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& GOLD handcrafted by the Orsoni family
in Venice, Italy since 1888
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Working with Smalti

When you make the choice to create with Orsoni smalti, you are choosing the finest mosaic material in the world. History, tradition, and artistry are reflected in every piece of Orsoni smalti and you join with, and carry on, that tradition through your own creations.
SMALTI AND GOLD BY ANGELO ORSONI

Production

Angelo Orsoni is one of the very few remaining producers today of traditional, authentic smalti- and it is Orsoni smalti that has set the standard by which all smalti is judged. Orsoni smalti is still handmade in the family factory in Venice, Italy using traditional techniques and guarded family ‘recipes’.

Cut

Authentic smalti is cut from slabs of handmade opaque glass. The sheared, cut edge of the glass serves as the top of the tesserae. It is this cut that gives Orsoni smalti its brilliance and stunning reflective qualities.

Color

Angelo Orsoni was the first to introduce to the world the vast range of vibrant and subtle shades that are available today. Master glassmakers mix and prepare the glass using age-old techniques. The glass is annealed (cooled) very slowly and methodically so that the rich color of each tessera is consistent throughout.

Size

Each tessera is hand-cut in the Orsoni factory in Venice. The standard “A” cut is cut into rectangular tesserae, approximately 15 x 10 x 6mm (5/8” x 3/8” x 1/4” in.). The width of each piece is relatively consistent, but it’s the variation in texture and depth of each tessera that gives smalti its beauty and adds interest and vitality to the mosaics created with it.

The larger “B” cut pieces are chunks from the whole smalti ‘pizzas’ and are used by artists who prefer to cut their own tesserae. The “B” cut are approximately 4-6 cm square and irregular and are 10mm thick (2” x 2” in., 3/8” thick) They can be used flat-side up (the top surface of the pizza) or can be cut into strips with a hammer/hardie or diamond blade and then nipped into individual tessera, using the shiny, sheared-side up, as in the “A” cut.

Orsoni gold is made with the purest 24kt gold leaf. The gold leaf is sandwiched between a transparent glass base and a fine, hand-blown glass that protects the surface. The three elements are fused in the furnace, creating a single slab that is free of cracks even in the most minute fragments. The gold is then hand cut into 1 x 1 cm squares. (larger sizes are available by special order)

"Which side is 'up'?"
This is the most common question we hear from those new to smalti. It is the rivened, uneven surface of the smalti- the widest area showing- that serves as the top of the tessera. This is where the glass is the purest color and the rivened surface allows your mosaic to catch the light. Often, one side of the smalti is a little concave- and the other side is convex. Either can be used as your 'up' side. The sides of the A cut smalti are flat and straight, which allows them to be laid closely together very easily.

Applications Smalti is a gorgeous mosaic material for a variety of applications, indoors and out. Its strong, intense color and fascinating texture makes it particularly suited for fine art mosaic panels and murals. Smalti also adds richness and pizzazz to fireplace surrounds, backsplashes, mirrors, picture frames, and other decorative items. Because of its uneven, textured top surface, smalti is not particularly suited for mosaics that require a perfectly flat surface, like floors and table tops (unless using the flat top surface of the “B” cut). Orsoni smalti and mosaic gold are 100% waterproof, fade proof and weatherproof and can be used for exterior and interior applications.

Cutting Smalti Smalti cuts easily with high quality wheeled glass cutters (see Tools and Supplies for our Leponitt Wheeled Glass Cutters). For the cleanest cut, place the wheels of the cutter in the middle of the piece of smalti, with the wheels facing in the direction you’d like the cut to go. Squeeze the handles of the cutters in one quick, strong ‘POP’. Like cutting any mosaic tile, you’ll get the hang of it in no time and can cut your smalti to any size and shape you desire. You can also use the traditional hammer and hardie to cut smalti with great precision.

For cutting the larger and thicker “B” cut smalti, a hammer and hardie is recommended for the best results. You can also use side-bite tile nippers to cut the chunks into smaller squares, and then cut with a Wheeled Glass cutters into individual tesserae. (it takes a good bit of pressure, however)

Laying Smalti Smalti can be laid using the direct, indirect, and double indirect methods. For outstanding instruction in these methods, see the book “Mosaic Techniques and Traditions” by Sonia King. The direct method takes full advantage of the varying depth and texture of smalti, creating liveliness and movement in your mosaics. The indirect method will produce a smoother surface and is often preferred for the ease of creating larger mosaics.

Smalti is traditionally laid directly next to each other, with no grout lines, so that the smalti plays off the surrounding tesserae. All adhesives used with other mosaic materials can be used with smalti. Thin-set mortar with acrylic admix is the traditional adhesive as the thinset 'self-grouts' the mosaic as it's laid. You can also use a clear adhesive, such as Weldbond or DAP Kwik Seal Plus- Clear for interior mosaics. If using a clear adhesive, first paint your substrate with black acrylic paint (so that the light colored wood won't show between the spaces between the smalti. ) After painting your substrate, seal the painted board with a 30/70 mixture of Weldbond and water to provide extra 'grip' for your adhesive. Apply the clear adhesive directly to the smalti as you lay it on your substrate.

Finishing Smalti mosaics are traditionally left ungrouted. By leaving a smalti mosaic ungrouted, you achieve the full effect of the inherent vibrancy of the smalti. When using thinset as your adhesive, the thinset serves the dual purpose of adhering the smalti to your surface, while ‘self-grouting’ the mosaic from behind at the same time. Smalti mosaics can be grouted if desired. By grouting, some of the intensity of the smalti is muted as grout may fill some of the bubbles and irregularities that make smalti so unique- and this may be just the effect you are trying to achieve. It’s completely up to your own artistic vision. Smalti and completed smalti mosaics can be cleaned with any regular glass cleaner, like Windex.

And remember: ALWAYS USE EXTREME CAUTION WHEN CUTTING OR WORKING WITH SMALTI OR ANY TYPE OF GLASS. ALWAYS WEAR PROTECTIVE GLASSES, EVEN OVER YOUR EYEGLASSES.