Monday, March 27, 2006

Do You Think We Italians Are Such Fools?

Icilio Federico Joni (1866-1946) was an ingenious, prolific and outspokenly candid artist, art restorer and forger. Joni forged a variety of paintings and other objects, including furniture and book bindings, often in Renaissance styles.

"Forged" is perhaps a harsh word, because he sold his creations to antique and art dealers for what they were, at appropriate prices. He knew that the dealers were then selling the objects as genuine, but he didn't care much, so long as he had steady work which gave him a comfortable living. The word "Pragmatist" has never found a better illustration that Icilio Federico Joni.

He was also quick-witted and had a high sense of honor, both for his profession and his country, as is vividly depicted in the following scene, drawn from his 1936 autobiography.

Among Joni's creations were antique wooden "tavolette" and "Biccherna" book covers, splendidly decorated and quite handsome. These found a ready market with antique dealers, and Joni turned out quite a few of over a period of several years-

"One day a gentleman burst into my lodgings with a parcel under his arm," Joni writes. "He gave a lira tip to the man who had come with him, and then, pointing to the door, dismissed him in tones that did not admit of a reply. I watched his imperious manners with a certain interest, and wondered what could have brought a fellow like this to see me. Without a word he placed the parcel on a table, unwrapped it and took out a Biccherna book cover, which he showed me.

'Is this your work?' he demanded.

"I said that it was, and he flew into a rage, saying that it was shameful the way the Italians cheated foreigners. I let him blow off steam and then asked him: 'How much did you pay for it?'

'Four hundred lira.'

'Ah! So you think we Italians are such fools that we would sell a rare thing like that, if it was genuine, for four hundred lira?' It was then my turn to tell him to be off at once. He did the parcel up again, and left without another word."

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