The 27th Florence International Antiques Fair (aka Florence Biennale) will be hosted this year at the enchanting Palazzo Corsini from October 1st- 9th with a layout masterminded by the Maestro Pier Luigi Pizzi. The Biennale, first started by Mario and Giuseppe Bellini in 1959, is the oldest continuous art and antiques fair in Europe and has become the most important Italian art exhibition in the world.
The home to the bi-yearly Florence Biennale since 1997, the Palazzo Corsini in its subdued Baroque style with an 18th-century flair is truly a unique and greatly admired building in Florence and a sight to see in itself. The residence, which was completed only in 1737, is also the proud home of Florence’s most important and historically significant private gallery, boasting a collection, begun in 1765 by Don Lorenzo Corsini, nephew of Pope Clement XII.
The works of art displayed by antiquarians from all over the world–74 Italian and 14 foreign–are the undisputed stars of the show. The vast variety of the over 3,000 pieces presented at the fair range from paintings to plates and antique books to sculptures.
All the works exhibited at the Biennale will be monitored and authenticated by the Scientific Committee. On September 28th, two Committees, the first appointed by the Florence Exports Office, and the second sent by the Ministry for the Cultural Heritage, will examine the works for which the antiquarians request a free circulation certificate, a document which allows Italian works of art to circulate abroad.
The Biennale continues to support Corri la Vita, an association, devoted to the study and prevention of breast cancer presided over by the Marchioness Bona Frescobaldi. On October 1st a charity evening will be held and during the dinner Christie’s will auction works of art donated by exhibitors at the Biennale. The proceeds of the auction will be devolved entirely in favour of the Association.
On October 5th prizes will be awarded to the best painting and sculpture at the Fair. The prizes, amounting to 10,000 Euro each, will be destined to the restoration of a work of art from the public cultural heritage.
On October 6th the “Lorenzo d’oro” prize will be awarded to Piero Angela, for his long and successful career as a director of documentaries.
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Short history of the Florence International Antiques Fair
• The Mostra Internazionale dell’Antiquariato was launched in 1959 in the prestigious premises of Palazzo Strozzi. The Fair was the brainchild of Luigi Bellini Sr., designed to attract to Florence the very best in the international antiques world, and it made its name by offering the choicest selection in the collecting and antiques sector. The overwhelming success of the first Fair, and of those which followed, marked the start of a market season increasingly oriented towards the Antiques Fairs. The originality of the idea, accompanied by an astute selection of the antiquarians, transformed the Fair into a cultural and fashionable event that could not be missed, to the extent that the Florentine Fair was visited both by the members of the international jet set and by a crowd avid for curiosities, knowledge and marvels. The international triumph was triggered by the fact that it was held in Florence and was also accompanied for the entire duration by a series of highly attractive cultural and society events.
- Problems in the utilisation of Palazzo Strozzi, where adaptation work was being carried out, meant that in 1977 the antiquarians had to move to Palazzo Giuntini (now the Grand Hotel), after which they returned to the original site up to 1993. In 1987, Guido Bartolozzi took over from the Bellini brothers as the General Secretary.
- When Palazzo Strozzi became definitively unavailable in 1995 the Fair had to be moved to the Palazzo degli Affari, a fine building designed by Spadolini, but entirely unsuitable for an antiquarian fair of the level of the Florentine Biennale. For the following editions of the Fair, the choice fell on Palazzo Corsini sull’Arno, the current premises of the event, where it has been held since 1997.
• In 2001 the Management Committee appointed Giovanni Pratesi, Chairman of the Italian Antiquarians Association, as General Secretary of the Florentine Biennale. This appointment represented a crucial turning-point for the Fair and it was in fact in 2001, with an absolutely innovative design and the inclusion of numerous novelties in the general programme, that the Biennale set off on the path that has led to its being considered today as one of the three most important antiques events in the world.
• To place the Biennale at the level of the most prestigious international Fairs it was decided to promote strict controls on the works displayed, modify the image of the Fair by entrusting the orchestration to the Maestro Pier Luigi Pizzi, who performed an authentic masterpiece of restyling, introducing a new pavilion in the entrance courtyard of the Palazzo, boost promotion by setting up specialised Press Offices in the major cities of the world (Wiesbaden, London, Paris, New York); extend to the Italian exhibitors the same rights as their foreign counterparts, offering them advance examination of the works on display so as to provide them with export licences before the start of the Fair.
THE CORSINI PALACE
Maria Maddalena Machiavelli, wife of Marchese Filippo Corsini, purchased the Palace from the Grand Duke Ferdinando II in 1649. Her son, Bartolomeo, began remodelling and redecorating the Palace in 1650. Initially the work was done by Alfonso Parigi the Younger, and then by Ferdinando Tacca, who continued with the project until 1671. Actual construction work on the Palace as it stands today was commissioned by Filippo Corsini junior, in 1685, after the death of his father Bartolomeo. Construction was directed by Antonio Ferri, a versatile exponent of the late Baroque Florentine culture. He was a set designer and engineer, who built machines and fortifications and than poured his extraordinary elegance and creative skill into Palazzo Corsini, making it one of Florence most unusually luxurious palaces.
The decorations, executed between 1692 and 1700, are among the finest examples of Florentine painting. Among the artists the Corsini family commissioned to decorate the located, we must mention the outstanding maters Anton Domenico Gabbiani, Alessandro Gherardini and Pier Dandini.
Palazzo Corsini, located on the banks of the Arno river, is in the heart of Florence, just a short walk from the Ponte Vecchio and the Duomo and near the smart Via Tornabuoni.
The Salon and the Aurora Gallery
When the Salon in the Palazzo Corsini was inaugurated in the late seventeenth century, Antonio Ferri’s designs (1694‑1696) must have aroused widespread amazement. Entering the room from the grand staircase, which forces a corner view, is an enormous source of wonder. The visitor sees an extraordinary room flooded with light reflected from the walls with their columns, bases and rippling cornice. The ceiling in the Salon is decorated with a glorification of the Corsini family, and it supports two gigantic painted wooden chandeliers that were carved by Antonio Francesco Gonelli between 1698 and 1700. The doors of the Salon open onto the adjacent decorated rooms.
Size and prestigious location make this splendid salon one of the most sought after reception rooms in the heart of Florence.
The impressive main staircase leads to the Aurora Gallery which is part of the main building: its large, arched windows look onto the courtyard and offer a splendid view of hills on the opposite side of the Arno river.
This luminous and completely frescoed gallery was decorated by Bartolomeo Neri and Alessandro Rosi, and with the other luxurious rooms of Palazzo Corsini, will house, from the 30th September to the 9th October, the 24th edition of the International Antique Fair.
The Ballroom, that overlooks an internal courtyard, is reached via the middle door (on the left) of the Salon. The large crystal chandelier and the gilded eighteenth century wall sconces complete the decorations.
The fresco, painted by Alessandro Gherardini between 1695 and 1696 is set in a plasterwork frame enhanced with flowers and two scrolls. In the middle of the composition in Aurora’s chariot drawn by Pegasus. The goddess of dawn, sister of Helios, the sun god, is surrounded by three maidens, the Hours, one of whom is holding a floral crown, while a Putto holding a torch, symbol of the goddess, precedes the chariot. On one edge of the fresco, Gherardini painted the Kingdom of Flora, with Zephyr, the young god with butterfly wings and some nymphs accompanying the goddess. On the opposite side is the Triumph of Galatea: the sea nymph is on a shell drawn by dolphins, and Polyphemus with his heard is in front of her, playing a love song on his pipe. The care the artist dedicated to the fresco is the further enhanced by the decorative elements he added: four vases in the corners of the arch; those near the Kingdom of Flora are decorated with garlands of flowers, the other two with sea creature and fish. It can be easily said that this fresco is the finest decorative work in the entire Palace.
During the Antiques Fair, the padded and lined with precious silk seats will be removed to protect their integrity.