Sunglasses may be a staple fashion accessory for tourists visiting Rome in the spring-summer season. Yet those ones who are planning to spend a few days in the Italian capital this summer and maybe visit the Bulgari exhibition at the local Palazzo delle Esposizioni will have to remember to keep their sunglasses firmly on even while walking through the eight galleries of the exhibition.
Visitors will indeed be simply dazzled by the sparkling pieces showcased in the display cabinets of the “Bulgari - Tra Eternità e Storia” (Bulgari - Between Eternity and History) exhibition. While celebrating Bulgari’s 125th anniversary, the event, that features around 500 pieces – half of them taken from Bulgari’s Vintage Collection (a retrospective collection that will be put for auction in New York at the end of 2009 with proceedings going to Save the Children), half lent from private collections and exhibited for the first time – is also very important from a design point of view as it shows the developments of the art of making jewels over a century in Europe.
The visit starts from the first gallery where a black and white video tells the story of Sotirio Bulgari, a Greek silversmith born in 1857 in the Epirus Mountains who moved to Rome in the early 1880s, opening a shop in Via Sistina where he sold antique pieces such as silver chatelaines, ecclesiastic caskets and presentation basins.
At the time Sotirio also started making buckles and bracelets in gilded silver inspired by the Neo-Hellenic style and, as the years passed and the shop moved to Via dei Condotti 10, jewellery pieces and wristwatches were added.
New styles and movements such as the Art Deco influenced the designs launched by Bulgari’s second generation of jewellers, Giorgio and Costantino. The pure and clear forms of Art Deco inspired wonderful pieces with rock crystals, emeralds, rubies and diamonds.
Vanity cases, cigarette boxes, diamond necklaces and tiaras that could be converted into bracelets or brooches thanks to the geometrical elements that formed them became popular in the 30s, together with one of the first designs destined to remain unvaried throughout the years, the “Trombino” ring (1932), originally given by Giorgio Bulgari to his wife Leonilde when they got engaged.
The influence of French joaillerie was still strong between the 1940s-50s, but new influences renewed Bulgari’s designs in the following decades. The 60s introduced to the world of jewellery a new generation of Bulgari designers, Gianni, Nicola and Paolo.
They created more colourful pieces such as the necklace with precious and semi-precious stones – turquoises, emeralds, amethysts and diamonds – in contrasting colours bought by the Revlon founder for his wife in 1965 (that also appeared on a stamp recently issued by the Italian Post Office), and experimented with innovative shapes and silhouettes inspired by Oriental designs, producing multi-coloured peacock and “Giardinetto” (little garden) brooches with emeralds, rubies and diamonds, lapis lazuli table clocks, pieces made with carved Chinese jade and the iconic “en tremblant” brooches with ruby and diamond flowers mounted in a slightly bent white gold or platinum frame to reproduce the movement of the wind.
The 60s also marked the beginning of a love story between Bulgari and the world of cinema. An entire gallery explores this connection, through portraits of actresses – among them Sophia Loren, Linda Christian, Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Capucine, Claudia Cardinale and Romy Schneider – and extracts from various films. Music such as Nino Rota’s soundtrack for Fellini’s 8 ½ create the perfect atmosphere of the “Dolce Vita” years for the visitors stopping in front of the cabinets displaying Anna Magnani’s 100K diamond necklace and Gina Lollobrigida’s emerald and diamond pieces.
A whole section is dedicated to the pieces that belonged to Elizabeth Taylor, among them the 18K brooch with diamonds and emeralds given to her by Richard Burton when they got engaged in 1962, the same brooch the actress worn when she got married to Burton two years after.
The actress’s “love affair” with Bulgari started while shooting in Rome Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Cleopatra when Taylor and Burton spent many of their breaks from the set in the shop in Via dei Condotti.
In the 70s Bulgari’s production became even more eclectic: great exuberance and variety were introduced thanks to the influence of the Optical and Pop Art movements and a new generation of family scions started producing interior design objects such as place card holders shaped like champagne corks, modern accessories such as the elegant “Melone” evening bags, oval shaped gold and sapphires bags, and fun pieces, among them a Stars and Stripes necklace in celebration of the opening of the first Bulgari shop in the States, amethysts, chalcedony and diamond brooches shaped like ice creams and thick necklaces with mother or pearl and coral playing card pendants.
“I always visit Bulgari because this is the most important museum of contemporary art,” commented at the time Andy Warhol and visitors will find it difficult to disagree with him admiring the galleries that follow and that display iconic pieces with the BVLGARI logo, the famous coin necklaces, the snake wristwatches made with handmade flexible elements, the “Tubogas” necklaces or modernist pieces created with the purest porcelain inserts.
The exhibition concludes with a final gallery in the central rotunda of the Palazzo delle Esposizioni.
Here visitors are introduced to the 21st century Bulgari designs made under the guidance of Francesco Trapani.
Among the extremely beautiful and expensive creations – some of them even reaching incredible prices such as 20 million Euros – there are the “Grand Kathéa”, a 32127K Burma sapphire mounted as a pendant on a simple silk cord, the striking “Flora Ring” and two opulent necklaces inspired by nature in which mandarin garnets, emeralds and diamonds form multi-coloured beds of flowers on yellow and white gold necklaces. It’s a spectacularly grand conclusion to a dazzling exhibition that perfectly illustrates the history and creativity behind the Bulgari house.
“Bulgari – Between Eternity and History” is at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, until 13th September 2009.
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