The Presentosa and other symbols of the Abruzzo identity

The goldsmith school of Pescocostanzo

Today we talk about goldsmith art and borghi (village) in Italy!

What is “BORGO”?

The literal translation of Borgo in English would be “Village”. But the term Village does not fully explains what a “Borgo” is. A “Borgo” is a fascinating small Italian town, generally fortified and dating back to the period from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.

We are in Pescocostanzo, in the Majella National Park, one of the oldest towns in Abruzzo, a renowned tourist destination, a village (Borgo) of great beauty and home to important artisan traditions.

The goldsmith art: the school of Pescocostanzo

Accompanied by Carlo Rainaldi, master goldsmith and owner of Casina d’Oro jewellers, I walk the streets of the old town, I admire the design and the colour of the slabs in white and dark stone and I congratulate the artistic and cultural heritage of this little gem set in the Apennines, at 1.400 meters above sea level.

Rainaldi, who began the profession of goldsmith at the age of 19, tells me that as early as 1700, out of 1890 inhabitants there were 145 artisans and that, in the early 19th century, the goldsmith profession was practised in thirteen shops.

The propitiatory goldsmith art of Abruzzo

The reason for such mastery dates back to the second half of the 14th century, when the small town of Abruzzo was affected by a strong migratory flow of Lombard workers who ended up settling in the village by introducing various craft activities (working of wrought iron, stone and wood, but also of bobbin lace, another craft wonder handed down from mother to daughter), thus starting a tradition that still lives today, and that is documented by the presence of several artisan shops producing artefacts of great beauty.

The taste for beauty and the passion for art were greatly encouraged by the presence of the noblewoman and Roman poet Vittoria Colonna who was a benevolent feudatory of the village since 1535.

Pescocostanzo grows and, thanks to the sheep industry, a wealthy social class is formed, endowed with remarkable economic resources, highly educated, which guide the community towards affluence.

"As early as 1700, out of 1890 inhabitants there were 145 artisans!"

Carlo Rainaldi

The culture of embellishment and propitiatory grows: the artisan workshops produce famous and sought-after filigrees and gold laminates, jewels that are authentic works of art, codified in shapes that today symbolise and enrich the Abruzzo identity.

Let’s talk about the Carnelian Ring, the Cannatora necklace, the Sciacquaije (earrings) and the most famous Presentosa. The Carnelian ring, typical of the goldsmith tradition of Pescocostanzo, replaced the wedding ring and enshrined a path of mutual commitment. Made of gold, it contains a carnelian engraved with a feminine or male profile of mythological or historical inspiration. It was considered the ring of health.

The propitiatory goldsmith art – symbols of the Abruzzo identity

The Sciacquaije are showy, boat-shaped propitiatory earrings, traditional of Pescocostanzo. Different construction techniques apply: filigree, fretwork or even lost wax. Composed of two perforated and coupled bodies, they are embellished on the underside with oscillating pendants in gold or stones, always in odd numbers. These earrings have a superstitious value: the tinkling of the pendants must preserve women from negative influences and evil eye.

The typical necklace is the Cannatora with a choker, so called because it is placed near the throat (canna in local dialect). It is made of spheres in gold or silver, created by beating an iron stamp. Cannatora is an important jewel in the wedding endowment of female fishermen. Every child, from the first year of age up to eighteen, still today, receive as a gift a mould for the realisation of their Cannatora. On reaching eighteen, it becomes a dowry of the family of the future bride and a benevolent propitiatory ornament. Alternatively it could be the mother-in-law to put the necklace on the neck of the daughter-in-law as a sign of welcome.

The goldsmith art – the school of Pescocostanzo

La Presentosa (name given by Gabriele D’Annunzio) is one of the most famous jewels of Abruzzo and is made in different centres of the region. It definitely represents a precious and significant gift of love. Of the boyfriend to his betrothed, of a mother to her daughter. Once upon a time, the Presentosa and all the other jewels described could also be donated as an ex-voto by the women of the sea as a sign of their faith and devotion. The group of six master goldsmiths of Pescocostanzo, including Carlo Rainaldi, succeeded with great merit in safeguarding the precious goldsmith tradition and continuing today to interpret, with sensitivity and creativity, the tradition narrating with their own hands the history of the village and of the whole region.

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Gallery: The goldsmith art of Abruzzo