, exhibitions and expositions opening the monument to roman people and to art-lovers.
In 1992, together with the National Museum of Castel S. Angelo, the Collegio was present as special guest to the exhibition “The Treasures from Petersburg” shown in Italy for the first time.
Some occasions have been particularly significative in the life of the Nobil Collegio, such as the institution, on the day dedicated to the patron saint, of the annual Prize “University of Goldsmiths” awarded to outstanding personages belonging to the cultural and artistic world, of the biennial Prizes “Armando de Simoni” for young apprentice goldsmiths, “Gilberto Lefevre” for young chisellers, and of the Prize “Edelmiro Vespasiani Gentilucci” awarded to last-year students whose degree-thesis are related to the art and to the world of goldsmith or are dedicated to eminent goldsmiths members of the University.
The Church of S. Eligio of the Goldsmiths is surrounded by sixteenth-century buildings, which are part of the endowment of “de’ beni della Chiesa” (the Church properties), as it results from the registrations hanged on the walls; the buildings are still run by the Sodalizio and are part of its real estate.
The Goldsmiths and the Silversmiths belonging to the “Nobil Collegio dei Gioiellieri Orefici ed Argentieri dell’Alma città di Roma”, have been holding important positions for nearly four centuries and they carried out specific activities: masters, weighers and assayers of the papal Mint, weighers and appraisers of the pawnshop Sacro Monte di Pietà, checkers of weighs and measures with their own jurisdiction and with a large number of immunities, privileges, duties and honors, without neglecting their artistic activity.
The Collegio of Goldsmiths and Silversmiths often numbered, and still numbers, well known artistic personages, skilled and sensitive, who helped, and helps, to uphold the prestige of the category.

Università degli Orefici Via S. Eligio, 7 - 00186 - Roma - Tel. 06-6868260- Fax 06-6868260 - E-mail: info@universitadegliorefici.it
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