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XXVII Biennale Internazionale dell'Antiquariato Florence Italy
October 3, 2011  | 

The twenty-seventh edition of the Biennale Internazionale dell’Antiquariato, which opened on October 1st, merits a visit by anyone drawn to the sights of Florence.  On view through October 9th, the show, the most important in Italy of its type and of growing prominence internationally, unusually positions itself as an “exhibition.” Those holding a pass for the “piccoli grandi musei” need not pay the 10 Euro entry fee to attend the Biennale. And, anyone with a fair ticket can also gain free entry to the majority of the museums participating in the special, multi-venue exhibition, “The Treasure Rooms: Collectors’ Wonders in the Florentine Museums” (on view through April 15th – further information at:

Held in the sumptuous Palazzo Corsini along the banks of the Arno and in close proximity to the Piazza della Signoria, this consummately Italianate fair justifiably links itself and the rarified artworks it presents to the monuments that surround it. Indeed, the baroque palace in which it is held is replete with a marvelously fanciful grotto, a magnificent monumental staircase, and lavish fresco decoration apotheosizing the powerful Corsini family, making it worth seeing in its own right. Not least among the Biennale’s pleasures is the view from the terrace of the piano nobile across the Arno to San Miniato del Monte, which visitors can enjoy while sipping a glass of prosecco or nibbling on a panini.

Nevertheless, the Florence Biennale is a powerhouse show for serious collectors of old master art and objects, which unabashedly celebrate Italian culture. Paintings and works on paper dominate, however one can find marble and bronze sculptures from Ancient Rome to modern times; tapestries; medieval manuscript illumination and Renaissance-period maiolica. In addition to plenty of gilded rococo furniture, the fair proffers plenty of quirkier, unexpected delights such as Neapolitan crèche sets, colorful “arte povera” trays and shell-encrusted portraits .

Examples of Meissen and Sèvres porcelain, English silver, and even a few Hokusai prints can be found. However, all have long been at home in Italy and influenced its aesthetic. The most show-stopping example at this week’s fair is a set of four painted Chinese wall panels of the 1730’s, which were sent to Turin, where they became part of the eminent Medici del Vascello collection. They are exhibited to dramatic effect at the booth of Iotti Gianfranco e Figlio of Reggia Emilia.

Fourteen of the eighty-seven premier-caliber exhibitors come from abroad. Most, such as Grassi Studio of New York, which features an enchanting painted panel of The Garden of Love, painted in Florence circa 1420,  have booths as pronouncedly Italianate as any of the locals. Others lend a slightly exotic note into the mix. De Jonckheere of Paris, with a prominent stand in the first main entry corridor of the fair, drew crowds at both the preview party and on opening day, for its assemblage of Northern works, especially Simon de Myle’s signed and dated panel of 1570 that depicts Noah’s Ark on the Mount Ararat, with a fanciful, detail-laden parade of animals.

Award-winning designer Pier Luigi Pizzi has created a show design that sensitively melds temporary installations with the inherent splendor of the palace. The peculiarities inherent in converting what was designed in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries as a private palace into a contemporary fair make walking through it distinct from other events of its type.  The enfilade layout of much of the architecture forces visitors to circumnavigate the entirety of the show, in some cases requiring them to walk through booths to progress. Signs stating “La mostra continua” (the exhibition continues) with a directional arrow aid visitors through the serpentine flow of booths just as if one were walking through a museum. Nevertheless, one cannot help but feel that some dealers, particularly those on the upper floor, whose booths come after the pleasures of the sun-soaked terrace with its snack bar and the restaurant, have gotten short shrift.

Those who can muster the strength to continue will be rewarded.  Highlights in this last section include a cycle of monumental canvases by Vincenzo Giacomelli painted in 1848—1849 in Venice to commemorate the populist revolts held there at that time. These are displayed by Galleria Pasti Bencini of Florence. As Italy celebrates the 150th anniversary of unification, they fittingly attest to the Biennale’s importance as a cultural event.

But, make no mistake, the fair is intended as a forum for serious trade. In addition to traditional vetting, two official committees examine designated works in order to facilitate to process of authorizing them for export.  

Further information (in English as well as Italian):