The Collection of Antiquities as a Historical Tradition
The higher classes have already collected items that they considered valuable and have done so to the point that they have even been included in their graves when they passed away. Greeks and Romans began to value artists, and the fact that objects had an authentic antiquity was considered to be ever more of an added value. It was also the Romans who started the sale at auction, offering an auction of the products obtained in lootings. In turn, the medieval kings treasured with greed and admiration the objects of that classical world.
However, when the European concept of collecting antiques as historical traditions began to be consolidated during the Renaissance, and when the kings and the nobility dedicated themselves to forming the cabinets of curiosities, it was then that the sections of “naturalia” (animals , vegetables and minerals) and “artificialia” (artistic or curious pieces that have been made by man) took shape.
Between the Baroque and Neoclassicism
In the seventeenth century, the monarchies and the high nobility greedily acquired all kinds of furniture, watches, mirrors and objects of refined execution. These could be made in their time or inherited or purchased from previous generations. The sale of pieces from the collection of Carlos I of England after his execution, or the acquisition of objects by the painter Velázquez for the king Felipe IV of Spain, were important milestones of collection in this era.
The collection that Luis XIV treasured was also of great importance. This included every type of artistic piece; among which stood out the set of hard stone objects with goldsmith’s mounts with precious stones.
These were important antiquities that had been made mostly in Milan in the sixteenth century, although there were also oriental pieces (particularly from India) that were mounted in gold in Europe. That fabulous collection was partially inherited by Felipe V of Spain and today can be admired at the Museo del Prado in Madrid and is known as the “Treasure of the Dolphin”.
The eighteenth century continued with a great push of the aristocratic collection of antiquities. Perhaps the greatest impact was the discovery of Herculaneum and Pompeii in 1738 and in 1748, which brought to light a huge amount of ancient objects. Of all this, Carlos VII of Naples (future Carlos III of Spain) benefited particularly, who gathered an impressive set of Roman works of all kinds.
The Nineteenth Century
In the nineteenth century a different type of collection of antiquities of a more bourgeois nature was strengthened, so that citizens of a certain purchasing power formed varied or thematic collections. In Europe and America there was growing interest in the study and purchase of antique objects and auctions and antiquarian served as a supply for the avid “connoisseurs”.
Often, both those royal collections and those of the bourgeoisie have become part of the collections of important museums, but many of the pieces have been fluctuating and have alternately passed from one hand to another and to the art trade. Sometimes the traceability of those ceramics, glass, silver objects or furniture has been conserved, so it is of great interest to auction rooms such as Balclis, to have that information.
The great universal exhibitions of the nineteenth century were very important points of dissemination and inflection. Both the organizing countries and the visitors, were proud to exhibit their heritage, which was precisely rediscovered when the thrust of the Industrial Revolution was pressing with unstoppable force on the traditional arts. With national pride, the countries exhibited their painting, sculpture and antiquities in general, with an enthusiastic spirit and with a firm mind rooted in knowledge, recovery and conservation..
From the Twentieth Century to the Present
The trend of the nineteenth century remained in the first decades of the twentieth century and in Spain, to cite a specific case, outstanding collections of old pieces of glass, porcelain, ceramics, silver, furniture, fans, bronze or even iron were formed until the Civil War. The collections of the Countess of Valencia de Don Juan, that of José Lázaro Galdiano or that of Santiago Rusiñol, of great wealth in Spanish objects from the Middle Ages to the 19th century, are today the property of public institutions of great importance. Many other collections, monographic or not, also went to swell the assemblies of some great museums such as the National of Decorative Arts of Madrid or the former of Decorative Arts of Barcelona, now the Museu del Disseny.
Throughout the 20th century, the taste for antiquities of different periods has been increasing. The greater historical knowledge has facilitated that a much more accurate and deepened approach takes place. The greater bibliographic richness and ease of searching that the internet has brought about have promoted, and continues to promote, a much deeper approach towards the pieces that have reached us.
Never before has there been so much information, from which the auction houses in Barcelona such as Balclis are also clearly benefited. Both for traditional and online antique auctions, the new tools represent an essential cataloging support, with the peace of mind that the intellectual support of the studios offers.
The Art and Antiquities Market
Changes in taste and fashions also affect the art and antiques market and the greatest diffusion worldwide, influencing the internationality of the offer and the buyers. The growing purchasing power of some markets has aroused interest in ancient objects of their cultures or related to their decorative tastes. In this way, the revaluation of pieces that were previously not so sought after is activated. Likewise, the incorporation of objects from the 20th century after Art Deco among the decorative tastes and collectors of the public, has extended the chronology and the repertoire.
Objects from the 40s to the 70s, which can occasionally coincide with the modern concept of vintage, are increasingly accepted and the borders with the design market are thin and enhance the variety. At the same time, the incorporation of antiques in modern decorations is increasingly on the rise and draws undeniable aesthetic virtues from the contrast between the warmth of objects from the past and the modern lines of architecture and interior design.