A Scholarship Named After Maria Cristina Bergesio

Published: 04.04.2021
Alice Rendon
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In the school office, Le Arti Orafe, 2018.
In the school office, Le Arti Orafe, 2018

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Today, exactly one year ago, Maria Cristina Bergesio passed away, a figure who has accompanied the growth of Le Arti Orafe school for many years, helping to make it an internationally recognized educational institution of reference, offering young goldsmiths the tools to develop a critical awareness to be combined with the necessary technical competence, in order to be able to project one’s work towards horizons of artistic research.

From 2005 until 2019, Maria Cristina was the teacher of the History of contemporary jewellery course, also curating in the early years the artistic direction of the gallery opened by LAO in Florence and always dedicated to research jewellery. Above all, Bergesio has been curator of all editions of Preziosa, an event born in 2005, which over the years has hosted great names of goldsmiths, artists, and jewellery designers, from the sacred monsters of the New Jewelry to prominent personalities who they continued the speech about body decoration, updating it on the instances of their time. Alongside this great event, which has grown over the years becoming in 2015 the Florence Jewellery Week, the first in Italy, in 2008 Preziosa Young started, a collateral exhibition-competition open to emerging talents, with the aim of highlighting the most valid and stimulating paths of investigation in that realm.
Indeed, although the main faculty of the jewel is to decorate, embellish and enhance the innate beauty of the body, even transforming the aesthetics of the wearer, there is another function, far from secondary in importance, in question concerning the human ancestral need for ornamentation. It is not just a matter of dressing up with lavish adornments, but of responding to a need from which none of us is exempt, as it is primordial and deeply rooted in our human nature. A jewel is etymologically celebration of the joy for body decoration, but it is also – and has always been in human history – its translation into an object, the crystallization of symbols and meanings: to a jewel we entrust the power to protect us, to heal us, to redeem us from our fears; in a jewel, we keep the past memory or the future promise of our sentimental attachments; to a jewel we allocate the ability to make us feel part of a group; or on the contrary to strongly distance ourselves from the crowd, affirming, through the object, our uniqueness, and individuality. The jewel is, therefore, Bergesio claimed, the bearer of a message, an object with not only aesthetic but also symbolic content.

PREZIOSA-Florence Jewellery Week 2017.
At the artist's conferences, with Giò Carbone, Martina Dempf, Kevin Murray, Maria Laura La Mantia, Robert Baines...

Preziosa, together with Maria Cristina, contributed to widening the debate on the semantic aspects of contemporary jewellery in Italy, offering every time new and plausible interpretations, to provide the public with a point of view that would help to interpret even the most conceptual and sometimes hermetic shades of contemporary research when craftsmanship overflows its borders and pours into the performative and self-reflective practices of the visual arts.
Maria Cristina was able to perceptively grasp the most innovative impulses of her present and to clearly frame the most interesting contributions of the past, since she was well aware of the importance of rooting contemporary research in the historical-artistic ground even when dealing with jewellery, which is, like any form of artistic expression, intimately linked to its time: a phenomenon of both individual, social and cultural importance, certainly universal; therefore a matter of interest of the art historian.

Paraphrasing Giorgio Agamben, one’s ability to clearly read his own contemporary belongs to those who are profoundly immersed in it but who at the same time do not fully recognize themselves in it, and who, specifically for that reason, are infinitely distant from it: this is a characteristic of the "outdated", of the "anachronists", of those who, just like Maria Cristina, are able to stay exceptionally in and out of their time, in order to be able to finally grasp it, perceive “not its lights, but its darkness(1), and to tell it to the rest of us.

In memory of such a pivotal personality in the critical debate on international research jewellery, brilliant art historian, curator, and author of authoritative essays and publications dedicated to the field, Le Arti Orafe today announces the issuance of the call for a new scholarship of study intended for those who want to engage in a path focused precisely on contemporary research in the realm of body decoration, necessarily to be titled, needless to reiterate, to Maria Cristina Bergesio.

(1) Giorgio Agamben, Che cos’é il contemporaneo? (2008), Milano, nottetempo, 2019, p.13. Free translation.

About the author

Alice Rendon was born in 1991 in Varese, Lombardy, Italy. She graduated in art history at the University of Florence with a thesis about jewels by Italian artists of the 20th century. Now she is teaching history of contemporary jewellery at Le Arti Orafe Jewellery School in Florence and she is writing for Preziosa Blog, a web platform dedicated to the universe of contemporary jewellery."