In early April I had the good fortune to go to Italy with my husband, marking our 30th wedding anniversary. One of my favorite days in Rome was the day I went to Villa Guilia, a museum dedicated to the Etruscans. The Etruscan civilization was dominant in central Italy from about 800BC – 500BC. As artists, metal miners, architects, farmers, and seafaring traders, the Etruscans were able to generate a lot of wealth. Their wealthiest had a demand for beautiful jewelry to accompany them to the afterworld. So the Syro-Phoenicians came to Etruria and taught the art of granulation and filigree. Granulation is the soldering of tiny beads of metal to a metal base. Filigree is finely twisted threads of metal, soldered together onto the surface of an object to make an intricate “lacy” design. The Etruscans generally used 18 karat gold, an alloy of gold and copper, to make their jewelry.
When the Roman Republic was established, it was the beginning of the end of Etruscan power. By 200 BC, the city-states of Etruria were assimilated into the Roman Empire. But it was far from the end of Etruscan influence. They were the ones who introduced the growing of grapes and olives in the region. Their words appear in the roots of many Latin words. Renaissance artists like Michaelangelo admired their sculpture and painting. And the Castellani family from Italy was influenced by their jewelry.
Fortunato Pio Castellani was an Italian jeweler and art dealer during the 1800s, when Etruscan jewelry was being found in archeological excavations. Because of high society’s interest in this ancient art and because of a strong sense of nationalism, he began to search for ways to duplicate the delicate techniques of the Etruscans. The “lost” art of granulation was still practiced in the small municipality of Sant’Angelo in Vado, on the eastern edge of what was formerly Etruscan territory. He learned from its artisans and brought Etruscan jewelry back into the mainstream. He also collected original Etruscan pieces, displaying them at his shop in Rome. This shop passed from generation to generation until Castellani’s grandson died in 1930. Then the amazing collection was donated to the Italian state, and that’s what I saw at the National Museum of Villa Guilia.
If you are as interested as I am in historical jewelry, you may want to pursue the details of the Etruscans. I found www.mysteriousetruscans.com to be a helpful site. And, of course, if you get the chance to visit Rome, I highly suggest you take a couple of hours at the National Museum of Villa Guilia.