Skip to content

See Kara Walker: Cut to the Quick Free, Before it Closes.

In celebration of the final weekend of this exhibition, Kara Walker: Cut to the Quick will be on view for free through January 16.
Learn About the Exhibition »

X

Simply Brilliant in Focus

by Cynthia Amnéus, Chief Curator/Curator of Fashion Arts and Textiles

11/17/2021

Simply Brilliant , Cynthia Amnéus , Romolo Grassi , Simply Brilliant: Artist-Jewelers of the 1960s and 1970s , Mantide Mimetica , objet d'art

While I continue to present lectures about the jewelers and their work in Simply Brilliant: Artist-Jewelers of the 1960s and 1970s, I am always frustrated that I cannot go more in depth about them. This blog specifically concentrates on Romolo Grassi—one of the ‘forgotten’ jewelers in the exhibition.

In one of the cases, you will see his Mantide Mimetica (Camouflage Mantis) from the late 1960s. It betrays his background, having studied both jewelry-making and sculpture in Milan as a young man. Many of the artists in the exhibition created sculptures, but they were most often trophies, awards, or ecclesiastical vessels that were commissioned. Grassi’s sculpture is just that—a sculpture or an objet d’art. This is a rough piece that speaks to the influence of nature that was common among jewelers of this period. Grassi has added an articulated mantis of gold with an enameled body and ruby eyes that is not permanently attached to the sculpture and yet it is not outfitted to be a piece of jewelry either. This is simply a decorative object.

Romolo Grassi (Italian, 1913–1991), Mantide Mimetica (Camouflage Mantis), late 1960s, marcasite and quartz-encrusted anthracite, gold, enamel, rubies, steel, Courtesy of the Cincinnati Art Museum, Collection of Kimberly Klosterman, Photography by Tony Walsh

Romolo Grassi (Italian, 1913–1991), Mantide Mimetica (Camouflage Mantis), late 1960s, marcasite and quartz-encrusted anthracite, gold, enamel, rubies, steel, Courtesy of the Cincinnati Art Museum, Collection of Kimberly Klosterman, Photography by Tony Walsh

But the piece that is fast becoming a favorite of mine is the Necklace with Pendant he created in the 1960s. Having toured the exhibition in Europe to two venues before its installation in Cincinnati, I had not seen the work for some time. It was like Christmas as we opened the crate and rediscovered the jewelry inside. This piece, in particular, really ‘wowed’ me. It was so much larger than I had remembered.

Romolo Grassi (Italian, 1913–1991), Necklace with Pendant, 1960s, gold, diamonds, emeralds, Courtesy of the Cincinnati Art Museum, Collection of Kimberly Klosterman, Photography by Tony Walsh

Romolo Grassi (Italian, 1913–1991), Necklace with Pendant, 1960s, gold, diamonds, emeralds, Courtesy of the Cincinnati Art Museum, Collection of Kimberly Klosterman, Photography by Tony Walsh

While its place in the exhibition is in a case with many other artists that perhaps divert one’s attention away from Grassi’s work, this is a spectacular necklace. Aside from its size, the gold is such a bright yellow; the shape of each link of the necklace itself reminds me of the concavity of empty peanut shells; all the edges are uneven, crimped gold and the contrast between the polished and the matte gold is dynamic. The center of the pendant is decorated with ‘posts’ of emeralds and the snaky vine at its center has an extraterrestrial feel to it. Its spidery form is jagged, taking unexpected twists and turns, like a vine that has grown over a long-abandoned structure.

While many ask me what my favorite piece in the exhibition is, I cannot choose only one piece, but this piece is definitely growing on me.