NEW YORK, NY -- For over 100 years, the name Buccellati has resonated with prominent collectors, society hostesses and enthusiasts of Italian craftsmanship and fine jewelry and silver. Mario Buccellati (1891-1965) opened his first shop on Largo Santa Margherita in Milan in 1919, at the heart of the city’s fashionable shopping district around the corner from the famed Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Buccellati viewed his jewelry and silver as the sublime works of art that they were and knew in time he would find an adoring public. At his first international outing at an Exposition in Madrid in 1920, Mario threw one of his compacts out a window after a client asked for a discount. As the story of the prior day’s spectacle spread among the Madrileños, crowds descended upon the Buccellati exhibit and everything sold the next day. Soon, Buccellati's clientele included not only European Royal houses and aristocracy but also the beau monde of society.
Buccellati’s silver designs have always been distinctive; rather than repeating forms drawn from traditional English models, Buccellati looked to the Renaissance for inspiration for his silver designs. He drew particularly on the rustication created by Renaissance architects and transposing it to great affect on the surfaces of his silver, as on a tray where it offsets a simple olive branch to stunning effect (image 1). Ancient Venetian and Roman models were also adapted and expanded upon with a modern twist to create pieces unique to the firm. A pair of Rococo style candlesticks are exaggerated for contemporary living (image 2). A set of four putti representing the seasons look back to the Baroque period (image 3). Beautifully cast, they look to have jumped out of the Italian Old Master paintings that served as a point of reference for these creations.
The great bounty of nature has been another potent inspiration for Buccellati's silversmiths. They adapted flora and fauna to create whimsical accessories for modern living. These silver vessels take on an incredible degree of realism with leaves, shells and even birds and animals fashioned in extraordinary detail. Buccellati is renowned for their menagerie of birds and animals, which utilize a special technique to give them a lifelike appearance of “real” feathers and fur. From the smallest duckling (image 4) to fawns and turkeys, these enchanting wonders always capture the imagination of the viewer.
Another of the great talents of Buccellati's silversmiths is their ability to make silver and gold appear to turn into gentle pliable fabric. A silver box becomes unrecognizable as a burlap sack (image 5). This tradition of trompe l’oeil dates back centuries, but Buccellati’s silversmiths have embraced it as one of their trademarks. The technique is also used quite often in Buccellati jewelry, where silver and gold bracelets are set with gemstones against a textured ground.
Mario Buccellati’s children grew up in the family business and many continued to work with silver and jewelry in one way or another. After Mario's death, Gianmaria and Federico left to form their own businesses under their respective names, while Lorenzo took the mantle from his father and ran the Buccellati firm. But after almost 50 years apart, all divisions are now consolidated under one Buccellati umbrella to ensure that the most inspiring designs and quality craftsmanship will continue to be carried out under the name Mario Buccellati.
Upcoming Auctions of Silver and Jewelry
The June 11 auction of English & Continental Furniture, Silver & Decorative Arts offers six prime examples of Buccellati silver. View Lots
The sales of Fine Jewelry on June 10 and Important Jewelry on June 24 showcase a diversity of jewelry designs by Buccellati.