What Makes Decorative Art Truly Valuable?

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  • February 5, 2021

What do you think when you think about decorative art? Perhaps it’s the intricacy of the finished piece, the fact that the artists’ techniques are centuries old, or the knowledge that each work is unique down to its very pigment. Maybe it’s the sense of timelessness that it’s possible to feel when viewing something that so expertly distills the past into the present. Whichever way you look at it, this month we’re sharing a short guide to what makes decorative art truly valuable.


Applying the spolvero 

The artists’ deep knowledge of their craft

There’s a certain level of dedication needed to finesse techniques that were first used in the classical era and developed through the Renaissance. Every work a decorative artist creates is informed by the depth of knowledge that comes with years spent developing their craft.


Classic relief sculpture in the making

Works such as Michelangelo’s Volta della Cappella Sistina or Andrea Mantegna’s Camera degli Sposi endure for a reason. These decorative artists dedicated their entire lives to their craft. They refined techniques first used by architects and artists in ancient Greece and Rome, including trompe l’oeil and relief sculpture, and took them to new decorative heights.


Trompe l’oeil acanthus leaf

Many of these artists were as young as 12 when they joined the studios of their older and well-established contemporaries. One half of the Pigmentti duo, Paolo, followed a very similar trajectory. He has worked in decoration since the age of 14 and spent 20 years with the acclaimed Verenini family business before joining Noel to form Pigmentti.

A vintage photo of Paolo

Using the finest hand-mixed materials

For us, maintaining the integrity of these ancient techniques demands using only the finest materials. We see ourselves as custodians of relatively rare and precious forms of craftsmanship, so it’s important to recreate them down to the smallest details. Rather than buying materials ‘off the shelf’, we make our own following the same ancient recipes used by the Greeks and Romans.


Making marmorino

When we create a wall relief in marmorino, for example, we combine slaked lime and crushed marble carefully sourced to form our own unique mix. This original recipe was used in ancient Pompeii and Rome and is still often found in parts of the Parthenon, Athens. The Parthenon is 2,467 years old, so it’s fair to say this is the recipe for a durable artwork.


The Optimist’s Perspective relief sculpture

If you follow us on Instagram, you might also have seen posts about where we source our pigments. No matter what we’re creating, we use natural pigments sourced from the Dolci Colori factory in Italy. This means the colours we use in our works are representative of those used by the Renaissance artists we admire. It also means we continue championing small, independent suppliers of traditional Italian artistic materials.


Sourcing pigments at Dolci Colori

Working with a variety of materials means mastering the tools and techniques necessary to manipulate them. This is true of all decorative artists. Studying can only take you so far and the true value of decorative art lies in the artist’s ability to distil their knowledge into something physical.


Contemporary relief sculpture in the making

At Pigmentti, we spend any spare moments practising our techniques. If we’re working on a bas-relief sculpture commission, we will have spent months sketching and creating sample panels. In pre-pandemic times, we also travelled across Europe giving practical demonstrations of our craft. Teaching others gives us the chance to fine-tune our technique while encouraging others to champion the decorative arts, too.


Relief sculpture demo at David Collins Studio

We’ve also spent years researching the tools used by Renaissance artists and hand-making our own versions. This is, of course, a time-consuming process. But it’s one which allows us to create original artworks that are representative of the ancient and Renaissance decorative arts we aim to revive. Original artwork can transcend history when the artist brings together hand-made tools, hand-mixed materials and precise technique.


Custom made sculpting tools

One-of-a-kind works of decorative art

No two works are the same when you’re hand-crafting using tools and materials created specifically for each project. This means that when a client commissions a piece of decorative art, they become the custodian of their own piece of history. Whether it’s a wall relief sculpture or a hand-painted fresco, the original artworks we create are expressions of a specific moment in time. To many people, these works become a timeless object of beauty to pass down through the generations.


Botanical relief sculpture artwork

The depth of knowledge we mentioned earlier in this post also allows us to break the boundaries of each technique, all while maintaining their essence. Right now, we’re working on new contemporary relief sculpture pieces that inject rawness into artforms that people usually associate with the past. This is part of our work to challenge perceptions and push techniques forward.

A collaborative creative process

Forging a close relationship between the artist and designer is what enables this level of boundary-pushing. Trust leads to true creativity. Sometimes the client or designer knows exactly what they want from the decorative arts and we make their vision a reality. In other cases, the client relies on the artist to challenge them and create something that goes beyond their imagination. At Pigmentti, we see the value in both scenarios and approach both in a collaborative, trusting manner.


Sculpting butterflies

Because we’re experts in our craft, clients tend to trust us to know when to push the boundaries of the brief and techniques or when to pare them back, too. As we mentioned earlier in the post, mixing our own materials and pigments means we can tailor our artworks down to the finest detail. This, in turn, means that we can help the client to realise their vision down to the palette we use.

Part of our role is to constantly refine our skills and challenge ourselves to be better. That’s why you will usually see us with books in our hands and the works of Renaissance maestros on our walls. Developing our knowledge allows us to keep pushing the limits of our craft – always with integrity and respect for those who championed it before us. We hope this post leaves you with a deeper appreciation for the work that goes into Pigmentti projects and a desire to join us in championing the value of decorative arts.


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