Alessandro was the son of Fortunato Pio Castellani [1794-1865], a goldsmith by trade who founded a jewelry business on the ground floor of the Palazzo Raggi in the Via del Corso in Rome. Fortunato's early jewelry productions were in contemporary French, English, and Swiss taste. The Russian craftsman Zwernei, who worked in Rome in the 1830's, greatly influenced Fortunato's style. The firm helped establish Rome as an important center for jewelry design; later Fortunato founded the Archaeological School of Jewelry in Rome. In the mid-1820's Fortunato befriended the famous archaeologist Michelangelo Caetani (Duke of Sermoneta, 1804-1882) who in 1851 inspired the family to abandon foreign jewelry and begin concentrating on antique themes. The workshop's head jeweler, Sarno, according to Alessandro, was one of the first craftsmen to specialize in classicizing jewelry. Alessandro gained an appreciation for fine Etruscan jewels from his father. He spent time in Naples collecting majolica, ivories, marbles, bronzes, enamels, and precious cloths. After amassing a large collection he installed it in the Palais de la via Poli in Rome. His membership on an election commission during the Roman Republic of 1849 led to his arrest when the Papal government was restored later that year. He was imprisoned at the Castel Sant'Angelo and then transferred to a criminal asylum in Rome where he soon recovered from his mental illness (which some say he feigned), returning home in 1856. In 1859 the Papal government was to undertake more interrogations with Alessandro at which time he fled to Paris. In June of 1860 he took an apartment on the rue Taitbout. He opened a business center at number 85 on the Champs-Elysées, which later became the core of the Archeaological School of Jewelry in France. Through the archaeologist Michelangelo Caetani, Alessandro was introduced to the fashionable salon of Princess Mathilde, the daughter of Napoleon's brother Jérôme Bonaparte, and wife of Russian Prince Demidoff. He aided the French government in acquiring 929 precious metal objects from the famous Italian Campana Collection for Napoleon III in 1859. Castellani delivered a lecture in 1861 to the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, entitled, "Mémoire...sur la Joaillerie chez les Anciens." It was circulated as a privately printed paper under the title Antique Jewellry and its Revival to complement the Castellani display at the 1862 International Exhibition in London. This pamphlet began a Castellani legend that bore little truth. The family claimed to have transported peasant jewelers from the Umbrian village of Sant'Angelo to their workshop in Rome because of their continued practice of ancient design and techniques. Alessandro, in the role of family historian, claimed that the peasant jewelers in his workshop perpetuated the technique of granulation. The technique was not completely mastered by the family because they did not learn to circumvent, as the Etruscans did, the use of solder to attach the grains of gold to their support. Alessandro died at Villa Vecchioni in Portici near Naples. At that time he was survived by his second wife Henriette (his first wife was Carolina Gentilli) and his son by Carolina, Torquato. Torquato was a ceramicist specializing in neo-Renaissance tin-glazed earthenware. His work can be found in the Fortnum Collection of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.
Newton, C.T. The Castellani Collection. London, 1861.
Nadelhofer, Hans. "Castellani and Giuliano in the Context of Their Times." Christie's Review of the Season. London, 1973: 206-210.
Bury, Shirley. "Alessandro Castellani and the Revival of Granulation." The Burlington Magazine (October 1975): 664-668.
Munn, Geoffrey C. Castellani and Giuliano, Revivalist Jewellers of the Nineteenth Century. London, 1984.