Between September 21st and February 17th, the de Young Museum (one of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco) hosted an exhibition titled The Art of Bulgari: La Dolce Vita & Beyond, 1950 – 1990. The exhibition consisted of around 150 pieces from this time period along with other materials from the Bulgari archives.
Founded in Rome over a century ago, Bulgari has since grown from being a local Italian company to a worldwide luxury brand that has garnered the applause and admiration of critics and shoppers from all around the globe.
Since its inception the brand has distinguished itself by utilizing the influences of the Greco-Romans, the Italian Renaissance and 19th century Roman goldsmiths in its designs. However, the exhibition’s focus is on the brands divergence from traditional Parisian style after the end of World War II which resulted in the redefinition of the Italian school of jewelry brought about by the integration of yellow gold, the cabochon cut and striking combinations of colored gemstones into pieces.
Bulgari gained national and international acclaim during the 1950’s, when movie stars shooting films at Cinecitta, a large film studio in Rome wandered into their store and started a domino effect that saw the wealthy elite, artists and manufacturers joining their clientele as well. This period when Bulgari’s popularity spiked is known as the era of la dolce vita and it allowed them to join innovations in art, fashion, and film to recreate modern society.
The exhibition showcased several classic Bulgari pieces and styles including the elegant Tremblant brooches which were fashioned with springs so that they would tremble along with the wearer’s movements. The company’s famous Sette Maraviglie or 7 Wonders, composed of 7 massive Colombian emeralds surrounded by diamonds was also on display, along with images of famous Italian actresses Gina Lollobrigida and Monica Vitti wearing it. Pieces from Bulgari’s signature serpent theme such as bracelet watches were also on display as were chokers, jewelry with coins integrated into them, gas pipe styled bracelets, cuff links, melone evening bags, sautoirs, a silver and gold tennis ball canister and pieces from the Parentesi (Parenthesis) collection, the Stars and Stripes Collection, the Serpenti theme collections and actress Elizabeth Taylor‘s private collection.
The exhibition also included a film about the evolution of Bulgari and its designs over the decades as well as an interactive storybook on Elizabeth Taylor’s relationship with Bulgari. Each section of the exhibition was accompanied with an informative blurb that opened the viewer’s eyes on the origins of the designs and themes that were incorporated into the pieces. The most shocking part of the exhibit however was not the sheer beauty of the pieces, nor the impressive list of personalities who had worn Bulgari pieces (such as Anita Ekberg and Princess Soraya Pahlavi of Iran) but a video in the final room which detailed the immense amount of work that went into creating these pieces (approximately 500 hours for a necklace).
Overall, the exhibition was definitely worth the trip to Golden Gate Park. The pieces were well selected and well explained, and they all played a significant role in detailing the brand’s progression over time. Indeed the large crowds that had gathered to come see the exhibition in its final hours are a testament to its popularity over the past few months as well as to the anticipation museum goers have for the de Young’s next exhibit.