I am delighted to present my final two paintings for the exhibition! These are two beautiful eighteenth-century, Italian oil paintings that I purchased from a commercial antique gallery in Florence. The two old master paintings nicely round off my collection for the exhibition. I will have five pictures covering a diverse range in genre, theme, and style that reflect my travels in both France and Italy, spanning a period from the mid-eighteenth to the late-nineteenth centuries.
But before I share these final two Italian paintings, some updates on the exhibition date. In Italy, the export of antique paintings (older than 70 years) out of the country is covered by a set of rigorous laws. In order to export the paintings, first they have to be approved by the Italian office of cultural patrimony (Le Soprintendenze Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio). This in practice involves a lengthy and complicated process of documentation, provenance research, and physical inspection by the Italian authorities. Although the laws have recently been updated to allow for quick export of works of art that are less than €12,500 (well within my budget), there is still unfortunately a difference between what the law says and how the law really works in Italy. I still have to wait around two to three months for my export permit from the Belle Arti.
The original exhibition date of mid-September will therefore have to be pushed back to mid-December. This unforeseen delay (I really should have done more research before going abroad) has its advantages though; I now find myself with a valuable extension to properly curate the exhibition and organise the event, communicate with my contemporary artists, create an exhibition catalogue and website, and advertise the event. The new exhibition opening date is for December 17, and the exhibition will be on for the week leading up to Christmas until December 23. Hopefully the festive spirit will complement the celebratory tone of the exhibition, and Covid willing, I hope to see lots of foot traffic come by the gallery. So see you in December!
My Italian paintings are thus still in the Soprintendenza offices in Florence waiting for their export certificates. But there has been some good progress; the convocation date (where the paintings undergo a 'hearing' to determine whether they should be allowed to leave the country based on their 'value to the cultural patrimony') was last Tuesday - much sooner than expected. I am now waiting for the final decision from the Belle Arti, and hopefully the paintings can be in London by the end of next week. If the Belle Arti do end up blocking my paintings for export, I can only consider myself flattered: I've managed to find two museum-quality old master pictures for very cheap; I've clearly got a great 'eye'; and this must be the career for me. But in the meantime *knock on wood* I hope to be reunited with my Italian paintings soon. Now for my first Italian picture!
School of Giuseppe Zais (Forno di Canale, 1709 - Treviso, 1781), Paesaggio Veneto del Settecento, Oil on canvas, 110cm x 133cm (frame).
This eighteenth-century Venetian landscape is monumental. Stretching 1.10 metres high and 1.33 metres across, it will fill an entire wall by itself in the gallery. And yet, the individual elements of the painting are meticulously rendered: heavy, swift brushstrokes shape the streaming foam around the rocks and down the river, whilst airy, thin paint infuses the foliage in the leaves. There is a carefully balanced, aestheticised arrangement of nature: two grand, framing trees dwarf a central group of three rustic figures - a peasant woman, a fisherman, and a seated figure - in an open clearing in the surrounding woods. These anonymous figures (staffage) are typical of the Arcadian landscape as man harmoniously exists with nature in an aesthetic whole. The vision of nature here is self-consciously 'artistic'; this is a pastoral world suffused with a charming, idyllic atmosphere.
The picture shares that thin wash of light (in the muted clouds to the gentle shades of the wood) distinctive to the veduti (landscapes) from the eighteenth-century Veneto, epitomised by Venetian masters such as Marco Ricci (Belluno, 1676 - Venice, 1730) and Francesco Zuccarelli (Pitigliano, 1702 - Florence, 1788). But the thick, wiry brushstrokes (moving up the tree trunks, down the cascading stream) are more typical of the later half of the eighteenth century. The picture clearly evinces the influence of Giuseppe Zais (Forno di Canale, 1709 - Treviso, 1781), another landscape painter active in Venice in the later eighteenth century. The colourfully-dressed, peasant figures (especially the yellow-vested fisherman) - rendered with only a few, quick brushstrokes - look distinctively familiar (c.f. Zais's Landscape with a Ruined Tower in the National Gallery or his Italianate Wooded Landscape in the Bridport Museum). This use of quick, controlled brushwork and impasto lends the painting an especially decorative and affected texture.
The landscape, in its period frame, is in excellent condition. The picture also has an interesting provenance. From the Florentine dealer's information as well as the 'Gerini' chalk marking on the back of the stretcher, the painting can be traced back to the Villa Gerini, in the Tuscan hills to the North of Florence. This Villa dates back to the fourteenth century and has been home to prominent Italian noble families: from the Cappelli family until 1654, to the del Benino family until 1860, and finally passing on to the Gerini family. The Gerini owners are also connected to Pope Pius XII (1876-1958) from the Pacelli family. Upon the death of the Marquis Piero Gerini in 1939, the Villa passed to his wife, the Marquess Maria Teressa Pacelli, who was the cousin of the late Pacelli Pope. The Pope is even recorded to have visited the Villa (albeit when he was still a Cardinal) in 1938 for the Gerini-Dufour Berté wedding.
The presence of the painting in the Gerini collection accounts for its virtually untouched condition: the picture is on its original canvas and stretcher and has undergone virtually no restoration. Its beautiful, eighteenth-century frame also seems to be the picture's original. The landscape was likely bought by one of the eminent Gerini collectors in the nineteenth or early twentieth centuries and left hanging in place in the Villa undisturbed. The picture's distinguished provenance confirms its status as a fine, original work of eighteenth-century Venetian landscape. Along with its size, near-perfect, original condition, and attractive, decorative subject, I hope that this will be the most commercial of my pieces. Now onto my final painting:
Attributed to Fedele Fischetti (Napoli, 1732 - 1792), The Rape of Europa (Ratto di Europa), Oil on wood panel with gold leaf, 53.5cm x 45.5cm (panel), 60.5cm x 53.5cm (frame).
This picture is a beautiful work of eighteenth-century, Neapolitan rococo art: a testament to an age of decorative refinement, ornate elegance, and playful classicism. The mythical (and racy) subject - the abduction and subsequent rape of Europa by Zeus disguised as a bull - is offset by a burnished, gilt background. The gold-leaf dominates the picture with a tone of celebratory richness; it is decorative even to the point of distraction. Yet Europa's abduction is shrouded with this playful ambiguity too; her maiden-attendants agitate their arms with dramatic alarm, but Europa's singular, raised hand is more of a composed wave (a resigned goodbye or a desperate grasp towards the receding shore?). Not to mention how Europa and the bull are crowned with garlands that suggest a celebratory frivolity - like a newlywed couple prancing away during Mayday festivities rather than the despairing, ravished maiden of Titian's famous exemplar. And where Titian has his Europa frantically wave a blood-red scarf in the air, our Europa's sky-blue shawl elegantly unfurls into the gold-leaf background, creating a beautiful, decorative contrast of rich colours. The emphasis here is on elegant play.
The gallerist in Florence is adamant in his attribution of the painting to Fedele Fischetti (Naples, 1732 - 1792). The picture does certainly share many similarities with Fischetti's work and is distinctively from the golden age of neoclassical rococo in eighteenth-century Naples. Fischetti is famous for his grand frescoes adorning many Neapolitan palazzos: graceful treatments of mythological subjects such as his Summer with Ceres and Proserpine and Winter with Boreas Abducting Orithyia in the Royal Palace of Caserta. But Fischetti was also a master of small-scale, decorative works on gilded wood, depicting mythological subjects in an elegant neoclassicism (Eros Defeating War, Mercury and Psyche, The Toilet of Venus). These paintings usually adorned the gilded, wooden panels on furnitures such as room screens, cabinets, sedan chairs, or even chariots.
But Fischetti's originally decorative purpose here finds new life when repurposed in a framed setting. That dichotomy between serious, thematic subject and trivial ornamentation so inherent to the rococo ethos is now thrown in even sharper relief. And although the wooden panel has suffered significant deterioration, the dotted flecks of crumbling gold-leaf add an element of nostalgic charm to the picture: there is a delicate airiness to the foliage permeated by the craquelure of the gilding; the vibrancy of the colours are only enhanced by the visibly sandy texture of the gold-leaf. The picture also originates from the Gerini Villa, though it is in worse condition than the Venetian landscape and must have travelled more in its past. Yet this beat-up quality does not occlude the brilliance of the painting's composition and design; part of the attractiveness of this painting is its physical materiality. What remains is a work of art that exists somewhere between an object as decorative ornament and a painting as aesthetic study.
I am very pleased to be able to include these two Italian old master paintings in my exhibition in December. I'm primarily interested in old master paintings. After spending so long touring antique galleries and museums around the peninsula, it is such a privilege to be able to bring back two eighteenth-century, Italian works of art that I can study and exhibit. I can't wait for you to see these paintings; they pair very well with the contemporary works in the gallery too!
Thanks for reading and see you soon.