In 1814 Fortunato Pio Castellani (1794-1865) opened an eponymous shop in the palatial ground floor of Plazzo Raggi on the Via Del Corso in Rome. From this location, Fortunato not only made and sold jewellery, he also dealt in Art. His interest in art history developed further when the demand for revivalist jewellery from tourists to the historic city. The growing popularity for classical motifs in jewellery, such as rams heads, acanthus leaves and carved intaglios during the early 1800s was fuelled by the headline hitting excavations of archaeological sites in Italy and Egypt.
Jewellery Maker Profile: Castellani
Fortunato began to specialise in ancient gold working techniques, striving to faithfully recreate the delicate granulation or filigree textures in ancient jewellery. Encouraged by his friend and patron, Michelangelo Caetani, Duke of Sermoneta, by the 1950’s Castellani specialised exclusively in manufacturing antique archaeological inspired jewellery. The duke’s imagination became an integral part of Castellani’s creations, with his help Fortunato began to experiment with mosaics within jewellery, the mastery of which the firm became famed for. The minute images set in a bangle or necklace depicted a range of imagery, from mythological subjects to religious and secular.
In 1860 Fortunato retired, leaving the firm in the hands of his son, Augusto. A year before his other son, Alessandro fled Italy to avoid imprisonment for his radical political views. Alessandro emigrated to Paris, where he opened a workshop and showroom on the Champs Elysee. This move allowed the brothers to expand the family business to a broader range of clients across Europe. A further expansion of their distinct revivalist approach came when a pupil of Castellani, Carlo Guiliano, moved to London and opened a shop at 13 Firth Street.
In 1861 the Campagna Collection was sold, with part acquired with Alessandro’s help, by the French Government. Alessandro was instrumental in the comprehensive restoration and cataloguing of the collection. Yet, his father, Fortunato was heart broken by the important collection of archaeological jewellery leaving Italy. Believing that it was a national tragedy, he was prompted to form his own collection of antiquities. Organised into eight different periods, Fortunato’s comprehensive collection was displayed in cabinets throughout the firm’s new showroom on 88 Via Poli. In 1865 Fortunato died, leaving an impressive legacy for his sons to continue.
In 1881 Castellani made a final move, to Piazza Fontana di Trevi and two years later, Alessandro died leaving Augusto to continue the family business with the help of his own son Alfredo. By 1914, an important year, both bringing the conflict of the first world war, and the death of Augusto. Alfredo continued the family business, despite Europe’s passion for revivalist classical jewellery dwindling to a specialised few collectors. The aftermath of the Great War saw the dawn of a new look in the clean lines of Art Deco and a mania for jewellery inspired by Indian art. Alfredo died without children to inherit the family business, and so after three generations, Castellani closed its doors in 1930. However, the jeweller’s legacy was well preserved for posterity by Alfredo who meticulously catalogued his grandfather and father’s extensive collections of antiquities and the firm’s designs. He ensured the preservation of the Castellani name in the history of jewellery, by gifting several important collections upon his death to various museums. Most significant 526 Castellani pieces together with a collection of antiquities, was left to the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Guilia in Rome.
Art of Antiquity
A strong sense of history and national pride pervades all Castellani pieces. Their beautifully wrought revivalist pieces showcase the length and breath of Italian goldsmiths.
Castellani’s jewels are modelled faithfully and with a deep academic understanding for the art of antiquity. Yet they are also distinctive and modern in their proportions. During the firms hay-day in the late 1800s, women embraced the intricacy of ornamentation mingled with the simplicity of a single colour in warm 18k or 22k yellow gold. As in the Roman period before the prolific diamond mines of South Africa were discovered, very few Castellani jewels contain precious gemstones and hardly any feature diamonds. Instead miniature mosaics are set in granulated gold frames and looped together into statement necklaces or bracelets.
Castellani integrated the past with the present by setting ancient coins from the 7th and 5th centuries B.C. or hardstone intaglios into broad signet rings or necklaces. The bulbous silhouettes of ancient vases or ornate ‘Bauletto’ were frequently used in earrings. A pair of pierced gold ‘Bauletto’ style earrings, mounted with pearls, are today preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The rosette shape of the body of the earrings derives from the Byzantine period. The Dowager Countess of Crawford noted in her presentation of the earrings, together with a necklace and wreath, to the museum in 1921 that they were “from the design of Michelangelo, Duke of Sermoneta, in conjunction with Castellani”.
The jewellery unearthed in Pompeii and Herculaneum were also studied and integrated into Castellani jewellery with loving care and painstaking attention to detail.