LONDON - Sotheby's announced the Single Owner sale on 14th March 2012 of property from The Collection of Giovanni & Gabriella Barilla: Important Porcelain, Venetian Fine and Decorative Arts from their Residence in Geneva. Descendants of the founder of the most important pasta producer in the world, Giovanni Barilla and in particular his wife Gabriella created one of the greatest collections of ceramics and porcelain in Europe. This collection especially focuses on exceptional Meissen figures – including a wonderful collection of some of the earliest Commedia dell’Arte figures – and some of the rarest groups of Capodimonte and Buen Retiro ever offered on the market. Also featuring an exquisite selection of Venetian eighteenth-century furniture and paintings, sixteenth-century majolica, silver and a group of illuminated books of Hours, the sale comprises in excess of 400 lots and is expected to fetch in excess of £2.5 million.
The collection, which was predominantly acquired from the late 1960s onwards, has been housed in the beautiful family residence in Geneva, where Giovanni and Gabriella Barilla created a bespoke room to display their porcelain and ceramics. Highlights of the sale include a Buen Retiro group of Italian Comedy spaghetti eaters, circa 1770, modelled by Giuseppe Gricci (est. £15,000 - 25,000), a group of Meissen figures from the Weissenfels series (prices estimated for each figure, from £4,000 - 6,000 to 8,000 each), a set of four engraved eighteenth-century Venetian mirrors within carved walnut and parcel-gilt frames (est. £40,000 – 60,000) and a 17th-century Marco and Sebastiano Ricci oil on canvas titled A capriccio of classical Roman ruins (est. £150,000 - 200,000).
Mario Tavella, Sotheby’s Deputy Chairman, Europe, comments: “This is an extremely exciting sale, particularly for those who have an appreciation of the very finest porcelain and Venetian furniture. The Porcelain collection was formed as a result of Gabriella Barilla’s exhaustive research and passion - guided by the advice of international experts - resulting in one of the most important collections of European porcelain. Giovanni, on the other hand, sought only the most elegant furniture for their home, and of which much has been published and originally belonged to Ing. Giuseppe Gatti Casazza, who left most of his collection to the Museo di Arti Decorative at Ca’Rezzonico in Venice.”
Porcelain and Ceramics Highlights
The collection of Gianni and Gabriella Barilla saw an inspired evolution from exquisitely decorated Neapolitan and Venetian porcelain tableware, including cups and teapots, to superb figurines, in particular exceptional Meissen figures. The selection to be offered includes a rare Meissen Figure of Harlequin with pug as a hurdy-gurdy, modelled by the major innovator in European porcelain, J.J. Kandler, circa 1738-1740 (est. £25,000-35,000). A further Commedia dell’Arte highlight - and one of a series of only sixteen - is an extremely rare Höchst figure of Dottore Boloardo, modelled by Johann Christoph Ludwig von Lücke, circa 1752 (est. £30,000 – 40,000). The Höscht factory made its first porcelains in 1746 and its reputation rests largely on the products of a very short period, 1746-1753, essentially thanks to its Commedia Dell’Arte figures.
The uniquely beautiful figures by master porcelain-maker Giuseppe Gricci are fine examples of artistic originality, as well as testaments to the refined tastes, aesthetic intellect and strong personalities of the Barillas, but proved a challenge to acquire; they were not only rare but hard-won at auctions. A highlight of the porcelain to be offered is a Buen Retiro group of Italian Comedy Spaghetti Eaters, probably modelled by Gricci (est. £15000 – 25000), which features a whimsical scene of three boys. One of the boys is wearing a grey pointed hat with one hand in a tall bucket of spaghetti and the other hand filled with more spaghetti, and another boy is being fed a wide mouthful of spaghetti. The mould for this group may have been taken from Naples to Madrid in 1759, but it is more likely that this is in fact one of the first groups of its kind executed.
The Barilla Collection represents all genres of the most iconic thematic groupings in Italian porcelain art, including “Commedia dell’Arte,” “The Scenes with Courting Couples,” “Domestic Life” and “The Cries of Naples.” One of these notable pieces is a very rare Capodimonte group called “The Rat-Catchers” (I Cacciatori di Topi), modelled by Giuseppe Gricci, circa 1750, which depicts a dynamic scene centring around two scurrying mice. There is no doubt that this model (est. £60,000 – 80,000) shows Gricci’s work at its most typical and best. His modelling harmoniously complements the porcelain paste produced at Capodimonte, while his palette of colours is light but effective, perfect for highlighting the details showing the smooth white surface of the Neapolitan porcelain at its best. The scene is taken from everyday eighteenth-century life and opens a window into the homes of the Neapolitan bourgeoisie of Gricci’s time.
The sale will also feature a very rare Vezzi plate which represents only the second Vezzi plate ever to have been recorded (est. £30,000 –50,000). The decoration of this superb piece has been attributed in the documents of the Vezzi manufactory to a painter called Duramano, and is exceptional for the dimension and the condition and freshness of the lively and bright palette, which refer to the fantasy world of chinoiserie, similar in style and taste to the lacquered decoration of 18th century Venetian furniture.
Fine Venetian Furniture and Paintings Highlights
The Collection features a set of four Venetian mid eighteenthcentury engraved mirrors within carved walnut and parcel-gilt frames estimated at £40,000 – 60,000. The fine quality of the engraving, together with their completeness as a set of four rather than only a pair makes them an extremely rare offering
A highlight among the fine Venetian furniture to be offered is very fine mid eighteenth-century Italian fruitwood inlaid walnut and burr walnut bureau cabinet estimated at £100,000 - 150,000.
Among the paintings to be offered from the Barilla Collection is a seventeenth-century oil-on-canvas capriccio of classical Roman ruins by Marco and Sebastiano Ricci (est. £150,000 - 200,000). The work is thought to be a late work by Ricci, very comparable to a Capriccio at Windsor Castle, which is signed and dated 1729. On account of their very similar size and the similarities in the disposition of the figures, this and a very similar Capriccio in the Museo Civico in Vicenza - one of Ricci's most famous works in this style - have long been thought to be pendants.
Highlights From the Barilla Collection of Illuminated Manuscripts
Among a fine selection of illuminated manuscripts is a fifteenth-century Book of Hours, notable for its extremely unusual representations of the animal kingdom and a rare early depiction of an elephant. Produced circa 1465 in France, the wealth of whimsical and often secular illumination in the drolleries and scenes in the borders of the leaves includes bears playing bagpipes, injured boars hobbling on crutches, and cats washing themselves. All of these nod towards the small and even mundane details of daily life. Offsetting these are fantastical creations imagined beyond the boundaries of Europe, namely a scene of a Moor seated on a camel banging a drum, and the elephant with an elaborate two-tiered stone castle on its back. The manuscript is estimated at £20,000-30,000.
Further notable manuscripts include The Fortesque Hours, most probably written and illuminated in Bruges circa 1460-70 for an English patron, evidently a member of the Fortesque family of Devon (est. £18,000-25,000) and a Book of Hours from circa 1420-30 which contains miniatures by at least two skilled Parisian artists (est. £10,000-15,000).