Published: December 28, 2004
More than 250 examples of gold jewelry and related material from the Nineteenth Century Roman workshop of jeweler Fortunato Pio Castellani and his sons, Alessandro and Augusto, are currently on display in “Castellani and Italian Archaeological Jewelry.” The comprehensive exhibition is on view through February 5 at the Bard Graduate Center (BCG).
The family’s forte was the copying and adaptation of ancient Greek, Etruscan and Roman pieces, but Castellani work often rivaled or even surpassed that of the classical period. The skillful inclusion of cameos, intaglios or micromosaic compositions as colored ornament on brooches, necklaces and bracelets continued the antique theme.
Four years in the making, the landmark show has a formidable list of lenders, including the National Etruscan Museum at the Villa Giulia in Rome, the British Museum and the Louvre. After its only American stop in New York, the exhibition will travel to the Villa Giulia and Somerset House in London.
“Initially, I was fascinated by the workmanship and the quality of the work,” says Walker. “But the more I understood about the Castellanis, the more I realized they were very important figures in the cultural history of Rome, as collectors and scholars and museum founders. They were politically active; there were many layers to their careers. The exhibition is an opportunity for visitors to go beyond the dazzling beauty of the jewels and learn more about Italian history and culture. They were so much more than just jewelers.”
When Fortunato Pio Castellani (1794-1865) opened his workshop in 1814, just after the period of French occupation, Rome was only the third largest city in Italy with about 135,000 people, after Naples (450,000) and Palermo (180,000). The Pope was heavily involved in the turbulent Roman political scene, while northern and southern Italy on either side of the Papal States were divided into many separate kingdoms.
In 1826, Castellani gave a lecture at the distinguished Accademia dei Lincei, where he met Michelangelo Caetani, a Roman aristocrat and antiquarian with an artistic bent. This chance encounter had a great effect on the success of the workshop, because the nobleman was able to open doors to other wealthy families who might provide commissions. Caetani also designed a number of impressive pieces in the neo-Gothic style executed by Castellani.
By the 1850s, Castellani, now joined by his sons, had begun his experiments with ancient gold techniques and was encouraged by Caetani to find suitable classical models to emulate. Since ancient sculpture began to be unearthed and collected during Renaissance, interest in antiquity had been continually renewed by additional discoveries, such as the excavation of Pompeii and Herculaneum in the Eighteenth Century. In support of his own imperial ambitions, Napoleon and his court had popularized an archaeological form of classicism in architecture, furnishings and even costume.
A turning point for the Castellanis came after the opening of the famous Regolini-Galassi tomb in Etruria in 1836. Fortunato Pio and son Alessandro were allowed to examine the ancient jewelry. They sought to recreate the techniques necessary to make pieces in the same style, in particular, repousse, filigree and granulation. Reproduction of the fine granules found on ancient jewelry was a challenge even for the Castellanis, and chapter seven of the exhibition catalog is devoted to the technical aspects of their archaeological gold work. Their success is demonstrated by exhibits in the Bard show, which directly compare ancient jewelry and similar Castellani pieces.
The family was acquainted with the famous acquisitive Marchese Giovanni Pietro Campana, who had such a passion for collecting ancient artifacts that he misappropriated funds. When his holdings were put up for sale, the Castellanis attempted to save the marchese’s jewelry collection for Italy (most eventually went to Napoleon III) but were allowed to study the pieces before they left the country. Although denied this particular prize, the family did acquire an important personal collection of ancient jewelry and other material, which they restored – a common practice at the time – and used as models.
Artistic work was at times interrupted by political upheavals. At one point in the 1850s, Alessandro Castellani became so involved in clandestine Republican activism that he attracted the attention of the Papal police. Fortunato Pio had son Augusto take over the business and sent Alessandro off to Paris in 1860 and then London in 1862. While there, he coordinated the firm’s display of jewelry at the international exhibition of that year, which led to widespread recognition abroad. After the unification of Italy in 1870, when the political situation made it possible for him to return from exile, the flamboyant Alessandro Castellani had furthered the workshop’s reputation abroad.
Geoffrey Munn, jewelry historian and director of London’s Wartski, authored the 1984 study, Castellani and Giuliano: Revivalist Jewellers of the Nineteenth Century, which provided an important foundation work for the current catalog. He noted: “No Nineteenth Century lady of fashion visiting Italy would consider her tour of Rome complete without calling at Castellani’s shop near the Spanish Steps to acquire one of the famous pieces of Italian archaeological jewellery offered there.”
American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne paid a visit in 1858 while he was a resident in Italy, and literary couple Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning purchased jewelry from the firm in 1860 and 1863. William Wetmore Story, who had a studio in Rome where he created monumental sculptures based on themes from antiquity, purchased a micromosaic brooch with a dove design.
As the catalog notes, “The mainstay of the Castellani business, however, was the local aristocracy, including the Altieri, Barberini, Borghese, Doria, Massimi, Orsini, Patrizi and Torlonia families. Roman nobles, it seems, constantly had to have their family jewels repaired, reset or sold to raise cash, and required new rdf_Descriptions, particularly for weddings, New Year’s gifts and other family occasions.”
An important early commission entrusted to workshop founder Fortunato Pio Castellani in 1834 is an excellent example of this relationship. Prince Camille Borghese entrusted his family’s entire collection of jewels to the artisan to be reset in the “modern style.” The jeweler produced drawings for five full parures (now in the Borghese archives at the Vatican along with the invoices); each was set with a different gemstone: diamond, ruby, emerald, sapphire and pearl. Although the principal fame of the Castellani firm was for their archaeological goldwork, the workshop certainly made more traditional gem-set pieces when required.
Because the Castellanis were at times replicating pieces of ancient jewelry, such as hair ornaments and pins for securing classical dress, it takes some imagination to decide what went where. Thus, Stephanie Walker explains, “We have two mannequins in period dresses and wigs with Castellani jewelry – tiaras, earrings, bracelets and hair pins. In some cases, it is difficult to figure out how these things were actually worn and what they looked like on a costume. In one room, we have put together a gallery of images of women wearing the jewelry.”
For example, a what’s-in-style plate in an 1868 copy of La Mode Illustree shows two women, dressed for an evening party, wearing gold necklaces of archaeological style and classicizing hair ornament. An illustration in the catalog of a photographic portrait of the Comtesse de Castiglione dressed as the Queen of Etruria for a costume ball at the Tuileries in Paris, February 1865, demonstrates the full visual effect of Nineteenth Century jewelry coupled with a dramatic attitude on the part of the model.
Augusto Castellani died in 1914 and his son Alfredo closed the workshop in 1927. The family’s antiquities and study collections were donated to the Villa Giulia museum. While many of the remaining pieces of jewelry were sold to pay debts, other Castellani creations are now on display with their ancient collection in a new well-lit installation mounted at the Villa Giulia in 1999.
As a major teaching institution, BCG is able to coordinate its exhibitions with in-depth public programs, which further explore the topic. On January 6, art historian Susanna Sarti will lecture on “Giovanni Pietro Campana 1808-1880: The Man and His Collection,” focusing on the collector whose antiquities had such an important influence on the Castellanis.
On January 7, a study day from 12 to 5 pm will include a lecture on “Ancient Jewelry Arts: Lost and Found,” a tour of the exhibition, a visit to the Jewelry Arts Institute and a concluding reception at A La Vieille Russie; $125, $90 seniors and students.
Exhibition catalogs are available for $90 from The Bard Graduate for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design, and Culture, 18 West 86th Street on New York’s West Side. For information, 212-501-3000 or www.bgc.bard.edu.
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