Artful Deceit: Italian Picture Dealers

Italian Picture Dealers by Thomas Rowlandson (1812)
Lithograph, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris

The stereotype of the Italian picture dealer lasted from before Rowlandson’s time to well after.  Contemporaries warned that those with more beauty than brains had best beware: “The simple fact [is] that every third man in Italy is a picture dealer, and that no picture dealer is supposed to find any impediment to his fortune in his conscience . . . ” The Atheneum, Volume 18 (1826)

Copies were in wide circulation and it wasn’t always an expensive suit that was preyed upon.  Enthusiasm was dangerous as well:

“Instances have been known of English connoisseurs, in their anxiety to secure a genuine picture, paying an enormous sum to the head of a religious community, whose chief treasure it has been considered; and to make assurance doubly sure, they have, at his reverence’s instigation, affixed their seals at the back of the picture. On its coming into their possession, they find the seal untouched, and take no small credit to themselves for having secured to their country another invaluable Rafaelle or Corregio. The fact is, that an admirably executed copy was fitted with great nicety into the back of the original picture, and on this the reverend father got his generous customer carefully to affix his seal. The original picture in front was then removed, and the connoisseur carries the copy into his own country for a genuine production!” New Monthly Magazine, 1841

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