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TO FEB. 25, 2001
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Certain members of the reviewing community evince disdain for “booty and plunder” shows, which arrive in town with the reliability of The Nutcracker—and attract the same relentlessly middlebrow crowds. But not all art appreciation is about intellectual stimulation; some of it’s about beauty, and some is about greed. In the case of the Smithsonian’s latest fantasia, I’m all about bourgeois—that’s me waving the Visa at the gift shop. “Buccellati: Art in Gold, Silver and Gems” displays some of the 20th-century masterpieces of the House of Buccellati, whose roots go back to around 1750 in Milan’s goldsmiths’ district. Patriarch Mario Buccellati’s jewelry designs relied on their maker’s perfection of Renaissance-era techniques; son Gianmaria’s creations are influenced by French rococo aesthetics. Most of the jewelry is intricate and delicate, yet substantial; you’ll be glad to hear that you can pick up authentic examples in the exhibition’s accompanying Italian boutique. And the show’s 16 ornate “masterworks”—chalices, candlesticks, coffers, and the like—are even more extravagant; their grandeur arises largely from the abundance as well as opulence of their materials. Pride of place goes to the latest production, this year’s Smithsonian Cup, a donation to the institution. Best in Show—for my money—goes to 1970’s Medicean Box (pictured), a jewel box in both senses, whose gold-and-diamond details were inspired by the Pitti Palace in Florence. Indulge your extravagant instincts, but be careful of your credit limit. The exhibit is open daily from 10:30 to 5:30 p.m. at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History, 10th and Constitution Ave. NW. Free (except for purchases). (202) 357-2700. (Caroline Schweiter)