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AMERICAN COLLECTING, STEFANO BARDINI & THE TASTE FOR TREQUATTROCENTO FLORENCE

 

Lynn Catterson

 

Just around the turn of the century, the desire on the part of wealthy American and European collectors for Italian art was exorbitant. Operating out of Florence, the dealer Stefano Bardini (1836-1922) succeeded in matching that demand by stocking collections with ample quantities of high quality supply. Moreover, Bardini deftly cultivated a taste for certain kinds of objects which have since moved into public view in mu- seums around the world. However, as far as the Americans were concerned, Italian art of the Trecento was not especially the objects of desire. On the basis of much newly discovered archival material concerning transactions of art from ca 1870-1900 it can be demonstrated that the transatlantic market was ripe for specifically art of the late fifteenth century, that is, for objects which evoked of the age of Lorenzo the Magnificent. This paper examines this phenomenon, the possible reasons behind it, and how Bardini effectively exploited these conditions. In addition, using a case study which involves Bardini, Wilhelm Bode (1845-1929) and the Bostonian Quincy Adams Shaw (1825-1908) it can be demonstrated that this was the generation that refined the relationships among the collector, the dealer and the academic expert/connoisseur. The result was the birth of the business model upon which the younger Bernard Berenson (1865-1959) would build his career. Moreover, as a complex transatlantic synergy, it ultimately provided the very impetus required for Italian trecento art to enter mainstream American collecting and academic discourse in the early twentieth century.