Arts

Born of hate and contempt, how the Bargello’s extraordinary collection of medieval ivories came to be

When Carrand's collection of ivories arrived at the Bargello, it more than doubled the Florence museum's existing holdings © Antonio Quattrone 2016

When the Frenchman Louis-Claude Carrand (1827-88) bequeathed his art collection to the Bargello, he stated that he wished it to go to Italy because of his fears for the stability of his own country, declaring bitterly, “Quant aux républicains et révolutionnaires, je jeur lègue ma haine et mon mépris” (To the republicans and revolutionaries I bequeath my hate and contempt). As a result of Carrands loathing and disdain for some of his compatriots, the Bargello is now home to an important collection of his medieval ivories, as well as some fascinating later examples.

Despite the current understandable controversy about the illegal slaughter of elephants today, the study of great historical works in ivory is flourishing

The present publication, compiled by Ilaria Ciseri and her colleagues, is a finely illustrated scholarly catalogue that comprehensively details the history of the collection and the individual ivories therein. As Benedetta Chiesi notes in her introduction to the section on later ivories, it is the latest in an impressive sequence of recently published catalogues of collections of European ivories. Such publications include catalogues of the ivories at the Louvre, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Grűnes Gewőlbe, and Rosenborg, Copenhagen, Reiner Winklers collection, now splendidly housed at the Liebieghaus in Frankfurt, as well as Sabine Haags exhibition catalogue of ivories from the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and the exhibition catalogue of the Master of the Furies at Frankfurt in 2006. Despite the current understandable controversy about the illegal slaughter of elephants today, the study of great historical works in ivory is flourishing, because, as has been pointed out, such masterpieces should be recognised as outstanding sculptures in their own right, made at a time when their production did not in any way threaten the survival of the elephant.

The core of the Bargellos collection comes from Carrand. He was the natural son of the collector Jean-Baptiste Carrand (1794-1871), whose genius as a collector and connoisseur of medieval art informed his assemblage of ivories, although Louis-Claude made some later valuable additions. When the collection arrived at the Bargello it more than doubled the existing holdings of ivories, and in terms of quality was unparalleled. Danielle Gaborit-Chopins biographical study of father and son indicates their respective roles in amassing these works of art. She draws attention to what is probably the greatest ivory from the collection: the Flabellum of Tournus, Jean-Baptistes most prized piece. This Carolingian fan, made, according to its inscription, to keep off flies and demons, was first published by Alexandre du Sommerard in 1838, and is an exceptional survivor in ivory and parchment from the 9th century.

The collection spans Etruscan bone pieces of the 4th century BC up to works dating from the 19th century. It comprises some superlative medieval works, including a plaque of an empress from Constantinople of the 6th century, two fine caskets also from Constantinople of the 10th/11th century, related to the Veroli casket at the V&A, and a Gothic French Madonna and Child of the late 13th century. But perhaps the most intriguing ivory is a 15th-century Mantuan relief of the Triumph of Love, related stylistically to aRead More – Source