Triestine goldsmith traditions
Published by Roberto Borghesi in Tradizioni · 19 November 2020
Reading history through the jewels, golds and small and large treasures of Trieste families was a beautiful adventure of a year and a half of intense work. The opportunity was offered to us by the Department of Culture of the Municipality of Trieste, in 2006, which asked us for an appraisal of the assets contained in the State Archives, inherited from the "Cassa dei depositi", provided for by the License of Giuseppe II from since 1785. As many as 9460 finds (from tax collection, inheritance bequests, objects received from private citizens, legal disputes, pledges for credits, legal fees and fines imposed, finds on the public road, valuables delivered by local police - suicides and victims of accidents - and from hospitals) were cataloged, studied and formed that corpus that gave us the opportunity to interpret the history of a city from the end of the 18th century up to the First World War.
At the dawn of the nineteenth century, Trieste was in full commercial expansion, chaotic, with a port with more Levantine than Hapsburg characteristics, but which managed to compete and overtake Venice precisely due to its greater fiscal and regulatory elasticity: this freedom is also reflected in the so-called arts minors, especially the goldsmith's, which attracts Dalmatian, Istrian, Venetian and Jewish artisans, driven by the growing demand, especially private. And everything arrives in our port: precious stones of all kinds, pearls, corals, turquoise from distant lands. And many, many cultures that intertwine in their aesthetic experience and in their traditions, giving rise to many infiltrations that reshape the fashions of the time, stimulating creations combined with everything that is "curious" about the world beyond the sea brings us.
Analyzing this large amount of objects, divided - very important for our studies - into lots, has allowed us to reconstruct the golden and precious heritage of individual local families, through common choices, based on social and affective traditions, with the passing down (of usually, from mother to daughter) the dear objects that, therefore, have their roots also in previous generations.
And to write what is, in effect, the first essay on the history of the traditions in the goldsmith's art of our city, where - previously - only Kandler, Ranieri Cossar and, subsequently, Count Perusini (who only touched Julian history, focusing only on his influences on Friulian customs) they had treated the subject marginally.
Our uses and customs are the traditions, customs and habits of the neighboring populations, therefore they include the whole geographical part of which we are sons and brothers: the Istrian and Dalmatian coast, the karst area; the very lively - in the goldsmith field - Gorizia; the Friulian neighbors, with Carnia, Tolmezzino, Palmanova and the Udinese area, the latter very careful to import and export new trends.
A sort of reworking of ancient Austro-Hungarian customs elaborated and metabolized by adding currents of thought and crafts from the Mediterranean; by new people who repopulated Trieste during the Teresian empire and bring with them new curious objects to imitate; by the fervor generated by many different peoples who want to conform to a common aesthetic sense, while claiming their own traditions and cultural tastes. For Trieste, it is not easy to talk about goldsmith traditions in a univocal sense - as for our Friulian neighbors - but not even about fashions or trends: the people of Trieste are special, original, they hear and see very different things, but they love to filter and summarize them in their own way . A bit of everything, therefore, but with fixed points that mark the private and public life of everyone, which therefore become "social duties" to be donated, received and exhibited, thus marking every milestone of one's existence.
The objects are often the legacy of ancient rural customs and traditions, linked to the most significant events in life: the earrings - or buccole - gift of the santola, the crucifix or the sacred medal received on the occasion of Confirmation, the engagement and wedding gifts (l ring, wedding ring, brooch, necklaces with coral beads or garnet pearls, good luck brooch with belt ..), earrings with stones or beads to wear every day.
In the more affluent families we find the "manin" chains, necklaces obtained with the processing of gold alloy obtained from the fusion of high-grade sequins, called "cordon d 'oro" (they were part of the dowry that the bride received from her family, before the wedding); Bohemian jewelery with garnets, made mostly in the so-called “garnet gold” alloy, with a low gold content; watch chains, symbolic and apotropaic gold and silverware.
This last aspect tells us of an evolving society but still anchored to old and new beliefs and superstitions: alongside the traditional propitiatory and sentimental goldsmith's art, characterized by the presence of red stone (good luck, it represented love and passion), coral ( element that united in itself the animal and plant world - as well as the red color - protector against the evil eye) and pearls (propitiators of fertility and marital fidelity), we meet relatively recent talismans for the time, such as the number 13 (good luck) , the hunchback (the evil of others, if touched, exorcised one's own), the skull ("memento mori"), up to numerous variants of the Istrian medal (inspired by the 18th century Kremnitz coin) which depicts St. George killing on the obverse the dragon and towards the stormy ship within the motto “in stormed securitas”, amulet for sailors and good navigation. The Moretto, imported by the Rijeka people, suitable for men of the sea, the medal with the pansy, a gift from his fiancée fearful of being betrayed. Even crosses and depictions of saints and the Madonna take on a more "utilitarian" meaning, of pagan protection: they are often made of materials that have the recognized ability to have positive effects on the wearer. Coral crucifixes (bearers of love and fidelity, color suitable to keep spirits away), Madonnine in turquoise frames (the blue was "contra malo"), saints depicted in pearl or mother of pearl (purity for the bride), etc., as if a "little help" had to be given to faith alone.
Silver jewels are very numerous among the Trieste families: in fact, this metal, assimilated to the lunar whiteness and the purity that derives from it, was associated with the power to ward off evil spirits, amplified if worked so as to tinkle, on the earrings, on the bracelets, on children's rattles.
In the mid-nineteenth century the objects are diversified according to the requests of the new client, refining themselves in taste and value: men's jewelery spreads and some objects of common use are re-proposed in a precious key for men: the first rings, with stones talismanic, with the inscription of the initials, also with engraved seals (there are some rather pretentious ones being in gilded metals); the single earring, first of all the moretto, given according to the Rijeka custom to the first-born male, whose implementation difficulty was considered a hope for future life; sophisticated buttons, watch chains, sharpeners (“britole”), pencil holders. The demand for silverware for the home is intensifying, to enrich the homes of the newlyweds.
Mourning jewelery, a nineteenth-century need for the most refined and attentive women to social obligations.
Being able to analyze, study and finally disclose this "story of gold" was a great honor: we were able to listen to those objects dear and handed down with affection, we lived them by evaluating them, but - at the same time - we felt Trieste, interpreters of that mixture of cultures and ethnicities flowing in our own blood.