Fonderie e ottonai
...The work of the ottonài is prominent in many different parts of the boat: the “canòni” (flowers holders and the lights at the bow and stern of the gondola); the “faràl”, the overhanging light in welded brass plate; the decorations on the upper part of the stern “lama” shape and the style of which are carefully chosen by the gondolier.
The objects which the “ottonài” and “fondidòri” are most famous for are the “cavài”, a symmetrical pair of seahorses which decorate the central part of the two sides of the gondola. They are called “cavài” (horses), but their shape can refer to a vast and original repertoire of subjects in which the marine elements are often combined whit those of the animal kingdom of mythical beasts: the head, but sometimes the body too, can be that of a horse, a dolphin, a bird of prey, a dragon, a griffin, a triton or a sea nymph. At one time, every important family had his own particular “seahorse”.
The casting is carried out using an ancient technique: a “staffa” (stirrup). The stirrup, also known as “French sand”, in which the model is impressed. After the model is removed and the book is “closed”, the brass or bronze is poured inside.
The rough form (from which the larger residues of the fusion are removed with a chisel) is worked by hand in the workshop using files and chisels of various sizes, grain and thickness. The thinnest chisels are used to create the details such as the curls of hair or the features of a face. The next stage is grinding and polishing.
The “ottonài” were part of the Guild of Turners. References to them can be found in the fourteenth-century “Capitolari” (Statutes)