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Gaetano Magnolfi, Prato and weaving as a springboard

from Annalisa Chelli - 01/04/2015

Annalisa Chelli

Since I have started writing for the DHG blog, I have discovered so many things about Prato and the world of weaving. Prato is my city and I thought I knew it very well, instead I realized there are a thousand stories, places and personalities that I had never heard before, which are actually worth discussing. One of them is Gaetano Magnolfi.

Gaetano Magnolfi, born in Prato in 1786, was the son of a carpenter who run his own workshop in Prato in the period leading to unification of Italy. His father made, among many other things, spools for weaving. As we all know, Prato and weaving have always been a perfect match, like bread and butter. The workshop allowed the Magnolfis to gain a considerable amount of money, which Gaeatano managed very wisely. This small fortune grow over time thanks to Gaetano’s entrepreneurial decisions, and made him an eminent and widely-respected citizen. He managed his father’s workshop, he opened an iron fundry, a few grocery shops, a paper mill and other side businesses. He was also one of the founders of the Cassa di Risparmio di Prato, a bank with which he started a philantropic activity. And it is exactly because of his generosity that I decided I should tell his story.

The kindergarten and the orphanage

Gaetano had no children. That may be one of the reasons why he dedicated himself to the less fortunate children. He started by managing an all-female school which helped poor girls. Here, girls would learn how to read and write as well as weaving and sewing. He then ventured in starting a kindergarten, the first one in Tuscany. Then, in 1837, he opened an orphanage for boys. The boys were thus taken off the streets, sent to school and taught a trade. They were given hope for a better future. A grand project which grew over time, and was carried out with a lot of effort and dedication. The printmakers, weavers and carpenters were among the best you could find, to the point that the institute was dubbed the “Technological Orphanage”, because the students would develop such advanced skills in this orphanage/workshop.

Without Magnolfi’s dedication and generosity, Prato would not probably have become what it is. The boys from his orphanage were the very bricks with which the city was built. Skilled and productive craftsmen. And telling stories like Magnolfi’s always gives me goosebumps because real, disinterested kindness is a rare, heartwarming quality.

The Magnolfi Orphanage does not exist anymore, but the building has been restored and are now home to the Magnolfi Nuovo (The New Magnolfi), a small theater and youth hostel. If you wish to get to know Prato better, we suggest you spend the night there, where the story of such an important man is preserved and passed on to future generations. This is also a good way to keep his memory alive. Magnolfi nuovo

The photo of the typography department of the Magnolfi Orphanage was taken from the book, ‘I luoghi storici della produzione nel pratese’ di Giuseppe Guanci

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