Passion Points: Arts/Culture
The art buzz about town during my recent Florence visit was the reopening of the Museo Bardini, on the left bank of the Arno, which had been closed for renovations for a decade. Stefano Bardini, who died in 1922, was one of Italy’s most controversial and powerful art dealers, whose influence can still be seen today (the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Met in New York, and the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum, in Boston, all have works that passed through Bardini’s hands at one point). A trained artist and art restorer, Bardini came to fame and fortune during Italy’s unification in the mid 19th-century, a time of chaos and upheaval when laws on art acquisition and selling were loose at best.
I toured the Bardini with Indagare’s preferred local art operator, whose tours are headed by scholars. The guide who led our small group through the Bardini after-hours (the official museum hours are sporadic) had a background in art dealing and Old Masters, and the issues she raised as we walked through the immense collection were fascinating. On one hand she credited Bardini for recognizing everyday objects created by the artisans of Tuscany and beyond as pieces of art (there’s a trove of cassoni chests and other Renaissance furniture, as well as sculpted stone family crests and religious icons). But she also pointed out his ruthless and oftentimes shady methods of acquisition. “He certainly brought objects to the public’s attention but in the process, he often obscured their actual provenance, robbing them of their history in a sense.”
Touring the Bardini with an art historian is key: there is little information about the pieces displayed (the museum is Bardini’s former showroom, so the collection comprises what was left unsold when he died), and the plaques on the walls throughout paint an overly simplified picture of this notorious dealer. Contact Indagare to be put in touch with the guides who conduct these special, eye-opening walking tours. Open Saturday, Sunday, Monday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Via dei Renai 37 (Ponte alle Grazie)_
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