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Fortunato Pio Castellani (1794 – 1865) founded his business in 1814 on the ground floor of the Palazzo Raggi ideally located on Rome’s Via del Corso, a wide and unusually straight road which led directly from the city’s northern gate into the heart of the historic centre. Alongside jewellery he also bought and sold pictures, but it was as a jeweller and master goldsmith that his name would become renowned. The pieces he made during the early years of the firm were largely in contemporary European styles, influenced by French, English and Swiss designs, and aimed at both the large quantities of tourist visitors as well as the expatriates living in Rome.
Over time, he began to turn his attention towards ancient art and jewels with the realisation that there was a potential market for faithful reproductions of the ancient classical jewellery that was being regularly excavated and widely admired at this time. He was joined in the business by two of his sons, Alessandro (1822-1883) and Augusto (1829-1914) and encouraged by various friends and patrons, most significantly Michelangelo Caetani, Duke of Sermoneta, this style of jewellery became their focus.
By the early 1850’s they were solely producing antique archaeological inspired jewels and the workshop was experimenting with the techniques of the Ancient goldsmiths in an attempt to be able to recreate their work as faithfully as possible. The use of granulation was prevalent and this proved one of the hardest skills to emulate; for whilst many Castellani pieces show this technique to great effect, they themselves confessed to being unable to achieve quite the same level of finesse as their Classical predecessors. The Duke was a constant presence and source of ideas for the Castellani’s and it was he who encouraged them to explore the use of mosaics in jewels. This was something they proved to excel at and there are many wonderful examples that have survived today depicting a range of religious, mythological and secular motifs.
As well as his interest in jewellery Alessandro was also very active politically and unfortunately he endured interrogation and even imprisonment for his beliefs. In 1859, risk of renewed imprisonment led him to flee Rome for Paris where he took an apartment and later opened a business premises on the Champs-Elysées. Whilst he kept in close contact with his father and brother back at home, the running of the Rome workshop was left to Augusto, especially after Fortunato retired in 1861. Alessandro’s stay in Paris enabled him to promote both the Castellani name and the appreciation of revivalist jewellery abroad and he was introduced to a wide circle of affluent and influential potential clients. He was also ideally positioned to be able to assist in the purchase by the French government of part of the Campana Collection. The Castellani’s had been instrumental in the acquisition, restoration and cataloguing of the ancient jewellery in this exceptional collection (the close study of which had provided so much inspiration for them) and whilst Fortunato believed the sale of the collection outside of Italy was a national tragedy, it went ahead in 1861.
The loss of this collection from Italy prompted Fortunato to form his own collection which he divided in to eight different periods and displayed in showcases around the walls of the showroom. By this time they had moved to new premises at 88 Via Poli and it was here that customers would be introduced to the marvels of original jewellery from Ancient civilisations and then given the opportunity to purchase finely crafted replicas straight from the workshop. No nineteenth century lady or gentleman visiting Italy would consider a tour of Rome complete without a stop at Castellani’s to marvel at, and likely purchase, one of his by now hugely fashionable pieces of Archaeological Revival jewellery. The opening of a branch in London at 13 Frith Street, which was managed by Castellani’s pupil Carlo Giuliano, had helped to further popularise the style and it was now being widely copied both at home and abroad.
In 1881 the business moved for the final time to the Piazza Fontana di Trevi. After Alessandro died in 1883 Augusto ran the business with his son Alfredo who was therefore well versed in the running of the workshop and showroom when he inherited it upon his father’s death in 1914. By this time trade had diminished greatly as the European taste in jewellery had changed but the firm was kept running by the demand for jewelled souvenirs inspired by the proximity of Rome’s ancient ruins and Archaeological marvels. Alfredo had no children and so knowing that the Castellani firm would die with him he made extensive arrangements to gift the family’s collections and archives to various museums. Perhaps the most significant of these was the collection of antiquities and jewellery coupled with 526 pieces made in the Castellani workshop that was placed in the care of the Museo Nazionale Etrusco di Villa Giulia in Rome. Alfredo died on January 8th 1930 and whilst the firm closed its doors soon after, the name of Castellani lives on and is today regarded as the preeminent creator of 19th century Archaeological Revival style jewellery.