A family tale and a commercial endeavor, which in the past two centuries have become one successful enterprise.
This family tradition started in 1885, when Gaetano Donadio, in spite of limited means, took his first steps in the production and trade of cameos and corals,taking part in numerous trade fairs, so that one of the most ancient Neapolitan traditions:- the manufacture of cameos and corals-, became well known and world wide appreciated.
Ready for any opportunity, Gaetano opened his first shop in Austria, followed by others in Taormina (Sicily) and S. Lucia in Naples. Finally, he saw his dream become reality with the inauguration of the magnificent "Coral Palace" in Herculaneum (Ercolano) along the motorway from Naples to Pompei.
He soon married and had seven children, all of them followed his footsteps. After surviving the tragic events of two World Wars, the family appointed Matteo, the oldest son, to become business leader.
Matteo Donadio, a man of marked temperament and endowed with the same passion as his father, devoted him self to the appreciation for the beauty of the cameo and the coral, traveling round the world to purchase raw materials, precious stones and pearls.
Thanks to his determination, DONADIO's firm has broken down national and continental borders and achieved international recognition, especially in United States and Asia. From the beginning Matteo opened shops in and around Rome, first in via Veneto, then in Tivoli, and near the Pantheon and at the Coliseum, the actual Donadio office in Rome.
Today the family passion for the exquisite art of jewellery, has been entrusted to Matteo's daughters that, carry on the unbroken family line, following the highest standards of the contemporary manufacture of cameo and coral craftmanship. Visitors to the DONADIO showroom cannot help but be enchanted by the timeless appeal of this ancient art.
Donadio Corals and Cameos now has its production, exposition and sale location in a classic, late 19th century Vesuvian building at the Highway A3 exit, which connects Naples to the ancient cities of Pompeii and Ercolano, popular attractions for tourists visiting Southern Italy.
Its location makes the Donadio Coral Palace easily accessible even by tour buses that can conveniently stop in a large parking area in front of the facility.
The 100,000 tourists of every nationality that visit the Palazzo del Corallo di Donadio every year enjoy the incredible opportunity to witness live the ancient art of cameo engraved by some of the greatest master carvers in the field.
After the laboratory, visitors may enjoy the exposition halls where they can admire and select, among precious objects in coral, pearl and cameos: transformed by expert goldsmiths - one of a kind masterpieces hand-made by artists.
Origins of the Cameo
The art of carving mythical subjects on hard stones, shells and other suitable materials, goes back to very ancient times.
Medallions, richly ornamented and samples of cameos carved on flow stone were found during archeological digs, particularly in the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, demonstrating that since the Roman Empire, objects representing God figures were already in fashion. A first sample of carving on stone, used in Mesopotamia as seals, dates back 4.000 years ago. Other samples of engravings on stone, going back to the 12th Dynasty of ancient Egypt are exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. The first cameo made for ornamental purposes - for rings and earrings - dates back to 400 B.C.
In ancient times, the raw material was not yet the shell, but some mineral lacking in polychrome effect, for example, red cornelian, jasper onyx and malachite, whereas the agate stone, thanks to its layered structure in different shades of colors lent itself to the first carvings on bass-relief.
In those times, as well as today, the craftsman drew a sketch of the picture he intended to reproduce on the top layer, paler in color, when this layer was chiseled away, the second one appeared as the back ground to the design.
The subjects popular with ancient Greek artists were classic women profiles, divinities and mythologic figures. During the first century B.C. the skill of these engravers reached Roman society and cameos became a fashion favorite with the upper class. When the end of the Roman Empire was drawing near, the carving of cameos went through a severe crisis and for several centuries the art form and skill were abandoned.
In the 14th century cameos reappeared and once again were in vogue, especially in Italy, where an extensive production in chalcedony cameos were used as Christian symbols or shown in private exhibitions of art. During subsequent centuries the artists and craftsmen returned to the ancient carvings of cameos, set as ornaments on broaches, rings and medals; even though during the Baroque period the interest in these works of art seemed to vanish again. During the 18th century we find the skill returning in Naples, capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, where Charles III, the Bourbon monarch, founded the "Royal Carving School". Thanks to the munificence of this King, great bas-reliefs and splendid necklaces were created by artists attending that school.
The engraving technique consisted of nothing more than a small circular tool and a mixture of olive oil, emery and diamond powder. Even though portraits remained the most popular subject on engravings, cameos representing historical, allegoric and classic themes were often carved.
In the 18th century J. Wedgwood presented imitations of cameo carvings on his pottery, but by the 19th century, craftsmen began using sea-shells as engraving material and so, cameos became once again very popular.
The pieces, formerly selected according to its shape and colour, is moulded by a grinding wheel, and then fixed to a wooden stick with special hot pitch mastic.
With steel chisels, different in size and dimension, following the outlines of the subject, the craftsman starts caving the piece..
The polishing of the carved pieces is accomplished by dipping them in a hot solution of water, hydrogen peroxide and acid. Then they are smoothed with pumice and oil and, finally, washed into running water (cleansing and polishing). Representations carved on cameos are mainly taken from Greek or Roman mythology, such as Diana, Venus, Flora, Jupiter, Mercury and also Bacchantes and other heroes. At times the artist, following his own instinct, imagines new subjects, from flowers to special creations of religious portraits or famous historical personages, and today even modern and abstract subjects may be found.
Although there have been various attempts abroad at imitation, Italy, and especially Torre del Greco, remains the centre of cameo craftsmanship, which is still handed down from father to son.
Origins of the coral
Coral has been known since ancient times, however its origin, animal or vegetal, have been a mystery until 1.700, when a french doctor M.Peyssonel, stated that: coral was not a flower, but the products of little marine insects that leave calcium structures, colored by their organic substances. They live as large colonies that form wonderful coral reef as in the islands of the pacific sea and Polynesia & Micronesia.
Since ever, the coral has been fished in the Mediterranean and the red sea. In our Mediterranean, coral was already fished before Christ, only by local people mainly from Torre del Greco, little town under the Vesuvius, which still maintains the supremacy over this market.
Later on, franch, spanish and the greek, have followed. Only recently japanese have joint this field.
Unfortunately, the method of harvesting, in Italy and in Japan: with small boats that have special machine (ingegno) which grab every thing from the bottom of the sea; not only carried corals but destroyed every thing on their way. So the only method permitted today is by hand which limits to the reefs not too deep, as already done in Greece.
Many are the antique evidence of coral objects found in the etruscan, greek, roman and turkish archeological sites.
In the Far East china and India coral, has still deep religious and health qualities.
In Italy, particularly Torre del Greco and Trapani, are still the main producing centers, later followed by Japan, America, India and Germany that use japanese coral.
From coral can be created all sorts of objects, from large statues to small jewels, depending from the coral branch to start with.