Slip into one of the shadowy alleyways leading from the bustling high street shopping mecca of Milan’s Via Torino, wind around a few tight corners, whizz past the minuscule galleries, extravagant design shops and tiny, ultra Milanese delicatessens you will finally land on the doorstep of Osanna Visconti. Petite, polite and every part the picture of decadent Milanese high society, Visconti is a jewellery designer and bronzeware artisan whose noble lineage doesn’t stop her from getting her hands dirty.
Originally trained as a goldsmith, the Roman-born, Milanese transplant has made a name for herself designing painstakingly wrought bronze furniture and objects. Ethereal, seemingly delicate but tough-as-nails regalia spring to life using the ever-so-romantically titled process, ‘lost-wax casting’.
The family-run business — her daughter Madina recently joined as a jewellery designer— is centred in one of the city’s moodily imposing 16th-century palazzos that populate its oldest Medieval quarters. On the ground floor, just off the street, lives Visconti’s gallery and shop. Tightly packed with gleaming bronze and neatly stacked reference books, the off-the-beaten-path storefront hosts the far-flung and glamorous clientele that come to browse her distinct creations.
Just above the shop sits their bustling family home: three adjoining apartments Visconti has claimed with her four children and husband, Giangaleazzo. “We bought the house because it already had our crest on the roof,” she recalls of seeing the soaring ceilings for the first time, “We thought it was a sign.”
If you look closely, the Visconti family crest — a winding serpent devouring the body of a man — is everywhere. On bespoke silverware from the historic Argenteria Miracoli, sets of Richard Ginori plates and on custom stationary from Corso Venezia’s Raimondi. A symbol of the Visconti family, the crest also serves as the avatar of Milan, a holdover from when the clan ruled the city in the Middle Ages.
Despite the ancient apartment’s dramatic architecture, the space is surprisingly welcoming: oversized sofas beg to be fallen into and a small TV room just outside the master suite hosts comfortable chairs arranged around Visconti’s work station, so the family can stay together in the evening while she toils away rendering chunks of wax. A weighty, twelve-seater dining table seems aching to be the centrepiece in one of Visconti’s meticulously choreographed dinner parties, but she insists its mainly for family use. “We love staying around the table for lunch,” Visconti says of their daily ritual, “it’s very Italian”.
Visconti’s relaxed attitude crosses easily over to her personal style. When she’s designing or casting in bronze, a notoriously dirty job, she’s dressed like a construction worker in classic Levis and simple t-shirts. But at night, she emerges in glittering Bottega Veneta. “Thomas spoils me,” she’s quick to admit — the house’s designer, Thomas Maier, is a close friend. Unlike most Milanese women, Visconti loves vintage, but rather than scouring markets, her source is closer to home. “Every time I visit my mother in Rome,” she confesses, “I bring an empty suitcase. Her closet is amazing, she’s 86 and still wearing Comme des Garcons.”
Though Visconti’s flat may be found in one of the city’s oldest districts, her interior design aesthetic strays far from the stuffy and historic. Instead, its contents are a hyperbolic spectacle of contemporary art extravagance. Sculptures and paintings by art’s heaviest hitters — Emin, Kapoor, Hirst, Kentridge, Cattelan, among others — jostle for attention from every direction and leave you feeling as if you’ve just stumbled upon the best kept art-world secret in the entire city. A single wall is dedicated only to works on paper, and counts amongst it pieces by Fontana, Boetti and even a hand drawn sketch by Giacometti of Giangaleazzo’s grandmother. “My husband is a gallerist,” Visconti explains of their elaborate collection that spreads over the walls, floor and even the ceiling and door frames. “But we have no rules when it comes to buying art. We only buy what we like. We want to live with what we love.”
Thankfully, Visconti is a realist when it comes to living alongside such precious pieces. She admits she has accepted that the fate of their priceless objects come second to their day-to-day routine. Her 18th-century Chinese vases, she claims, have been dwindling in number as of late: “There were more,” Visconti bemoans of her prized ceramics collection, yearly gifts from her husband, “but my boys keeping breaking them playing in the dining room. But what can you do,” she says with a shrug, “this is our life.”
– Laura Todd