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HOME > Short Stories > The Gentle Art of Faking > CHAPTER X COLLECTING IN FRANCE AND ENGLAND
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   Passion for collecting art travels to France—The Florentine Republic and the fate of a statuette by Michelangelo—Italy supplies antiques to France and other countries—The fair of Frankfurt—A famous sale—In England the passion for collecting art and curios may have originated in France.

While the passion in Italy for collections of art still goes on enriching museums more through the impetus of the past than from a genuine cult, and produces occasionally, together with many illustrious patrons of contemporary art, some old type of collector fond of the antique with the characteristic greed for all kinds of rarities, France, and later almost every other nation of Europe, awakens to the passion for art and curios. It is no longer a question of monarchs and princes, as was the case in Italy, nobles and the bourgeois as well come to the fore. Even at the beginning of the sixteenth century, France may quote the names of Grolier and Robertet, both financiers employed at Court, both lovers of fine things. The former is a specialist in rare editions and fine bindings, the latter a keen-eyed, eclectic collector, as may be gathered from the inventory of his excellent collection kept in his castle of Bury.

It must be said, however, that Italy still remains a sort of El Dorado of fine art and the inexhaustible mine to which collectors come for their finds. The French had discovered this fact from the time they came to Italy with Charles VIII. Later on Grolier visits Italy and takes back with him some of its treasures. When he has no opportunity to come to Italy himself, his friends and agents continue the search for him; they know his taste and his speciality and are very108 alert in the hunt for fine and rare editions. Robertet bargained with the Florentine Republic to exchange his political influence for a statuette by Michelangelo. The Republic had great interest in remaining friends with the French monarch and accepted the bargain, and as the statuette had been left unfinished by Michelangelo, who had moved to Rome by this time, Benedetto da Rovezzano is charged to finish the work and cast it. This statuette of a David was placed by Robertet in the cour d’honneur of his castle and afterwards, in the year 1633, removed to the castle of Villeroy, and it is now lost. Only a design of this statue, by the great Michelangelo, is now in the Louvre Museum, and from this we can gather how the statue looked.

What was not bought was carried away from Italy after the fashion of the old Roman conquerors. In the year 1527 a ship arrived at Valencia loaded with artistic and valuable booty from the famous “Sack of Rome.” Curiously enough, considering the age, the Spanish municipal authorities of Valencia did not grant the vessel permission to unload her cargo. This fact, quoted by Baron Davillier in his Histoire des faïences hispano-moresques, is commented on by Edmond Bonnaffé, a French collector of our times, thus: “I love to think that the captain changed his course and found more hospitable municipalities on the French coast.”

The rich artistic booty promised by Italy made it almost obligatory for an orthodox French amateur to undertake a journey to Italy. It is surprising that the Voyages de Montaigne en Allemande et en Italie, 1580–81, makes no allusion to this fad and contains very few comments on art. However rich Montaigne’s work may be in valuable observations on the life of the time, we should nevertheless have desired him to have a touch of the art lover in him, a leaning to the artistic and beautiful, and we would willingly have exchanged a few words with him on the art and collections of art in the Italy of his day, instead of his long, detailed descriptions of his cures and his eternal search for medicinal springs, etc.

109 An important annual meeting, one that the true collector was likely to visit, was the fair of Frankfurt. According to H. Estienne this must have been one of the most frequented art markets of Europe. Italy, says Estienne, contributed all kinds of antiques, faiences, old medals, books and brocades; Germany furnished wrought iron and artistic prints, Flanders sent tapestry, Milan its fine arms, Venice goods from the East. Estienne also states that Spain used to send to this fair American products, weapons, costumes, shells and silver-work.

It was not a market exclusively for the genuine, as copies and imitations were to be found there for the economical or the foolish, easily duped amateur. Above all there were those deplorable casts from fine originals that have ever since deceived so many collectors and which so enraged the good Palissy, who laments the fact and stigmatizes it with the saying that it cheapens and offends sculpture, “mespris en la sculpture à cause de la meulerie.”

This glimpse of the creation of a market of antique art and bric-à-bracs of high quality would not be complete without some typical sale of a famous collection. Among others that took place towards the end of the sixteenth century, we may quote a notable one, the sale of Claude Gouffier (“Seigneir de Boisy,” duc de Reannes and Grand-Écuyer de France), an intelligent gentleman who, with his mother Hélène de Hargest-Genlis, is responsible for one of the finest types of French pottery, the faience d’Oiron. Besides spending considerable sums of money on the factory of this ware, Gouffier was such a liberal patron of art and artists that he ruined himself in the gratification of his noble passion. At his death the creditors seized upon his rare collections and objets de virtu and put them up to auction. This sale was not only the artistic event of the day but, perhaps, the most important sale of the second half of the sixteenth century. All Paris of the time seems to have been there. Plates, paintings, works of art, bibelots, toute la curiosité, passed mercilessly under the hammer of the110 auctioneer—which by the way was not a hammer, a usage originating in England, but as a rule a barguette, a small rod, with which the auctioneer struck a metal bowl. Nothing was spared by the creditors, even the wearing apparel and furs of the deceased were offered to the highest bidder. Of these, strange to say, the Duke d’Aumule (Claude de Lorrain, third son of Claude, first Duc de Guise) bought a second............
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