The magnificent obsession of Art Collecting


Studio Tablinum: Oscar Wilde summed up the the common thought about figure of the collector claiming that: “Art is the most intense expression of individualism that the world has ever known.” For Picasso collecting art takes on a transcendental value of looking for that “something” that is able to go beyond the routine because only art “washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

What is the charm of Art? What triggers the desire of the collector to invest part of his fortune in the possession of Beauty?

Someone loves the knowledge and the discovery that buying art involves, others the emotional connection.

Collecting art can be a way to explore and discover more about their person, or way of give meaning to the world around us. Some people has much more practical reasons, such as am house to  decorate and white walls to fill.

Where are the roots of art collecting? The human ability ininterpreting the world through representations of it begins  since prehistoric times,  when images of animals or natural elements on the stone become mediums to access in a spiritual dimension.

Similarly, the effigies of ancient gods become  symbols of important values ​​identified for the community.

Between the famous personalities from the past, Ramses II, the great pharaon victor of the Battle of Kadesh, was one of the first collectors that history has bequeathed to us.

The Ancient Greeks knew how to make  from their aesthetic research a real cult and a most sublime expression of the human psyche. Collecting objects of art takes on a transcendental value, an attempt to capture the Beauty and withhold the divine likeness among mortals.

Just in Acient Greece, Country of  the Muses, we can find the first germ of the conservative desire of an art object, admired and preserved not because of its ritual and representative function, but only for a simple aesthetic value and for the pleasure that its contemplation implies  .

But “Grecia capta”, by Rome, will take its revenge against the pragmatic conquerors, transforming them from rough soldiers in avid collectors by sending them the  “Luxuria Asiatica” virus.

The possession of pictures and statues became an outward ssymbol of cultural belonging, an essential element of self-representation and prestige.  An obsession so strong that Roman society will be remembered in history as the “culture of images”  par excellence; forerunner of our Time.

Historical sources tell us about high rank families or wealthy individuals who are used to purchase works of art in order to emphasized their status in coeval society


In order to understand how was widespread collecting art, we can analyze the indictment that Cicero launches against the Governor of Sicily Verres, accused of corruption and bribery.
Gaius Licinius Verre, is also one of the oldest and obscure examples of “cupiditas” of the collector who does not seem to stop at nothing in order to accumulate works of art.

From this text, we can derive important informations about the development of art market and the very high quality of the collected works. An art market ahead of its time, devoted to the exchange of rare and precious works, characterized by a lively and fruitful exchange of luxury goods.

With the eclipse of Roman society in the Middle Ages, Art loses its purely aesthetic value. Few are the sources that we can find in Europe on the dynamics of collecting. Art becomes synonymous with luxury and ostentation abhorred too venial to be tolerated in a society devoted only to contemplation.

The same thing happens to the vestiges of the classical world.  Ancient monuments are preserved and restored  only where their symbolic value lends itself to enhance and legitimize the rank of kings and emperors like Charlemagne and Frederick II.
All precious objects, sacred or profane, they become to the concept of medieval man “monstra” tangible evidence of the creative power of God.

Different is the situation in the East. At Constantinople, the art collection remains unchanged in its prestige due to the Byzantine emperors, last heirs of Roman culture.

Constantine Porphyrogenitus, famous collector and skilled user of the intrinsic  ability of the goods rare and precious, to enhance the social prestige of their holder, in the course of public parades, used to expose a careful selection of his collection in special showcases.

In the West, the rediscovery of ancient culture, is attributed to Francesco Petrarca.


Among the causes that led to the diffusion of art collecting as “habitus” of thinkin, Walter Benjamin identified the growing symbolic charge of art products capable to procure consent for  a leader who searching a great personal prestige.

The fundamental communicative value of the artwork is joined to the necessity and opportunity of the enjoyment of works of art.

One aspect widely exploited in the course of what might be called the golden era of patronage and art collecting: The Renaissance.

In the beautiful European courts of the 15th and16th centuries, the possession of an art collection gives to  the estate of the noble lord a renewed and enduring prestige.

Artists and writers are required from the most famous European courts and often travel not only throughout the Italian peninsula, which will long remain the home of the Muses for excellence but also in the whole of Europe from France to Germany, from Netherlands to Spain, From Russia to Rome,  Venice, Florence or vice versa.

Just to remember some of the most famous Renaissance collections,  Lords of Florence, Medici , beginning with the founder Cosimo the Elder,  cultivated a privileged link with art, declined in all its forms as symbol of the political and cultural prestige acquired . The fame of the great grandson Lorenzo the Magnificent will be among the most celebrated patrons of the arts and cultural figures of his age.

The collections of the Este of Ferrara rooted since the time of the reign of three powerful brothers Lionello, Borso and Ercole I.

Patrons of the arts and avid collectors, 1441-1505 Ferrara transformed into a center of European culture.
The collection of the Este family, gathered in the Galleries Este counted famous works purchased in Europe, on the recommendation of its correspondents, in the same way that today there could be entrusted to an art advisor.

And again from Ferrara patronage goes to Mantua thanks to the influence of Isabella d’Este, who brought  to the House of Gonzaga, her great love for art, started the creation of “La Celeste Galeria”.

Many courts still passed into history as a cradle of art and patronage, from the treasures of Rome of the Popes, the refined humanist of Urbino to the exotic influences of the borderlands of Venice and the Bourbons Kingdom.

From Nordic countries comes Wunder Kammer, a term literally translated as “cabinet of curiosities”; workrooms filled with the most disparate collectible wonders that constitute one of the most famous expressions of the obsession of collecting.

To discover the origins of the Wunderkammer we must go back to the Middle Ages even if only in the sixteenth century became a status symbol for collectors throughout Europe; then they develop throughout the seventeenth century, feeding of baroque grandeur and continued until the Age of Enlightenment when they become  subject of scientific curiosity of Enlightenment intellectuals.

In Italy one of the most famous was the  founded in 1651 by Athanasius Kirchner  in Rome at  Collegio Romano. The special feature of this collection was its opening to the public with clear educational and promotional purposes.


Finally a brief survey: What is the state of the art collecting today?

Getting closer to our time collecting art has been enriched more and more of all those practices that promote the flourishing of cultural patronage and philanthropy and, in the last three decades have seen a considerable increase in private museums founded by  collectors philanthropists.

At a global level, more and more families of wealthy entrepreneurs  usually invest part of their assets in collecting art.

In Miami, Martin Margulies opened with Ella Fontanals-Cisneros, art galleries in old abandoned buildings, always in Miami familty the Rubell Collection, is one of the largest collections of contemporary art from around the world.
On the West Coast of America, Eli Broad, billionaire philanthropist from shareholders, he founded his private museum in the ancient suburb of Los Angeles.

A città del Messico, Carlos Slim, che Forbes ha rivelato essere l’uomo  più ricco  al mondo, ha aperto il suo secondo museo privato, il Soumaya Museum dove poter ospitare una collezione di oltre 66.000 opere d’arte.

In Mexico City, Carlos Slim, who Forbes noted as the richest man in the world, has opened its second private museum, The Soumaya Museum to house a collection of over 66,000 works of art.
Across the Pacific, the Australian magnate David Walsh founded in 2011, the Museum of Old and New Art, near Hobart, Tazmania, famous for its personal riuniire criterion in the collection.


In Indonesia, the tobacco magnate Hong Djienm, one of the most well-known art collectors in the world, has funded the opening in 1997 of the ‘OHD Museum of Modern and Contemporary Indonesian Art, which is located in Magelang in central Java, and today it has taken an important function of national gallery.

Even in old Europe, the United Kingdom, with its rich heritage of public museums, has seen a minor explosion of private museums but they have made ​​a very important contribution.
Among the collectors who already have open spaces in the UK, Anita and Poju Zabludowicz, have converted an old chapel in the north west of London to be able to present its collection of over 2000 works of contemporary art, Frank Cohen and Nicolai Frahm, have financed the opening of the Dairy Gallery Bloomsbury.

Collecting art is not only pleasure as an end in itself, but can trigger a virtuous cycle for the preservation of the artistic and cultural heritage of a nation and to support the research and safeguard of the work of many contemporary artists who, like their predecessors, attempt to  convey the spirit of an era. in their works.