Dear Diva Readers,
hen clients come on tour to source antiques, it’s important that they do a little homework before crossing the pond. While we’re always happy to share our knowledge knowing for yourself what you’re looking for and what you’re looking at are important as you embark on the hunt – this knowledge will give you confidence in buying overseas whether our Diva Guide is taking you to the countryside to visit antique warehouses, city flea markets, or both. In Italy, Diva Guide Susan often takes clients all over Tuscany, scouring shops, markets, warehouses, and private residences for everything from ancient pieces to Mid-century modern. When looking at typical Tuscan antiques from the 18th and 19th century however, there are really three main styles to recognize. I asked Susan to explain a bit about those styles here on the blog.
Italy, as a peninsula, is an ancient country but in fact it was only united as one country in 1861. Up until that time is was ruled by various dominions, including those of neighbouring countries; France, Austria, Spain and naturally the customs and styles of these dominions were influenced by their rulers.
Even though Tuscany is a central region of Italy, Lucca, Florence and Siena each have distinct regional styles of furniture, in particular those of the 18th and 19th century. Nobel families dating back many generations were prominent in each province but there was also a burgeoning wealth from the textile industry in Lucca, banking in Siena and foreigners in Florence which further influenced the demand for important pieces.
The Lucchese Style
With the growth of the affluent middle classes large villas were built during the 18th and 19th century around the Lucca area, and many of these were silk and textile merchants. With new grand homes being built, the demand of larger proportioned and more elaborate furniture grew. More exotic woods were also available such as mahogany and fruit woods. Much of the 19th century Lucchese style was influenced by Elisa Baciocchi, Napoleon’s sister and Princess of Lucca crowned in 1805. At the time, in fact, to adapt their homes to the evolution of the Empire style, the family commissioned local artisans to create furnishings in the main inspired by the French style, though suitable to the local taste. These “corrections ” in effect created a new style, best in features and lighter in the forms. While making clear reference to the Empire, still the variation is recognized as Lucchese style.
The Siena Style
Siena did not fall under the same influences or dominations that Lucca or Florence did, being that it is a little further south. From ancient Roman times as a city, it has always enjoyed wealth, with large agricultural estates and summer houses for the wealthy city dwellers. Much of Siena was built on banking; in fact the first banks were introduced in the medieval period, as lending institutions along the old pilgrim’s path. Little has changed in Siena since that period, which is still strongly felt. The Palio horse race which takes place twice a year has changed little since its introduction. It was then that the city was divided into what are known as contradas, and it remains so to this day which has kept it a closed society. More local woods were used for furniture, such as cherry, chestnut and oak. The pieces, although large in proportion to the house or room were more functional than decorative. Furniture from Siena was a little heavier in style to that of Lucca.
The Florentine Style
Florence too has been influenced by many rulers and styles. Although there is much wooden furniture, perhaps one thing to look out for is its beautiful decoration. These Florentine artisans are still appreciated today for their delicate handwork, finely painted pieces and gilding. The latter a much softer colour with the gesso beneath than its southern counterparts. Decoration and colours tend to be more neutral and softer than those in Venice, but no less lovely and are most sought after.
As you make your way through Tuscany, you will be able to pick up on the different styles of furniture and decoration. With a keen eye, you will know exactly what you are looking at and be able to speak intelligently to dealers about their inventory. As anyone in the antiques industry knows, part of the joy of antiquing is knowing the story and history behind each piece. Hopefully this blog helps you distinguish between Italian styles!
The Antiques Diva®
Dear Diva Readers,
roof tiles to sculptures and decorative pieces, the Italians have used their natural resources along with an artistic perspective to craft exceptional products which are known worldwide. Perhaps the most popular terracotta items associated with Tuscany are the pots and jars which often grace Italian gardens. Originally, these were created from the rich clay of the surrounding hills for agricultural use. They were used for storing water and olive oil, and after being left exposed to the elements, these pots developed a rich patina which makes them perfect decorative items today whether you own a Tuscan villa or a ranch home in suburban USA.or hundreds of years the best terracotta in the world has come out of Tuscany. From floor tiles and
Italian terracotta pieces from Impruneta and Siena are arguably the best, as the land in these areas is naturally rich in iron, copper, calcium, and aluminum. Clay from Impruneta is a rich red color blue to the concentration of iron in the earth, while the crete Sienese is a softer yellow color due to the gray clay in that area.
Terracotta has been made from the earth in these Tuscan hills since Etruscan times—before Christ—and the tradition continues today. The hard gray earth is mined, then ground into a powder which is mixed with water to make the coarse bodied clay. After it’s put through the firing process which helps it withstand extreme temperatures, the clay develops a pale terracotta color. Clay from Impruneta is higher in iron than clay from Siena, and the resulting terracotta from Siena is more refined which gives it a smoother texture. Although terracotta from both regions can withstand cold temperatures, it is wise to shelter them in extreme winter climates where temperatures drop below 10 degrees fahrenheit.
Traditionally, olive jars are glazed on the inside and have a very distinctive shape. The large oval bodies taper at the base, which allowed the jars to be stored upright in clay or metal rings and also in wood braces aboard ships when they were being transported. Many of these olive jars also have handles at the top. Olive oil must be stored in a cool dark place in order to preserve it, therefore the jars made perfect sense. Since they are fashioned from fired-earth, they make ideal planters today and that is what many people use them for. Due to their shapely bodies and lovely patina, they can also stand alone in a garden, grouped in threes or flanking a pathway.
When searching for antique terracotta pots it’s important to note any details or markings. Antique pots usually have the name of the kiln and the estate for which they were made, often with the family crest!
Decoration on large pots are rare as these were created as functional pieces, but the agrumi pots are often adorned with swags. These pots were traditionally placed on pedestals in formal gardens during the summer, then rolled into the “limonia” during the winter.
When clients come on an Antiques Diva Tour in Tuscany, they often find terracotta pots to use indoors as well. Large or small, simple or ornately sculpted, these pots make perfect decorative accents. Our Diva Guide can also take you to small potteries which dot the Tuscan countryside between Florence and Siena. These artisans often have original molds which they can make replicas from, giving you the option to purchase matching sets of pots which can be harder to find if you’re looking for antique pots. However, several of our antique sources have antique pots from Italian estates just waiting for a new home. Their crusty exterior, aged by years of use and exposure to the elements make these vintage and antique pots all the more desirable!
When a Tuscan estate goes up for sale, there is often a house-clearing sale. This is the best time to find antique terracotta jars and pots! They are often tucked away in corners of the villas or stored in out buildings and haven’t seen the light of day in years. These forgotten treasures can be plucked from obscurity and given new life by the discerning customer with a keen eye. But how can you find these house-clearing sales and what do you do if you are only in Tuscany for a few days? And most importantly, how do you get these pieces home? That’s where we come in. Through our Buying Service, we can help you source these pieces and liaise you with a shipper to get them home sweet home. Our Diva Guides are constantly on the go, shopping in stores, warehouses, private estate sales, and flea markets, covering urban and rural areas, and can take your shopping list with them, being your eyes and ears on the ground. Whether you’re searching for a few pieces or want to fill an entire container, we’ve got you covered.
Ciao for now,
The Antiques Diva®
Dear Diva Readers,
ho doesn’t dream of antiquing in Tuscany? Between the landscape, the food, and quite simply the Italian style it’s no wonder why Italy is one of our top tour countries! From hidden specialty shops to warehouses in the countryside, our Diva Guide can map out a custom shopping route to suite your needs. One of the surprises clients experience on a Tuscan Antiques Diva Buying Tour is when stop off for a quick visit to an Italian consignment stores to hunt for vintage and antique treasures. The “Mercantini,” as they are known in Italian, are often ideal places to find unique antiques at unbeatable prices. Yep – we’re talking about SECOND HAND STORES! This is the equivalent of Charity Shops in the UK or Goodwill stores in the USA!
When we take clients to Mercantini, we never know what they’re going to find, as the inventory changes almost daily. You can either breeze through in a couple of minutes or you can find yourself sifting through treasures for hours. In the USA of course, there are certain second hand stores that are better than others—theres one a friend goes to in DC that is INCREDIBLE – and same holds true in Italy. The quality of inventory can depend on the location, the patrons, and the set up of each individual store, so one has to know which ones to go to and the way in which they work. That’s where our Diva Guide comes in.
Most of the pieces at mercantini are on consignment. However the owners of these shops also do house clearings, which means they have first access to estate sales. Like everything in Italy, these stores are local, and that’s why who and where you (or don’t as the case maybe) place your trust, relationships and reputations are all important.
It’s also necessary to understand how the pricing structure works in these stores. Because they’re always getting new inventory in, it’s crucial that they keep items moving, which means they are motivated sellers! On each piece you will see a label with the date when it first hit the sales floor. After two months the price is discounted by 10%. If you have the patience or courage to wait three months then the discount can be up to 50%. But of course waiting means risking losing the piece. However our Buying Service allows you to think about items and purchase them at a later date…but as any antique lover knows, if you love it, buy it now!
When it comes to the type of items you can find at the mercantini, the sky really is the limit. Shelves filled with wonderful old linens, old fashioned cotton woven towels with knotted fringes, heavy bed linens that probably were prepared for the wedding trousseau and were never used can be purchased for a steal! We’ve had clients purchase antique books from the 17th century and have also sourced antique china sets. Antique furniture, Italian ceramics, wonderful lighting (including mid-century) are constant finds. In fact, mid century pieces including furniture are undervalued in rural areas, so they can be purchased for a song.
No matter what your taste or style, stopping off at an Italian consignment store can prove to be an exciting and fun adventure – the last time I went to I spent 15E and came home with 3 Venetian trays. a gorgeous vase, some early 19th C leather bond books in Italian! What loot! We often take clients to these stores in between appointments with antique warehouses in the surrounding areas. After all, sometimes the dealers from the more metropolitan areas in Italy shop these rural consignment shops to find their own inventory. Why not get to it first?
If you’re planning trip to Italy and would like to book an Antiques Diva Buying Tour, email us firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to custom plan a shopping route that’s perfect for you!
The Antiques Diva®
Dear Diva Readers,
ne thing I love about antiques is the fact that they connect us to the past. And while some pieces of furniture are no longer necessary due to today’s technology, they are still beautiful and can be adapted for new uses in modern life.Take for example the Amadia, an Italian piece of furniture that once graced the kitchens of every Tuscan home, great and small. Originally it was pressed into service while preparing dough for bread-making—a daily activity in each household 100 years ago. Today you can still see amadias in Tuscan country kitchens, but more often than not, they are used for storage rather than a place to store and knead dough.
Bread is a staple food in all cultures, and has been for centuries. Each corner of the world seems to have its own take on this ever present food, offering diverse shapes and flavors. The preparation of dough was once a common task that relied heavily on traditional methods, always involving water, flour, yeast, and of course strong hands to knead the mixture. Today as you travel in India and Asia you often still see this bread making ritual a part of daily life in their households. If you’ve ever tasted Tuscan bread you’ll know it’s unique in the fact that it is prepared without salt. Legend has it that around the year 1100, the salt trade was interrupted due to a war between Pisa and Florence, resulting in a very high cost for salt. In turn, Florentines adapted by making bread without salt, gradually adjusting to this new taste, referred to as “sciocco,” (without salt), and thus what should have only been a temporary fix has evolved into tradition. (Plus it happens to taste fabulous when dipped in Olive Oil with fat salt and fresh pepper!)
Prepared once or twice a week, Tuscan bread would be made with locally produced flour, and once baked, would keep for about a week. Every kitchen would have had an amadia, a sort of dough trough, where the dough was kneaded. The amadia was equipped with a board to grind the flour, a rolling pin to roll out the dough, and a storage area. Once the dough had risen, breads were placed on a prepared canvas, the fabric making a fold between each loaf. In the mean time a fire would be made in the oven, and once its flames had died down, the embers would be set aside while most of the ash was removed. Then came the time to bake the bread! Of course, if there was stale bread still left in the amadia after a week, it would not go to waste. Instead it would be used to prepare a list of exquisite dishes which utilized stale bread such as ribollita, panzanella, aqua cotta, pappa al pomodoro, fettunta, and black cabbage soup.
Today you can find several different styles of amadias dating from the 19th century up to the 1950’s, each with their own unique patina and style. Clients that take our Antiques Diva Tuscany Tour often remark on these pieces, as they can be found in second hand stores, antique shops, and warehouses. And while their function is no longer necessary, they can still add to the look of a kitchen and act as extra storage or prep space, proving that objects from the past can still be made relevant, even in new ways!
If you’d like more information on taking an Antiques Diva Tour in any of our 8 tour countries—Italy, France, UK, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, or The Netherlands— email us at email@example.com.
The Antiques Diva®
Dear Diva Readers,
Today whilst I’m on holiday enjoying the Croatian Riviera for a month-long break this August, Diva Guide Susan P who leads our Antique Shopping Tours of Italy shared some Tuscan Tidbits for The Antiques Diva® & Co blog.
When I asked her to share with me her 5 Favorite things in Tuscany, she said:
- Exploring the dusty white unmarked roads in the heart of the summer
- Dedicating Sundays to mooching the flea markets and salvage yards
- The passion and dedication to food, the kitchen and cooking. The importance of togetherness at the table
- The olive harvest and going to the mill
- The effortless way in which modern and old is juxtaposed
What are your favorite things about Tuscany?
The Antiques Diva®