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The Padua School of jewellery, considered from inside

Article  /  HistoryCritical Thinking
Published: 31.05.2006
genèric forum genèric forum

Author:
Liesbeth den Besten
Edited by:
Klimt02
Edited at:
Holland

Intro
The emphasis lies on stylistic developments, from Mario Pinton’s “primitivistic figuration” of the post-war period through the influence of Programmatic, Kinetic and Minimal Art in the period which reaches from the sixties till the eighties, and the experimental Post Modern work of Francesco Pavan and Giampaolo Babetto in the eighties, till the work of the younger generation which started in the nineties and the “new logics in the use of geometry” in the work of Babetto, Visintin and Pavan in the period from the 1990s to the present.
 
Review of the book Contemporary Jewellery - the Padua School

For someone like me, who is born in The Netherlands, the new book about the Padua School (of jewellery) by Graziella Folchini Grassetto is extraordinary. A book about gold and wrapped in a golden cover, quite contrary to the Dutch spirit in jewellery design that has been dominated for many years by a taboo on gold and even today is characterised by a cautious handling of precious materials. That contemporary Italian jewellery, and Padovan jewellery, is noted for its use of gold and geometry is stressed in the whole design of the book, published by Arnoldsche. The cover consists of a balanced composition of a plain golden rectangle (for the text) on a treated gold surface, a strongly blown-up detail of one of Giampaolo Babetto’s ‘Pontormo’ brooches. Inside the use of gold continues lavishly in the title (spread) page of every chapter, and in the first three words of every paragraph. It is clear, this book is about gold and the author loves the magic powers of this material (and we can’t blame her for that).Yet, the content of the book is much more prosaic, offering the reader a precise description of the stylistic development of the so called ‘Padua School’ which embraces three generations of teachers and pupils who studied at the Pietro Selvatico State Institute of Art in Padua. The ‘founding father’ of the Padua School is Mario Pinton who started teaching at the institute in 1944. It is interesting to note that the use of gold in Padua is so natural that the author never questions the why of this habit, for instance the actual meaning of the material to an artist. When discussing the Minimalist work of Giampaolo Babetto in the 1970s his use of gold is taken for granted, while the author questions the use of highly polished stainless steel in the work of the Dutch Emmy van Leersum: “whose reflecting surfaces might be said to contradict the bare economy of Minimalism” (p.70) – a qualification which seems strange to an observer from Holland who rather sees a contradiction between the ideas of Minimalism and the use of gold. However, it also shows how the cultural perspective of the observer influences his/her opinion, and how difficult it is to apply fine arts terminology to jewellery, without using clear definitions.

It is the first book, at least in English, about this subject and it is important that an overview like this is now open to an international audience. The emphasis lies on stylistic developments, from Mario Pinton’s “primitivistic figuration” of the post-war period through the influence of Programmatic, Kinetic and Minimal Art in the period which reaches from the sixties till the eighties, and the experimental Post Modern work of Francesco Pavan and Giampaolo Babetto in the eighties, till the work of the younger generation which started in the nineties and the “new logics in the use of geometry” in the work of Babetto, Visintin and Pavan in the period from the 1990s to the present. The strict arrangement in periods and styles, showing a classical art-historical outlook, has its advantages, although on the whole it fits like a straitjacket.

The author stresses the fact that the Padua School, which was first mentioned like that in a show that travelled through Europe in 1983, has long been ignored in Italy and in the city itself. She explains that this has to do with the traditional Italian conception of art jewellery being designed by fine artists and architects, and executed by craftsmen. In Padua the maker and the designer of jewellery are one and the same. However, this Padovan peculiarity, which is common in the jewellery-scene outside Italy, caused the fast international acceptance of artists of the Padua School, who exhibited abroad from the fifties onwards. Only after 1980 the work of the Padua School got recognition in Italy and in its hometown.
The character of the text is rather descriptive and hardly pays any attention to the ideas behind the pieces. The development of Programmatic and Kinetic Art in the 1960s , with its special Padovan ‘branch’ embodied in the ENNE group (which had close contacts with groups like GRAV in Paris and ZERO in Düsseldorf), is extensively discussed, but the influence of the group on the jewellery of Francesco Pavan is only discussed in stylistic terms. It would have been interesting to read what ideas and theories were of special interest to Pavan, and how he tried to incorporate them in his jewellery. The illustrations show a wonderful – and to me unknown - pair of kinetic earrings in white gold, from the year 1970, consisting of ten circles, loosely attached to each other by hinges that enables the circles to move in all directions from a flat surface to a sphere. And there are more surprises in this book like Giampaolo Babetto’s golden brooch from the year 1969, that is a superb exercise in Kinetic Art with free moving little golden bars protruding from a golden square, in the spirit of the sculptures of the Belgian artist Pol Bury.

There is more beauty to be found in the book, especially in the excellent images which give a perfect impression of the material structures, colours and three dimensionality of each piece. The overall impression of the Padua School is that of geometry and an exploration of the artistic possibilities of gold. Real aliens are Babetto’s figurative jewels inspired by Pontormo’s “Vertumnus and Pomona” frescoes of Poggio a Caiano (1519-1521), which are mainly interpreted in terms of the Post-Modernist shift of the late 1980s in arts and design. The deeper reasons or inspirations of Babetto himself are not revealed. What is interesting however, is Graziella Folchini’s focuss on his use of colour in some of these pieces, which is “in clots and impasto” and no longer applied in even surfaces. She explains that “This thick, grainy colour would become a fundamental feature of the next stage of Babetto’s work, when he moved from the figurative back to the geometric – without, however, abandoning emotional and dramatic power.” (p.92)

The jewellery of the younger generation, especially that of Annamaria Zanella and Stefano Marchetti are friendly though clear manifestations of a freer handling of form and materials. Their jewellery means no radical rift with their teachers, although their rendering of gold, mixed with other metals, into a ‘worn out’, decrepit material, not just bearing a layer of patina, but totally composed of this affected material, is rebellious within the context of the Padua School.
What surprised me is that influences from the fine arts in jewellery seem to be mainly on the surface, in the designs (geometrical, kinetic) of the pieces. The jewellery misses the revolutionary radical character of works of art by Italian artists like Lucio Fontana, Mario Mertz, Enzo Mari, and Piero Manzoni. When discussing the influence of Minimalism in jewellery and especially that of Giampoalo Babetto, the author states that Babetto must have been aware of the work Emmy van Leersum, who in the 1960s was already using simplified forms in her jewellery. The approach of Babetto however was of a totally different kind, not radical and confronting like Van Leersum’s but sophisticated and appropriated to the idea of jewellery as a class of its own. And this characterisation goes for the whole of Padua jewellery.

Graziella Folchini Grassetto’s book about the Padua School is a clear manifestation of this Padua spirit, offering a lot of information about the artists, and providing us for the first time with an extensive survey of fifty years of art jewellery in Padua - a unique branch of the international contemporary jewellery scene.


Liesbeth den Besten wrote a review of the new book of Gr F Gr about the Padua School of jewellery for the Dutch art magazine "kM" nr 55 / 2005 which will be published mid-September this year. Because the readers of this magazine are mostly painters, sculptors, and other fine artists, and there are no other possibilities in Holland to publish a review about a publication on jewellery, she elaborated this review for Klimt02.
 
Piergiuliano Reveane. Bracelet: Untitled. yellow gold, red resin. Piergiuliano Reveane
Bracelet: Untitled
yellow gold, red resin
© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.
Giampaolo Babetto. Brooch: Untitled. yellow gold, pigment. Giampaolo Babetto
Brooch: Untitled
yellow gold, pigment
© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.
Annamaria Zanella. Brooch: Untitled. yellow gold, steel, iron. Annamaria Zanella
Brooch: Untitled
yellow gold, steel, iron
© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.
Stefano Marchetti. Necklace: Untitled. white gold, yellow gold, oxidized silver, niello. Stefano Marchetti
Necklace: Untitled
white gold, yellow gold, oxidized silver, niello
© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.
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