Beauty can be found hiding anywhere. The jewellery designer Cristina Torrecilla has found it in the flower petals featured in paintings by Brueghel, Hiepes, Hamen y León and Juan de Arellano, all exhibited at the Museo del Prado.
As part of the events to mark the museum’s bicentenary, this collection of unique pieces sets out to celebrate the beauty of nature, doing so through a meticulous manual process, carefully piloted by Torrecilla in collaboration with Juan Carlos Quijano and Carlos Merino: artisans who have mastered the art of metal, smelting and casting. “Juan Carlos’ technical experience and perspective improve my ideas”, says the designer, who worked for Sybilla for 10 years and is currently researching new sustainable materials (specifically, right now, coffee grounds and resin) for her own creations.
When she was commissioned to design items of jewellery inspired by the museum’s flowers, “from the very start, the idea of working with petals and their life-cycle - budding, flowering and falling - came to my mind and stayed there...”, Cristina explains. But an idea needs to be brought to life and choosing the right raw material is essential. The designer was sure from the start that the pieces would be in bronze with a high copper percentage, which “gives a reddish tinge and also allows for more detailed casting”. The creative process ends by selecting a finish, achieved, in this case, using a special brush with metal teeth to soften the shine, whilst also creating an irregular appearance.
There is a careful, slow process behind each of these items of jewellery: steps taken with a dedication and love that can be detected at the first touch. The research and inspiration phase, exploring the galleries of the Museo del Prado and leafing through books, is followed by drawing, when the abstract idea begins to take shape.
Once Cristina has her designs, this is Juan Carlos Quijano’s cue to transform her ideas into metal or fibre prototypes to work on, from his craft workshop in Marqués de Vadillo (Madrid). These are used to create rubber moulds, one per piece, injected with liquid wax.
After joining the different wax pieces together into a “tree”, this is covered with a material similar to plaster to produce a cylindrical mould. This mould is placed in a kiln at 800 degrees until the wax liquefies and disappears, leaving behind a negative or shell of the tree.
Then, for the casting work, Quijano only has to take a short walk from his workshop to that of Carlos Merino, who melts down the bronze and copper in a type of alchemy which is exact and surprising to the novice eye in equal measure. Next, the centrifugal machine comes into play, where, after the metal is smelted, the plaster is placed.
The centrifugal machine spins for a few seconds at a high speed, leading the liquid metal to fill the shell created by the wax. All that is then left to do is to submerge the plaster and, in a few seconds, we are holding the tree of metal pieces, which must later be cut, touched up, polished and assembled. Team work based on patience, wisdom and love.
“It would be impossible to match the standard of the paintings that inspire me… and I don’t aim to. But if someone simply felt that he or she was taking away a little piece of the museum, I’d feel that all this work made sense”, Torrecilla tells us, holding her delicate items of jewellery. The same Torrecilla who remembers a late afternoon in the museum, some time ago, when she was lucky enough to practically have its galleries to herself and found herself crying in front of Francisco de Goya’s Saturn.