Untill 26 February 2017
The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza is presenting “Bulgari and Rome”, an exhibition that looks at how the art and architecture of ancient and modern Rome have been a source of inspiration to the designers of this firm of Italian jewellers throughout its history. Founded in Rome in 1884, since its outset Bulgari has made use of the city’s most characteristic features as the guiding symbolic and artistic thread of its creations. For decades the Colosseum, the Piazza San Pietro, the Spanish Steps, the fountains in the Piazza Navona and the Pantheon have given form to necklaces, bracelets, earrings and brooches made in gold or platinum and precious stones of every colour: cabochon cut gems that reproduce the typical domes of the Roman skyline; geometrical designs that reflect the pure lines of the ruins; and glints of gold that recall Baroque volutes are among the details that reveal Bulgari’s homage to the Eternal City.
With the aim of demonstrating this close connection, the exhibition brings together more than 140 pieces of jewellery from Bulgari’s Heritage Collection (including jewels that belonged to Elizabeth Taylor) and from a number of private collections, including that of Baroness Thyssen. They are displayed alongside around 30 paintings, drawings, sculptures and photographs by different European artists who have depicted the city of Rome in their works, including Canaletto, Gaspar van Wittel, Ippolito Caffi and Arthur John Strutt. The majority have been lent by the Museo di Roma (Palazzo Braschi) with other loans from the Galleria Borghese, the Capitoline Museums and the collections of Banco Intesa San Paolo and the Circolo della Caccia.
Presented with a carefully designed installation that includes interactive elements, Bulgari and Rome also allows visitors to take a journey through more than 130 years of the firm’s history, from the accessories and adornments made by hand in silver in the late 19th century by itsounder Sotirio Bulgari and the platinum and diamond jewels from the 1920s and 1930s that still adhered to the French taste, to very recent creations including spectacular jewels from the firm’s iconic collections such as Serpenti, Monete, Parentesi and Bulgari Bulgari. Together they reveal the preference for rounded forms, the use of unusual colours and a taste for yellow gold during some decades as some of the most characteristic features of the Bulgari style.
Capturing eternity: Rome in Bulgari design
With its impressive vestiges of the Roman Empire, its broad city squares, imposing Baroque architecture with innumerable fountains and its magnificent basilicas, the city of Rome has been a source of inspiration for artists and intellectuals of every century. In the words of Paolo Bulgari, grandson of the firm’s founder, Bulgari’s creations are “a journey through the Italian masterpieces that have inspired them.”
Bulgari, from jewellery to empire
Descended from a Greek family of goldsmiths, the firm’s founder Sotirio Bulgari went to Italy in the late 19th century and in 1884 opened his first shop in Rome. The present building, located at number 10 Via Condotti, opened in 1905 and eventually all the firm’s activities would be grouped together there. Of Sotirio’s six sons, Giorgio and Constantino were the most involved in the business, taking over from him after his death in 1932. Two years later they reopened the shop after major improvements and changed the firm’s name to BVLGARI in capital letters and with lettering taken from ancient Roman inscriptions. At this point the two brothers opted to move away from the French school of jewellery that prevailed at this period with its characteristic use of platinum and diamonds in geometrical designs and instead began to combine diamonds with cabochon cut precious stones of different colours, representing a revolution in jewellery design.
The post-war period saw a boom in the economy that favoured Bulgari’s stylistic experimentation, particularly with regard to the use of colour, and in the 1950s the firm began to introduce unprecedented colour combinations that would become increasingly daring over the following decades. With the emergence of the Roman dolce vita the firm became known among actresses and members of the Italian and international jet-set, bringing the name of Bulgari international renown. By the time Giorgio and Constantino died in 1966 and 1973 respectively, Giorgio’s sons Paolo and Nicola were already involved with the firm, actively steering its business and creative production sides. The 1970s saw the first international expansion of the company with the opening of shops in New York, Geneva, Paris and Monte Carlo. In 2011 Bulgari became part of the LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) luxury group.
To mark the celebration of Bulgari’s 125th anniversary in 2009 a series of retrospective exhibitions have been organised which have brought the firm’s creations to cities such as Rome, Paris, Beijing, Tokyo and Shanghai. Madrid, however, is the first venue to focus on the close link between Bulgari’s designs and the art and architecture of Rome, a relationship which in 2014 and to mark the firm’s 130th anniversary led Bulgari to sponsor the restoration of the famous Spanish Steps in the Piazza di Spagna, which were recently reopened to the public.