Munich Personal RePEc Archive

The Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence: excellence in spite of mediocrity

Alessandro, Narduzzo and Luca, Zan (2006): The Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence: excellence in spite of mediocrity.

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The Opificio delle Pietre Dure in Florence (Masonry Workshop) is of ancient lineage, dating back to the Botteghe Granducali set up in 1588 by the Medici Grand Duke Ferdinand I. In the 1880's, after the Unification of Italy, it was turned into a restoration workshop (a discipline, at that time, just emerging), specializing at first in stone materials, then eventually becoming a state institute. After the 1966 flood in Florence, when most of the masterpieces stored in museums, libraries and churches were damaged, the Opificio played a fundamental role organizing around a single institution most of the Florentine laboratories active in restoring the artistic works and other complementary competencies. Facing the emergence was an extraordinary learning opportunity for the Opificio and this experience deeply marked the subsequent evolution of this organization. Given the uniqueness of the damage and the huge amount of work that had to be done without delays, tradition and experimentation were mixed together by taking advantage of both craftsmanship skills in art restoration and complementary scientific competencies.

Our study investigates the historical development of the Opificio with regard to the evolution of the institutional environment under a strategic change perspective. The inconsistency between the nature of its "task" and the set of inflexible rules deriving from the institutional setting (i.e. a branch of the Ministry) is one of the most critical issues characterizing this organization.

Because a large part of technical and organizational capabilities are context dependent and expressed in a tacit form, it is critical to analyze the everyday activity in an extensive way and rely our conclusions on direct observations. On the one hand, art restoration is supposed to be strongly based on tradition and experience; on the other hand, each project is unique and different from the previous one and it rises new problems and it leaves room for innovation and experimentation.

What is striking about the Opificio is such a contradiction between its excellence in core competencies (art restoration) and the daily struggle with procedures and constraints posed by the administrative life. Making sense of organizational survival rises some intriguing issues in the interplay between processes at different levels. Looking at the micro processes that we observed in the everyday activity suggests to explore different interpretations of the coupling between superior reputation and administrative mediocrity that we provide and compare in the paper.

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