St. Petersburg Times: Weekend

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The golden rules

Gleaming works from an Italian family firm combine the luster of gold, the brilliance of precious stones and the delicate, imaginative touch of the artisan.

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 7, 2002

Buccellati’s Renaissance Pitcher and Basin is among works on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg.
ST. PETERSBURG -- "Art of the Goldsmiths: Masterworks from Buccellati" is a display of flashy finery that proves that not all that glitters is gold; it also can be silver, pearls and precious stones.

The 65 works on display at the Museum of Fine Arts are the products of the House of Buccellati, internationally known for its intricate details and quality craftsmanship. Mario Buccellati established this Italian firm in 1919. Gianmaria, his son, apprenticed in the goldsmith trade and inherited the business upon his father's death in 1965.

The works are valuable for reasons beyond their expensive materials. Each displays an elaborate sense of the aesthetic combined with historic inspirations.

The legendary phoenix takes on a new incarnation as a golden brooch, centered around a 10-carat freshwater pearl. The texture of the stone forms the body of the bird, while the head and neck are created from white gold and diamonds. Wings and tail feathers of yellow gold mimic flames and frame the work. To remain accurate to the myth, the bird clutches a second freshwater pearl, representing ashes, in its talons.

Smithsonian Cup
Chess fans will be drawn to Gianmaria's interpretation of the game, which was inspired by the legendary warriors of the Crusades. The attention to detail is so great, one can see individual strands of hair carved into the white queen's double bun.

The board itself is composed of 32 squares of lapis lazuli and 32 squares of green malachite. A silver border lines the edges.

The Opal Egg Pendant is named for its most obvious feature, an 18-karat opal that shines with brilliant blue and green fire. The stone is held in a mesh of gold and diamonds, which is suspended from an equally elaborate chain. By alternating links of the necklace with small, solid St. George's crosses, the goldsmith creates space to add 84 additional precious stones to the weight of the piece.

Religious themes run through several works. The Montalbetti Cross appears to be made of golden netting. Eleven rose-cut diamonds flash in the light, the largest housed where the angles of the cross juxtapose.

The Madonna Icon is Mario Buccellati's metal reproduction of a 15th century altar painting by Matteo di Giovanni. The images are engraved in a sheet of silver and mounted in a special frame. Mary holds the infant Jesus in her arms as two saints flank her, watching the child in adoration. A second, smaller work, the Communion Icon, depicts the adult Jesus holding a chalice and bread.

Phoenix Brooch
The royal Savoia family commissioned Mario to produce a princess' tiara. The diamonds used in the floral and foliage design are anchored in a delicate, nearly invisible, honeycomb tooling and appear as if gathering in midair.

The House of Buccellati makes even mundane items into artworks. Two evening purses are sparked by clasps of silver and turquoise. A pair of eyeglasses is augmented with gold, silver, sapphire and amethyst. Even the humble pillbox gets a lift when created from precious metals and decorated with hand-carved scenery.


"Art of the Goldsmiths: Masterworks from Buccellati," at the Museum of Fine Arts, 225 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg, through May 20. Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. Open until 9 p.m. the third Thursday of every month. Adults $6, seniors $5, students $2. Free on Sundays. Call (727) 896-2667.

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