Meet The Sculptor Who Casts The A-List & Clones Football’s Top Trophies
Written by Jaillan Yehia
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He’s shaken the hands of every celebrity you can think of from Quentin Tarantino, Robert De Niro and Angelica Houston to Kirk Douglas and Samuel L. Jackson – the list goes on.
But unlike the average fan, Dante Mortet has gone on to make bronze sculptures of those very hands, becoming one of the Hollywood elite’s favourite artists in the process.
And as well as being the sculpting star to all the Hollywood celebs, Dante is on the speed dials of plenty of international footballers – especially after they’ve been on a winning World Cup team. That’s because Dante is the go-to guy when you want your very own hand-crafted, high end, full-scale replica of your winning footballing trophy.
This Roman craftsman, a sixth generation sculptor whose family began making chalices for the Pope 120 years ago, hand makes perfect reproductions of the world’s most prized trophies from his atmospheric workshop right in the heart of the Italian capital.
So from the old gods of Christianity to the new saints of sport and celebrity, when it comes to making something precious out of molten metal, this Dante’s Inferno is the real deal.
Step inside his studio for an access-all-areas pass to a truly hidden side of Rome.
Dante’s Celebrity Inferno
Dante Mortet is an intriguing character. In fact he is just as intriguing as his A-list clientele.
His nonna was born underneath the Sistine Chapel, his great grandfather was the chef to the pope’s private guard and his grandfather made the chalice they use in Bethlehem for Christmas Mass.
So how did an artist with such connections to Christianity end up hanging around the mere mortal legends of sport and screen?
‘When I was younger we would sit down to eat around the table with my father and I could see his hands were dirty’, Dante explains.
His mum would ask his father to wash his hands ‘but no matter how much he washed them they were always dirty, because he worked with his hands.’
This is when Dante realised that the reason they could afford to eat around a table at all was because his father Aurelio worked with these dirty hands of his – and since then Dante has been obsessed with hands as artwork, something which struck a chord with the creative elite of Los Angeles.
Family Ties: From The Pope to The Premier League
It’s said that sushi masters spend the first few years of their apprenticeship just learning to make the rice. Dante spends his first years just watching – then began working with his dad aged 14.
‘Do you think classical Italian Art became the leader because it is genius or because it is a system?’ Dante asks.‘There were geniuses yes – Caravaggio and Michelangelo, but more importantly they had a system. Italian art is like a lab, and the knowledge is spread down through the generations.’
Working with the Pope may seem like a strange thing to be passed down through generations of a family, but that’s what happened for the Mortets. Now, rather ironically, Dante himself is somewhat of a god of creation to the famous faces who are themselves worshipped around the world.
From his Central Rome workshop in the intriguingly named Tower of the Monkey (a higgledy piggledy building which is every bit as atmospheric as it sounds), he takes on celluloid and soccer-themed projects, and when I meet him he’s making a collection of sculptures for the Tarantino film The Hateful Eight.
This is how, while still working with the highest echelons of the Catholic Church, Dante has become firm friends with the high priests of today’s most prominent religion: fame.
In fact when I visit Dante at his studio to see him in action, and the first thing I spot when I arrive is the World Cup, followed by a bubble-wrapped full-size Premier League cup which is ready to be shipped to a prominent football hero.
It turns out Dante is a dab hand at crafting perfect replicas of trophies, and is commissioned to make them by soccer legends like John Terry. Footballers who find themselves on a winning team can’t all keep the original trophy, so it’s a popular indulgence to get an identical copy created for you for posterity.
And I’m told that while actors are likely to commission casts of their hands, footballers are all about getting bronze sculptures of their feet.
This of course makes sense – especially to Dante who has somehow managed to fit in a stint as a footballer himself amongst all this sculpting.
There are fascinating artefacts lying everywhere around the workshop – signed photos of celebrities, a wax cast of Martin Scorsese’s hand and a full-size European Cup too – Dante tells me that he’ll be working with Mohammed Ali next week.
My head is spinning with all these names and as I’m about to leave I’m introduced to Dante’s friend and the local barber, whose luxurious shop is on the corner of Via de Portoghesi, an that’s where the story takes an unexpected twist.
Cavorting With Caravaggio
Just like anything and anyone connected with Dante, Roberto is no ordinary barber – he runs what was almost certainly once Caravaggio’s barber’s shop and he himself is a Caravaggio expert.
He accompanies myself and Dante to an evening lecture on three Caravaggio masterpieces which, this being Rome, is happening in the local church just a few minutes’ walk away.
The paintings depict the life of St. Matthew – from corrupt tax collector to Sainthood – and seeing these with an expert shines a light on the works, quite literally.
We’re told to examine one scene’s composition which shows Matthew sitting at a table counting his taxes. There are two light sources in the picture – one coming from a window which is shown in the painting itself, the other seemingly emanating from an unspecified place, alluding to the light of the grace of God.
All the light shards lands on the money piled up on the table, and points, almost like a classical version of a neon arrow, aimed straight at the cash.
In this priceless Italian masterpiece we see the moment in which Matthew realises what he’s doing with his own hands – collecting and counting money. ‘He senses that it is time for him to make a decision, to follow Christ or follow the money,’ explains the art historian.
At this moment I look at Dante Mortet – one man who is able to follow both.
Dante Mortet is one of 28 world class Roman artisans who were chosen to represent the pinnacle of Italian crafts and shopping in the Eternal City – you can see some of the other craftspeople by reading my guide to the 28 best shops in Rome.
You can find out more about Dante’s Mano Artigiana project by visiting his website .
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