The Twentieth-Century Italian Jewelry at the Milan Poldi Pezzoli Museum
The Twentieth-Century Italian Jewelry (Il gioiello italiano del XX secolo) exhibition, curated by jewelry historian Melissa Gabardi, was completed in March at the Milan Poldi Pezzoli Museum. For the first time the evolution of Italian jewelry in the 20th century was fully covered: 150 jewelry pieces created in the years 1900-1990 were presented in a historical, social and economic context. Special attention was focused on the world of fashion, design and architecture, events and trendsetters, members of royal families and movie stars, which influenced society’s taste.
From the end of the 19th century until the middle of the 20th century historicism dominated. The source of inspiration for Italian jewelers was the “past”: the rethinking of such styles as Classicism, Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo. The ancient goldsmith and carving techniques were applied, cameos and decorative elements of Greeks, Etruscans and Romans were used. Coral was often used as well.
The Iron Crown of Lombardy, kept in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Monza, inspired Milanese jeweler Villa to create a famous bracelet. Its first copy was donated to Princess Yolanda of Savoy by the Duke d’Acquarone on the occasion of her wedding with Count Giorgio Carlo Calvi on April 9th, 1923, in Rome.
The beginning of the 20th century is impossible to imagine without jeweler Mario Buccellati, who opened his first workshop on Santa Margherita Street in Milan, in 1919. Forerunner of Made in Italy, he attached great value to such ancient techniques as engraving, chasing, niello, damascene inlay and enamel. The master even opened a school for engravers and chasers at the workshop.
His work is distinguished by the grace of the drawing, the harmony of proportions, the quality of performance and attention to details. He uses precious stones and materials for the realization of weightless elements.
His jewellery had great success not only among the Milanese aristocracy, but also at the court of Italy, Spain, Egypt and the Vatican. The incredible sensitivity of the lines and the cult of the past brought the artist closer to Gabriele d’Annunzio, who called him “The Prince of Jewelers” and became his loyal client.
The royal houses have always played an important part in the development of jewelry art. Italy is not an exception: the ruling Savoy dynasty actively contributed to its growth. Italian jewellers competed with each other for the right to be chief court jeweler.
Chiappe in Genoa, Musy in Turin, Petochi in Rome, Ventrella in Naples were the main creators of royal jewelry treasures.
Natural motifs in jewelry art from the XVII, XVIII and XIX (17th, 18th and 19th) centuries, continued to expand in the 20th century. Many ornaments emerged. In the center there was a flower with its inherent symbolism: rose – love, violet – modesty, forget-me-not – memory, lily – purity.
One of the favorite themes were golden brooches featuring Venetian blackamoors in turbans and sparkling robes.
Liberty style was gaining popularity in Italy after the International Exhibition of Contemporary Decorative Arts of 1902 in Turin and the International Exhibition of 1906 in Milan. In this jewelry there was the desire for a new approach the choice of a unique design. The beauty of the product depended on its artistic value, not on the costs of materials. Smooth flexible lines and natural themes prevailed. Semiprecious opal and transparent stones, ivory, mother of pearl, bone and enamel were all used for adornments.
At the same time the “Garland” style or style guirlande emerged. The linear arrangement of compositions made of diamonds and placed in the light and elegant platinum settings became Cartier’s signature style. He tried to revive the palace style of Louis XVI, the pre-revolutionary jewelry style. As platinum perfectly reflected light, he began to use it for his jewellery. All his works seemed fragile and ethereal.
The source of inspiration was patterns, bows, coats of arms, frills. Louis wanted to ease up on the diamond settings, so that the stones could shine in full splendor.
Art Deco was evolving in Italy between the end of the First World War and the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs held in Paris in 1925. In the 1920s simple lines predominated. The pixie style haircut and different types of headbands, long earrings, heavy bracelets and long beads with brushes were in fashion. The wristwatch, a symbol of emancipation and modernity, was very popular as well.
A signature characteristic of Art Deco jewelry was the use of futuristic motifs and geometric forms, right angles and lines, symmetrical compositions and new stonecuts, reflecting the confident and free-thinking spirit of the time.
The works of Milanese jeweler Alfredo Ravasco (1873-1958) is an extraordinary example of craftsmanship and was appreciated during the Paris Exhibition of 1925.
At the beginning of the 1930s, Italian economy felt the crisis of 1929. The autarchy declared by Benito Mussolini in 1936 imposed a drastic importation reduction and an austere patriotic lifestyle. Nevertheless the most important jewelers continued to create luxurious adornments inspired by the French bijoux blancs. It was geometric jewelry in platinum or grey gold, covered with a scattering of small diamonds pavés, arranged in symmetrical lines.
Hereafter the forms got rounder andsometimes color accents were used: emeralds, rubies, sapphires. Peculiar was the transformable jewel, which could be used in many occasions.
In the 40s, during the Second World War, a crisis of jewelry production was inevitable: many companies and workshops were destroyed or closed, restrictionlaws that limited the use of precious metals were introduced. It was impossible to acquire stones and metals from distant countries. Jewelers had to re-melt precious metals provided by their customers and work with cheaper metals such as steel.
Inexpensive adornments, in pink and yellow gold, inspired by natural motifs, with imaginative and asymmetrical lines, were produced in Italy. Impressive forms compensated the lack of precious stones.Semi-precious stones were used more often, and sometimes even synthetic ones. Coral in jewelry was very popular because of its availability in Italy.
The 1950’s were the time of the economic boom in Italy. Industrial companies were being formed. Jewelry with precious stones and diamonds were a synonym of wealth. A new trend was beginning to develop: jewellery by artists.
In October 1949 in Milan the “Jewelry by Masenza” exhibition was inaugurated. Artists and sculptors took part in creating the works of this Roman jeweler. Among them the Afro brothers, Mirko and Dino Basaldella, Franco Cannilla, Giuseppe Capogrossi and Giuseppe Uncini.
The middle of the 50’s was marked by the artistic searches and experimentations of the Pomodoro brothers.
The 60s were the years of the Italian “dolce vita”. Movie stars became icons of style and trendsetters. The originality and invention of the jeweler came to the fore. Decorated yellow gold prevailed: the surface of the piece was divided into segments, return to enamel technique.
Fashion favored the diffusion of pendants and chains, which were worn not only on the wrist or neck, but also around the waist and leg. A brooch could be pinned on the left shoulder of a suit.
The Roman jeweler Cazzaniga, who had been working since the 1920s, worked with enamel, breathing life into the Mediterranean style.
The Florentine Enrico Serafini drew inspiration from floral and natural motifs. His enameled brooches, with semiprecious and precious stones, were refined in details and carefully elaborated. In 1957 he became the first Italian jeweler to receive the prestigious Diamond International Award.
A miniature zoo with strange creatures and wild animals of Bestiario collection, created in the late 60’s by jeweler Frascarolo.
A sudden economic crisis in the early 70’s caused the rise of gold price and jewelers started to create small jewelry and favored industrial design without great decorations.
In 1967 Pino Rabolini founded the Pomellato brand, which created accessories for everyday life, visible but weightless. The same year James Rivière opened his own workshop, where he designed and created his works.
In 1970 Carlo Ciarli, who worked in advertising, and jeweler Giovanni Illario founded the company Giò Caroli in Valenza.
The 80s were a time for freedom, in which the old and the new, handwork and industrial production, were mixed. The figure of the business woman stepped forward. A new type of jewelry was created just for her. Design prevailed and semi-precious stones were highly used.
In 1984 the Vhernier brand was founded.
The highlight of the exhibition were the adornments created for La Scala theater. They were worn by artists and members of high society. It was a parade of luxury, typical of the post-war years.
The exhibition ended with the works of the Padua School (Scuola di Padova), known for the search of new trends in jewelry art.
This Ambitious project, curated by Melissa Gabardi and the Poldi Pezzoli Museum, embraced all the main stages of Italian jewelry evolution in the twentieth century. In the first half of the 1900s. Italian jewelry art followed French canons, while during the second half it went along the path of independent development.