Founded in 1760, Colnaghi is one of the oldest and most eclectic art galleries in the world. Established in Europe and the United States, it now is a key player in dealing Old Master paintings, prints and drawings.
Unique in its way of specializing in both the antique and modern era, with galleries in London, New York and Madrid, Colnaghi constantly presents state of the art exhibitions, such as the temporary gallery space in Venice for the 58th Biennale, dedicated to a modern vision of Grand Tour for the 21st-century traveller.
In our in-depth interview with Colnaghi Global Director Candida Lodovica de Angelis Corvi we discuss the newly opened exhibition: Forbidden Fruit: Female Still Life devoted to female still life, focusing on a masterpiece by mannerist artist, Fede Galizia (recently at the centre of a stupendous exhibition at the Castello del Buonconsiglio in Trento, Italy). The important rediscovery is accompanied by works by Giovanna Garzoni, painter to the Medicis, as well as the only known painting by Caterina Angela Pierozzi, a gem which superbly matches the last painting by Dutch botanical artist, Rachel Ruysch.
A brief introduction to the Gallery and the choices that have characterised it from its opening in the 18th century, until today.
Founded in 1760, Colnaghi is one of the most important commercial art galleries in the world. By the late nineteenth century, the gallery had established itself in Europe and the United States as a leading dealer in Old Master paintings, prints and drawings, selling masterpieces to the greatest collectors and museums of the Gilded Age, including Isabella Stewart Gardner, Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Mellon. Colnaghi today is the only major gallery to specialize in works of art from antiquity through to the modern era, offering its clients expert advice and service, and an exciting programme of exhibitions and events.
Colnaghi’s programme of exhibitions consistently aims to uphold the historic firm’s commitment to connoisseurship and building collections, and upcoming presentations align with this mission. These include a presentation of Renaissance sculptural masterworks at the Ca' d'Oro, Venice, to coincide with the 59th Art Biennale, in collaboration with the Direzione Regionale Musei Veneto and Venetian Heritage: From Donatello to Alessandro Vittoria 1450 –1600: 150 years of Sculpture in the Republic of Venice. Meanwhile, Colnaghi London will spotlight still life paintings by female masters from the Renaissance to Baroque periods this spring, including rediscovered works by Fede Galizia, Rachel Ruysch and Clara Peeters.
With branches in London, NY and Paris, how do you think audiences tastes have changed with time?
A trend we are seeing in all our global locations as we enter the virtual worlds more, is that clients place a more precious emphasis upon the importance of the story and the cultural legacy behind the physical objects they buy. Who made it? Who has owned it before you? Has it been loved and treasured, or even formed the integral part of a scandal or great love affair? All these things matter. Colnaghi’s clients have always been and continue to be committed to the academic story behind a work. Adhering to the firm’s history of fostering scholarship, each painting in our Forbidden Fruit: Female Still Life exhibition, for example, is accompanied by rigorous scientific research as well as talks by experts from the Warburg at its opening on 27 April.
Your upcoming exhibition Forbidden Fruit: Female Still Life devoted to female still life works, revolves around a rediscovered masterpiece by Fede Galizia. What are the characteristics of the oeuvre you will exhibit?
Fede Galizia (1578-1630) was a prodigy who first achieved recognition aged 12. The daughter of the miniaturist painter Annunzio Galizia, Fede honed her skills in her father's workshop. Here, she was exposed to a great range of artworks and witnessed the intellectual exchanges between the North of Italy and Flanders. The attention to detail Galizia saw in paintings by Northern European artists such as Jan Brueghel, who visited Milan at the end of the 16th century, impacted her work immensely. Although historically overlooked, perhaps because she painted fewer than 20 still lifes and rarely signed them, these are among the earliest by any Italian artist, shaping the genre long before the still life painters we know today.
Still life with apples, pears, figs and melon, ca. 1625 – 1630, spotlights Galizia’s naturalistic, spatially complex and immensely detailed approach to still life. Textures are captured through precise brushwork and dramatic contrast - luminous pears, apples, figs and melon spring to life against a dark background. Galizia's still lives are intimate scenes in which she experiments with light, miniaturist details and offers a new female sensibility. She may have come into contact with Caravaggio, when he trained in Simone Peterzano's Milanese workshop towards the end of the 16th century, hence not coincidentally the present work recalls to mind Caravaggio’s famous Basket of Fruit (Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan), from which she derived the intense realism and structural employment of light on volumes. This work has two remarkable provenances, once belonging first to the Cardinal Monti and then to Prince Sebastián Gabriel de Borbón (1811–1875), grandson of Prince Gabriel, who was the son of Charles III. On the reverse it bears his collector’s mark - the letters SG, with a crown above.
Why do you think the works by Ruysch, Pierozzi and Garzoni are particularly representative for the connecting culture concept underlying the exhibition?
Forbidden Fruit: Female Still Life specifically explores the theme of diplomatic exchanges between nations through the lens of female masters, adding a new dimension to the theme. Our presentation of masterworks by women from a variety of different nations - Clara Peeters, Fede Galizia, Rachel Ruysch and Giovanna Garzoni - highlights the overlooked role female artists played in diplomatic relations throughout history. Giovanna Garzoni, for example, was a globe-trotter of her time who visited and united different cultures through her work in the highest courts of Europe - Naples, Florence, Rome, Turin - at the time linked by conflictual or territorially complex relationships.
Clara Peeters, on the other hand, was trained in a unique moment for Antwerp, during the rejuvenation of the Netherlands under the Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia - eldest daughter of Philip II of Spain, who contributed to a period of financial welfare and cultural patronage. Thanks to the favourable relationship of her court in Europe, Peeters benefited from a broad distribution of her artistry abroad. Her works hence lives on as a testimony of the diffusion of culture and taste in times of political stability.
Rachel Ruysch was the first woman to join the painter’s Guild of Saint Luke in The Hague. She served as a court painter to Elector Palatine, Johann Wilhelm, in Düsseldorf. Most importantly in her case is the scientific background she was exposed to from a young age. Her father, Fredericus Ruysch, was a lecturer and eminent botanist who collected specimens, and was a great source of inspiration on his daughter’s work. Studying Ruysch’s oeuvre spotlights the cultural genesis of modern science in Western Europe, exactly preceded by the strong curiosity for observation and experimentation of the cultural milieu she was operating in.
Fede Galizia’s Still life with apples, pears, figs and melon, ca. 1625 – 30 is the embodiment of cultural connection; part of an episcopal Milanese collection, it then passed into the Spanish Royal collection through the intermediation of Spanish agents in Milan. These individuals at the time acted in the dual role of diplomatic ambassadors, as well as cultural envoys. The process of exchanging artworks and lending artists and architects became widespread across European courts at the end of the 16th century and makes us understand the crucial role that was played by these cultural connections at the time.
What is the importance of having a varied and inclusive exhibition in such a complex period in history as the one we are living through, and what is the direction the Gallery's future exhibitions will be taking?
At a time when differences between nations can seem to grow each year, an exhibition like Female Still Life which develops and draws our attention to the role art and women play in uniting cultures feels timely and apt. We feel it is important to highlight the intriguing, though neglected, role artists played in diplomatic relations throughout history. It is interesting to detect the extent up to which art in the 16th and 17th centuries was used as a currency of exchange for geopolitical strategies, through the creation of a strong network of diplomatic exchanges based on the movement of artists and artworks. Art cannot exist in a contextual vacuum; these paintings are both a reflection of the cultural and social environment from which they were created, whilst also contributing to it through their role as political collateral.
Connecting cultures has never been more important in the art and museum than it is today and Colnaghi’s present and future cultural program is committed to issues of diversity and inclusion. We can learn lessons from the past and see that as different nations, we are united by much more than what separates us. Art has the magical ability to upgrade political dialogue and effectively forge long-lasting reciprocities of cultural understanding and respect.