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Ancient Oriental Art

The Asian works of art which became part of the Bank of Italy’s collection in 1931, and now form its oldest and most prestigious nucleus, originally belonged to the collection of Riccardo Gualino.
This brilliant entrepreneur from Turin was bankrupted by the Great Depression of 1929-30 and his collection was seized. It then passed to the Bank of Italy in repayment of a very large loan that Gualino had contracted with the bank’s Turin branch.
The selection presented here consists of eight Chinese sculptures of different materials and from various periods and an example of Persian sculpture, together with two paintings, one Chinese and one Tibetan.
The Gualino Collection, particularly the Chinese sculptures, was among the most important in Europe. The sculptures – in stone, wood and bronze – are all rare and of magnificent quality and were purchased by Gualino at the beginning of last century from renowned international antiques dealers in Paris such as C.T. Loo and Charles Vignier.
It was the beginning of the 1900s and this form of collecting was much sought after for its social and cultural prestige, partly in emulation of the great American collections; at the same time, works of inestimable value were becoming available on the international markets of Paris, London and New York. Gualino’s collection was among the most famous and prestigious, alongside those of Oscar Raphael in London, Adolph Stoclet  in Brussels, and the Rockefellers in New York.
The Bank of Italy was able to acquire almost the whole of the Asian section of the Gualino Collection, consisting entirely of major works of art. The first catalogue of the collection, edited by Lionello Venturi, appeared in 1926 and listed only some of the pieces, while the second edition, dated 1928 and also edited by Venturi, gave considerable space to the Chinese sculptures, with images of almost every piece. The collection was then left in storage in Turin throughout the war and virtually forgotten. However, in 1960, Osvald Sirén, well-known expert in oriental art, published an important and learned volume of art history containing a survey of the collection as a whole, which he described as “not large but of superior quality”, and a detailed description of eleven pieces. The large volume published in 2006 by the Bank of Italy  itself contains full notes on all the works of ancient oriental art in the collection, which in recent years have often been cited also in the extensive bibliography on Chinese and Asian art.

Augusta Monferini