The Art History

  PUBLISHED in 'THE ART NEWSPAPER' (London) July issue 1998

by Raichel  Le Goff

      Why was there only one London dealer at the 15th Antiquariato fair in Milano this year?  Perhaps they did not see the point when Italians prefer to buy at London auctions. It also costs roughly twenty thousand pounds to spend ten days in Milan with a space of thirty square metres professionally kitted out and illuminated to display your treasures. Paolo Brisigotti of Duke Street was the lone adventurer joined by a bare handful of foreign galleries from Monte Carlo, Paris and Spain. The only exceptional paintings belonged to this elite group. The entrance to the fair was flanked by Monaco's  Maison d'Art and De Jonckheere of Paris reinforcing Old Master paintings as the perennial stars of antique fairs.  Maison d'Art dominated with a dimly lit selection of big names, Castiglione, Belotto, Bassano and a portrait attributed to El Greco that bore no price tag as it was destined for the National Gallery of Athens. De Jonckheere's pristine array of Flemish old masters revolved around Jan Breughel the Elder's Allegory of Abundance which boasted a loud red spot. This implied it was still fashionable for Italians to collect Northern masters as it was in Durer's time. Nobody else used red spots. Either that or nobody else had sold a painting on this, the eighth day of the fair.
      In fact this proved the case for many who nevertheless said they would return for the next fair as they had made excellent contacts. Stand holders enthused over the high quality of the visitors who were "unusually cultured and well informed".  A charming Boy on a Dolphin started the fair attributed to Giulio Romano. Roving experts reassigned it to Girolamo da Carpi and the picture was then purchased from Maison d'Art by a private collector. Milan's Galleria Salamon led the Italian contingent with six paintings from the Lutomirski Collection including a beautiful Rest on the Flight from Egypt by Sebastiano Ricci and a worthy Presentation in the Temple by Bernart van Orley. On the other hand there were quite a few unconvincing paintings at the fair like the so called Portrait of Machiavelli by Ridolfo Ghirlandaio and a Diana and Nymphs by Spranger.
Whilst it is the old masters that people expect to  be dazzled by at such a fair the bulk of paintings belonged to Italian artists of the nineteenth century.  Dealers are justified in this as the fair draws an almost exclusively Italian crowd and the quality of ottocento painting often surpasses the quality of available old masters. Whilst Federico Zandomeneghi may not be an international  household name his dreary painting of a fragile female drinking tea was selling for 250,000 pounds.
      Of ninety-nine exhibitors half showed purely decorative arts with the remainder preferring a mis en scène of furniture, paintings and works of art. A visual delight, the Milan show unfolded like a series of  pages from collectors issues of Conaissance des Arts. Extravagant velvet swags, solomonic columns, secret camerini containing only one painting and a baroque monstrance, acres of aubusson and capuccino coloured spaniels contributed to the rareified atmosphere. The well heeled trod soundlessly across wide avenues and nobody gave the impression that they had just wandered in to have a look. The entire show had an English country home flavour to it with wicker chairs, garden benches, azalea pots and an afternoon  tea room. This theme all'inglese  was apparently unintentional.
      Interspersed between the lush virtual drawing rooms were sombre showcases of museum quality objects ranging from Tang dynasty tomb guardians to an exquisite array of Renaissance sculpture from Antichita dei Bardi of Arezzo featuring pieces from the Bardini collection. Prints and drawings were not strongly represented although many dealers furtively produced Carracci drawings and similar from under their desks when asked.  Victorian and early twentieth century jewellry was sadly displayed under black plastic pyramids whilst Cristina Benedetti's impressive presentation of ancient jewellry drew much interest. Jewellry did well at the fair being something the wives of Milanese industrialists could fit into their handbags.
      Over 22,000 people attended the fair which compares favourably with figures from the last Grosvenor House Antiques fair which attracted 23, 670 visitors has roughly the same number of exhibitors and runs for the same period.

 Raichel Le Goff