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Gem-encrusted skulls have forever been the signature motif of Venetian jewelry house Codognato. As an exhibition in Paris celebrates the use of skulls across all forms of art, Attilio Codognato explains his fascination for the morbid icon.

“A skull, to me, is a positive symbol,” says Attilio Codognato, the scion of the historic Venetian jewelry house that takes his family name. “They make me think of what I will be one day and so I try to be nice to people and live my life with that in mind.” No surprise then that Mr. Codognato is famously charming. Codognato is renowned for its jeweled skulls, found in rings, necklaces, earrings and cufflinks and crafted from all manner of precious stones.

Founded in 1866, the skull – along with the serpent – has forever been Codognato’s signature motif. It has been making the baroque vanities long before they appeared on the catwalks of Alexander McQueen or in the art of Damien Hirst. “When I started 50 years ago, the skulls were in the shop but unsold and people did not pay attention to them. Now it is incredible,” Codognato says of the recent fashion for skulls. “Lots of my customers wear the McQueen skull dresses. I recognize immediately when they enter the shop that they are part of the club.”

It is the popularity of the skull in all forms of art which is celebrated (or perhaps culminates?) in a new exhibition, “C’est La Vie: Vanities from Caravaggio to Damien Hirst”, on show at Paris’s Musée Maillol. The show includes paintings, sculptures, photographs and videos from artists as diverse as Picasso and Cindy Sherman, as well as the iconic skull jewelry of Codognato.

“Damien Hirst is another skull maker, like Andy Warhol,” says Codognato of the exhibition. “Andy made beautiful skull paintings and also did two portraits of me. Around 1975 he bought one of my skull rings.”

Codognato, a well-known collector of contemporary art, is particularly knowledgeable about the historical use of skulls in both art and jewelry. “In the 19th century skulls were very popular. You will find ladies wearing them in Renaissance paintings,” he says. “And now they’re everywhere again. It’s the cycle of fashion.”

Playing down his family’s role in elevating the skull symbol to iconic status, he modestly remarks: “People recognize us as the inventor of something we did not invent at all!”

More info:

C’est La Vie: Vanities from Caravaggio to Damien Hirst
Musée Maillol, Paris
February 3 through June 28, 2010
www.museemaillol.com

Codognato
1295 San Marco 30124 Venice
+39 041 522 5042

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