The Alchemy of Design

The alchemists hoped that with the Philosopher's Stone, they would be able to transform base materials into gold. Artists and designers are in some ways like them, creating iconic pieces seemingly out of nothing. In their upcoming design auction, Cambi Casa d'Aste rounds up the best modern day alchemists of design.

The Alchemy of Design

“Fantasy is the philosopher’s stone given to man to transform nature according to his desire."

Alchemy is an esoteric philosophy situated between empirical science and art, whose primary goal was to turn lead into gold. Alchemical ideals are considered precursors of modern chemistry, even if, in addition to science, the discipline included mystical elements and implied a process of metaphysical liberation of the operator. The transmutation of the gold metal through the famous philosopher's stone is primarily part of a spiritual search. 

Hermes Trismegistus, a 3rd century philosopher, o which the Corpus Hermeticum (collection of mystico-philosophical treatises in Greek) is attributed, image via Dionidream
Hermes Trismegistus, a 3rd century philosopher, o which the Corpus Hermeticum (collection of mystico-philosophical treatises in Greek) is attributed, image via Dionidream

The alchemists liked to identify themselves as "hermetic philosophers", according to Hermete Trismegisto, the patriarch of the discipline who played a crucial role in the building of Egyptian knowledge and in the creation of hieroglyphic writing. Alchemy was at its peak from the 1400s to the late 1700s. Valentina Guidi Ottobri said, "Even Leonardo da Vinci, in his coded writings, claimed to be able to turn lead into gold. In his most famous drawing, the Vitruvian Man (1490) is placed both in a square and in a circle. In the square, man appears crucified in matter, and in the circle, like a five-pointed star. The drawing, in addition to containing harmonious and precise proportions, symbolizes the sublimation of the body in the spirit through the quadrature of the circle."

The Swiss physician, alchemist and astrologer Paracelsus was one of the most outstanding figures of the Renaissance. He defined the imagination as an "inner star", a part of the sidereal (and therefore invisible) terrestrial body of an individual who, like a magnet, attracts and transforms, forcing man to metamorphose in order to gain to the creation of the philosopher's stone. However, imagination, experimentation and research are processes that can be found in any artistic practice. 

For its Fine Design auction on June 20, Cambi Casa d'Aste will present the works of several artists and creators who managed, in some ways, to create their own philosopher's stone.

Piero Fornasetti

"I am my furniture and they are my personal biography.”

Piero Fornasetti, painted lacquered wood screen, Fornasetti production, Italy, circa 1950, image © Cambi Casa D'Aste
Piero Fornasetti, painted lacquered wood screen, Fornasetti production, Italy, circa 1950, image © Cambi Casa D'Aste

Unique and inimitable, the style of Fornasetti is synonymous with innovation and classicism. A genius and alchemist, he constructed his world with dreamlike visions, perfecting his engraving and printing technique in his father's studio, and acquired an unconventional dexterity in execution. His frescoes, his eye for furnishing, his participation in the decoration of the ship Doria, as well as his collaboration with Gio Ponti have elevated him to the rank of 20th century Italian design icon.

Lucio Fontana

“Infinity passes in a hole. Everyone believed my intention was to destroy but it’s not true, I build."

Lucio Fontana, polychrome enamelled terracotta table base, unique piece, c. 1950, picture © Cambi Casa D'Aste
Lucio Fontana, polychrome enamelled terracotta table base, unique piece, c. 1950, picture © Cambi Casa D'Aste

With a simple incision in the plane of the canvas, Lucio Fontana reveals the three-dimensional space. A figurehead of spatialism, the artist placed color, light and space at the base of his research and material exploration. Fontana began in Argentina as a sculptor, then continued his work in Italy, where he approached the ceramic and abandoned the figurative to devote himself to sensory modeling.

Osvaldo Borsani and Lucio Fontana, coffee table with wooden frame and glass top, Concetto Spaziale series, produced by Borsani Furnishings, 1952, © Cambi Casa D'Aste
Osvaldo Borsani and Lucio Fontana, coffee table with wooden frame and glass top, Concetto Spaziale series, produced by Borsani Furnishings, 1952, © Cambi Casa D'Aste

In 1946, along with young artists and intellectuals, he developed the Manifesto Blanco (White Manifesto), the starting point of the spatialism movement, where the rules of a new art are articulated around the concepts of time and space. 

Verner Panton

“The main purpose of my work is to provoke people into using their imagination."

Verner Panton, Wondrelamp type G with Cellidor thermoplastic structure, production Luber AG, Denmark, 1969, picture © Cambi Casa D'Aste
Verner Panton, Wondrelamp type G with Cellidor thermoplastic structure, production Luber AG, Denmark, 1969, picture © Cambi Casa D'Aste

In love with color and geometry, Panton worked as an architect at Arne Jacobsen before founding his studio. His passion for plastics, bright colors and geometric patterns has resulted in projects to merge furnishings and the field of construction. In the early 1960s, he developed the famous Panton Chair with Vitra, presented in 1967 as the very first product developed independently by the Swiss company. From the 1970s, he left the creation of furniture to devote himself to the design of domestic environments (the interior of the liner Loreley in Cologne or the offices of the newspaper Der Spiegel), which earned him international recognition and inspired a generation of creators.  

Sara Ricciardi

"What I love about alchemy is the possibility. I find that the philosopher’s stone is nothing but a nugget that lies in the depths of our body."

Sara Ricciardi, Murano glass sculptural vase, unique piece, Venini production for Visionary Home Philosophy, 2019, image © Cambi Casa D'Aste
Sara Ricciardi, Murano glass sculptural vase, unique piece, Venini production for Visionary Home Philosophy, 2019, image © Cambi Casa D'Aste

Sara Ricciardi was born in 1989. The young designer, who already enjoys a certain notoriety in the industry, has forged her experience and her reputation through outstanding projects. Originally from Benevento, Sara studied between Milan, Istanbul and New York, and now works in Milan, where she opened her studio four years ago. Her approach is characterized by a narrative exploration: according to her, all aesthetics is born of a precise history. The materials she uses are chosen with the help of great Italian master craftsmen.

The vase that will be presented at the auction plays on the balance between two forms: one of the glass containers is drawn in a sharp and raw silhouette, while the other sports lines more fluid and soft. The work is an invitation to become aware of the many steps that we can take.

Marcantonio

"I never give up irony; irony is a serious matter. If a good idea is even fun, I cannot resist to realize it"

Marcantonio, Life After Life, chair designed for the Wooderkammer collection, limited edition of 8 copies, production Scapin, 2019, image © Cambi Casa D'Aste
Marcantonio, Life After Life, chair designed for the Wooderkammer collection, limited edition of 8 copies, production Scapin, 2019, image © Cambi Casa D'Aste

Born in 1976, Marcantonio Raimondi Malerba began his career in the field of theater and scenography, but soon turned to the design of decorative objects. Focusing on the connection between man and nature, his work acts as an extension of his childhood, a time when he had to be imaginative and use what he found around him to build. 

Marcantonio, Before the Beginning, Italy, 2019, picture © Cambi Casa D'Aste
Marcantonio, Before the Beginning, Italy, 2019, picture © Cambi Casa D'Aste

His work then evolved towards the search for a superior elegance and aesthetics, without abandoning the concept of play and childhood. In Before the Beginning, "The child carefully observes the reflections and the game of crystals as a scientist he studies changing matter, like an artist observes reality and to understand it transforms it."

Studio CTRLZAK & Livio Ballabio

"I consider the objects that surround ourselves as an extension of our soul, and our soul certainly has not an elementary shape."

Studio CTRLZAK & Livio Ballabio, Sideroid Zenith, 3D printed structure in resin and meteorite, unique piece, JCP production, Italy, 2017, image © Cambi Casa D'Aste
Studio CTRLZAK & Livio Ballabio, Sideroid Zenith, 3D printed structure in resin and meteorite, unique piece, JCP production, Italy, 2017, image © Cambi Casa D'Aste

Livio Ballabio is an architect who graduated from the Polytechnic University of Milan. Born into a family closely linked to the furniture industry, Ballabio was influenced by the beauty of these utilitarian objects at the border of artwork to experiment and find his own style. Today an expert in the field of high-end interior decoration, he collaborates with professionals from various sectors: crafts, decoration, sculpture, design and architecture. 

CTRLZAK is a hybrid studio that brings together different disciplines and cultures. Founded in Milan by Katia Meneghini and Thanos Zakopoulos, the studio creates works of art and design, decorative objects, installations and spaces: each project is a story. CTRLZAK's creations have been exhibited in various galleries and institutions around the world, such as MoMA, the Louvre and the Venice Biennale.

Cambi Casa d'Aste will offer, during the Fine Design sale on June 20, an immersive experience dedicated to the Alchemists of design celebrated over the catalog. Other names will come to enrich this Golden Temple of Alchemy, as Gaetano Pesce, Ettore Sottsass, Sandro Chia, Federico Pepe and Patricia Urquiola. The project is directed by CTRLZAK and organized by Valentina Guidi Ottobri.

Gio Ponti, armchair mod. 811, produced for Cassina, Italy, picture © Cambi Casa D'Aste
Gio Ponti, armchair mod. 811, produced for Cassina, Italy, picture © Cambi Casa D'Aste

The Cambi Casa d'Aste catalog is, as always, of the highest quality, and will include a fine selection of works by Gio Ponti, Angelo Lelii, Giovanni Ferrabini, Pietro Cascella, and Alessandro Mendini.

Discover all the lots of Cambi Casa d'Aste on Barnebys!

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