A day in the city of Maria Luigia

A sur­prise English piece was one of the trea­sures lurk­ing among Ital­ian paint­ings, Aus­trian ce­ram­ics, Rus­sian icons and Chi­nese porce­lain at this year’s Gotha fair

Country Life Every Week - - Art Market -

TWO weeks ago, I men­tioned that I was about to pay my first visit to Parma, the for­mer duchy ap­prox­i­mately 100 miles to the south of Mi­lan. A mere 36 hours was noth­ing like enough to do the city jus­tice, es­pe­cially as sev­eral of those hours were spent at the Gotha fair, which ran from Novem­ber 11 to 20 at the Fiere di Parma. How­ever, what I saw made me want to re­turn for more.

Although it was orig­i­nally ruled by the Far­nese fam­ily, there is a French tinge to the icul­ture of the city, stem­ming from a suc­ces­sion of French (or Franco-span­ish) rulers in the 18th and 19th cen­turies: Bour­bonPar­mas, Napoleon, his se­cond wife Marie-louise (here Maria Luigia), Bour­bons again. From this point of view, I was par­tic­u­larly lucky to be em­bed­ded in a French press party. None of this pre­vented us from ap­pre­ci­at­ing such in­dige­nous glo­ries as Parma ham, cheese and wines.

All were abun­dantly on of­fer at the pre­view of the fair in one of seven ex­hi­bi­tion halls that have been ex­ten­sively mod­ernised over the past decade or so. At present, the sur­round­ings of the Fiere might re­mind veter­ans of the MECC com­plex at Maas­tricht a few years ago, when it too stood al­most alone be­yond the bounds of the town, but soon to be en­gulfed by a whole new quar­ter.

In­side the hall, the lay­out was sim­ple but ef­fec­tive: a wind­ing snake of stands, so that rather than dart­ing to and fro, one could pro­ceed from one end to the other along one side, and back on the other, miss­ing noth­ing (un­less one wished to) and paus­ing for ham on the bends.

This is a bi­nen­nial fair, es­tab­lished in 1994 and now re­garded as prob­a­bly the best in Italy. The 60 or so deal­ers were Ital­ian or Swiss-based Ital­ian and their great­est strengths were prob­a­bly in fur­ni­ture, works of art and de­sign. Given the qual­ity of Ital­ian 18th- and 19th-cen­tury sil­ver, I did not ex­pect to find in­ter­est­ing English pieces, but there was one at least. This was an 18½in-high cen­tre­piece of three scant­ily clad danc­ing girls bear­ing a fruit bas­ket (Fig 4). It was marked 1861 by R. & S. Gar­rard, Queen Vic­to­ria’s Crown Jewellers since 1843 and, at Gotha, Mau­r­izio Vetri of Florence was ask­ing about €120,000 for it.

It is pos­si­ble that this was part of the ‘ex­ten­sive ex­hibit of sil­ver and jew­ellery’ that the firm showed at the 1862 In­ter­na­tional Ex­hi­bi­tion. That, now rather over­looked, ex­hi­bi­tion took place on the site of the fu­ture South Kens­ing­ton mu­se­ums and it had a con­nec­tion with Italy, and in­deed Parma, as Verdi, born in the Duchy, com­posed one of his two sec­u­lar can­tatas for it.

Due to a fall­ing out be­tween the com­poser and the com­mis­sion­ers, the Inno delle Nazioni, or Hymn of the Na­tions, in­cor­po­rat­ing Bri­tish, French and Ital­ian an­thems, was not per­formed at the fair, but made its de­but three weeks later at Her Majesty’s Theatre in the Hay­mar­ket. Per­haps it would be fun to give it an air­ing at the next Gotha in two years’ time.

A piece with a con­nec­tion to an­other of the great 19th-cen­tury In­ter­na­tional Ex­hi­bi­tions

Fig 1 above: Fig 2 left:

A ten­der Holy Fam­ily by Guer­cino. With Moroni Renzo. An Aus­trian ce­ramic stove. With Lauro De­francesco

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