Italian Atillio Codognato, whose family has had a namesake jeweler operation for more than a century in Venice, Italy, died Sunday.
Codognato, 83, had been in “frail” health in recent weeks and had not been going into the family’s store, according to Tatiana Sorokko, a friend of 30-plus years. She was informed of his death by a company representative on Monday.
Executives at the company and Codognato’s relatives could not be reached Monday for comment.
A fourth-generation jeweler, Codognato drew upon Byzantine, Roman, and Renaissance influences. Established by Simeone Codognato in 1866, near Piazza San Marco, the destination was known for its designs. The jewels and baubles were sought by some of the world’s leading clients, including Hollywood actor Richard Burton, who purchased a golden gem-eyed snake with a crown of diamonds for his then-wife Elizabeth Taylor in 1973. But Burton reportedly didn’t want to leave the Gritti Palace, preferring to stay there for a drink, so Codognato made the trip to their suite — and secured the purchase.
Through the years his family had a reputation for catering to their famous and luxury-minded customers including the Duchess of Windsor, Jacqueline Kennedy, Lee Radziwill, Diana Vreeland, Coco Chanel, Grace Kelly, Maria Callas and others. Having championed Codognato’s designs in the U.S., Sorokko said she did so because he was a hidden treasure in Venice. She organized an exhibition of his work at her San Francisco gallery and had a hand in a presentation dedicated to his prized work at Bergdorf Goodman.
Elusive and highly private, Codognato was among the most respected and “mysterious” jewelry designers, whose level of discretion meant that they only worked with certain clients, she said.
“He had a following that was almost like a cult following,” Sorokko said. “One of the interesting things about him was that he designed jewelry that men liked to wear. Alessandro Michele and [the actor] Nicolas Cage bought rings from him. And the photographer Gilles Bensimon was always wearing his rings.”
Sorokko, a former runway model, first met the jeweler in 1992 between Milan and Paris fashion weeks. During a getaway with her husband at that time, she wandered into Codognato’s San Marco boutique and bought a piece of jewelry.
She said, “He always said, ‘I don’t design jewelry because my father, my grandfather and great grandfather left such a legacy of design,” adding that Codognato was actively involved with the business prior to his death.
Artists also appreciated the craft in each piece with Damien Hearst, Cindy Sherman and Jeff Koons among the fans, as was fashion designer Anna Sui. That appreciation was two-fold, since Codognato started what became a significant art collection by opening an art gallery in Venice in the ’60s. His first show was for the Argentine artist and sculptor Lucio Fontana and Cy Twombly.
“The juxtaposition of that contemporary art in a 15th century palazzo in the Grand Canal was always so staggeringly beautiful and unusual. It also showed that he had such a sense of style. At that time, he could basically [afford] to buy from anybody, but he stuck with contemporary art. He had [Robert] Rauschenberg and Bruce Nauman in his collection,” Sorokko said.
Coincidentally, Assouline is publishing a book, “Codognato Masterpiece,” this month.
Codognato is survived by a son, Marco, a contemporary art curator who is the director of the Anish Kapoor Foundation, and a daughter, Kika.