Venice Jeweler Attilio Codognato Dies at 86

Italian Atillio Codognato, whose family has had a namesake jeweler operation for more than a century in Venice, Italy, died Monday.

Codognato, 86, died in a hospital in his home city after a period of ill health, according to information released on behalf of the Codognato family. Private family services are being planned and a memorial might be held at a later time.

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His son Mario and daughter Cristina said in a joint statement that was issued Tuesday, “We are deeply saddened by the loss of our father Attilio and all that he meant to the world of art, jewelry and Venice.”

Prior to his health faltering, Codognato had been in talks with Francesca Amfitheatrof about taking over creative control of the family company, which she has agreed to do sooner than anticipated and while maintaining her role as artistic director of jewelry at Louis Vuitton.

A fourth-generation jeweler, Codognato drew upon Byzantine, Roman, and Renaissance influences, creating elaborate jewelry steeped in the history of Venice, art and iconography. Established by Simeone Codognato in 1866, near Piazza San Marco, Codognato Jewelry operates from just one point of sale. The distinctive pieces incorporate intaglio and enamels into cameos, poison rings, micro-skulls, twisting snakes and memento mori, which has attracted exclusive clients including royals, actors, directors and artists. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Jean Cocteau, Diana Vreeland, Andy Warhol, Jacqueline Kennedy and Maria Callas were among the notable clients.

The Codognato luster never dimmed through the years, thanks to such devotees as fashion designers Alessandro Michele, Maria Grazia Chiuri and Anna Sui, artists Cindy Sherman and Jeff Koons and actor Nicholas Cage. Sui recalled visiting the Codognato store for the first time in the ’90s, when she was spending a good deal of time working on a shoe license and freelancing in Italy.

“I was always curious about his store and intimidated to go into it. One day I got the nerve up to go in and he was just the nicest man, showing me all around, telling me about his family and showing me archival pieces. It was just such a great experience to be with him,” Sui said.

So much so that every time she went to Venice after that she made a point of stopping by to see Codognato. Sui picked up on the skull ring trend, and purchased one there too. But her favorite Codognato find was the bracelet that she purchased via the online component of Christie’s sale from the collection of Elizabeth Taylor. As it turned out, Sui’s selection was the serpentine bracelet that Burton had purchased for her while the couple was attending the Venice Film Festival. Although the Codognata bracelet had not been listed as such, Sui said she subsequently asked Vicky Tiel, whose husband had been Burton’s makeup artist and had traveled with the Hollywood couple at that time. Tiel verified that was the same bracelet, Sui said.

“Really, really charming,” Codognato “loved an audience,” Sui recalled. “If you were there to listen, he could just go on and on, which was fascinating. He just loved what he did. He loved the craft of it and he loved showing it. It was very magical, like going into Ali Baba’s cave or something — the shop was so special with all of the cabinets and everything. It was in another time.”

A Codognato necklace.

“Like talisman,” Codognata’s pieces “go beyond jewelry,” in that they are “a little bit macabre, a little bit Gothic,” Sui said. “There are other connotations of his jewelry. I don’t think you would ever describe it as pretty, but there is something so exotic about it. People really relate to it. There is a definite strength to it and the scale is bigger.”

The store in Venice.

Having met Codognato and purchased one of his jewels for the first time in 1992, the former runway model Tatiana Sorokko described him as “a hidden treasure in Venice.” Elusive and highly private, Codognato was among the most respected jewelry designers, she said. To introduce others to his talents, she once organized an exhibition of his work at her San Francisco gallery and had a hand in a Bergdorf Goodman event.

“He had a following that was almost like a cult following,” Sorokko said. “One of the interesting things about him was that he designed jewelry that men liked to wear. Alessandro Michele and [the actor] Nicolas Cage bought rings from him. And the photographer Gilles Bensimon was always wearing his rings.”

Sorokko also praised Codognato’s eye for contemporary art, which he collected and showcased through the years. His interests included works by Lucio Fontana, Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg and Bruce Nauman among others.

Coincidentally, Assouline is publishing a book, “Codognato Masterpiece,” this month.

Codognato is survived by his son, Mario, a contemporary art curator who is the director of the Anish Kapoor Foundation, and his daughter, Cristina, who is known as “Kika.”

Cristina and Mario Codognata with Francesca Amfitheatrof.

Codognato and Amfitheatrof had been visiting his artisans and discussing how his role could be transitioned to her over time. Codognato’s son and daughter said, “They spent much time together and shared a unique fascination with art and alchemy and the crossover into the world of jewelry. For our father, Francesca was the only jewelry designer he felt could step into his world and handle it with the same enthusiasm and aesthetic. We feel incredibly grateful to be able to embark on the future of Codognato with someone Attilio trusted so implicitly and who has already become a part of the Codognato family.”

In turn, Amfitheatrof said the Codognato family has been part of her life for a very long time. “Grateful to have spent time with Attilio over the years and especially in Venice up until very recently,” she said.

The ethos of the business is expected to remain private and discreet, according to the spokeswoman. Amfitheatrof will now work alongside the Codognato family to expand the collections, and offer limited editions at specific seasonal intervals while celebrating Attilio’s legacy.

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