Introduction

For more than two decades, between 1759 and 1785, popes, aristocrats, and foreign sovereigns visited Luigi Valadier’s workshop in Rome to acquire extraordinary objects designed by him and created under his supervision. At once draftsman, designer, goldsmith, silversmith, and bronze founder, Valadier worked with a remarkable range of materials — precious stones, enamel, wood, and glass — to create whimsical and elegant works of art that reached France, England, Spain, Portugal, and Russia. This is the first exhibition in the United States devoted to this towering figure of eighteenth-century Italian decorative arts.

Luigi Valadier was born in Rome on February 26, 1726, and lived there all his life. Both parents, however, were French. In about 1720, his father, André, had moved from the south of France to Rome, where he established a silversmith workshop that became one of the best known in the city. Despite his French heritage, Luigi remained firmly established in Rome and may have never visited France. When his father died, in 1759, Luigi inherited his business, and his unsurpassed technical expertise combined with his aesthetic sensibility led to an enormously successful career. Nonetheless, he was financially burdened as a result of commissions for which he was never paid and the expense of running a workshop of almost one hundred people. On September 15, 1785, Valadier committed suicide by drowning himself in the Tiber.