Diego Percossi Papi (Rome, 1946) attended the Faculty of Architecture after having graduated from liceo classico (high school specialised in Latin and Greek). Parallel to university, he began exploring the artistic media of sculpture and goldsmithing. With the spirit and freedom of a Renaissance artificer, he became a self-taught artist. Thanks to his talent, competence and undisputed skills, in 2016 he was awarded the MAM-Maestro d’Arte e Mestiere distinction by the Cologni Foundation for the Métiers d’Art.
What is your background?
After the liceo classico (high school specialising in Greek and Latin), I enrolled in the Faculty of Architecture. During university I became interested in sculpture, and experimented mostly with metal. Gradually, I shifted toward artistic objects, including jewellery. I neither went to art school nor did I receive technical training, so my approach was instinctive and natural. I began by portraying reality using the ancient cloisonné technique, where thin strips of metal divide different colours of enamel, a method that has been diversified in many ways throughout the world and throughout history. I developed my own type of cloisonné, changing the thickness, material and shape, including baroque shapes, which are unusual for this technique. My long-standing enthusiasm for this artistic exploration gave life to an atelier that I manage with my wife Maria Teresa and my children Valeria and Giuliano.
How much influence did your architectural studies have on your choice of work?
They had a big influence, because they gave me the instruments and the means to read reality. Architecture taught me about balanced forms. Classical culture stimulated me to transmit history and symbology in my exhibitions. I admire Perseus; Gorgon; the Contrade of Siena; Simone Martini; Henry VII of Luxembourg and Sigismund of Luxembourg, in addition to more popular threads of history such as Neapolitan playing cards. Without a humanities-based training and a passion for continuous study, all this would not have been possible.
What inspires you?
My main sources of inspiration are culture, landscape and architecture. I live in Rome – the Rome of Pope Alexander VII, Francesco Borromini, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Pietro da Cortona. I love baroque art for being the highest expression of passion and colour. I am self-taught. I never studied drawing, so for my craft, I decided to use the approach that was simplest for me, the one of sentiment. Colour comes first, bringing with it emotional and sensorial knowledge, and studies of symbology. Then comes rationality, with its focus on detail. My jewels speak through the use of enamel and coloured stones that are unique in their chromatic and formal combinations.
What makes a piece of jewellery unique?Three fundamental elements concur toward making a piece authentic and unique. First, the client conveys an emotion. Second, the creator acknowledges, shares and espouses the emotion by means of his creativity. Third, the material must become the link between the first two parties. When I am asked to make an ornament for someone, that very moment makes it a unique and authentic piece. I see the client in my mind and think of what would be the right colour to represent her or him. I start with that, from harmony or counterpoise, and from there I construct all the rest, proceeding by constant invention.
How do you combine design and artisanship?
In an absolutely instinctive and intuitive way. Intuition is the subconscious knowledge of creativity. Initially, I crafted my objects directly, sometimes sketching a few lines on the metal before I began working. Then I started making drawings specifically for each client. The drawing contained the finished object; I already knew exactly how I would construct it. Now, my most ambitious designs receive the support of contemporary informatics tools, wielded by my son Giuliano. But craftsmanship and manual skills are always an integral part of our work.
What is your most curious or extravagant piece?
The bejewelled accessories and accoutrements for the three Afghan hounds belonging to an Armenian princess who was a lover of one of the Three Magi. These figures belong to a splendid baroque nativity scene, which also includes the throne of King Herod, a mirror of vanities, a feathered flabellum and other objects. Meetings with the client are always intense exchanges during which we explore themes given by history, theology, art and religion. These are then concretised in small objects that have a connection with people who admire the meaning beyond its intrinsic beauty.
Your atelier lies in the heart of Rome. Does the Eternal City influence your creations?
Yes, my creations are recognisable thanks to their genius loci. I have always resided in the centre of Rome, surrounded by extraordinary buildings that have become a primary source of inspiration. I am fascinated by my personal, daily relation with the city. Here, everything and its opposite is an option. Beauty and ugliness go hand in hand: the new and the old, good and evil. Rome has seen it all, so its citizens subconsciously carry this inside. Nothing amazes me and everything amazes me. My love for Rome did not prevent me from developing a 20-year professional experience with the city of Saint Petersburg. It enriched me regarding my work, the local culture and its social aspects. I became acquainted with incredible types of craftsmanship, became part of the local cultural and artistic framework, and was welcomed fraternally by a sense of communion.
Your clients come from different backgrounds, from Hollywood stars to the Vatican, from European aristocracy to movie producers. How do you marry your clients' requirements with your idea of jewellery?
In reality, the persons adapt to my creativity and improvisation. I seek simply to read and interpret their wishes in full respect of my identity. In all cases, these are clients who have the tools and sensibility to appreciate the culture and history contained in my work. They do not like mass production and they share my particular feelings. The great beauty of creative work is that it allows for a broad inclusion of experiences that might not include what you witness on a day-to-day basis. These working relationships add knowledge, experience and sometimes close friendships. People who love my work have already made a choice that brings us closer. It is an exchange, and my curiosity brings me to not shut the door to challenge, just like a merchant on the ancient Silk Road, who was not only interested in commerce, but also in the exchange of culture.