The Lacquers of the Venetians

SERIES: he Art Market. Private passions. Beauty all around - Collecting frameworks, in conversation with antiquarians and experts - Under the aegis of Costantino D’Orazio, art historian, in collaboration with the Associazione Antiquari d’Italia
SPEAKERSTomaso Piva and Clara Santini
DATAEThursday 23 November, 6pm 
PLACE: Palazzo Venezia, Sala del Refettorio

The passion for lacquered artefacts and their production has a long history in Venice. A glittering cultural melting pot, the principal port of embarkation for the Levant and port of call for ships returning from it, through the centuries the Serenissima had accumulated a substantial heritage of technical knowledge in the field of oriental paints, so much so that already in the early 16th century Venice could be considered the privileged channel of dissemination to the rest of Italy of a “Levantine fashion” formed very early with the arrival of merchandise from the Muslim Near East. If it may therefore seem obvious that the history inherent in the formation of the European taste for the exotic coincides with the irrepressible passion for lacquers, it is equally inevitable that, in Italy, the first façon de la Chine “counterfeits” were produced in Venice, where lacquer, far from being an extemporaneous and brilliant discovery, had a centuries-old tradition behind it. In the 17th and 18th centuries the “depentori alla cinese”, as the artisans who worked with lacquer were called, continued to use, as in the past, the quintessential varnish, sandarac, to give the painted artefacts the highly coveted gloss and the necessary protection. “La laque de Venise est comme on sçait en reputation” noted in his Nouveau voyage de l’Italie the shrewd French observer Maximilien Misson, who visited Venice in 1668. He added “il y en a à toute sorte de prix”. Already firmly attested by the very early testimony of this Huguenot traveller of the late 17th century, the fame of Venetian lacquers was undisputed, in an evolutionary path of the ornamental lexicon that, from the decorations ‘alla turchesca’ of the second half of the 1500s, led to the fashion for chinoiserie, which spread throughout Europe until the threshold of the Neoclassical period.

Tomaso Piva's biography

Tomaso Piva graduated in Law with a thesis in international law on the Circulation of Cultural Assets. After his studies he moved to Paris and completed a Master in Art History at Christie’s auction house, extending his knowledge of French and international taste. He is the third generation of a family of antique dealers of the Veneto, specialising in furniture and art objects, especially those from the Venetian area, and today directs its Gallery in central Milan. He has edited the publication of catalogues and thematic insights and participates in important international fairs. In 2015 he started working for Pandolfini Casa D’Aste as an expert in furniture and art objects, and four years later became the Head of its Department of International Fine Art. For some years he has been a member of the Council of the Associazione Antiquari d’Italia.

Clara Santini's biography

Clara Santini, born in Feltre (Belluno), graduated from the Università Cattolica of Milan in Art History under the guidance of Prof. Miklós Boskovits, and then specialised in the History of Art and Minor Arts at the Università di Bologna. After the publication of her first essays on Veneto-Friulian painting of the 14th century, working extensively with the Commission for the Soprintendenze ai Beni Artistici e Storici di Bologna, Modena e Reggio Emilia and the Centro di Catalogazione e Restauro di Villa Manin di Passariano in Passariano (Udine), her interests turned to the study of the decorative arts, leading to the three volumes of the “Mille Mobili Veneti” - an analysis of home furnishings in Veneto from the 15th to the 19th century - and of the “Lacche dei Veneziani”. These publications were followed by numerous essays in depth on the evolution of the taste for ornament in the territory of the Serenissima and a collaboration, still in progress, with the Museum für Lackkunst in Münster. In 2004 she founded and directed the Antico Cotonificio Veneziano, a brand producing artistic fabrics for furniture, which combines the recovery in a historicist key of manual printing with a careful examination of contemporary trends in taste, all strictly made in Italy. After years of acting as a consultant in the field of modern and contemporary art, in 2018 she opened the Reve Art Gallery in Bologna, which offers a selection of works related to Venetian culture, favouring the study of “Painting of Renewal”, namely painting connected with the Venice Biennale and the artists associated with this stimulating cultural climate in a time span ranging roughly from 1895 until the mid-1900s.