Ever since Cosimo de’ Medici expelled the butchers and their supposedly smelly meat from the Ponte Vecchio and brought in the jewelers, jewelry has been at the heart of Florentine culture. Ok, so maybe that’s not exactly how it went… Thankfully, during a recent class trip to the Penko Goldsmith shop, the Penko family along with their pet dog, Fiorino, helped set the record straight and we began to learn why in fact Florence is so involved with jewelry making!
Although jewelry making was technically born in Siena, the Medici family brought the practice to Florence and their wealth and influence began to attract many artists. As the best and the brightest flocked to Florence to create jewelry for the Medici and other powerful Florentine families, the city quickly became the heart of Europe’s jewelry scene. There was a certain richness in all of the arts in Florence at this time and jewelry making was no exception.
Mr. Penko informed us that Fiorino was in fact not just the namesake of their family dog! In 1252, Florence was becoming one of the strongest and most influential trading powers in Europe and it needed its own currency. So, thus the Golden Fiorino was born! One side of the coin depicted the Florentine lily and on the other was the image of St. Giovanni Battista, or St. John the Baptist- the patron saint of the city. The coin was pure gold, 24 Kt. and weighed 3.536 grams. Coins were sometimes burned in Piazza Signoria if they were less than 24 Kt.- Florence only accepted the best: even back then!
Originally a jewelry shop positioned on the famous Ponte Vecchio, nestled between many others of the same craft, the Penko family first began their jewelry making business. Now situated just around the corner from the Duomo, the Penko family’s shop continues to create all of their pieces from hand and assured our class that they still use the same process as the Florentines of the 1500’s and 1600’s. Mr. Penko told us that their shop uses a machine of the same design as one that Leonardo da Vinci created but they create more modern pieces as well. Although Mr. Penko joked that he wished that they would choose a different career path, both of his sons are currently studying to become jewelry makers and will continue the family legacy.
Mary Scarrone attends Davidson College in Charlotte, North Carolina where she majors in English and has a fervor for fashion. She utilizes fashion to express herself through style and of course jewelry is a huge part of that! She has had so much fun creating posts for the LDM jewelry blog because it has taught her more about the complicated jewelry-making process that goes into creating all of the pieces she loves to wear! And what is a better place to explore jewelry-making than Florence – Europe’s heart of jewelry? Mary wishes to pursue a career in law after graduation.